Dialogue about advocacy and Pride

My colleague Thomas Waters picked up on my Pride post, focusing on the advocacy assessment.  Thomas and I share a fairly similar world view so often it does come down to tactics and strategy differences (very different).  I had commented that:

My frustration with these events is that they gear people up for an activity which can be very difficult to pursue – face to face meetings with elected officials. 

Thomas responded:

But I really disagree that face to face meetings with legislators is difficult. It is enormously easy, and even fun! All state representatives and senators make time to meet face to face with their constituents. PA representatives spend Thursdays and Fridays in their district specifically to facilitate these types of meetings and other responsibilities. A simple phone call is all it takes to get a meeting arranged.

I wasn't suggesting the process itself is difficult.  Most legislators are happy to meet with people, agreeable and certainly interested in what you have to say — you pay their salary!  As he outlines, it really is similar to any other type of face to face meeting which requires you to be prepared, personal and succinct.  And I do not question in the least the effectiveness of this type of advocacy.

My concern is that this is pushed to the forefront so much that is unintentionally perhaps excludes significant groups of people who simply do not have the privilege of taking a lunch meeting or a half-day vacation.  I say this as someone who DOES have this privilege, let me admit. But I can count on many hands the numbers of queer people and families (and allies) who simply cannot. Either their jobs don't offer that flexibility or they simply must conserve their limited PTO for their families. 

While this strategy is probably very conducive to a professional/upper-middle class career trajectory, it leaves a very important part of the community out — those who are even more socio-economically vulnerable to the status quo. 

I believe the advocacy groups should acknolwedge this divide for what it is and come up with alternatives means for otherwise disenfranchised groups to get involved.  My fear is that when a working class dyke with two kids realizes she can't waste a day off that might be needed for her kid's sickday, she is further isolated from the political organizing efforts.  The myth of gay affluence sort of creeps into this approach and I fear that is does some harm.

The harm?  Well, the legislators are meeting one strata of the community … as I described above.  They don't meet the lesbian waitress/bartender and her office admin partner who could really use dp benefits and any kind of pension security.  They don't meet the schoolteaching gay men who juggle daycare with critical afterschool activities and have firsthand insight into the experiences of gay youth in the public school system.  They don't meet the single-mom struggling with custody, a hostile ex and the constant threat of being outed in her workplace.  They may not be meeting trans men and women who historically struggle with economic security and job stability more the rest of our community. 

I was one time asked to help organize some constituents for a meeting with a local elected official that ws 8:30 on a weekday.  It was impossible for any of the persons I knew to make that happen.  It doesn't mean the issue wasn't important to them; it is just the reality of their lives. 

All I am suggesting is that the advocacy training have bit more realistic approach.  If the truth is that weekday meetings are what it takes, then acknowledge that our fate is in the hands of the more elite in our community and figure out how to make them accountable.  Perhaps dues to the member organizations could be lowered to allow more people to vote on the leaders? 

Or lay out the other viable options.  Most people have cell phones.  Invest in a cell phone harvesting system and send a mass text when you need calls, NOW.  People can typically do that.  Identify a volunteer to try to set up some non-traditional meetings and aggressively recruit people to attend — maybe do a survey of how many people would meet with Legislator X if they could meet at 7 PM on a weeknight.  Be strategic and creative.  But give people options.

By all means, continue the mainstream training.  I feel somewhat frustrated sitting here because my elected officials are pretty good on most issues, if not perfect.  Wagner, Fontana, Green, Payne and Doyle.  That's a pretty good lineup on the homo questions. If  I'm going to meet face to face with Doyle, I'll thank him for his full support of an inclusive ENDA and then discuss choice with him. 

My comment is just meant to remind the organizers that a myopic approach will necessarily leave some people behind and urge them to be sensitive to the message they send with a “this the BEST way” approach, especially those are making good decisions for themselves and their families about getting involved. 

It may be what it is, but there's no denying it adds to the growing systemic rifts along socio-economic lines in our community.

