Solidarity Gives Rise to the Equality Generation

Poll after poll reveals an emerging consensus among young people for voting rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, women's rights and worker's rights. This is no accident but the outcome of years of coalition building, grassroots blossoming into an equality generation.

We saw the seeds planted over the past generation, as people worked together to form coalitions to enact center-left public policy. After President Obama's election, efforts at othering Obama quickly became about smearing his non-partisan allies and ambassadors. As I wrote last year in Campaign Boot Camp 2.0:

I saw this firsthand on the campaign trail as message allies were attacked by the opposition. Attacks began with Democratic Party candidates referred to as "Democrat" candidates -- "democratic" sounds fair but "democrat" emphasizes "rat" and is used as an epithet, not an explanation. Then attacks moved to candidates -- Democrats in Republican communities were morphed into Ted Kennedy then Bill or Hillary Clinton, now Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi. Then the attacks became a systematic effort to de-brand, defund and demoralize America's nonpartisan center-left institutions (AFL-CIO, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and even some veterans groups) in order to undercut their effectiveness as ambassadors by forcing them on the defensive and by forcing Republican legislators to abandon prior support for them. The response by We Are One was to bring labor and social justice groups together to organize in solidarity for jobs and justice and to stick up for each other when under attack.

Once wary of each other due to cultural and political differences, groups have evolved together on the issue of marriage equality. When Proposition 8 passed in California, some were quick to blame minority voters, some of whom had voted for both President Obama and Proposition 8; however, these claims were later debunked as being overstated. Nevertheless, some damage was done and needed repair. To their credit, both sides participated in truthful candid dialogue and coalitions were nurtured.

It must be said that the larger issue at stake in Proposition 8 was the "no" campaign did not appreciate the power of personal storytelling -- the pro-8 forces did and we didn't. Indeed, the ads run by LGBT advocates did not feature LGBT people. As I blogged here in 2009, we needed to change that and show pride: "Embrace diversity; don't shy away from it," I wrote then. "When presenting the case for marriage equality, showcase the 18,000 families who married between May and November 2008, the thousands more who would like the opportunity to do so, and their loved ones." Furthermore, I argued, we needed to convince people to evolve: "[m]illions have borne witness to the joy, stability, and responsibility that comes with marriage equality. Rather than tell people they got it wrong before, highlight people who voted Prop 8 and then evolved on the issue." Well today, thanks to the courage and willingness of thousands of LGBT Americans to come out and tell their personal stories, we see the positive impact on evolution. As President Obama himself said, friends and colleagues who personally appealed to him played a key role in how he evolved.

But evolution alone is not the reason we see an emerging equality generation -- it is the hard work done to build good faith among diverse constituencies. And this month, those efforts may pay off for two important issues -- Voting Rights and marriage equality. The Voting Rights Act amici curiae ("friends of the court) list posted by the NAACP and AFER's amici curae supporting the plaintiffs challenging California's Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry both read like a Who's Who of progressive Americans, as did the speakers' lists at rallies outside the Supreme Court for both the Voting Rights Act and the freedom to marry coalitions. This is a good thing: it points to not only the maturation of the American civil rights experience but the emerging consensus that American policy must be fully inclusive to give meaning to our pledge "liberty and justice for all," so that it really does mean all Americans. We will see this fight taken up again with immigration reform, where once again Americans will be challenged to put aside competing agendas and work together for equality. With longtime advocates and young activists, we can be sure that people coming out of the closets and/or out of the shadows will not become second-class citizens, but American citizens treated equally under the law.

Solidarity may have seemed inconceivable even a few short years ago, but, as Nancy Pelosi said immediately following the DOMA oral arguments, it is believers' job "to use whatever influence we have to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable."

By doing so -- in solidarity -- our work gives rise to an equality generation under which Americans thrive with liberty and justice for all.