why No on 8 should have been like Yes on Measure J

So I’m still wrapping up some of the reporting from the African American-centered Town Hall from Saturday, not to be confused with today’s upcoming online Town Hall from the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.

images-5I had a terrific conversation with, Danny Bakewell, Jr. who co-moderated the town hall along with Jasmine Cannick. Bakewell is the president and executive editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel, L.A.’s premier newspaper for the African American community. The Sentinel endorsed a no vote on Proposition 8, and from the way Bakewell told it, his paper is taking heat from both inside and outside its offices on the No endorsement.

Bakewell gave me his assessment for why he thinks Prop 8 got support from his community, and what could have been done differently.

He used the example of the L.A. County Measure J as a model for what No on 8 could have done to build better support in the African American community.

“Measure J was a $3 billion bond measure that dealt with construction and remodeling of community colleges,” Bakewell explained. “The community college advocates went into the (African American) community. They got people who looked like them to (appear) in their advertising. They had contractors say, “I got a million-dollar contract, and I was able to hire other people from my community by this bond measure passing, and it is going to improve the schools,” so people took some ownership of it. They felt like voting yes on Measure J affected their life. Whereas, No on 8 did a great job isolating this to a gay issue and there was no other viewpoint.”

Bakewell also noted that Yes on 8 campaigners and other advocacy groups pushing various other measures were active early because they knew there was going to be higher African American turnout this election thanks to Barack Obama. 

“They bought full-page ads, they bought radio time, they bought television time on cable that was in African American community,” he said. “They reached out to community organizations and agencies, but No on 8 didn’t do that. No on 8 spent little money if any. They didn’t really try to educate people specifically in the African American community on what was going on. They didn’t do anything to dissuade the propaganda that was out there. In my opinion it just ran rampant.”

Another factor in the vote might have been early voting.

“At the Sentinel we shuttled probably a hundred people a day for three weeks straight for early voting turnout” Bakewell explained. “And people saw the commercials and they just said, ‘I don’t want my church to lose its 501-C3 status, I don’t want my children to be taught about homosexuality.’”

He noted that “four days before the election” the No on 8 campaign did a TV buy with ads featuring Samuel L. Jackson, but the campaign “didn’t reach out to African American media directly.”

It’s easy to blame a lot of that on a lack of cash that wasn’t really dealt with until the final weeks of the campaign. But Bakewell brought up an issue that goes beyond funding.

“You saw a lot of people who are supporters of gay rights, both straight and gay people in the African American community who are willing to go to churches and willing to go to met with community organizations and defend and educate the community. But you’ve got to engage us. You gotta say, ‘look, we need your help, we need you to be in this fight.’ You can’t just kind of say ‘it’s a civil rights issue’ and that’s it. “


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