Eyes on the Prize in NC

Posted: May 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

The march for equality swells in Greensboro, NC’s governmental plaza on Wednesday. (Photo, Lauren Guy)

The fight against North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which defines marriage between one man and one woman as the only legally recognized relationship in the state, entered a new phase on Tuesday after the primary voting (of which the Amendment referendum was part) ended.  The official results of the referendum were 61% for the bigoted amendment and 39% against, but this does not portray an accurate picture of the situation on the ground in the state, and the media as a whole has overlooked the resistance that emerged when the Amendment was put on the ballot and how now been pushed into a new phase with its passage.

We are in the midst of a whirlwind of activity right now, but this is what will hopefully be accomplished in this report: first, a short background that helps explain the political implications of our current situation, an analysis of organizing efforts so far, and how we plan to move forward with our most immediate goal–repeal of the amendment.

In the madness that is an election year, the truth about the origins and evolution of Amendment 1 has already been obscured as Democrats and Republicans jockey for who can be the most ridiculous.  It is true that the sponsor of the bill was a Republican state senator (who, incidentally, died on Monday).  (He was also an unabashed racist.  His widow said on Tuesday that “the reason my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce.”)  What is not true, however, is the myth currently being spun by the state Democrats about their “long” opposition to the amendment.  When the measure was first being debated in the state legislature, the strongest argument the Democrats would mount against it was “North Carolina doesn’t have a great record on civil rights.  We don’t want to pass something we’re going to regret in ten years.”  There was absolutely zero denouncing of homophobia and the right’s divide and conquer tactics.  And when the referendum was scheduled for the November election, Democrats urged for it to be moved to this May’s primary (the GOP was all too happy to concede) on the pretext of preventing “wedge issue politics” from interfering with the general election.  In other words, Democrats were trying to avoid having to take a stand on this issue at all, and in the process, making an already uphill battle much steeper as the only major race on the primary ballot was the Republican presidential freak show/nomination.

It of course goes without saying that the very idea of this vote was illegitimate.  One does not have the right to vote on the citizenship, rights, or dignity of others.  But with the clock ticking even faster and the measure on the ballot, we mobilized quickly to fight it.

The other background to the amendment’s evolution was the clear divide and conquer attempt from the right–made explicit by a National Organization for Marriage memo that explained the purpose was to divide Black and LGBT North Carolinians (neglecting to recognize all the while that people of color are LGBT too).  In the end, it was a tactic that failed.  It failed so miserably, in fact, that one result of the fight against Amendment 1 has been the strengthening of ties between organizing against racism and organizing against homophobia.  The state NAACP, led by Rev. William Barber, spent the spring campaigning against the Amendment all across the state.  In an unprecedented move, a caucus of Black clergy made a formal statement opposing the amendment.  Polls showed that Black voters were more likely to vote against than white voters.  One activist described her time outside a polling station in one of Greensboro’s predominantly Black neighborhoods: “It was all these old folks who look like my grandparents, straight up old school Black folk, and they were all voting against and proud of it.  One realized his son hadn’t voted and returned with him ten minutes later after clearly dragging him out of bed.”  Coalitions formed to fight the amendment–particularly All of Us NC, which centered around community based organizing, and We Are, which focused on organizing high school and college students, also adopted explicitly antiracist stances, clearly articulating that as the right attacks us on all fronts, we must fight back on all fronts, and fight together.  Anti-amendment activists were central to the organizing around fighting the opening of a new prison, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, and trying to stop deportations.  As one activist said, “Amendment 1 hurts queer people and it hurts families, but even if we defeat Amendment 1, unemployment, the prison-industrial complex, and deportations hurt queer people and families too.  It’s all got to stop.”  Unsurprisingly, the media and city officials tried to downplay the interracial solidarity.  In Greensboro, the US Marshals tried to prevent us from being visible to the media covering the John Edwards trial.  A multiracial group of Southerners standing against homophobia cuts against every stereotype people have about North Carolina, and the attempts to suppress (and blatantly lie–already some media outlets have tried to blame Black voters for the outcome of the vote when every fact stands in opposition to it) about the opposition to Amendment 1 shows that we are on the right track.

