Mary Bernstein’s article, “Celebration and Suppression: The Strategic Uses of Identity by the Lesbian and Gay Movement,” combined with Laura Meadows’ guest lecture on the North Carolina Amendment 1 campaign really hit the nail on the head for me. The past few years of my life have been devoted to causes: sexual harassment, LGBTQIA rights, fighting gender discrimination, racial discrimination, etc., and getting people to change their minds on these important issues. However, I have recently started working on my first political campaign and it has been discouraging to say the least.
I’m used to using radical and deeply emotional rhetoric to get my point across, because that’s how you get your audience to the point that they see your point of view. Conversely, on the political campaign side that I’m currently working on, we tend to shy away from hard issues that could upset or fragment our base voters. We don’t talk about gun control or Ferguson or the death penalty on the campaign trail, we talk about education. Why? It’s a lot easier to convince someone to vote for your candidate when you’re talking about future of education than it is to convince someone to vote for your candidate because she wants to enforce new gun control legislation. There’s an inherent tension between cultural and political goals.
Laura Meadows talked to our class this morning about the messaging for the Amendment 1 campaign in North Carolina. Many people know it as the marriage equality act, and most people saw the marketing slogan, “Protect ALL NC families”. She discussed how North Carolina wasn’t ready for a total marriage equality act, and that the message of “harm” to NC families allowed for conversations to be had with voters who otherwise would have supported the amendment. I remember hearing these marketing tactics when the campaign was happening and wondering why we couldn’t just call the amendment what it was: legislation that would ban same-sex marriages. I remember feeling the same way that I do now that I’m working in a political campaign: discouragement.
However, after reading the Bernstein article and listening to Laura Meadow’s presentation, I began to make some sense of the way I had been feeling. We talked about a 100% change vs. a 51% change; 100% change meaning an attempt to change the way people think (a social or cultural movement) and a 51% change meaning a realistic attempt to do what you have to do to win an election. In order for a social movement to be effective on a large scale, it can’t alienate citizens and it must have a willingness to engage with politics; otherwise, it’s just a bunch of pissed-off people who aren’t actually getting anything done.
Let’s put it this way: the long-term goal for the LGBT movement is to change the way people view same-sex marriage and have marriage equality in the United States; a short-term goal would be to pass marriage equality laws in each state. Often, legislation comes before people’s minds have changed. Racism exists long after slavery was abolished and LGBT rights will be no different. But in the end, sometimes it’s necessary to go back before we move forward.
Bernstein, M. (1997). Celebration and Suppression: The Strategic Uses of Identity by the Lesbian and Gay Movement. American Journal of Sociology, 103(3), 531-565.