Thomas' enthusiasm for the process of face to face meetings is infectious.  Perhaps you do have the time and just need the push to make it happen.  Great.  I know of multiple people who promise me they are going to call and then get distracted — it IS frustrating to see Facebook updates about trips to kiddielands and playdates  and shopping trips with Mom while civil rights issues go untended, but I know it takes careful education to help people make the leap from the family unit to the larger community. 

Now an advocacy training specifically for LGBT families might be an interesting twist.  Or “Advocacy on a Budget.”  What group do you join when you literally have $25 to invest?  Hmm … might be interesting to see some of the various “advocacy” groups have to prove their cases. (You know I'm going with Steel City Stonewall.)



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  • Blogger, Sue Kerr, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and I have been exchanging some ideas about advocacy since she posted the other day. Sue expressed frustration that face to face meetings with legislators was difficult. I replied, and she has expanded on her thoughts on this.
    My concern is that this is pushed to the forefront so much that is unintentionally perhaps excludes significant groups of people who simply do not have the privilege of taking a lunch meeting or a half-day vacation.
    I don't want to go into the entire Wednesday program, but I want to say, that no one is suggesting that face to face meetings is the only needed form of activism. The session is described:
    GLTBQ Civil rights: How you can change government for your rights. A town hall forum and training session.
    A groundswell of activity is happening across the country to provide GLBTQ Americans with their civil rights ranging from hate crimes and nondiscrimination legislation to marriage equality battles. There have been successes, setbacks, and many big hurdles to come. Allegheny County and Pennsylvania are in the middle of such battles, and your rights may be placed in jeopardy! If we are not successful now, it may be a long time before we have basic civil rights in employment, housing and public accommodations.
    It is easy to think about democracy being about the right to cast a vote, but there are other ways that you can assure passage of needed nondiscrimination legislation like PA HB 300 and the local county ordinance. Democracy is a participation activity! In this town hall forum, learn about the status of pending legislation and the things you can do to assure passage of these critical protections. You will leave with step-by-step ideas about how you can make a noticeable difference towards achieving equality.
    Sue, did you possibly jump to some conclusion that this event was only about face to face meetings? The session isn't in any way limited to talking about face-to-face meetings. So, I believe that anyone who is interested in affecting government for change can find something of value in this session.
    I wonder if a fallacious “class” argument is being created here?
    If the truth is that weekday meetings are what it takes, then acknowledge that our fate is in the hands of the more elite in our community and figure out how to make them accountable. Perhaps dues to the member organizations could be lowered to allow more people to vote on the leaders?
    For me the term “elite” is a red flag. A friend who busses tables at an economy restaurant, working the dinner shift. Is he a part of the elite? A young mother who works a factory line midnight shift. Is she part of the “elite?” These are just hard working, real people, both capable of finding 15 to 30 minutes to meet with their legislator. To get caught up in a struggle of who can or cannot meet on a weekday really misses the real issue at hand.
    I'm of the opinion (others may disagree with me) that each of us can use whatever opportunity we have (big or little) to make a difference. It isn't about organization membership. It isn't about having to meet some set of requirements. It is truly about having individuals find whatever way they can be involved, and then doing that. for some, just getting by takes all their time, energy and whatever they have to offer. However for very many more at whatever level of socioeconomic capabilities, they can affect change.
    More however needs to be said about the notion of face to face meetings:
    My comment is just meant to remind the organizers that a myopic approach will necessarily leave some people behind and urge them to be sensitive to the message they send with a “this the BEST way” approach, especially those are making good decisions for themselves and their families about getting involved.
    I have written so much about this in my blog over time. The key to change in legislation comes by building relationships with your elected officials. Like how my representative Joe Preston suggested stopping by a few times a year to chat. Most legislators care about what their constituents want and want to know how the things they do in Harrisburg influence their daily lives. Now, how can the average person develop that relationship with their elected official? That's the question worth answering! And that is the topic of the Wednesday event!
    If you sit down and talk to legislators, especially at the state level, they will tell you that they are not influenced to vote for a bill by getting a mass email or mass text messages. These type of actions add noise to the discourse, but do little to assist a legislator in knowing how legislation impacts real people's lives. They are influenced by hearing from real people who are their constituents who are wiling to share their own story, and express how legislation will impact them. It isn't some myopic organization that has decided this- it is the reality of being a legislator.
    I was in a meeting with a state legislator with one of his constituents who is transgendered. I'm sure it was the first time, this legislator had ever heard someone say they were transgender. The first time they had knowingly shaken the hand of a trans person. and the first time they consciosly thanked a transperson for what they had to say.
    Real people make a difference.
    Thomas Waters