The coalitions we built in the lead up to the May 8 vote will be indispensable in fighting to repeal Amendment 1–and to take up other demands.  As activists had noted, the fight to stop Amendment 1 was really only a stopgap measure.  Legally, its defeat would have changed nothing and we’re not interested in the status quo.  All of Us NC and Occupy Greensboro activist Tiffany said, “We end up getting all hot about something which isn’t even what we really want. Like really, when are we going to get universal health care and a living wage up in here? Cause I’m my own person, and I deserve these things whether I have a partner or not.”  And of course, we want marriage equality–in North Carolina and nationwide.

The early voting period was incredibly tense.  Polls show that regardless of how the vote turned out, 60% of North Carolinians opposed the Amendment, but we have to wonder why that didn’t materialize into victory on May 8.

Part of it was the timing of the vote.  Even people who opposed the measure didn’t realize it was going to be on the primary ballot.  There were also issues with voter intimidation–bigots gathering outside polling places and harassing people who were trying to vote against.  Part of it was the lies and frenzy whipped up by the right wing to get people to vote for it.  Part of it is a reflection of the fact that although we’ve come a long way in the last few months, we still have a long way to go.  In the meantime, people are going to suffer.  Besides the homophobia that has been exacerbated by the Amendment, there will be many more repercussions.  Within eight hours of the Amendment’s passage, municipalities began discussing how to use the Amendment as an attack on workers and their families by cutting domestic partner benefits.  Other domestic partner benefits–like hospital visitation–will also be in jeopardy.  Domestic violence protections for unmarried women will be under attack, and child custody can be called into question.  And of course, the second class citizenship of LGBT people will be enshrined in the state constitution.

The immediate opposition to the Amendment is promising, however.  In the last two days, our struggle has entered a new and more militant phase.  At midnight on Tuesday there was a march through the streets of Asheville, in the Western NC mountains.  Within hours of the Amendment’s passage, organizing meetings were planned in every city across the state and more than 20,000 signatures had been added to the “1 Million Against Amendment 1” petition.  On Wednesday, the Bank of America Shareholders meeting in Charlotte was rocked by protest that took up the demand to repeal the Amendment.  Later that day, hundreds rallied in the pouring rain in Greensboro, marching through downtown to chants of “We demand equality” and “Gay, straight, Black or white, marriage is our civil right.”  Thursday saw the beginning of the “We Do” civil disobedience campaign, where couples will occupy city halls around the state, refusing to leave until given a marriage license or arrested.  On Thursday, a woman was arrested in Winston-Salem as she sought a marriage license for her and her partner.  Another march is planned for Greensboro on Saturday.  When the state legislature arrives back in session on May 16, they will be greeted by a massive coalition of labor unions and anti-Amendment 1 protesters.

None of this has been changed by Obama’s “support” of same-sex marriage (declared the day after the passage of Amendment 1).  The general sentiment is that of “too little, too late.”  After all, Obama was in North Carolina campaign several times already this spring.  Never once did he even mention the amendment, let alone oppose it.  In fact, the Amendment’s passage plays right into the strategic hand of the Democrats, who can now claim to support LGBT rights by “opposing” the Republicans without actually doing anything to advance our rights.  No, we are going to win, but our victory will come in the streets.

One Greensboro activist said “Whatever law they pass, we’re still here.  They can’t get rid of us.”  And as a statement released by the community organizing group Southerners on New Ground said, “They won the fight over this Amendment, but our win is so much bigger,” because now we’re connected to each other, we’re organized together, we’re linking arms where they said we couldn’t, and now in North Carolina we’re not just talking about the relatively narrow fight against amendment 1–we’re talking about how to achieve liberation.

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