Online extra: Wedding Bell Blues: Small crowd gathers at Harvey Milk Day marriage canvassing rally
by Seth Hemmelgarn
About 50 people gathered at San Francisco's LGBT Community Center on Saturday, May 22 to celebrate the legacy of Harvey Milk and stoke enthusiasm for Equality California's canvassing efforts as it prepares to repeal Proposition 8 in 2012.
The small crowd was a far cry from the thousands of angry protesters who flooded San Francisco streets after the same-sex marriage ban passed in November 2008. After the rally invoking Milk's name, just over a dozen people hit city streets to talk to potential voters about marriage equality.
Tom Schraw, who's been involved in canvassing with EQCA since September 2009, indicated a lot more help is urgently needed if marriage equality advocates want to repeal Prop 8 in 2012.
"If people don't make a commitment to do this now," and they "wait until three months before the election, it's too late," said Schraw.
For about a year and a half, EQCA's canvassing campaign has been targeting neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities where support of Prop 8 was strong.
The No on 8 campaign, in which EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors served on the executive committee, has been widely criticized for its poor outreach efforts two years ago. Since then, EQCA has been working to develop relationships with communities of color and faith, who were often ignored during the No on 8 campaign.
Milk, the openly gay city supervisor and civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1978, would have been 80 Saturday. This weekend marked the first-ever celebration the statewide Harvey Milk Day holiday.
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who authored the legislation that led to the holiday, was at the indoor rally Saturday. He referred to the canvassing as "the kind of work Harvey taught us to do."
Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who worked with Milk, recalled successful efforts to defeat Prop 6, the 1978 state ballot measure that would have banned openly gay and lesbian teachers from the state's classrooms.
"We didn't have a gazillion dollars," said Jones. "We went door to door."
He also remembered how he "hated" straight people when he first came to San Francisco in the early 1970s and how he would have been happy to barricade himself from them altogether.
But, Jones said, "What I learned from Harvey was the importance of crossing those boundaries and crossing those barriers."
Jones also encouraged canvassers by telling them that Milk was "an ordinary man."
"He was not a genius. He was not a saint," said Jones, who told those gathered, "I just want everybody to know they can all be Harvey Milk."
After the rally, Darius Kemp, EQCA's Bay Area regional field manager, told canvassers that 25 percent of the people who have been approached have been persuaded on the issue.
He explained that doesn't necessarily mean they're full supporters of marriage equality, but they're more in favor of the issue than they were before talking to canvassers.
Kemp reminded the volunteers that their task wasn't to talk to people about what's in the Bible or preach to voters about rights.
"We're here to have real conversations about our lives," said Kemp.
According to Kemp, there are about two canvasses a month in San Francisco, usually in the city's southern neighborhoods.
Kemp said EQCA would start having "more targeted conversations," reaching out even more to communities of color and faith to "make sure everyone is included in this conversation," whether they're black, Asian, Muslim, or any other group.
To do that, said Kemp, the organization needs more volunteers – not just people who are willing to canvass, but people who are willing to call voters to talk about LGBT issues and perform tasks like data entry.
After some brief training and role-playing exercisers, the canvassers headed out into the sunny but windy afternoon, armed with lists of registered voters, maps, and canvassing scripts.
Schraw and Wynship Hillier, who's 41 and identifies as queer, were two canvassers who traveled to the city's Mission Terrace neighborhood, where rows of stucco houses stand side by side and the only sounds came from chirping birds and a couple of airplanes flying overhead.
Schraw, who's 49 and gay, estimated Saturday was his 15th trip. He said the canvassing works, but it's "key" that people become part of the effort now.
Hillier, who was making his first trip as a canvasser for repeal of Prop 8 in 2012, said he was getting involved in part because he saw it as "a great way to celebrate Harvey Milk Day."
The beginning of Hillier's day showed an example of one common response to canvassers – no response at all.
But after he rang the bells of three houses Saturday, and no one answered, Hillier seemed able to keep things in perspective.
"Well, this is how it is canvassing," he said. "This is normal."
Media groups request broadcast of closing arguments in federal trial
Several media companies have submitted a letter to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the federal Prop 8 trial in San Francisco, asking that cameras be allowed to record closing arguments in the case.
In their May 18 letter, the Media Coalition, which includes CNN, Fox News, NBC News, CBS News, and the Associated Press, wrote that the closing arguments "will solely consist of the arguments of counsel – and not witness testimony or evidence – the concerns earlier reviewed by the Supreme Court should not preclude this opportunity to enhance the public's ability to witness the parties' respective closing arguments in this historic case."
Closing arguments in the trial, which is being held to determine the constitutionality of Prop 8, are expected June 16. It's widely anticipated that the case, known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger , will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
As the trial was getting under way in January, Prop 8 backers complained that testimony shouldn't be taped because that would subject defense witnesses to harassment.
Walker had announced shortly before the trial started in January that taped sessions would be uploaded to YouTube by court staff on a delayed basis. But the U.S. Supreme Court soon stepped in and banned any broadcast of the proceedings, whether on television or the Internet.
In their letter, submitted to Walker by attorney Thomas R. Burke of Davis Wright Termaine LLP, the coalition also argued that the case again be included a pilot project approved by the 9th Circuit Judicial Council in December 2009 "for the sole purpose of recording, broadcasting and webcasting" closing arguments.
In their response, dated Monday, May 24, the defendants' arguments included that publicly broadcasting closing arguments would violate "the letter and spirit" of the Supreme Court's ruling and it would violate "[p]roponents' due process rights to a fair trial."
In their letter, submitted by lawyer Charles J. Cooper, defendants also said the Supreme Court has already concluded "that this case is ill-suited for inclusion in an experimental pilot program," among other arguments.
Wedding Bell Blues is an online column looking at various issues related to the marriage equality fight in California and elsewhere. Please send column ideas or tips to Seth Hemmelgarn at email@example.com or call (415) 861-5019. Wedding Bell Blues appears every other Tuesday.