  • Thomas,
    Any conversation that identifies the much ignored “class argument” is worth having. This is the only blog I've read which dares to broach the subject.
    You lift up the hard-working waitress like Joe the Plumber to prove your point about elitism, but you are missing the point.
    I'm supposed to be impressed that Joe Preston met a transperson and agreed to see a white gay male on a regular basis? That's the best you can offer to refute the suggestion that advocacy groups are overlooking the queer community?
    I predict that the G20 summit is going to revitalize the queer sensibility in Pittsburgh and it is about time. When the AFL-CIO is a stronger ally to my family than the GLCC, we need change.

  • I went to one of these meetings earlier in the year. The end result is I was added to an email list which is always a day late and a dollar short.
    Don't waste your time. You can read up on the legislation yourself. Schedule meetings, make phone calls and get other people to do the same. You don't need to give up a beautiful summer evening to hear that over and over. You are better off joining the queer events list which usually has timely information.
    I'm not saying you shouldn't be involved. You just don't need a training to learn the obvious. This, like the rest of Pride, is a showboat for the organizations and blogs. Then we get back to real life.
    Trust me, I was there.

  • So a group of people who haven't been successful in getting any legislation passed will be sharing their wisdom with us? I'd rather hang out with Gary, Steven and Peter. At least they actually accomplish stuff.

  • I believe you have missed the point entirely on face-to-face discussions with our elected official, and you under estimate the ability of the working GLBT community as a whole.
    While face-to-face meetings are preferred, most officials will speak to you over the phone. Many people can take 15 minutes during their lunch or a 15 minute break during their day to make a planned phone call to their elected official. Often, even the most over worked and underpaid in our community have cell phones or blackberries on which to make these phone calls.
    But I have further problems with your argument. One does not have to be on a “professional/upper-middle class career trajectory” to have time to speak to their public officials. Like many of my gay bothers and sisters, I work in the service industry, and it is the perfect job to find time to speak with my elected official. Those of us in the service industry, while we do not make a large salary (most of us anyways) the one thing we do have is time. Waiters and bartenders often work the bulk of their shifts at night, allowing a lot of free time during the day. Retail employees, typically have one week day off, and their schedules rotate between opening and closing shifts, which also gives them plenty of time to meet with their elected officials.
    I also feel several examples you gave also fall into this category. The gay teacher has the entire summer off, which I believe would give him ample opportunity to meet with his elected official. The single mother lesbian with the hostile ex and fear of being outed at work: take the time to met with your representative, who could benefit more from this meeting than this woman. Take your child with you to the meeting, use it as an education tool for your child, show them that your voice counts. I realize that taking a ‘long lunch’ or a half a day off might seem extreme, but what things are more important that your own civil rights, especially when they affect your child?
    I believe most people are afraid to meet with their elected officials, we are afraid of taking up their time, afraid that our voices do not matter and are nervous about speaking up for ourselves when we have been put down for so long. Training people, all people of all economic backgrounds, to stand up, speak to our elected official, the ones that you so clearly pointed out, work for us, is vitally important!
    For me, the most disturbing parts of your post is your creation of a kind of ‘class warfare’ where those with privilege the “professional/upper-middle class career trajectory” and those “those who are even more socio-economically vulnerable to the status quo” seemed to be pitted against one another. It is a fallacy to say that those with privilege are the only ones with spare time on their hands, or they are the only ones willing to make the time. In my humble opinion, groups like Equality Advocates are trying to change the exact idea you are proclaiming. For too long it has appeared that only those with power or money have the ear of our public officials, e.g. unless you can afford the $150 a plate dinner fundraiser you have no voice. Equality Advocates directly challenges that notion and reaches out to all people, informing us that we all can speak and meet with our elected officials.
    It is a radical notion that the dyke with two kids, or the flaming florist or the unemployed transgendered person can meet and share their concerns with their local representative. I believe these radical ideas should be applauded and assisted, not casually dismissed as missing the point or only serving a small portion of our GLBT community.
    I will not down play the importance of blogging and getting a voice out on the internet, that is important. But how long can we sit behind our computers and ranting? What do we expect that to accomplish? How effective would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech have been if he had just written it in a blog? Until we stand up and do something, speak our stories out loud and proud, there will not be change. The two can and need to work together.

