Devastating Rolling Stone Feature Blames ‘No on 8’ Campaign For Prop. 8’s Success


In what amounts to a direct hit to the solar plexus of No on 8 Campaign leaders, the latest issue of Rolling Stone has a story called "Same-Sex Setback: Don't blame Mormons or black voters – the California activists who tried to stop Prop 8 ran a lousy campaign" by Tim Dickinson that brings the gay community's internal debate over the effectiveness of the No on 8 campaign to the mainstream public.

Queerty readers will recognize a lot of the criticisms– a lack of central organization, idiotic ads, failure to engage minorities and grassroots leaders, the psychotic lack of a ground game, it even compares the No on 8 campaign to the McCain campaign, which is something we do all the time here– but this is the first time a mainstream publication has tackled the issue head-on and the article is likely to shift the public debate over Prop. 8.

Let's just go to the quotes, shall we?

"This was political malpractice," says a Democratic consultant who operates at the highest level of California politics. "They fucked this up, and it was painful to watch. They shouldn't be allowed to pawn this off on the Mormons or anyone else. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and now hundreds of thousands of gay couples are going to pay the price."

"From the start, the leaders of the No on Prop 8 campaign and their high-priced consultants failed to realize what they were up against. According to Geoff Kors, who headed the campaign's executive committee, the No side anticipated needing no more than $20 million to stop the gay-marriage ban. The Yes side, by contrast, set out to change how initiative politics are played, building a well-funded operation that rivaled a swing-state presidential campaign in its scope and complexity."

"The No on Prop 8 campaign, meanwhile, was oblivious to the formidable field operation that the other side was mounting. Worse, its executive committee refused to include leaders of top gay and lesbian grass-roots organizations, which deprived them of an army of willing foot soldiers. "We didn't have people going door to door," admits Yvette Martinez, the campaign's political director. The field operation consisted of volunteers phone-banking from 135 call centers across the state, an effort that didn't begin ramping up until mid-October.
"They had no ground game," says a leading Democratic consultant. "They thought they could win this thing by slapping some ads together. It was the height of naiveté."

"Until the final days, the campaign failed to take advantage of the backing of every major newspaper in the state, as well as that of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former President Bill Clinton and future President Barack Obama. In one bizarre episode, an outside consultant was forced to "jackhammer" the campaign leadership simply to convince them to make use of a robo-call from Bill Clinton. The campaign also rejected a Spanish-language ad featuring Dolores Huerta, a heroine of the United Farm Workers union."

It really just goes on and on like this and the whole article is a must-read. The failure of the No on 8 campaign has galvanized the community in an unprecedented way and the resulting movement and nascent coalition of civil rights activists that have marched, protested and boycotted since Nov. 4th represent the new face of the gay community. While No on 8 leaders like Lori L. Jean have stood on podiums and said, "There is only one group responsible for [the passage of Prop. 8]– The Mormon Church", we now know that is not the case, if we ever believed it to begin with.

The article ends on a positive note, pointing out that because Prop. 8 passed because of mismanagement and that the vote was close it is possible to win at the ballot box. As we previously reported, No on 8 leaders have been wary post-election to embrace another ballot fight, believing that the gay community should focus its efforts on the courts.

Of course, the question now is, "Who's going to listen to them?"

This Rolling Stone article is being met with a lot of defensiveness and clutching of pearls (read the comments on QUEERTY). “How dare they criticize us! We’re the victims here!”

I feel that this post election analysis is CRUCIAL if we are to learn our lessons. It’s not about blame, it’s about analysis. We NEED to know what went wrong so we know what to do next time. And part of knowing what went wrong is a sober, honest look at our own side.
It is absolutely true that the leaders of the No-on-8 campaign made some terrible mistakes. I don’t believe they should fall on their swords, as do many. But I do think they committed political malpractice and should never be let near another campaign. Ever. On the other hand, had they done everything perfectly, I believe it most likely would not have been enough. The simple fact of the matter is that the No-on-8 campaign did not get the money early, and early money is crucial for victory. They got the lion's share of the money in the last couple weeks of the campaign. That’s too late. Early money buys the best air time. Early money generates buzz. Early money gets the ground game going – (Yes-on8 had had an amazing ground game, we had none). It is true: Early money wins elections. Ever heard of EMILY? Early Money Is Like Yeast, because it helps to raise the dough. Early money raises more money.

I was very close to this issue and I'm fucking pissed. But when looking at the campaign (any campaign), I try to analyze it dispassionately. I try to see it in terms of what worked and what did not, what was done well and what was done badly. Mostly, try to see this (and every election) in terms of what we need to do in order to get what we want. This is important if you want to win next time. And I want to win next time.

Criticism is not simply The Blame Game. It is necessary and healthy and we absolutely need it. The No-on-8 campaign should suffer a severe, painful audit; an analysis so probing and so far up the asses of the leaders that we know what they ate for breakfast. And they must submit to this analysis and judgment without getting defensive. We need this so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes next time. This is bigger than them.

The way I see it is simple. Prop-8 ran a GREAT campaign (lies and all). They lied well, they lied early and they were unbelievably organized. The people who (somehow) were in charge of running the No-on-8 campaign ran a historically TERRIBLE campaign, strenuous efforts by the volunteers notwithstanding. And they didn’t get most of their money until really late in the game, compared to the bigots. That's the sad truth.

What were the results? Public opinion was pushed in the Pro-8 direction by over 20 points (way before our side matched their side in funding). The amount of shift in numbers was simply amazing (ask any political consultant – that’s a herculean task to drag public opinion that far). Any cursory analysis of their ground game shows a level of sophistication never before seen for a mere ballot prop. They hit us with a tsunami of money and volunteers and our side flailed about. We flailed admirably and bravely, but we never had any hope. What little our side managed to do in the face of this tsunami was insufficient, done badly and far too late.

Lesson learned.

Next time, let's at the very least make sure these people are nowhere near the leadership of the next marriage equality battle:


Shannon Minter

Legal Director,
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Lorri L. Jean
Chief Executive Officer,
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center


Geoff Kors
Executive Director,
Equality California


Steve Smith
Steve Smith

No on 8 Senior Campaign Consultant, Dewey Square


Rev. Eric Lee
Rev. Eric Lee
President/Chief Executive Officer, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Los Angeles 

Karen Ocamb
News Editor, Frontiers Magazine and IN Los Angeles Magazine

Read and post comments | Send to a friend


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: