The Rebel Girl: Measure 9 Dies; OCA Vampire Lives

Against the Current, No. 42, January/February 1993

Catherine Sameh

THE BATTLE AROUND Measure 9, Oregon’s anti-gay initiative (see “The Rebel Girl,” ATC 41) is far from over. Though it went down to defeat state<->wide, Measure 9’s defeat by a slim margin of 53%-47% leaves activists considerably less comforted than was anticipated. Moreover, Measure 9’s success in 21 of 36 counties makes an already shaky victory bittersweet.

Now pro-gay activists are dealing with the fallout, wondering where to go from here. The Oregon Citizens Alliance already has a plan: Not only will they put a watered-down version of Measure 9 on the ballot within the next two years, but they plan to help anti-gay activists in the states of Washington and Idaho develop similar initiatives. And they won’t stop with anti-gay organizing, though this will still be a major focus of their work.

Widely known as anti-gay and anti-choice, OCA has also organized against parental leave, public child care, welfare rights and public sector workers. To the OCA and other Christian Right groups, gays and lesbians are one more group of people asking for “more than their fair share,” demanding “special rights.”

Yet OCA did not go unchallenged. Measure 9 brought the left in Oregon together in unprecedented ways. Progressive churches, groups of color, the young and old, bisexuals, heterosexuals and a host of other groups forged coalitions and worked collectively for months to defeat Measure 9. Nearly every progressive group in Oregon put other work on the back burner to work against 9. Bonds like this are not easily broken, and
are exactly what the divided left needs.

The challenge for the left in Oregon now is to maintain the solidarity that has been created and to build on existing coalitions. Already, two conferences have been held to evaluate the “No On 9” campaign and to develop organizing strategies for the immediate future.

Need to Reach the Fearful

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the campaign was the failure to reach people in rural and small-town Oregon. The OCA has been very adept at organizing a group of vulnerable working class people around a politics of fear and scapegoating.

They, unlike the left, have gone into working class and poor communities, where families are facing economic insecurity in epidemic proportions. They have already organized timber workers, who’ve lost jobs or are facing joblessness, around a pro-big business, anti-environmental “Wise Use Movement.”

Around Measure 9 they played on people’s fears and anxieties about their children’s safety, changing family structures and daily insecurities that working people face. Gays and lesbians, like communists
in the 1950s and African Americans in the 1960s, became the group labelled as responsible for the social and economic catastrophes of our time.

It’s clear from Measure 9’s slim margin of defeat–and from the passage of Colorado’s anti-gay initiative–that the right has had success in diverting working people’s attention from the real
causes of economic and social hardship, and whipping up homophobic sentiments. In the wake of Measure 9, and the flourishing of right-wing activity, the left must broaden its civil rights focus and begin to strengthen ties with working- class communities.

Education around sexuality will always be essential in defeating homophobia. But a broader discussion about who and what are really to blame for the lack of power of most people except the affluent will be critical to eliminating all forms of bigotry, and to building a democratic movement that addresses everyone’s needs.

January-February 1993, ATC 42