On Asking Experts, Part Two, Or, What's An LBGT Voter To Do?

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It’s been a few days now since we began a conversation that addresses the issue of how frustrated some number of LBGT voters are with the Democratic Party this cycle; this because they find themselves either frustrated at the lack of progress on the civil rights issues that matter to them, or because they see both the Democratic and Republican Parties as unreliable partners in the struggle to assure equal rights for all.

In an effort to practice some actual journalism, I assembled a version of an online “focus group” at The Bilerico Project (“daily adventures in LBGTQ”), with the goal of gathering some opinions on this subject in the actual words of those frustrated voters.

Part One of this story focused on “stating the problem”, and today we’ll take on Part Two: in this environment, with Election Day staring us in the face, what is an LBGT voter to do?

As before, there are a variety of opinions, including a very informative comment I was able to obtain from a genuine Member of Congress, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th District, and that means until the very end you won’t hear much from me, except to help “set the stage” for the comments that follow.

A monk asked Ma-tsu [Baso]:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is Buddha”
A monk asked Ma-tsu:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is not Buddha”  
--From the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

We’ll begin today’s discussion with a housekeeping note: in order to keep the story moving in a linear fashion, from one topic to the next, in some instances I edited portions of multiple comments from the same person into one comment. I also edited some comments for length.

The disclaimer out of the way, let’s start the conversation with Zoe Brain, who sums up Part One rather neatly in one comment that absolutely did not have to be edited together:

We had a Dem super-majority in the Senate.
We had a Dem majority in the House.
We had a Dem president.
It wasn't enough. We need more. So let's use the only weapons we have for behaviour modification; our money and our votes, to make sure that the next time this can possibly happen, around 2020 (though 2028 is more likely), we won't have a repeat performance.

Andrew W responds with a bit of legislative “nuance”...and in doing so, he makes the point that looking beyond Democrats for solutions may be the way to go:

A "Democratic Super Majority" is different than an LGBT-Majority. We have never had an LGBT super majority. In the current US Senate we have only 56 votes. After November we will have 51 or 52 votes.
Stop saying "Democrats." It misses the point. Our challenge is to find 60 US Senators that support our equality.

SoFloMo makes a similar point:

Perhaps we have become too comfortable surrounding ourselves with other gay folks and straight allies. We're terrified of losing the only friends we've had in politics, so we cling to them despite the abuse.
We need to encourage one another turn our outrage into concrete action. Just feeling bad won't do any good.

Here’s some more from Andrew W:

We spend way to much talking about the "Religious Right," bigotry exists in anyone that accepts the traditional Christian belief that we are wrong. That's 70% of Black voters and they are primarily Democrats...
... We need people as our allies, not organizations. We need to educate, enlighten and enroll our neighbors, friends, co-workers and even strangers. Two-thirds will support our equality - especially if we leave religion and politics out of the conversation. Both religion and politics divide people - we just want to ask people to stand for one thing, our equality.
Try it out over the next week. You'll be surprised.

So let’s get to the big issue: vote, or don’t?

Here’s Bill Perdue’s take on the question...

On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010...vote left or cast your protest vote by sitting it out (barring important referenda, propositions or initiatives).
The only good vote is a protest vote. In a system run by competing gangs of like minded hustlers voting is not important except as a way of validating that system....
...It's a fool's errand to believe that participation in a rigged electoral system is the way to change. It's the road to perpetual lesserevilism, betrayal and defeat.
Elections can be used to organize and educate movements in struggle but elections don't bring change except in the sense that they (rarely) ratify changes forced by mass actions in the streets, workplaces and barracks. Those are the kind of battles we can win and those are the kind of battles that produce fundamental, permanent change as opposed to hopey-changey.

...followed by Andrew W:

While "mass demonstrations" may sound appealing or possibly effective, they aren't going to happen. The biggest crowd in D.C. is likely to be for two cable-tv comedians at the end of this month.
Polling data indicates the religious grip on "beliefs" (including the traditional Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong) is weakening. Of all those that define themselves as "religious" only about one-third are "literalists" and I would suggest their beliefs are virtually unchangeable. I'm not suggesting we try to change those minds, but rather we marginalize them by enrolling the other two-thirds. Most of them will put equality before religion.
The other dynamic is age - we are much more likely to get support from those under the age of 40 because they are less religious.
We need the young people that put Obama in office to turn out on November 2nd. Unfortunately, many in this audience have heard the GetEQUAL [a pro-civil rights group] narrative that "Obama didn't keep his promises." Young people are likely to believe that "we're angry" and not vote...

GrrrlRomeo has some thoughts as well:

The second thing I'd tell them is don't think of it as voting for Democrats, think of it as voting against conservatives. Look, anti-gay Christian conservatives have no problem holding their noses and voting for a Republican just to vote against gays or abortion.
I'm sorry that people were under the impression that we could really get this stuff done in 2 years. There are 420 bills backed up in the Senate. It's obvious to me that the Republicans were doing everything they could just to make the Democrats fail so that the progressive base would throw one of our predictable tantrums and not turn out.
I do understand. I was with the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 as I was unable to forgive Clinton. But whatever Obama hasn't done...he has not done anything so unforgivable as Clinton signing DOMA [the Federal Defense of Marriage Act].

