"A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting derived from the traditional town meetings of New England. Similarly to those meetings, everybody in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear the responses from public figures and elected officials, although attendees rarely vote on an issue. In today’s heterogeneous communities with large populations, more often, town hall meetings are held so that people can influence elected officials in their decision making or to give them a chance to feel that their voices are being heard." From Wikipedia – "Town Hall Meeting"
A town hall meeting took place at FCC on Thursday, April 16th from 6-8PM. The purpose of the meeting was to question EQCA about statewide strategies prior to the election, voice opinions, and discuss the future.
The format, which according to promotional materials was to be one hour of speaking and then one hour of Q&A, was changed at the last second to a few minutes of each speaker, some Q&A, and so on. Rather than just EQCA officials, Geoff Kors – Executive Director, and Marc Solomon – Marriage Director, at the head of the room, there were an additional 8 speakers, all local, who were given speech time during the two hour window. Since the focus was to be on EQCA, with questions posed to them from the audience, the additional speakers cut heavily into audience time and hampered what could have been a livelier, more in depth conversation about statewide strategies. Questions were also limited among individuals, with most of us getting to ask only one.
EQCA was called to task by various members of the audience for what many see as an abandonment of the Central Valley. Statements were made about EQCA refusing assistance when it was requested on more than one occasion, having to fight to get needed campaign materials and signage, and for maintaining a basic level of non-communication with Fresno and the Central Valley. Geoff and Marc conceded multiple mistakes in the campaign, not just with the Central Valley, but also in the way television ads were handled (gay couples virtually absent), among other things. Funding was one of the issues brought up by Geoff Kors, but the overall impression from EQCA’s representatives was simply making poor choices.
Daniel Martin from the Fresno Stonewall Democrats spoke about the possible outcome of the Supreme Court hearings. He’s not any more optimistic than the rest of us are as to the decision. He pointed out the crucial differences between laws in California as opposed to other states, in regards to the process involved in amending the constitution. It’s much easier to do it here than in most states, which is the engine that allowed Prop 8 to succeed. As many others have mentioned, a future goal may be to revise the laws in California so that it’s more difficult to amend the constitution on issues such as civil rights and equality.
There was a lot of discussion among audience members about the difficulty of recruiting more volunteers in the Central Valley. All groups here struggle daily with finding enough people willing to actively join the fight for marriage equality. A group of volunteers supported by the Courage Campaign is in need of help with their grassroots efforts to reach the Fresno community, and EQCA expressed hope that the hiring of a local person to represent them in the Central Valley will bring more assistance. Those of us in Fresno who work to manage LGBT actions and activities understand this is a long standing issue in the Valley, and likely will not change anytime soon. No matter how much we hope for it, there doesn’t seem to be a number of people who are willing, but not yet found. A conservative atmosphere in Fresno is only part of the equation that limits the number of LGBT volunteer activists.
EQCA made every effort to make it known they are committed to more presence and assistance in Fresno and the Central Valley. If the Supreme Court decides to uphold Prop 8, the next step is to create another ballot measure which will restore the equal rights for LGBT Californians. The earliest that could happen would be 2010, and after that, possibly 2012.
As far as tactics moving forward, it doesn’t seem to be much of a shift from before the election. It seems a grassroots effort, going door to door and having innumerable conversations with those who voted against us is the road we’ll be expected to travel on to win back our rights. From my point of view, I have my doubts about any campaign which continually tries to convince others that we are just like them, that our families are just like them and that our dreams are just like theirs. Is that really our only method in the battle to become equal citizens in a country which should have granted us our rights from day one?
Maybe we’re continuing down this path because we’re afraid the blunt truth will only backlash on us, that by directly confronting the real issue here, that the majority of Californian’s are deserting their responsibility to the tenets of this nation in favor of self serving bigotry, would send us further back in time. Even though this bigotry, which is granted power merely through the force of numbers, can easily be pointed out as not only anti-American, but simply wrong. Wrong in a country that supposedly stands for the exact opposite of the actions those Californians took in the voting process.
Because while we devote so much respectful diligence to assuring those Americans that we respect their beliefs, we’re denying the fact that it’s not working. As some stated during the EQCA Town Hall, we’re never going to change some people’s minds. The problem, as I see it, is that we’re trying to change their minds on the wrong subject. We should be pointing out their duties as Americans in protecting the civil rights of all other Americans, rather than trying to squeeze tolerance from their very short sighted souls.
We need to stop repeating, to ourselves and others, that "they just don’t understand the issue". Believe me, they understand why they want to take our rights away. Why don’t we work instead at pointing out why, as Americans, they should be ashamed of that.
Why don’t we have copies of the constitution with us if we go door to door, or historical literature detailing how inter-racial marriage was overturned by the courts (you know, those "activist" judges) when the vast majority of Americans at that point in time were against the races "mixing". Why don’t we use copies of the actual legal case which clearly states that churches will not be effected by legal same sex marriage? Why can’t EQCA provide local efforts with these materials, rather than vague, philosophical yard signs? Why can’t we use some of the money we use for rally after endless rally, or awards ceremonies and celebrations, to get these factual, undeniable documents to every California residence?
Why, when the other side uses foggy, manipulative lies to sway their voter base, do we jump on the bus and have a dialogue with them about their feelings, rather than very matter of fact, hold up the undisputable paperwork which shatters their every statement? No more verbal back and forth, let’s get the documents in front of the public. Until we do, this is all just a conversation, and if education is so prevalent in our networking, why don’t we just pull the books off the shelves and lay them on the table?
That’s my suggestion to EQCA and every other group trying to convince dissenters to side with equality. Get the books off the shelves and hold them up for the cameras.