Wednesday, June 14, 2006

AFT & the CEA Endorse Lamont!!! This is HUGE

Two of the biggest unions in Connecticut, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) & the Connecticut Education Association, endorsed Ned Lamont yesterday! This is an incredible moment for Lamont. In sweeping language, AFT makes the connections between Iraq and other issues that too few in the media and in the Party have been willing to make:

"This endorsement came down to the issues of education and healthcare and the draining of resources from our state in order to fund the war in Iraq," said Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut. "Ned Lamont understands these issues and agrees with our positions."

"Our educational system has been pushed to the limit by the requirements under No Child Left Behind which has been underfunded by forty-five billion dollars," said Palmer. "Ned Lamont will support students and teachers by fighting to fully fund this federal mandate."

"With more than one in ten people in Connecticut uninsured and many more underinsured, our state is facing a health care crisis of epic proportions," said Palmer. "Ned Lamont supports universal health care that will provide high quality health care for all."

"More than two hundred and fifty million dollars a day is being diverted into the war in Iraq," said Palmer. "Money that could have been used to improve public services in Connecticut. Ned Lamont understands this and will stand up to the Bush Administration. That's why AFT Connecticut is proud to endorse Ned Lamont for U.S. Senate. Ned Lamont will fight to improve education, healthcare and public services for Connecticut's working families."

I couldn't have said it better myself. They'll be having a joint press conference tomorrow to announce their endorsements more publicly. From the sound of it, AFT & CEA will really mobilize for Lamont, moving out a lot of union members and organizers to hit the streets in the final weeks leading up to the primary. Lamont's field team better make certain that's what happens, and should use this endorsement as leverage with SEIU and other major unions in the state that haven't yet endorsed in the race. The challenge will be to respectfully approach and convince a few key unions with the power to really do field organizing that it is worth it to put the time and money into Lamont, as most of them will be focusing on the gubernatorial primary.

That Lamont's people have broken through with AFT & CEA is definitely a sign, however, that this is possible. If a few unions get out and do real groundwork for Lamont, it could be enough to put him over the edge. Lamont could really win this thing!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Why I'm Turning Down Michael Lerner's Marriage Proposal

Rabbi Michael Lerner, the head of the Jewish progressive group Tikkun and chairman of the new Network for Spiritual Progressives, weighed in on the gay marriage debate in this Thursday's New York Daily News. Lerner interestingly co-opts an argument made for years by radical queer theorists such Michael Warner, saying that marriage bears no real relation to any of the governmental rights and benefits that are attached to it and should therefore be removed (except for commitments concerning the welfare of children) from government oversight. His reasoning, however, has more to do with the feasibility of achieving gay marriage than a theoretical critique that sees the role of government in intimate personal affairs and arbitrary budling of privilege around a specific social institution as highly problematic. Lerner writes:

The second objection to gay unions comes from those who argue that marriage is a holy sacrament whose dimensions have for most of human history been set by religious communities.

This concern is also legitimate, but it should be met with a different answer than banning same-sex marriage. Instead, marriage ought to be taken out of the state's hands entirely. Let people be wed in the private realm with no official legal sanction. Then, religious communities that oppose gay marriage will not sanction them, and those like mine that sanction the practice will conduct it. Rather than issuing marriage certificates or divorces, the state would simply enforce civil unions as contracts between consenting adults and enforce laws imposing obligations on people who bring children into the world.

This approach is far more likely to be a winning strategy for those who wish to beat back the assault on gay rights.

Lerner's acceptance of this objection about marriage he cites as "legitimate" is troubling. The argument about marriage as being "holy" and "historic" traditions that shouldn't be changed are little more than a cover for hate and exclusion. I don't mean to suggest that everybody who objects to gay marriage on these grounds actively and passionately detests gay people, but there is nonetheless a discomfort and latent homophobia that prevents people from accepting the presence of visible gay people in their daily lives. The fear of and anger towards gay marriage is really about being afraid of and angry at gay people. The anti-gay zealots have figured out, however, that an argument centered around history and religious tradition plays far better in the media and public eye than an outright assault on the fundamental humanity of queer people - even though that is exactly what they believe and promote within their organizations, their churches, their schools and their communities. Lerner's unwillingness to be critical of this "objection" is both disingenuous and also, in the long run, politically ruinous.

It's impossible to contain the kind of hate these people traffic in. What right-wing zealots really want is not freedom from gays for themselves, but rather to restrict the freedom of gays, to silence and marginalize them. What they really want is not to protect their families, but rather to destroy our families and our society with their bigotry and hate. They want to reclaim America for themselves, and impose their values on the rest of us. The assumption that they will somehow be content to be insular and protected against a wider onslaught of gayness that could seep into their communities and corrupt their children is contrary to all known experience. In accepting their claims to “self-determination,” we would effectively be conceding the point that gay marriage is a threat to “traditional culture.” If we do that, the marriage push and the queer movement will be rendered utterly toothless.

Lerner’s sympathy for the “holy & historic institution” argument is not surprising. As a rabbi who has done terrific interfaith work and as a progressive (and especially as an anti-war activist) acutely aware of the need to respect the beliefs and traditions of others, Lerner is bound to emphasize the need for dialogue and understanding. Given the current state of affairs, however, to say that queers need to understand and accept the bigotry of the Christian right is absurd. Rather than constantly trying to prove that we care about people of faith and trying to teach our supporters (many of whom are, in fact, religious themselves and have struggled with religiously-motivated hate) that they just need to learn how to talk to religious people and respect them, why don’t we instead emphasize the need for the religious right to develop some respect for us?

