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by Haven Herrin
I have been looking forward to New Paltz and Poughkeepsie since the formation of the Central Route because there is a long history of activism for marriage equality. Back in 2004 then-mayor Jason West presided over and affirmed dozens of marriages, joined by some strong pastors in the area. The state took action against all of them for taking the stand that all couples deserve legal and social recognition.
So this was weekend to step into a long history and be humbled and learn from local advocates. We stayed at Christ Episcopal Church, a glorious old building from the 1800′s where Reverend Blake Ryder welcomed us whole-heartedly. One element of this campaign that I like is the community engagement from the intimate level of sharing meals to the sleeping arrangements on church floors to the coffee shop conversations. We are not isolated from those who live here in New York every day and have been and will continue to be advocates. We open ourselves up to new and deeper relationships when we walk down the street from the church to take a shower at Harvey and Mary’s century-old home.
We hosted a picnic in a park in New Paltz for anyone and everyone who cares about this issue to come be a part of the conversation. I had hoped that someone opposed or undecided on the issue would bring their questions to Hasbrouck Park, but we were joined mostly by LGBT families, some pastors (gay and straight), coupled priests, college students, and Mayor Terry Dungan. Speaking of history, Frank and Nino, the upstarts of the first college-based LGBT support group, the Student Homophile Leauge at Columbia University, also joined us.
I enjoyed meeting the mayor, as we did in Binghamton, because there is a level of frankness and personal conviction that is allowed into the conversation. Dungan was as supportive of this cause as Mayor Matthew Ryan in Binghamton, and was interested to learn about what we are learning about ourselves as people and as advocates on this campaign.
Later in the afternoon, we borrowed some space from the New Paltz Cultural Collective to show the documentary “Freedom to Marry,” and have a Q&A. The conversation took an interesting turn as we zoomed the lens outward from the specific issue of marriage equality to speak of institutions and how close one must become to that institution in order to change it. This came out of a conversation about assimilation versus affirmation and what it means to be “queer.”
I came down on the side of joining. If one maintains integrity, I think becoming a part of a system in order to change it by living one’s truth within it can be very powerful. For example, do you work on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if you do not like what the military is doing at any particular moment? At the end of the day, I think it comes down to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. Do you commit to loving something enough to change it, or do you write it off and insulate yourself from it?
At the age of 25, still and idealist, still full of energy, I come down on the side of remaining committed to change. I do not want to start dividing up society, building boundaries between myself and certain institutions….there is not enough fencing in the world to build enough separation. I still dream of all the institutions and systems and people who create them fashioning a community. Expansive thinking is essential to my ability to continue as an activist because it is my source of hope.
by Curtis Peterson
Soulforce Q lobbies for “right to marry”
Updated: 7/18/2007 4:51 PM
By: Bill Carey
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Their goal — to change minds. Their target — state lawmakers in Central New York and the Hudson Valley. Their method — face to face meetings to discuss the real life impact of the continued ban on same sex marriage.
“This is really about bringing it down to the level of people and how we seek to have loving, committed relationships and protect and care for our children,” said Haven Herrin, Co-Director of Soulforce Q.
“It’s a contract that you enter into with someone else and it’s a way that we as a society and we as communities hold each other accountable and we encourage and foster relationships between individuals who love each other in a healthy way,” said Curtis Peterson, a member of Soulforce Q.
Those favoring gay marriage in New York State have won their battle in the New York State assembly, but have hit a major roadblock in the New York State Senate. There, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno has flatly refused to bring any bill to a vote.
Volunteers are targeting members of the State Senate in their travels. In Syracuse, democrat David Valesky’s office was the first stop.
Valesky supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Soulforce Q members, talking to a Valesky aide, hope to change the senator’s mind.
“These are issues that are just too real to ignore through politics or through bigoted religious stances or through just going by the polling. This is about people and their lives,” Herrin said.
Group members say that it is time to press for change. That recent polling shows lawmakers can take action without fear of a voter backlash.
Peterson said, “Sixty-eight percent of New Yorkers just said in 2006 that if their lawmaker were to vote to support and to allow same sex couples to marry, those 68 percent said that it would not affect their support or it would increase their support of these lawmakers.”
One stop down and many more to go. The volunteers are optimistic that hard work now will eventually break the logjam at the state capitol.
(Original posting at News 10 Now and related video).
by Bryana White
July 18, 2007 was a busy day for the central rout van. We began the day at 6am rushing to make sure that all were showered and dressed, fed and happy, and prepared and pretty for the 10:00am meeting with Senator David Valesky’s Chief of Staff, Cort Reddy. Our first order of business was to make copies of the documents that we intended to forward to the Senator, a seemingly simple task. As a result of the astronomical per sheet cost of printing, unexpected technical difficulties, and the impatient copy center counter attended our success with first task of the day prepared us to overcome any adversities that might follow.
After our copy center catastrophe we traveled to a local coffee shop to meet our Syracuse Marriage Ambassador, Rick and gather our thoughts for the meeting. In contrast to the our interactions with the copy center attendant, the baristas at the coffee shop went out of their way to ensure that while in their care, we especially enjoyed caffeinated beverages. These beneficent baristas made a point to pay attention to our ingredient specification and after serving us with our beverages, they made sure that we were happy with the end results of their mixing efforts. These baristas went out of their way to do their jobs well and in so doing they provided us, the customers with exceptional service.
We decided that we should model our interactions today after our new barista friends; we vowed to communicate a personal investment in both the people we met with and the marriage equality issues that we would discuss. Rick told us a little bit about his local community and the work that he does in his community which includes diversity training, and social justice work. Rick’s dedication to his community and his investment in working toward marriage equality was indicative of his admirable ability to envision a world where people interact with one another in a compassionate manner.
Rick provided us with yet another model for the day. We would commit our selves to our cause, and hope that our presentation of the facts and the experiences of ourselves and the people for whom we are advocating would provide law makers with a new understanding of the need for marriage equality. Our meeting went well thanks to our Barista-Rick model of advocacy. Following the meetings we grabbed lunch and debriefed and then the second group of central van routers went in for their meeting with Assemblyman Magnarelli. This meeting was particularly unique as it was one of thanksgiving to a lawmaker who voted “yes” on Governor Spitzer’s Marriage Bill. The attendees of this meeting were given insight into the process through which the lawmaker incorporated statistics, trends, the constituency opinion, and personal beliefs into his decision. Today’s experiences showed us the value of keeping service in mind when speaking to lawmakers about extending rights and protections to the citizens this country.
by Casey Pick
Today, we set out on the road. Our formal training as a group has been completed, we’ve all spent some quality time together getting to know each other, and our sense of dedication to our objective has been refined and strengthened. I know that personally, these last few days have been most valuable not for the knowledge imparted – though I’ve learned so much that I wonder if my brain can contain it all – but for the sense I’ve gained that my comrades on this journey are all talented, passionate and extremely hardworking individuals.
Better than that, I can honestly say that the Central Van already considers itself to be a group of good friends. As I sit here typing, most of them are in the kitchen of the church that has generously provided us with hospitality, preparing a meal (I’m out here because one, we still have some research to do before tomorrow’s meetings, and two, you really don’t want me in a kitchen if you can at all avoid it.) Breaking bread together binds a group tighter, and so I’m taking this meal as a sign of a good beginning.
Thinking about how excited I am about working with this unique group of individuals, I do have to pause to reflect on this morning, when the entire group of the SoulForce “Right to Marry” campaign went our separate ways – I’m going to miss the people on the other vans. One van set out early this morning, while the other three first journeyed to New York’s capitol building in Albany. While we were there we met with the local press to discuss our campaign and to take a few photos…and then it was time to say good-bye for now, and to eagerly await coming back together in New York City, with many a story to tell.
(Several hours later.)
During training, my mantra was “know your enemy; know yourself; love your enemy as yourself.” Since getting on the road, I’ve added a second slogan – “TIA: this is activism.” Accidentally drive an hour north into the Adirondacks instead of west on your way to Syracuse? Enjoy the scenery; this is activism. It’s midnight, you have no internet access, and you desperately need information on the lawmakers you’re meeting with tomorrow? Get out there and find some free wireless; this is activism.
That was the situation we found ourselves in last night, and so Julia and I hopped into the van for an exploratory mission into small town New York. We found a local Paneras, parked, and enjoyed the sound of gentle rainfall as we hunted for directions to Senator Valesky’s office, his districts demographics and other vital information. What does it say about you when that sort of thing is an adrenaline rush?
I don’t know, but it just seemed to suit the trip so far. If something needs to happen, we find a way to make it happen. In New York, we see a need for marriage equality – it’s time to make that happen, too. This is activism.
by Gabriel Cooper
As I sat in the faded white gazebo outside the Comfort Inn, I came to the realization that this is only the beginning. Not only the beginning of the Right to Marry Campaign, but the dawn of marriage equality on United States history. We are here to set a precedent for the rest of the country to follow, the first bird in the flock that blazes the path for every bird that follows.
Today we work-shopped the definition of marriage, shared our personal interest in the RTM campaign and marriage equality, and practiced the mechanisms of effective conversation with a state legislator. By the end of our training, we will have learned all the things we need to know to open dialogue with opponents, allies, and everybody in between. Through lectures, meetings, and many hours of organizing the next two weeks, we will be ready to take on whatever lays in store for us on the road ahead.
by Haven Herrin
The thirty-five young adults of the Right to Marry campaign have gathered in Albany after driving up from New York City in staggered caravans. As one can expect with the convening of that many people in one city from across the country, some arrived early and some arrived late. Some finally put their heads to a pillow at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Today we started our training. In these three days, we need to cover a wealth of information before we hit the road on Tuesday, from talking points to group building to grounding ourselves within nonviolence. I have been with Soulforce for over two years, but I always benefit from relearning and re-examining my integrity and cultivation of the principles of nonviolence.
On the Right to Marry campaign, there is a stronger political component than previous young adult campaigns. So my question is how I reconcile that nonviolence calls me to be patient, to detach myself from immediate expectations, and to see our conversations as a process on a long continuum rather than a point-counterpoint style of debate in which each side tries to win points. In theories of nonviolence, we talk often of ‘the third way,’ meaning that a reconciliatory solution is not one-sided victory but forming a new community around a new vision of how life can be. Not your way, not my way, but our way. I feel I am going to learn ‘the third way’ for many of the tasks on this campaign.
Tonight I am polishing the documents we are printing for use out on the road. Right now I am tweaking the format of bookmark that explains the Right to Marry campaign and has quick reference to key facts that support marriage equality. The usefulness of it may extend the presence of Soulforce Q and the eight or so young adults who stopped off in, say, Binghamton, New York for a day to share their stories and affirm the need for equality.
by Casey Pick
Hello all – I’m Casey Pick, one of the co-directors of the Central Route van on the inaugural Soulforce “Right to Marry” campaign. After joining Haven yesterday morning in picking up our van from the rental agency, and making the painstaking drive out of New York City – I now have tremendous respect for cabbies – I finally had the pleasure of meeting some of the other “Right to Marry” Riders face to face. We have spent months preparing for this campaign, and hours on the phone
in conference calls or in sending e-mails back and forth across the country, but there is something special about actually seeing somebody in the flesh. They become more real to you, and for me, that meant the campaign itself truly coming alive.
Six of us rode from LaGuardia International Airport together to Albany, beginning the first of many conversations that will draw us together as a team. We were a mix of past Equality Riders and people (like myself) who are new to Soulforce actions. We include a wide range of personalities, family backgrounds and political beliefs – and when you’re on the road in a large white van for several hours, giddy from lack of sleep and excitement at the impending beginning of something great, all of that information comes pouring out of you.
This is a passionate group, with opinions on everything from national oil policy to African missionary work. But through it all, I find I was most struck to learn that several couples from past Soulforce actions will be marrying next year. It seems such a simple, normal thing – I’ve celebrated three weddings for straight friends this year – but at the same time, it is a radical demonstration of what we’re here for. The ability for a same-sex couple to say “we’re getting married next year” is something new and powerful and wondrous, and simply hearing that makes me excited to get moving.
Today we took another important step in that direction by beginning our training. The discussions of nonviolence are not entirely new to me – I came to this campaign with the mantra of “know your enemy; know yourself; love your enemy as yourself” – but here, nonviolent activism is not merely a tactic or a strategy. It is an attitude that pervades everything we will do, and it is the bar against which our many ideas and messages will be measured.
In the political world of sticks and carrots, polls and power plays, the concept of nonviolence takes on new meaning when compared to direct actions or civil disobedience. What does it mean to debate nonviolently? What does it mean to truly see the humanity of the lawmaker who does not consider your loving, committed relationship – your dignity as an adult human being who wants to be responsible for the well-being of another adult human being – worth the price of the political capital it would risk? How can it be that the best way to achieve our ultimate objective of marriage equality is to be detached from that objective, satisfied in our own self-worth when that self-worth is constantly being denied? These questions and more will stay with us on the journey, becoming more real as we meet with each new legislator or stranger on the street, and it is my hope that, like seeing my new friends faces as they climbed into a van, it will all become clearer in a way that brings joy and new beginnings.