Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Change and Not Change

I don't know anybody who voted for John McCain. Well, scratch that, I suppose I know a few people. An old friend of mine from high school, recently friended on Facebook, appears to be a McCain supporter. I think I heard that the husband of a friend of mine was possibly voting for him. Beyond that...I really can't think of many others. I'm not actually happy about that fact. It reminds me of the year 2004. That was when Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ, which was so popular it became the 12th highest grossing moving of all time in the United States. Millions upon millions of Americans watched that movie. And yet, at the time, I didn't know a single person who had seen it. I didn't know anyone who voted for Bush in 2004 either.

Such are the segregated ways of politics and culture in our fair country. You can't blame me for wanting to live in places where I feel comfortable, or for wanting to surround myself with people like myself. It is a rare species of utopian who puts their daily life on hold to cross such lines. But I'm finding myself wishing I had taken more time these past years to do just that.

The elections last night filled me with a horrific combination of elation and sadness, watching my candidate win an overwhelming mandate in the Presidential candidate, and also watching my home state of California prove, once again, its fundamental ability to plumb the depths of inhumanity. I can barely describe the awe I feel at Obama's election. I've supported him ever since hearing him speak at a rally in Los Angeles in February of 2007. I'm usually pretty cynical about electoral politics, and their capability to create actual change, but call me a wide-eyed optimist for the moment. "National politics," usually an unwieldy and transparent construction of the media, seems briefly to reach into our local lives. This was the scene in my little corner of West Philly last night, well after midnight. Our local anarchist samba band--doesn't every neighborhood have one?--took over a bit of Baltimore Ave, and the multiracial neighborhood literally danced in the streets. In this blurry clip, the #34 trolley pushes it way through the crowd:

(Kind of reminds you of the beginning of Einstein on the Beach, doesn't it?)

I was so excited to actually be casting a meaningful vote in this Presidential race, after a lifetime lived in resolutely blue states. How ironic, then that as the race neared, I found myself wishing I was voting not here in Pennsylvania, but back home in California. The results on Proposition 8, the measure to ban gay marriage, are not final. But with 95% of the precincts reporting, the ban is ahead by four points, and unless those missing 5% of the precincts are all in San Francisco, it doesn't look good.

Like many in the queer community, I wish gay marriage was not at the center of our political efforts; I would much rather get the government out of the business of relationship sanctification altogether. But marriage we had, in California, and as an institution it was doing its own part for political change. Back in May, when the Supreme Court found that indeed, discrimination was illegal, I assumed that any attempt to create a ban would fail. Even when Prop. 8 made it on the ballot, I assumed that it would fail easily. After all, by the time the election rolled around, we would have had a full six months of gay marrying, and hopefully the populace would see that the world was not ending because of it.

Millions of dollars streaming over from Utah later, five million people in my home state found themselves capable of looking their friends, neighbors, and family in the eye and say, "I find you less than human." It feels like betrayal, and it is. One personal anecdote: there was a fuss in recent weeks in the world of corporate San Francisco after a top partner at one of these firms, Dean C., donated $5,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. San Francisco corporate law firms might be corporate, but it is still San Francisco, and many of Dean's colleagues in the firm were gay. Understandably, they took his move very personally--how could he respect his fellow partners as colleagues and friends, and yet say that they did not deserve basic human rights? A flurry in the world of legal blogs ensued.

I take it personally too. Dean C. lives in the town in the East Bay where I am from. My family knows his well; I grew up going to school with his sons and daughters, making music with them, playing sports with them. I feel awkward even typing his name out loud here, but if he feels comfortable making a public statement of his own prejudice, then I assume he feels comfortable with the consequences. Obviously he has the right to engage in politics as he--and the Mormon Church to which belongs--sees fit. But Freedom of Speech does not mean Freedom from Discomfort, and I hope he feels deeply uncomfortable.

The other unpleasant truth about Proposition 8 points to the fissure in the Obama mandate that I desperately hope we can overcome in the next four years: the high turnout of the African American and Latino vote in California, which gave Obama such a huge margin there, also helped pass Proposition 8. That is admittedly assumption; I haven't seen the details of the exit polls yet. I hope I am wrong. But the tragedy feels Shakespearean, victory inexorably coupled with defeat.

That's why I wish I had spent more time on the outskirts of my own comfort zone, and more time finding sameness, rather than difference, with those who reside there. I do, however, have high hopes for what Obama might accomplish here. Back when there was the fuss about homophobic gospel singer Donnie McClurkin performing at an Obama concert, I thought Obama handled the situation adroitly. He criticized the homophobia, and made clear his own opposition to McClurkin's statements--just as he also came out against Prop. 8--but also acknowledged the fact that sexuality intersects the color line in different ways, and that engagement, not boycott, was the answer. That sounds about right to me.

So maybe I can end on that positive note. I do think Obama has it in him to make profound political and cultural change in this country, and after last night's blowout he has the authority to do so. So let's hope for the best, and hope that someday, California will find its way back to justice.

Edited on 2/8/10 to remove the lawyer's last name. This entry shows up as one of the first entries when you google his name, and that feels weird.


KG said...

According to exit polls, the strongest minority support for Prop 8 came from the African American community (7 of 10 supported it). Conversely, the majority of white voters were against it. I'm wondering why the No on 8 people didn't focus more on that issue.

6.54 said...

Probably because there aren't enough black people in California to account for the passage of Prop 8. Not to say the community's general distaste for gay marriage isn't an issue (I honestly have no idea of its extent), just, there are much bigger and much easier fish to fry.

Regular churchgoers, for one, who voted considerably beyond their expected turnout and by 84% in favor of Prop 8. From a pragmatic activist standpoint, there's little reason to even ask about the racial breakdown of this vote when you've got a statistic like that to work with. Particularly since a correlation between black people and homophobia is accidental and difficult to identify in any given individual, whereas a correlation between Christianity and homophobia is causal, easily documented and based in explicit ideology. In other words, you can't go up to a black or latino person on the street and try to chat with them about their homophobia when you have no idea what their preconceptions even are; but you can (with difficulty, granted) show up at homophobic churches of any race and make homosexuality a part of their lives, with some assurance that it'll make a difference. Or am I missing something?

But you're certainly right that a push to get outside our comfort zones and personally fight for – or just talk about – things we believe would change everything. Not just about homophobia, either.

Ross said...

I imagine by now everyone has seen this post. If not, take a gander.

Prop. 8 Myths

All that said, there is still clearly much work to be done in outreach.

Dan B. said...

I've seen The Passion of the Christ, and did find some stuff to admire in the filmmaking, even if the message is distasteful

I also come from a family of Republicans, and it's often easy to find common ground if we both step out of the individual candidates and simply start with "what do we need to fix?" I've also taken the anti-gay-marriage and anti-abortion stances in debates, not because I believe in those positions. but because I believe that it's good to know the people on the other side. It's much harder to demonize them when they become individuals, when you know their positions, and when you both know what you need to fix.