  • Sam: I do want you to know that while I certainly share your frustration about the meeting you went to, some of us local people are in a process of determining how we can better take the reigns to organize what needs organized per advocacy projects locally rather than relying on a statewide group to do that for us. We are all really overwhelmed with numerous responsibilities to our jobs and families but are just trying to do a little something to make the world a safer/better place. What I am trying to say is that I hope one meeting, which maybe didn't feel real productive for you and others, isn't viewed as the only thing happening. While you may have some dissatisfaction with the meeting you refer to, there are local people who are trying to follow up on effective ways to join advocacy efforts. There is alot of information the legislators have been asking us for in these face to face meetings and it simply can't be packaged in an e-blast through a newsgroup.
    yes, you may feel you have the background information you need to schedule a meeting and respond to legislators specific concerns. That's wonderful. DO know, however, the Wed Advocacy training is not a showboat for any organization. It really is just a few local people trying to get information out there about what Legislators are giving us the impression they need to know about . They're asking us questions about the amendments to the bill, statistics showing the need for the bill, personal stories about what it's like to live without these protections, how religious schools will be affected, etc.
    I hope that everyone out there that is offering constructive complaints will also find ways to help. Write a personal letter if you can't schedule a meeting. Find someone else who can go to a meeting or can write a letter.The point is that the personal touch is what is seeming to be most effective. Real people, real stories. But also be prepared with having done research. The legislators are asking some really hard questions and its important to know the answers. That's also why we are providing mentors to attend the meetings, people that can follow up with the facts or info a legislator is asking for that everyday people may not know the answer to. If you just need someone to help you think through how to write your personal letter we are more than happy to help with that also.
    What we are finding, and which Tom mentions above, is that yes, while not everyone can attend a meeting with their legislator, putting time and energy into finding people that can is really making a difference. Amazing conversations have been happening with legislators who at one time said things like “Gee, I don't think I have any gay people in my district”.
    ALso, and this concerns me, numerous legislators are telling us noone has contacted them in support of the legislation. Meanwhile, they are getting hundreds and hundreds of calls opposing it.
    There is alot of constructive input happening above on how things “should” be organized. Be assured, many of us local people are simply trying to do our small thing while we share the frustrations and we encourage everyone out there to find their small thing and do it. DOn't wait for someone to organize a project for you. If there is a way you think things can and should be done better, spread the word, find others to join you and get it done.
    Having said all that, I'll add one more thing. WHile the ability of Equality Advocates to organize Pittsburgh efforts out of their Philadelphia office has been difficult, they have, with all their plusses and minuses, been a driving force behind stopping the Marriage amendment which was last on the books in 2004 AND 2005 being blocked and deadened not once but twice. They have also been a driving force behind the State non-discrim bill moving out of committee and to the floor for a possible vote for the first time in over five years of trying.
    If you are not happy with the organizing problems happening, at least do know that there's alot of good with the bad and alot of movement forward that has been happening. Us local people are not trying to showboat as we seek to work with Equality Advocates and the Value All Families Coalition. We are simply trying to do our part to keep things moving forward.

