California has days of recognition for a few things that are significant to our state. There’s Cesar Chavez day, celebrating the farm workers and civil rights leader. There’s a day of recognition for the California poppy, our official state flower. And starting in 2010, a little more than a month from now, we’ll celebrate our first annual day of recognition for Harvey Milk. [Ask people in the audience to say who Harvey Milk is – have a couple give very quick thoughts/comments about him and why he’s significant.] Harvey is a hero and pioneer for LGBT people and allies everywhere. He was one of the first openly gay people to run for office and be nationally recognized. We felt he should be one of the first LGBT people to have a day of recognition.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. In 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger had been sent a bill to create HMD and he vetoed it, saying that Harvey was a local hero who should be celebrated locally. We already had really strong support for the bill, including bipartisan support in the legislature. But we had some pretty fierce opposition, too. They argued that we would use the day to have schools help us convert children to a life of homosexuality (as if such things are actually possible!), and that Harvey was a pedophile. We had to help the gov see the Harvey we saw, who was significant nationally, was a civil rights leader and was an example of hope, integrity and diversity for our young people. We figured the emotional appeal of accurate stories about Harvey’s life would have the greatest impact. Now, you’re probably saying, Jay, this is all fine and good. But my cause doesn’t have a $20 million movie with famous actors that got an Oscar nod. The movie definitely helped us get some conversations going – and it helped us gain some new allies who were ready to speak out. Use stories that already exist – don’t reinvent the wheel.
So we focused in on one question: “What does Harvey mean to you?” We knew a lot of people had their own stories about Harvey, whether from living in San Francisco in the 1970s, from hearing his story growing up or from seeing the movie. So we focused on helping Californians tell their stories to the Gov. Luckily, lots of people had stories to share. We asked them to share these stories via a petition to the Gov. It had a blank where they could fill in their own stories.
We knew we had some specific concerns from the gov that we had to address. When he had vetoed the bill before, he had called Harvey a local hero who should be celebrated locally. So we picked out a few message points that we reinforced through email and social media: National hero, given the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously by Obama Collaborator with other oppressed groups, including a major boycott of Coors Beer in conjunction with organized labor. Furthered bills to help a range of different groups, such as senior citizens. Inspiration for gay youth, and for straight youth who need to understand diversity. The goal was to give our supporters some quick bites of info and some quick points they could share to illustrate why Harvey was more than a local figure (plus to tackle the opposition’s lies about him). We knew that many of them would have their own stories, but we also had to shape the debate.
Hit people up where they are. Some people aren’t comfy calling their legislator over the phone, but they will send an email and then share via social networking.
Some stories shared with the gov in our petition.
We had tens of thousands of petition signatures. But we were still nervous and not sure we were winning. Even worse, the Gov’s Secretary of Education released a letter claiming that the veto message from before remained applicable. And then the Gov inducted Harvey into the California Hall of Fame. Exciting for Harvey to have that honor, but we were terrified that the Gov was going to veto the bill again, saying this time that the Hall of Fame was the right honor. So we kept hitting our lists, using this threat to urge people to keep telling their stories.
We had to keep people energized and keep the emails and calls flowing in. We used a few role models to help spark these conversations, like Christine Chavez, the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez. It’s important to pick messengers strategically. We helped her put an op-ed up on the California Progress Report, a popular state politics blog, that included our talking points. Then we shared the link via social networking.
We also were contacted by a woman who previously interned for Harvey. We shared her story of Harvey’s inspiring leadership through our blog and social networks. We timed the stories from leaders so that they dropped a few weeks apart, so that we had a hook to keep calling attention to the effort.
We also pulled in a little star power. Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter for Milk , generously agreed to testify in Sacramento. We videotaped it, put it up on YouTube and put it in our emails to supporters, using Black’s story of growing up gay and Mormon in a small town to inspire others to tell their stories to the Gov. Then we continued hitting our social networks and email list.
