How Arizona defeated the hatemongers

Arizona made history Nov. 7 when its voters became the first in the nation to reject a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Why Arizona? How come voters in more liberal states have voted for similar hateful laws while conservative Arizona voted no?

If you were to believe the pundits in the corporate-owned press, our rejection of Prop. 107 was due to the western libertarian traditions, the spirit of Barry Goldwater — you know them, those right-wing Republicans who are against government interference in our personal business and our bedroom.

According to these pundits, credit should be given to the party of George Bush and Jon Kyl instead of the hard work of thousands of working class Arizonans, gay and straight, who volunteered their time and hard-earned money.

But a quick check of election returns would have demonstrated to these so-called pundits that Prop. 107 was defeated in working-class and liberal university precincts while passing in Goldwater Republican precincts. In suburban Tucson precincts, the vote for 107 corresponded closely with the vote for the ultra-right, anti-immigrant GOP congressional candidate Randy Graf.

So how did we do it? The answer is: educating, organizing and mobilizing.

As soon as proponents started circulating petitions to put 107 on the ballot, opponents brought out their own clipboards, signing up thousands of volunteers. Arizona Together emerged as the campaign committee, chaired by progressive state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

If passed, Prop. 107 proposed to outlaw same-sex marriage as well as nullify domestic partnership laws and registries which covered a majority of Arizona municipal and county workers. Since same-sex marriages are already not legal in Arizona, Arizona Together organizers realized that this was a stealth campaign to play on peoples’ prejudices and turn out Republican voters, and before anybody noticed thousands of unmarried couples would lose their health and other benefits.

Arizona Together called their bluff. It concentrated its educational campaign on the harm 107 would unleash on tens of thousands of working families.

The campaign enlisted the support of Mayors Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Bob Walkup of Tucson. These are Arizona’s two biggest cities, both of which have domestic partnership provisions for their employees. The state AFL-CIO joined the campaign with especially strong support from public employee unions. Tireless educational work eventually won the editorial support of all major Arizona newspapers.

Most important was the grassroots work. More than 18,000 volunteers spent countless hours on education and outreach. Volunteers mailed out over 1 million pieces of literature, more than 100,000 pieces were distributed door to door and tens of thousands of phone calls were made to voters. Money left over was used for three weeks of TV educational ads.

Congressman Raul Grijalva appeared on radio ads calling Prop. 107 an attack on working families. The Grijalva campaign worked closely with Arizona Together, using its literature in their extensive door-to-door canvassing. Also collaborating was the campaign of Gabrielle Gifford, who defeated Graf for an open congressional seat. I didn’t see any of those Goldwater Republicans handing out “No on 107” literature.

Arizona Together lived up to its name. It was able to defeat 107 because its educational campaign showed working-class Arizonans that this was an attack on working people. Almost every working person knows — or is him- or herself one-half of — an unmarried couple, often with children. They are our friends, co-workers, relatives, and they are us. When working people learned that 107 was an attack on all working people, they responded with a resounding “no.”

Joe Bernick (pwwinaz @ webtv.net) is director of Salt of the Earth Labor College in Tucson, Ariz.