ON A MUDDY SECTION of the South Park Blocks on Saturday morning, 1,000 people crowded around a small, low stage to protest the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, a measure that killed marriage equality in that state. Around the world, thousands of people rallied in hundreds of other cities and towns.
"How many of you are as angry as I am?" Mayor-elect Sam Adams asked the crowd on November 15, yelling into a megaphone. "In our anger, it's important that we put it to good use. Because... it's about what we do from here on out."
Two days later, rally organizer Lindsey Asher—a woman who says the election "really instigated me," and made her realize "I couldn't sit here wondering what the next step is"—echoed Adams' message.
"We're not focusing on the hate that's been projected on us, but what we can each do," she says.
Meanwhile groups like Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), the Q Center, and the Equity Foundation issued an open letter the day before the rally, tamping down "the desire to place blame," and—like Adams and Asher—calling "on everyone in our community to move forward together."
The letter even looked at Prop 8 through a lens of hope: "The truth is that millions of voters took a stand against discrimination. And they did so in numbers greater than we have ever seen. Eight years ago Californians passed a marriage ban by a 22 percent margin. This year it was only four percent. While far from a victory, this shift represents historic progress," read the letter, signed by BRO's Jeana Frazzini and other local gay rights leaders.
But with all of this talk of moving forward and looking to the future, what can we do to achieve full equality? In Oregon, Measure 36 still bars marriage equality on a constitutional level, and it'll take a tough and expensive ballot measure fight to repeal. The anti-gay activists at Concerned Oregonians are also reorganizing, and will likely try to roll back domestic partnerships next year.
"I would love to see Oregon as the first state to repeal our marriage amendment," says BRO's Frazzini. "In order to do something like that it's going to take an aggressive public-awareness campaign. We're going to need to continue to build support for that."
The messages that the gay rights movement has put out to date haven't been working on as broad a scale as is necessary, however. "I think California demonstrates that," says Frazzini. Fine tuning the message to reach out to people of faith or communities of color—African American voters in California and Mormon donors have been loudly blamed for Prop 8's passage—"is a big part of what's next."
"We have a movement that has struggled to broaden the representation within our movement beyond where it started, which is primarily white, primarily middle-class folks who do a great job of speaking to one another but don't necessarily build the relationships across race and across class," she says. "And those are the kinds of connections that are going to be critical to have moving forward."
To that end, folks like David Martinez of Portland Latino Gay Pride, Frazzini and others plan to meet on November 19 for a brainstorming session. Asher will attend. "There are a lot of ideas swirling around," she adds.
At the protest, Mayor-elect Adams got specific, urging people to help organizations like BRO, to come out "if you haven't already," and to "let your email address list know that it's time for our straight allies and for our families to step up, volunteer, give money, and support us."
Asher says she tries to educate people about marriage equality whenever she can—even in the grocery checkout line. If a cashier "says have a good day, I say I will... if you know about marriage equality."
Asher adds that there will likely be another rally, where she hopes to mitigate complaints about last Saturday's rally, namely about the absence of a march and the lack of a sufficient sound system. The crowd occasionally broke into chants of "let's march!" but rally organizers didn't have the time or money to obtain a permit to march through the streets, says Asher.
"I had never organized an event of this size," she says. "I think that we had a bigger turnout than we expected. But I hope that if we do something again, we can get more people to come next time because it was such a positive experience."