  • You are really out of touch, buddy. $150 plates dinner as the benchmark? Give me a break. You must have one heck of a service job. There are tons of us out here who can't afford $20 events. That's $20 I need to use for part of a bus pass.
    You just proved the point that classism is the elephant in the room.
    As for speaking our stories out loud, you aren't listing to the stories people are sharing on this blog. You cling to the vision that the training perspective and the perspective of the predominantly white professional organizers is the only view that counts. If you can't hear people saying that this approach isn't working for them, you ability to educate those with different views points than you own is futile. Someone throw in an “ism” or a reference to privilege and you launch into attack mode.
    Just listen. Stop imposing your ontology on the rest of us and listen to what people who don't attend advocacy trainings have to say. Then take that into your meetings.

  • Dana,
    First, you might want to reflect on the fact that every comment you make on this blog contains a reference to how busy you are. We get that you are important and have other obligations, but that doesn't immune you to constructive feedback. If you could get past that instinctive reaction and move from a lecture about how hard you all are workings, it would help me read your comments with more an open mind.
    Second, I don't need a laundry list of ways to get involved. As I said, I know what to do and I do it. Please don't presume to speak down to me about how great it is that I step up. I'm not a child. I'm a grown adult with a college education who grasps the fundamentals of political advocacy. This is exactly the tone of your trainings.
    Maybe instead of lecturing me, you should invite me to join a committee. The only public face you have is an endorsement event and a booth at Pridefest. When do the committees meet? Use this blog to get the word out.
    But please please stop telling me how busy you are. You don't buy that excuse when other folks are saying they don't have time for face to face meetings, so it isn't fair for you to bring it up every single time.
    You seem like a nice lady and a true believer. Keep up the good work you do, but don't expect me to believe it is the best we can do.

  • “I realize that taking a ‘long lunch’ or a half a day off might seem extreme, but what things are more important that your own civil rights, especially when they affect your child?”
    You dare to tell me what you think is important for my child, as if I'm not concerned for her civil rights because I need to make sure she does her homework instead of taking her as some sort of prop to meet with my Congressman? No wonder people are turned off by your organization.
    I'm going to take my daughter and her mother to the Dyke March where we can do something by being visible. Then I'm going to take her to Pridefest and explain Stonewall as much as is appropriate for her. If the politicans want to take the time to talk with a lesbian family, that's fine.
    But don't you dare use my family as some sort of pawn in your stubborn refusal to realize that it isn't about training. It is about the realities of life in a recession, you insensitive clod. You figure out rent, food, utilities, childcare, clothing, car repairs, birthday presents, and maybe a dinner at Eat n Park and then come back and tell me I am unable to handle a meeting with a politician because I haven't attended your precious training. I'd be happy to give him an earful on why equal pay for women, domestic partner benefits, child care subsidies and discrimination matter to my family. Sadly, that “half day vacation” you so casually mention means my daughter doesn't get to go to a birthday party because we can't afford a gift.
    You may talk the civil rights talk, but my family is walking the walk and we don't have time to be trained on how to do that.
    By the way, the first post was dead on and I appreciate that someone gets it.

  • Dana,
    You make some good points. I would just like to add my $.02. I wish Steel City would spend some more time recruiting new members. I would be happy to help really I would, but you don't have meetings and the only information I receive are legislative updates.
    I'll meet with my legislator, sure, but isn't there some way to do something more? I don't even know what you actually due besides the endorsements. It is one thing to share it on this blog, but it would be so great if you could hold some meetings or organize committees.
    I want to help, but I get most of my information about your organization from this blog. That doesn't seem right.
    Thanks for reading.

  • Here comes Sue Kerr again with her incessant whining about rich white gay men. Whine, whine, whine. Be realistic. The rich white gay men make stuff happen because we work hard and earn money. If you can't afford birthday gifts, don't have kids. Period. I pay my male and female staff the same salary so stop that myth.
    Equal rights aren't going to happen with little trainings. They happen because smart, talented men sit down and work things out. We use our resources to open doors and talk about real issues. We pay our taxes and our dues. We don't whine.

