Click here to sign up to meet with your US Senators and Representatives in August in your local district to press the case for HR 3017, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
These meetings are sponsored by the Inclusive ENDA Facebook campaign, co-chaired by Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend, Bil Browning and Waymon Hudson of Bilerico.com, and me, Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, Associate Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College.
Did you click on the link just now and sign up? Why not? That unreasoning reason that just jumped into your head – you know, the thing along the lines of “You expect meeee to….no thanks, I can't, someone else will do it, I'm just browsing, leave me alone” – that one?
We can have ENDA — if we get smart and we get targeted.
There are a dozen different items on our LGBT agenda. But only ENDA has an excellent chance of becoming US law this year, if the grassroots gets smart and gets targeted. The House is almost there, with 200 Representatives having taken a public position in favor, and 60 more likely yeses out there, bringing us well over the 218 needed for passage. The Senate is going to be more of a firefight because of the larger and more split constituencies that they represent, but there are probably (I emphasize probably) more than the 60 needed to preclude a filibuster. ENDA is also the greatest good for the most people, for it will have a direct impact on a larger segment of the LGBT community than any of the issues on our plate. Most of us work, and far fewer are hate crime victims, serve in the military or want to get married.
The right to discriminate against us is the right to keep us unemployed and underemployed and marginalize both our economic and personal lives. Furthermore, the House is very, very close to a clear and public majority on ENDA, and the Senate now has the power to shut down any filibuster after the seating of Senator Franken, with probably enough votes to do it.
We could have ENDA. We should have it. We would have it, if we take effective actions. But this may all be “coulda shoulda woulda” at the end of 2009.
The Grinch That Stole ENDA
There is a very persistent enemy, an enemy that threatens to deny us even the limited job fairness bill that is ENDA, and that is our reluctance to come together as a community to tell our Representatives and Senators with a clear voice: WE WANT THIS LAW.
Instead, we have a dozen different calls to action on different issues going around, people marching in a dozen different directions with their fists in the air and their brains firmly in the off position, and there is even a contingent that is opposing ENDA on the shortsighted ground that we don't want anything if we don't get everything right now – which is the legislative equivalent of a hissy fit. The small LGBT populations in the states where ENDA is most iffy and most in need of public contact with legislators are being split in a dozen different directions. Am I against petitions and marches and calling President Obama to task? Am I against free speech?
Yes, if it takes the form of crazy speech. I'm against anything that is going to fractionalize our community into a dozen different pieces, all speeding away from each other like the Big Bang. All heat and no light. I want ENDA and I'm not afraid to say so.
Desperately needed is an LGBT community signing up to meet with their Representatives and Senators on ENDA during the August recess when legislators control their own calendars, instead of the insane marching drumbeat that happens when Congress is in session.
Except in the most extraordinary circumstances, Representatives and Senators don't vote based on how mad you are or how long your petition, or how big your Facebook group or march is.
They vote based on how many people in their districts take the time and effort to explain their positions. There are too many things drowning out our voices otherwise – health care and immigration and taxes and whatnot. That is a pain in the butt, but that is reality. That is why lobbyists make so much money.
A meeting is so much more powerful than an email or a phone call. Emails and phone calls get marked down as numbers on a list, if they get marked down at all. They help, but much less than meetings.
Face-to-Face Meetings Will Get Us ENDA
Face to face meetings are what really make the difference for an undecided legislator. Think about yourself, and take some issue that you don't know a whole lot about, but are being asked to vote on.
Let's take as an example the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009. Pretty exciting, eh? It establishes a cleanup fund for reclamation of old mines by subjecting production of minerals from any mining claim to royalties and fees. Is it a good idea? Do we need this? Is this addressing a major problem or is it some legislator paying back a debt to a constituent on an issue no one else cares about? Is it going to drive marginal businesses under?
I don't know, I don't really care, and you probably don't either.
Which of these scenarios are most likely to get you to support the bill?
1) Your aide tells you some emails came in supporting the bill.
2) Your receptionist says you got some phone calls supporting the bill.
3) You meet with three constituents who vote in your district, nice people all of them, and they tell you how mine-damaged land is a major problem for them, and why this Act is needed to improve the quality of their lives. Each of them tells a story about what it's like living with these abandoned mines and why it's bad.
I don't know about you, but I'd go with number 3.
Now, number 3 doesn't happen all that often.
Why? Because, in fact, most people are too busy with their lives to stop and take the effort to set up a meeting and go and pitch their legislators. It's also a bit frightening. What will I say? How will they react? Will I be rejected? So a meeting of legislators with ordinary constituents happens once in a blue moon. Oh, the corporate constituents and the lobbying groups and the nonprofits are in there every day. But an ordinary person who experiences discrimination?
That's got to change.
The Facebook campaign for “Inclusive ENDA” (with over 2700 members, by the way, but who's counting?) is providing a service that allows those interested in passage of the bill to sign up for meetings scheduled with their U.S. Senators and Representatives in their local districts in August.
August is a time when no legislative session is scheduled, and legislators are in their home districts. They are not controlled by a tight meeting schedule. They have time to listen. And that time is now.
Why Are You Exempt?
Did you click and sign up?
Hmmm. This meeting signup site has been in place for a month and we have advertised it tirelessly. Do you know how many people visited the site?,About a 1000. Do you know how many signed up for meetings? About 50.
Do you see a disconnect here?
We are too busy with too many things. We have calls for petitions, and we have calls for marches, and we have rhetoric and bloggers' tough talk out the wazoo about DOMA briefs and DOJ and President Obama and a lot of things that, frankly, don't amount to a hill of beans.
I, for one, don't want to hear about petitions and I don't want to hear about marches and I certainly don't want to hear about whether President Obama is with us or against us – none of these will matter one whit when the ENDA vote comes down this fall.
President Obama can't do this for us. Barney Frank can't do this for us. Joe Solmonese can't do this for us.
The only thing that will matter is how many of your legislators say “aye” when their name is called.
If you want them to meet you on ENDA, you have got to meet them.
Forget signing some internet petition that's going to line the legislative bird cage, and marches that will fill newspapers with angry words and pictures but not produce a single legislative vote.
Or Bye-Bye ENDA.