I agree with Lerner that the language of civil rights alone is not enough to win the marriage battle, and that the civil rights conferred by gay marriage will not be enough to build true cultural equality for queers in the long run. But civil rights are nonetheless an important component of any long-term campaign for equality. The gay marriage debate of the moment has been and continues to be a pivotal moment in defining the future of gay people in this country. Aside from being unwise, it is also impractical to suggest to most Americans that the state should not be involved in marriage – that is simply not a winning position for the queer movement. We need to learn to deal in the terms of the debate. If people try to use the “holy & historic institution” excuse, let’s counter it – state recognition of marriage will never impact what churches do, and that’s a fact. We don’t need to take marriage out of the public realm for this to be the case.

Marriage is with us, like it or not, and the current positions different groups take aren’t going to change until we actively work to combat hate and get people to realize that visible gay people are not a threat or a sickness. That’s the best way to fight for marriage equality – to fight for dignity, respect and cultural acceptance. To follow Lerner’s advice would be to abandon that fight now and allow hate to remain unchecked in the communities where it most needs to be rooted out. The hard and fast truth of the current LGBT political environment has not changed much over the past 35 years: like other social movements that demand fundamental changes to societal attitudes and behaviors, we’re in it for the long haul.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

When the Dust Settles from the Marriage Debate

The Marriage Protection Amendment is dead on arrival in the Senate. The debate is a superficial one, more about pandering to conservatives than protecting America. It's pure politics, and what's great is that nearly everyone, left right and center, understands it as such. We may even find that a majority of the Senate ends up voting against - or very close to it. There seems little use in me echoing what has already been said on tons of blogs and media outlets already. Instead, all of us need to think critically about what we've seen, what the prevailing cultural narrative of what's happened offers, and most importantly, about what is to be done when the dust from this week settles.

We need to be sharply critical of the narrative I've recapped above, that "Bush and the GOP are just pandering." That statement is true, but those on the left who promote that narrative need to be careful. What lies beneath that statement is this idea that Bush and the GOP are actually a lot more fair-minded than they seem, but need to pander to the far right of the party in an election year. There's something insidiously exculpatory about this, making Bush and Frist look helpless in the face of an onslaught by rabid fag-bashers. It's a way of rationalizing their actions, such that the gay right can still claim hope for the GOP, rather than recognizing that the vast majority of that party stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the far right of the party on these issues. Bush and Frist have taken sides against our community, whereas Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (and nearly all the Democrats in the Senate, save Ben Nelson) stand firmly with us. Just as we can't acquit Reagan for his silence on AIDS, we cannot acquit Bush and the GOP for lending their muscle to the same people who sought to kill us all with AIDS and still would like nothing better than for terrorists to blow up every gay bar in America.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we cannot afford to remain on the political fence. We have to take sides. It's true that the Democratic Party is not where it should be on LGBT issues, but abandoning the Democrats is not the solution, as plenty of people have called for in the wake of Howard Dean's recent fuck ups in LGBT community relations. Such incidents make clear that we can't just always side with the Democratic establishment whenever possible, as the Human Rights Campaign did when it endorsed Joe Lieberman over pro-equal marriage Ned Lamont. But we do have to cast our lots with the Democrats and progressives in general. We have to reject the rhetoric that all the politicians, regardless of their party, take us for granted. We can't afford to be neutral in a culture war that has already had and will continue to have real casualties.

We must side with the Democratic Party and the left, even as we continue to challenge them to be as progressive as they claim to be. The LGBT community can have a critical role to play both through fundraising and electoral politics as well as through direct action and movement building. We have allies and friends on the left and in the Democratic Party, and we cannot forget that. Rather than throw up our hands and abandon the Democrats, we need to join our forces with the party's other constituencies to push the party not to abandon its core principles in the pursuit of electoral gain. So many in the party seem content to let it slide to the right, and rather than abet them we can be a force pushing the party back toward the left. If we don't, we lose. The Party will run to the center/right, and our issues will be taken for granted over and over and over again.

There will undoubtedly be moments when an alliance with the Democratic Party will be put to the test. Many will point to Clinton's support of DOMA and of DADT after an election in which gays did a helluva lot to get him elected as two examples of why we can't just cast our lots with loser Dems. But again, there is a difference between casting our lots with only the Democratic Party as opposed to casting them with the Party as well as the broader left. If we can effectively do that, we can retain our support even as we challenge the Party to be the best it can be - not only on our issues, but on all the key issues that matter to progressives, from labor to choice to the environment and immigration and more.

Now, in the heat of the culture war, is not the time for queers to cut and run. We have to stay strong progressives and strong Democrats if, in the long run, we want to win. That means we have to stop supporting the Chris Shays and Mary Bonos and stop supporting the Joe Liebermans, too. At the same time, we need to look beyond merely the electoral realm and start building a true grassroots movement for equality. Only when we can learn to fight at the local level and the electoral level like the Christian right does will we be able to one day in the future truly be able to say, "Mission Accomplished."