But then an opportunity struck. The Gov had recently fallen in love with Twitter. He tweeted for suggestions on how to fix the state budget crisis, and someone suggested he autograph the visors of cars up for state auction, so he did. That same week, he tweeted this: We went nuts, generating as many tweets as we could and asking people to tell the Gov what Milk meant to them. The response was huge. Priming our supporters to share their stories with the Gov through the petition and through the blog posts we did set us up for some great 140-character masterpieces. Our four concise message points were just the stuff that could work over Twitter. [Twitter search isn’t helping me much today; will fill in this slide with some tweets people sent the Gov.]
In the end, the Gov’s spokespeople used our upswelling of support on social media as one of the justifications for his signing the bill. This May we’ll have our first ever government-recognized day to commemorate a gay civil rights hero.
Now we have a day every year where people will remember Harvey – in schools, with their families, in their communities. And we have a continual chance to keep telling his story, keep celebrating him and keep the conversation going.
Creating a Cultureof Storytelling: Supporters into Storytellers
Supporters Storytellers Jay Davis Online Community Director, EQCA
Flickr: Photogirl7 Flickr: MoxyJane Dan Nickhinson
SB 572: Harvey Milk Day Bill <ul><li>Vetoed once in ‘08 </li></ul><ul><li>Bipartisan support in </li></ul><ul><li>the legislature </li></ul><ul><li>Organized opposition </li></ul><ul><li>Oh yeah: Sean Penn. </li></ul>www.rainbowdems.org
What Does Harvey Mean to You? “ Write to the governor and let him know what Harvey Milk means to you. Whether you live in Palm Springs, the Central Valley, or far northern California, let the Governor know that Milk was an LGBT hero who truly changed the world and is worthy of a state day of special significance.”
“ Harvey Milk is someone who embodied the ‘all are welcome’ slogan of my church , someone who recognized that we are all equal and should be treated as such.” “ I remember hearing about him when I was a kid in Oklahoma and he was the first openly gay man in politics -- at least the first one who gained national attention. It made a difference knowing that I wasn't alone in rural Oklahoma and that someday I'd be able to make a difference .” “ I've known of too many LGBT young people who commit suicide because they believe they are hideous outcasts who can never be accepted by society. Harvey Milk's life is a beacon of hope to LGBT persons everywhere.” “ Harvey Milk's courage, determination, and ability to build bridges between different groups had an impact beyond local politics . He is an important figure in the state of California and an important role model for gay youth across the nation, and for anyone who is finding their voice and fighting for civil rights .”
Show Why Telling Their Story Is Urgent "As you know, the Governor vetoed a substantially similar bill last year. The veto message stated that Harvey Milk's contributions should continue to be recognized at the local level by those who were most impacted by his contributions. Since this bill is nearly identical, the veto message remains applicable."
Show Them a Leader “ I had two options: I could shrink. I could not excel, and I could keep from being noticed, I could vanish. Or, I could take a more permanent solution, and that was to take my own life… When I was 14 years old a theater director told me the story of Harvey Milk…”
Bring Them into the Conversation www.towleroad.com
Outcome McCarthy (the Governor’s spokesperson) said the governor's office has received more than 100,000 calls, letters and e-mails regarding the bill. "The majority are actually opposed to the bill," McCarthy said. "But when it comes to Twitter posts, they tend to support the bill," she added, acknowledging more support for the legislation among new media users than traditional letter-writers. –ABC, News10.net, 9/11/09 Flickr: glenngould
In Summary… <ul><li>Pick a good prompt and stick to it. </li></ul><ul><li>Leverage existing memes and trends. </li></ul><ul><li>Give them ideas on what to say, but ask them to speak from the heart. </li></ul><ul><li>Repeat those ideas. Repeat those ideas. Repeat those ideas… </li></ul><ul><li>Use multiple channels if possible. </li></ul><ul><li>Make them feel that sharing their story is urgent. </li></ul><ul><li>Show them a leader. </li></ul><ul><li>Bring them directly into the conversation. </li></ul><ul><li>Celebrate and reinforce their role in the win. </li></ul>
Thank you -- now go forth and recruit!! “ My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!” [email_address] @jay_EQCA