More on the subject, from symbiote

I would tell a frustrated gay voter this: Own it! You vote. You make your choices. You allow yourself to be lied to, over and over, in a repetition of craving. It is time to look for candidates who support equality for all, and vote for them--even if they don't win. It is a natural consequence of change that the first people for whom we vote will lose.
But if continue to vote for people solely on the idea that they are "electable," then we will never build support for candidates that share our views, and thus, we ourselves destroy their "electability."

Andrew W opines further on what a voter should expect from a politician—and what they shouldn’t:

... After reflection, I would add this: tell this "democratic voter" that there is no "promise" in politics, only "hope." As in life there are no "guarantees." All we can do or expect is our best efforts. The idea that politicians have "let us down" is not the exception, it is the rule. We should learn from that. We should understand we cannot "hire" politicians to save us - we need to do it ourselves.
Politicians are motivated by their constituents beliefs - it is what gets them elected. That is OUR job - changing minds. Instead of expecting politicians to handle the job, we should simply do it ourselves. We've spent 40 years betting on politics and we have little to show for it. That should make all of us think twice about continuing to believe "somebody else" will save us. Our equality is our responsibility...
... Our only political hope is targeting a few States where public opinion could change enough to turn the tide. Senators will either reflect the views of their constituents or they will be replaced. We need to change those views.

An additional question I had for the “focus group” was what you say to voters who do not differentiate between “the Democrats” or “Congress” and supportive and unsupportive legislators?

Here’s what Tim W’s thinking:

I would tell them the same thing I have said many other times. If the Democrat is a true ally in actions and not in words then they deserve our vote. If not I will be voting for someone who is. We are where we are because the Democrats feel we have no where else to turn to. The politics of fear that we aren't as bad as the Republicans doesn't cut it anymore...So the old scare tactics don't work. Democrats need to be held responsible for their actions.
We definitely should not be giving money to the DNC [Democratic National Committee], DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], OFA [Organizing for America, the Barack Obama campaign’s “legacy” organization], or the newest branch of the Democratic Party the HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights group]. That money is being wasted to elect the Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincolns of the world. Give money to candidates that are pro-gay be it Dem, Rep, or Green.

Bolton Winpenny offers another perspective:

I recently started publicizing the idea to stop supporting democrats that don't support us...While I understand the risk of giving republican's power, I don't think we have much gain that warrants a large risk. This conversation, along with the Get Equal campaign, "We'll Give when we Get" and other similar sentiments makes a big statement that the Democrats will hopefully listen to...Things are changing in the Republicans where they seem more interested in anti-abortion and anti-Christian than they are anti-gay...
What does work is spreading awareness and education... Shortly after LGBT Freedom Week 2010 a PA [Pennsylvania] senate subcommittee voted down 8 to 6 (tabled) a move to add "one man and one woman" into our constitution. Two years prior, the same committee, with only one member change, passed a similar bill 4 to 10.... Four votes changed after a state-wide campaign to spread awareness and education over the LGBT plight for equality.

Bill Perdue would tell you that, in some instances, you just won’t find any supportive legislators:

If they're in unions or one of the other struggle movements they should be encouraged to break with the Democrats and move left.
Their real incentives come from corporations so we have to provide an counterbalance of mass movements and mass demonstrations to get concessions. When the profit margin hits the fan, as it does in the case of ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and equal wages, expect no concessions.

Still another topic from the group: what’s to come after this election?

Deena has a theory:

Bielat will defeat Barney Frank and Pelosi will no longer be speaker of the house when Republicans win the majority. In one sense that will be tragic yet in another it will set the tone for 2012 when progress can be made. I think it is the best change in recent history because the house will know lip service is what it has always been -- BS. Obama will also have to pay attention or he is toast in 2012.

As does Bill Perdue:

The next anti-incumbent Congress will do no better than the last anti-incumbent Congress and in 2012 the Republicans will suffer for it. They're as rancid and rightwing as their Dem cousins and even less popular, because they don't bother lying about it...

And now: a point of personal privilege. I have kept my opinions out of this discussion, because it really wasn’t about me, but as we close out this conversation—and the election cycle—I am going to tell you that there was one comment that struck me as being the closest to what I might say if I was a voter in this situation; it comes from John Rutledge, and it required no editing at all:

I have been in the same angry place as the writer before and will likely be again. After all, this is personal. This is our lives. I just read the Obama interview in the Rolling Stone. I hear a brilliant mind, fair and balanced. Possibility is alive, like never before. It is also close to passing us by with the upcoming elections. Now is not the time to indulge in wallowing. I now this fight is tough, but we just can not give up. We have to continue to push. Being resigned and cynical is only being that. It makes one useless to bring about change. So choose. Go home and bitch to whoever is willing to listen, be ineffectively righteous, or suck it up and get in the game. Grow or blow.

Finally, as I promised, we’ll wrap all this up with a comment from Congressman Patrick Murphy (PA-08), who has been absolutely supportive of advancing civil rights for LBGT citizens, despite the fact that he’s a freshman in Pennsylvania, which kind of makes him “double vulnerable”.

I managed to catch up with Murphy on a live chat at Bilerico, where I asked him what he would tell voters who see Democrats as unreliable partners and don’t recognize that some Members are more supportive than others. We’ll close out this conversation by giving him the last word on the subject:

...Some of you have brought this up today and I couldn't agree more. The far-right wing and hate mongerers are coming at me with everything they have because they know that if they knock me off, no member in a tough district will stick their neck out for DADT or other LGBT issues for years. I need your help to win this thing and show these guys that we won't back down from doing what's right.