Knocking on doors for equality

Exactly a week after America celebrated her independence day, about 8 or 10 of us gathered in a parking lot near a doughnut shop in Milpitas, California. Two were staffers from Equality California, and the rest of us were volunteers who cared enough to get out of bed sometime before 9 in the morning on a Saturday. Cared enough, that is, about restoring marriage for same sex couples in the State of California. You see, we were part of a statewide effort to talk to voters in areas that voted against marriage for gay and lesbian couples last November. I want to write a few words about the experience.

Now I am a seasoned canvasser. I have been knocking on doors for issues and candidates since 2003. And as a seasoned canvasser, I can tell you that that butterfly in your stomach before you start walking each day is never, ever going to go away. Well, not until you actually start hitting the doors. Each day. But this canvass was a different from even what I am used to. We weren't out there trying to get voters to vote for or against a ballot initiative or a candidate. We were trying to begin a conversation - especially with those who are opposed to marriage for same sex couples. You see, as a gay man, this is personal for me. To me, marriage is about a strong bond of love and commitment, about raising a family, and about being able to hold ourselves and our love up as no smaller and no lesser than anyone else's. That is why this conversation was important, and that is why I was incredibly impressed with the format. We didn't have a strict script. We had a few conversation starters. We were encouraged to engage voters in conversations and tell our own stories - to make it personal, to make this fight truly our own.

You can understand how jittery I was. Even as someone who has done this door knocking thing quite a bit, this was different. This wasn't about some candidate. This was about my life, my dignity, my family, my love. This wasn't about doing voter identification and then moving on to the next door. This was about talking to strangers about me. But the jitters and the doubts couldn't keep me from doing what I knew needed to be done. We paired up and hit the road. Then I started knocking on doors. And having conversations. The jitters vanished. That butterfly in my stomach settled down. I spoke to people who were for equal marriage whose faces lit up to see a friendly face (as did mine to see them), people who were unsure, and people who were against it. Even those who were against us wanted to have a conversation. Even the ones who would not budge had to look a gay person straight in the eye and think about what their decisions meant for the families of countless people. The reasons for opposing us were mostly religious, and one woman, after holding her own for a while until I asked her why her marriage was important to her. She told me why, and how it was a part of her life, family, joy. I said to her that it was the same reason it was important to us. She stepped back. She reeled from the conversation and let me go, but I could tell I planted a seed of thought. Another very nice lady, who said she voted to ban gay marriage, spoke with me for a good 8-10 minutes, and then said, "Give me some time. Maybe in a few years I'll be able to vote with you guys." In a single household, two supporters of our cause donated money on the spot.

As I was having all these conversations, even if we weren't moving people right away, we were planting seeds of understanding. We were giving voters a human face to relate to when they thought about gay "issues." We were planting the seeds of understanding, of human bridges and of change.

At the end of the day, when we all us volunteers and staff came back and had pizza together, we shared our stories with each other, cheered each other on, and bonded like a family. We could only talk about moving forward, having more conversations, and being more than activists - being the faces of change. I don't know if a restoration of marriage equality will be on the ballot in 2010 or 2012. But no matter when, there is no time to waste to start changing hearts and minds.