Celebrate amendment victories, but build on energy

By Jonathan McJunkin

I’ve never been more invested in a political issue. While very aware of the six hour time difference between Oxford and Minnesota, I spent Tuesday night in a room full of inebriated Britons and Americans watching the returns on BBC and refreshing MPR and Politico to track the two Minnesotan amendments. These amendments were straight-up wrong. The prospect of Minnesota voters using the constitution to send a message of discrimination to same-sex families or to decimate the election system with the highest turnout in the nation kept me up at night. Both of these propositions seemed not just possible but likely, even inevitable just a few months ago. I was cautiously optimistic based on the most recent polls for both measures, but given the record of votes on marriage in other states and the overwhelming 80 percent initial support for voter ID I was still bracing for disappointment. At around 7:00 a.m. (1:00 a.m. in MN), we were ahead, but it was too close, especially on marriage. Then the remaining precincts of Ramsey County reported their results. Ramsey County, our county, had been crushing both amendments by 25 percent, and their final votes made it clear that there was no avenue for their passage left. We defeated the anti-marriage amendment, the “let the voters decide” trump card that Frank Schubert and his ilk had used to beat back equality in thirty-one states with the same appeal to the darkness in American culture which allows people to see other people’s status as citizens or even human beings as just another opinion. Along with Maine, Maryland and Washington, we marked what will be the high-water mark of marriage discrimination. We defeated a voter ID measure at the ballot box, something that even a year ago would have seemed like a progressive pipe dream. We showed that it’s possible to move past “it’s just common sense” and see the reality of the people that these laws hurt. We were able to do all this by running two of the most impressive grassroots campaigns in the history of the state; these campaigns would not have happened if our generation hadn’t seized this opportunity. So many of us have put in major hours, smarts, and emotional energy for months to get here by working and volunteering with MPIRG, Keith Ellison’s campaign, Take Action MN, Our vote Our Future, the DFL, churches across the state and the fundraising and visibility juggernaut that is Minnesotans United for All Families. When the results came in, I don’t think I was alone in thinking back to these experiences. To countless people who supported me and told me stories about their times working for their vision of Minnesota, you are what make me love this state. To those who listened to what I had to say and honestly considered it, or changed their mind, you are why we organize. And to those who compared gays to pedophiles, talked about “busloads of illegals” voting, and told me I was wasting my life: the voters have spoken. Celebration is in order. To give an idea of scale, MN United alone had 25,000 volunteers for get out the vote—that’s more than Obama’s Minnesota campaign in 2008. But the most productive thing to take from defeating the amendments is not this sense of victory but the sense of our power as youth and as students. None of the campaigns would have succeeded without young people knocking on doors, making calls or simply having conversations with their family. At the polls, we drove the margin for these amendments: 78.81 percent of youth voted no on the marriage amendment, 69.25 percent voted against voter restriction. We need to recognize the incredible energy we now have across the state and not let it dissipate. As we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from this historic victory, we must remember that it was a defensive one—a vital one, but one that left conditions in Minnesota the same as they were before. Gay marriage is still illegal in this state, and if we want to truly stand for equality we have to make Minnesota for Marriage’s nightmares come true and use the momentum we gained from the people’s voice to pass legalization legislation. Marriage is by no means the be-all-end-all of LGBT activism either, legislative or otherwise. We need to fight just as hard against supporters of discrimination’s goal of a culture of “traditional values” in our communities. Voter ID is not going away. It is a national effort coordinated by collusions of business and legislative interests like ALEC (of which Mary Kiffmeyer, ID champion, was the state chair in MN), and there will be efforts to pass it again. I’ve seen how these things work in Pennsylvania, my home state, and it is truly terrifying. A judge placed a stay on the law’s implementation after it became clear that thousands of voters were unable to obtain ID s under the new system without facing significant hardship. Even after this decision, supporters of the law left billboards up in minority neighborhoods saying that the requirement stood and asked election officials to ask for IDs anyway, running confusing TV ads that asked voters to “show it” and then briefly stated that it wouldn’t be required. This speaks for itself of the true purpose, or at the very least the true effect, of these laws: voter suppression. We stopped this in Minnesota for now, but we must use the momentum from this campaign to continue to ensure that our elections remain accessible to all citizens. The amendments only dealt with two issues, but the campaign behind them showed the power we have when we organize towards a vision of a better Minnesota. What’s your vision? What keeps you up at night? We’ve learned this past year that the way to win is to organize and build community. If the odds seem long, remember the 32 state losing streak, remember being down by 60 points, and remember November 7. What do you want to win next? refresh –>