What do Iran and the DNC have in common? It's a bit complicated, but it is very important for the LGBT movement going forward.
A Scenario to Consider
Imagine you live in a dorm room with one roommate. Your roommate's bed is by the window, and yours is not. He has complete control over how much fresh air is in your room. You ask him kindly to open the window, but he says no. You ask him again, a bit more aggressively, and still he refuses. You ask a third time, this time screaming at him to do as you say, and yet still he will not open the window to let in some fresh air.
So you grab your pillow, go over to his bed, and smack him with it. He is annoyed, but still he will not open the window. So you smack him again. And again. And again. An hour later, your roommate is bothered by your incessant pillow smacks that he finally decides that it's just easier to open the goddamn window and let you have your fresh air.
A Quick Lesson in Foreign Policy
What you did in this scenario was make your roommate, knowing that you would keep smacking him with your pillow until he opened the window, realize that it would be less painful to obey you than to disobey you. This is known by international politics experts as “compellence” – the act of compelling someone to do something by making it so that obedience is less painful than disobedience.
Take, for example, Iran. Right now, Iran is in the process of procuring nuclear materials with which to build weapons. In response, the US and other nations have placed strict economic sanctions on Iran. Why? Because they are hoping that these sanctions will be so painful to the Iranian people that they will give up their pursuit of nuclear weaponry because it is easier to obey US demands than it is to disobey them. Compellence is a common technique used in foreign policy to make one state obey another by making disobedience more painful than obedience.
Compellence and the LGBT Movement
This idea of compellence is a lesson that the LGBT movement should learn. As we craft future tactics for pushing President Obama and Congress to take up such legislative measures as DADT repeal, ENDA passage, and DOMA repeal, we need to keep in mind that we have yet to give Obama or Congressional Democrats a reason to spend political capital on us. We need to compel them: we need to make it more painful for them not to vote on these bills.
How do we do that? How do we compel Democrats to vote with our interests? By making it politically painful not to. Don't vote for Democrats who don't support equality. Don't go to their rallies, don't campaign for them, don't waste a single dime or minute on them. And definitely don't donate to the DNC or any other umbrella organizations – your money will probably go to embattled Democrats who don't support equality.
“Okay, so you told me what not to do. But what should I do?”
Actually, what GetEqual did at Senator Barbara Boxer's Los Angeles rally was an incredibly good example of making it politically painful to not obey our demands. Ask yourself this: what sort of news coverage did that rally get in the days following? Media coverage of the rally focused almost exclusively on the gay rights protestors and how Obama got interrupted, not on Boxer or her campaign. The point of that rally was to raise money for Boxer (who's facing a tough re-election bid this November) and get her free publicity. Instead, most people don't even know who the rally was for; they only know that Obama got interrupted, and by a demographic who is typically in lock-step with the Democrat Party. So Obama looks bad, and Boxer doesn't get her publicity. And yes, it was kind of rude: good. Be rude, be a little aggressive (don't be violent), show politicians that you mean business. Show them your support is not unconditional.
And before you say, “Well, wait, but Barbara's an ally,” I'd like to remind you that there are a lot of “allies” in Congress, including the ones who are actually gay, and none of them have actually been aggressively pushing for DADT repeal (to name just one example) in either chamber. Democrats, including all of our so-called allies, have controlled Congress for over three years – one of which with a Democrat in the White House – and so far there has been no real action on any major LGBT bills. With allies like that, who needs enemies?
I loathe World War Two references, but this is another good foreign policy analogy: before the war broke out, when Germany was invading country after country, the West was letting them take over one small Eastern European nation after another because Hitler kept promising he would stop right after the next invasion. This is appeasement, and appeasement is dangerous. You can't just assume someone will eventually do something because they say they will. You need to make them actually do it by making it more painful for them not to.
What else can you do to compel politicians to vote with our interests? Vote and give only to Democrats who openly support the LGBT community; if they have a record of actually doing so, even better. Make sure you support socially progressive candidates in the primaries. If there isn't a candidate in the general election who supports full equality, don't vote, or vote for a third party candidate even if you know he'll lose. There is no shame in not voting or wasting a vote if neither of the major candidates gives you a good reason to vote for them. Don't vote for a Democrat if they have not earned your vote. You have to discourage politicians from using the LGBT community as a blank check by saying “if you don't support me, then I won't support you, and you might just be out of a job next January.” And if a few Democrats lose their seats because we didn't support them, well then that's the party's fault for slighting one of its core bases. Better luck in 2012.
This idea of not simply voting for a candidate because of the “D” next to his or her name is so important, to the extent that it bothers me when some in the community pose the question, “Well, what are you gonna do, vote for the Republican?” That's not the only option. The LGBT community needs to start treating DADT repeal, ENDA passage, DOMA repeal, and other key LGBT issues as litmus tests for candidates: if they don't support equality, then you don't vote for them. That is the only way we can show politicians that we are serious about them getting these bills passed and getting them passed now.
Compellence is essential to the future of the LGBT movement. We need to make politicians suffer – in politically tangible ways – for their inaction on LGBT rights issues. If not, then we will be forced to continue dealing with “fierce advocates” who drain us of our dollars and then sweep us under the carpet. This movement needs to take it to the next level: we need to start punishing those who do not obey us. We will not make progress if we do not sufficiently compel Democrats to vote with our interests.