  • Why doesn't anyone ever complain about the journalists and newscasters sitting behind their desks ranting? Oh maybe because they never talk about gay issues!
    You may be out and proud, but you are also out of touch. Go read some of the posts Sue has written over the past three years and then rethink the accusation that she doesn't speak out loud and proud. She's the one who gets the mainstream bloggers to write about gay issues, including the City Paper.
    Stop being dismissive of blogs and accept that they are tools of social change.

  • Amen. These men do more for our community than the “dykes” or the “queers” so this tirade is ridiculous. Have your march, fine. Just stop acting like it actually does something besides create the kumbaya moment.
    This blog is pretty good most of the time, except when she veers off into this social justice rants. If you think Equality Advocates cares what the dykes think, you are hopelessly naive. Who pays the bills — bar owners or bar maids?

  • You know this is unnecessary. Pretending there is no class divide in the gay community is silly. You say you want to empower people to take action and then you proceed to dictate how they can do that All the while, you refuse to listen to their concerns and reasons. Your tactics aren't wrong, but your approach is paternalistic at best and certainly gives creedence to their complaints.
    If you think this blogger has the power to launch class warfare in Pittsburgh, you've been asleep for the past 40 years.

  • Steel City is starting a process of regularly announcing open board meetings. What that means is that anyone who is free the evening of the meeting is free to attend. Go to http://www.steel-city.org to see when and where the next meeting is. We are hoping to encourage more dialogue with the community this way. WHile non-members won't have voting privileges, and lots of board meetings are simply going over 'what needs done and who is going to do it” regularly trying to keep the board meetings in a public place will hopefully give people a chance to ask their questions and share their thoughts. My e-mail contact is also on the web page for any other thoughts/questions. We do have other events we have held and encouraged over the past year, such as opportunities to meet with politicians running for office, a members meeting in the fall, our endorsement meeting and ongoing work to encourage engagement in the political process such as encouraging people to vote, letting them know where candidates stand,etc. We are of course happy when people are interested in any kind of input to the community and are truly searching for ways to better involve interested and available people.

  • Firstly, this is the last comment I am going to make to this thread. I'm sorry I said anything. I should have let Sue mis-characterize what we are doing on Wednesday and let it go at that.
    I am not missing the point and I totally agree that class is an important issue to be addressed, within our society as a whole as well as within more specific communities within it. But “class” and “elite” serve as evocative catchphrases and when used as a criticism without any conversation do not further any thing. I merely disagreed with those being thrown out to criticize what we are doing on Wednesday. That's all. It was an unjustifiable criticism. I am especially pleased that the Women's Law Project is one of our co-sponsors. It is disheartening to see fine people doing good work like them, as well as the others involved, being accused of being insensitive to class issues.
    I need to set the record correct: I did not say that Joe Preston met a trans person. Joe has been a big supporter of the GLBTQ community. I did say I was in a meeting with a representative and a transperson. I did not say that individual was Joe. That Joe is open to meeting with his constituents is characterisitic of all the legislators. If you have had a different experience trying to meet with your legislator, please contact me. I'd love to dig into that and draw attention to it.
    I don't even know where to begin with the statement that “advocacy groups are overlooking the queer community?” I was not refuting any such claim, nor did I realize that that was the criticism being made.
    I also have no idea what to do with the comment about the GLCC. I am not involved with that group, and they have no connection to the Pride session on Wednesday that was the topic of conversation.
    This thread of comments has been amazing to read. There clearly is a lot of anger out there! I hope I have the energy to try and dig in and better understand these sentiments over time.
    I am especially intrigued by the notion that the G20 will revitalize “queer sensibility.” I'd love to hear more about why you feel that will happen and what you think that could look like.

  • I don't think Sue Frietsche or the other women involved with this project would take offense at the analysis in this post. They understand oppression and “elitism.” They also understand how they benefit from both. They may not agree with the points raised, but I doubt they would dismiss another woman's opinion or her freedom to express it simply based on disagreement.
    There has been a lot of conversation on this topic. It just hasn't veered toward your point of view. That's very different than someone “mischaracterizing” you're event in a vacuum.
    I am glad we are done with this discussion.

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