No on 9 Remembered: Grassroots Innovators
In earlier stories we’ve recalled some of the horrific violence of the Ballot Measure 9 campaign and the painful internal divisions within the LGBTQ community, including racism within the campaign and deeply-felt differences around campaign strategy.
As harsh as those realities were, the No on 9 years were also a time of tremendous community courage and solidarity, of innovation and inspiration and joy. “I never spent so many nights out dancing!” Eric tells me. “There was such an embrace of life; we weren’t just shut down by the horror.”
“The LGBTQ community took the horror of the Oregon Citizens Alliance and gave something back to Oregon that was beautiful and powerful. I would have done almost anything for that movement. People would call me homophobic slurs for years afterwards, in rural areas where I travelled to speak, accusing me of running the secret homosexual agenda. I considered it a point of pride.”
~ Eric K. Ward, Western States Center Executive Director
As a straight Black man in an overwhelmingly white state and town, Eric says his involvement in the No on 9 effort was “the first time I felt like I was part of a large community — and it was the most diverse community I could be part of in Oregon.”
Part of the diversity was the proliferation of organizing efforts — the hundreds of different buttons and t-shirts and Op Eds and groups in every location and for every constituency. “It was so DIY,” Eric says. “I never knew what was coming out of the ‘official’ campaign versus the grassroots. Was that group singing a No on 9 song on the street corner part of an organized choir — or just four friends who had a great idea?”
This month’s stories about grassroots innovators are the next installment in our quest to share 30 stories to mark the 30th anniversary of the No on 9 Campaign, when Oregonians from all walks of life defeated one of the harshest antigay measures ever put to American voters. Each story offers a unique prism on how this epic battle for civil and human rights can impart lessons for today’s fight for inclusive democracy.
STORY 13: BIGOT BUSTERS
“We have to be out, loud and proud about our democracy and equality.” So wrote a Bigot Buster volunteer of the spirit embodied by Bigot Buster founder Bob Ralphs. Bob helped others be out, loud and proud through showing up to the places where signatures were being collected to qualify the anti-gay measure for the ballot. “Bigot busting has two primary objectives,” Bob wrote, “preventing petition signatures, and providing a gay-positive experience to as many people as possible. An individual who might have signed a petition earlier can become an ally when confronted with the truth.” Read about this innovative and empowering tactic, including a first-person experience shared by longtime organizer Anne Sweet.
“It was still very new for people,” Dan Stutesman remembers. “I’d be invited to speak to the Baptists, for example. They had never talked to an out gay person.” Dan was one of about a dozen core members of People of Faith Against Bigotry (PFAB), a grassroots response to Ballot Measure 9. Their approach was simple: “We would take any denomination or faith group where they were, and try to move them one step closer to equality views.” Read faith-based organizing tips from that time that still apply today, along with reflections from Cecil Prescod, a United Church of Christ minister who was also part of PFAB’s core group.
Marcy Westerling’s drive to support and link rural activists became the Rural Organizing Project (ROP), the most durable institution to come out of the entire No on 9 experience. (ROP is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and telling its own story around the state.) Marcy’s approach to inclusive democracy is something we all need today. Read some of Marcy’s writings along with reflections from her organizing collaborator and husband Mike Edera, and one of the volunteers who brought technological innovation to the problem of rural isolation.
“In 1992, chaos and uncertainty seem to reign. The value of our organizing to date is that we have given a community hope and belief in the power of our collective strength. For now we fight the bigotry being advanced by the OCA, but our real purpose is to assert the vision of inclusion that we have for our community in a time of challenge.”
~ Marcy Westerling
The response to Ballot Measure 9 is a story of and for all Oregonians — not just the names we know and remember, but the big and small acts that may have gone unseen, the everyday gestures of kindness or courage that created more space for inclusion.
This effort 30 years ago illustrates that every one of us can do something to be part of history. To each person committed to defending democracy and all who are wondering what is asked of us in these fractious times, we hope that No on 9 Remembered encourages you to be brave. To take action and take heart.
To remembering the past and shaping the future,
Holly J. Pruett, Senior Fellow
No on 9 Remembered Co-Curator
P.S. Thank you to all who have shared their memories and questions in response to the first four months of our 30 stories — contact us to share your thoughts! Be sure to check out our project’s comprehensive Timeline and the other historical memory projects that inspire us in our Resources section.