CommunityPam's House Blend

A New Year's wish for the community: Joe Solmonese's resignation

I’m sure you know that’s been my position for some time, but in harmony with Autumn’s post last night that summarized the complete Senate legislative fail yesterday, it’s simply too easy to point the finger at just Harry Reid, the GOP, or the President for the public bumblef*ck of DADT repeal.

All of the FAILs lead to one obvious conclusion,  though. It’s time for the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese to tender his resignation.

By any sane performance metrics, he has failed to successfully lead. Promises like those made in the “This year we are going to bring down DADT” video at the HRC Carolinas dinner on Feb. 27 were used to extract money from low-info, fat wallet attendees. It’s rinse and repeat at events like that around the country and there is precious little to show for it in terms of the major promises made by Solmonese — and this President.

I thankfully captured Joe’s bold promises to the HRC Carolinas dinner attendees. You realize that was before we had to deal with the failed, weak DADT compromise language, the sad shell of pre-repeal we’re dealing with now. He makes it abundantly clear that true, full repeal would be achieved in 2010.

Joe Solmonese should do the honorable thing and step down. It is shameful to cash all those checks  without the follow through on the job. The White House was never put under serious pressure; the late calls now in the e-blasts for the President to do something ring hollow after the toadying that has gone on for two years.

As we saw, Reid couldn’t get it together in the Senate and the wingnuts will have more control in January. The watered-down repeal doesn’t do much of anything at this point (even if it passes as a separate bill during the lame duck session — good luck with that), and we’re still dealing with all the GOP squawking by McCain and others who want a “do-over” of the Pentagon’s implementation report. It’s a big f’ing mess because there has been piss-poor leadership by those who are lobbied in government.

In turn it’s the unelected, highly marketed, well-tailored representative of the entire LGBT community, Joe Solmonese of HRC, who also has to be held accountable for these failures. It’s clear that those in power had no fear of the vast war chest of HRC being used to turn up the heat. No, the heat came from less well-heeled activists who didn’t have the access to power, only voices and fearlessness to call out the purposeful foot-dragging and inaction.

One can only call Joe Solmonese’s reign as a “could have been,” with DADT as the latest of a string of lobbying efforts, such as they are, that seemed more in tune with keeping the peace (and cocktails) flowing when it was clear to even a political novice (or Cheetos-stained blogger) that the Obama administration had only a limited amount of time to move any LGBT legislation in the first two years, and repeal of DADT was back-burnered in favor ENDA by HRC in “the plan”, which has, as we have seen, gone NOWHERE.

Honestly, for HRC to become the organization the community needs it to be in terms of a lobbying organization with access to our elected power brokers, it will take more than Joe Solmonese’s resignation. The organization is multi-faceted and is populated with well-meaning, hard working people who deserve better leadership — and the buck stops at Joe’s desk.

His position at the top requires that he set tone for the organization, provides the baseline for staff morale (god knows how many hair-raising off the record tales I have heard about failure on that level), and effectively uses the incredible war chest developed by formidable fundraising and branding machine.

FAIL. Tone deaf to community concerns and political momentum at the grassroots level.

FAIL. An inability to admit mistakes in strategy and correct course.

FAIL. A refusal until the back is against the wall to publicly criticize the very people in power who needed to be shamed for the slow-walking.

FAIL. The institutionalization of paranoia and defensiveness toward the activists, LGBT media and independent voices of criticism rather than looking inward to see whether the organization is bloated, and has failed to evolve and become nimble and focused in its leadership.

It is not airing dirty laundry to hold Mr. Solmonese accountable in his position that he is happy to promote as the voice of the community when called upon by the mainstream media. With that position comes responsibility — and accountability. We, as “the community” cannot vote him out of office, we can only 1) point out how and why he isn’t the voice of the LGBT community and 2) form alternate means of sharing that dissent through commentary, and/or action — e.g. GetEQUAL.

It is not divisive to ask what have we gotten for the $80 million that flowed into the coffers of the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to leadership. Those funds  — were they effectively used to ensure promised action on by this President on his major promises?

For those who simmer with anger and immediately call any criticism the “circular firing squad”, that’s disingenuous. There have been plenty of kudos for what has been accomplished (including those Cinderella Crumbs); but we’re talking about a long list of major issues (DADT, ENDA, etc.) that were not seriously pushed after the promises were made.

In any case, critics haven’t any power to change the strategic vision (such as it is), within HRC, and if those in charge simply blow off any criticism, is the community expected to sit silent with hands politely folded? There certainly hasn’t been a private summit to discuss the myriad problems that have arisen, nor does there appear to be any feedback mechanism desired. I don’t expect that it would occur, anyway, given the bunker mentality in place.

That can only change if there is a thorough shake-up, even if only a symbolic one such as Solmonese’s departure, that can signal an understanding of the magnitude of disconnect, discord and failure to lead that needs to be addressed. How that occurs is up to the board of HRC – so my little call for a change at the top is of little significance other than it’s just me sharing my two cents and you all reacting to it in the comments.

And as far as calls for accountability for new media/bloggers/citizen activists? Hey, that’s easy — people won’t read what doesn’t interest them, and our voices are limited by time — we’re not news services. As we all know here at the Blend, all it takes is a health issue to take me offline for a good long while. Voices will come and go.

Without the access or proximity, that means actual influence of new media is limited to perceived power. Certainly if the Cheetos-stained PJ set  all thought we could effect change in the structure of the broken parts of Gay Inc. through a twitch of a virtual nose it would have happened already.

I suppose HRC could ban its staff from reading critical blogs, or make them take some sort of absurd loyalty oath to the organization, but unless they are going to lock down internet access in their building, people will read what they want to read. And when they are bored or disagree strongly, they’ll move along.  

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding