Queering the Vote

What's Next For Our Movement?

Every week I read another article about how the post marriage LGBTQ movement is without direction. We have no lack of issues to address, in fact it is the sheer number of issues that causes decision paralysis. As a movement we are incredibly (and wonderfully) diverse but this means we have diverse needs. As Amber Hollibaugh puts it in her post from June 2013 on The Nation:

We are queering Living Wages and Affordable Healthcare and Transgender Justice and Getting Old Queerly and Total Immigration Access and HIV Activism and Ending Incarceration and the Possibility of Dangerous Sexual Desires. (Urvashi Vaid, Lisa Duggan, Tamara Metz and Amber Hollibaugh. "What's Next for the LGBT Movement?" The Nation. 27 June 2013: Web)

"Queering" the issues is not so much an action to be done but a recognition that as queer people we face many challenges and oftentimes need extra support because we are queer.

Fortunately, we live in a system designed to address the needs of a diverse electorate, but the system isn't working. The issue we need to queer the most is voter access. If we can succeed at that, we again have a voice in government and the resources of the government will work with us to solve the problems we face.

A Broken System

Today, a majority of Americans want to decriminalize marijuana, a majority of Americans want to have gun control in some form or another, a majority of Americans are good people that want to see an end to racism, sexism, and prejudice in all its many forms. However, despite these national trends, our legislature remains incapable of legislating choosing instead to spend political capital on repealing Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, repeating the Benghazi hearing or passing budgets that remove funding for our most important programs while reducing taxes on the rich. A truly representative government addresses the problems the electorate cares about, not the ones the legislators themselves make up. A truly representative system will ensure our voices are heard and that our national agenda is in line with our values and our need.

Queering the Vote

Our community needs a voice. Currently, if we want to make changes to existing laws, we are forced all too often, to resort to ballot measures; legislation at the ballot box. However, ballot campaigns are expensive and often unsuccessful. Even when we succeed at the ballot box, we need to rely on our elected officials for enforcement. If we can change the legislature and elect candidates that share our values, then our "representatives" will truly represent us and we can lobby and educate our representatives to pass legislation we need.

What I propose is a national voters' rights movement focused on the passage of opt-out voter registration legislation in all 50 states (similar to CA and OR), fighting against voter ID legislation and easing access to the polls through vote-by-mail and early vote. Like marriage equality, voter rights would take us state-by-state making sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote. The fight won't be easy but the impact can be vast, long term and systemic. In this fight more than any preceding, if our community wins then everyone wins. Labor, immigrant rights, the right to choose, equal pay, education, healthcare, poverty -- all of these and more are queer issues, and fighting for progress on these issues creates natural allies in the progressive movement writ large.

We need to form a national coordinating board that will coordinate efforts to achieve maximum success similar to the Freedom to Marry coalition. The national board should be narrowly focused and should rely on the support and knowledge of the existing infrastructure of state-based equality organizations to implement the most effective strategy. What worked in California may not work in West Virginia but chances are that Fairness West Virginia will know how to proceed. The coordinating board will evaluate each state annually to see what's working and what isn't and which states are prime for change. In this way, they can help to drive the dollars to where they will do the most good.

The fight will be expensive of course but the money is there if the movement is behind it. One of the things you learn in donor cultivation and management is that donors want to understand how their donation will make a lasting change. Add to this their passion for the cause and an urgency of timing and you have a winning combination for fundraising. This is exactly what happened with marriage in a way that we have seldom seen before. But marriage equality, though a significant win by any account, did little to address many of the broader systemic issues facing our community and the country. Expanding voter access, however, creates a path for many of those issues to be addressed and in a way far more efficient than legislation at the ballot box. In other words, the donor's return on investment here is compelling.

Call to Action

With the wins in Oregon and California, the wind is at our backs and the time to act is now. The issues facing our community and our nation are complex, pervasive, and persistent. There is no panacea or revolution that is going to save us on its own. But we have a system of government that was created to naturally adjust for change. Increasing the voice of the people is the first step to fixing our broken system of government and it will make the largest and most sustainable change. We could riot (maybe we should riot) but we don't have to. Representatives at all levels must listen to their constituents if their constituents choose to exercise their right to vote. No single act, not even the electing of a president, is going to magically fix our broken system. We don't need a new revolution, we need to return to the ideals that drove the last, more successful one. Let's stop trying to put band aids on the various sores and heal the body politic.