The people's election - Page 4

On (almost) every level, the grassroots beat the establishment and the progressives beat the big money
San Franciscans celebrate America
Photo by Stefan Jora

Prop. K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, was placed on the ballot by a libertarian-led signature gathering effort, not by the progressive movement. And Prop. B, the affordable housing set-aside measure sponsored by Daly, was only narrowly defeated — after a last-minute attack funded by the landlords.

All three revenue-producing measures won by wide margins. Prop. Q, the payroll tax measure, passed by one of the widest margins — 67-33.

Latterman and Alex Clemens, owner of Barbary Coast Consulting and the SF Usual Suspects Web site, were asked whether downtown might seek to repeal district elections, and both said it didn't really matter because people seem to support the system. "I can't imagine, short of a tragedy, district elections going anywhere," Latterman said.

Clemens said that while downtown's polling showed that people largely disapprove of the Board of Supervisors — just as they do most legislative bodies — people generally like their district supervisor (a reality supported by the fact that all the incumbents were reelected by sizable margins).

"It ain't a Board of Supervisors, it is 11 supervisors," Clemens said, noting how informed and sophisticated the San Francisco electorate is compared to many other cities. "When you try to do a broad-based attack, you frequently end up on the wrong end (of the election outcome)."

We had a bittersweet feeling watching the scene in the Castro on election night. While thousands swarmed into the streets to celebrate Obama's election, there was no avoiding the fact that the civil-rights movement that has such deep roots in that neighborhood was facing a serious setback.

The Castro was where the late Sup. Harvey Milk started his ground-breaking campaign to stop the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978. Defying the advice of the leaders of the Democratic Party, Milk took on Briggs directly, debating him all over the state and arguing against the measure that would have barred gay and lesbian people from teaching in California's public schools.

The defeat of the Briggs Initiative was a turning point for the queer movement — and the defeat of Prop. 8, which seeks to outlaw same-sex marriage, should have been another. Just as California was the most epic battle in a nationwide campaign by right-wing bigots 30 years ago, anti-gay marriage measures have been on the ballot all over America. And if California could have rejected that tide, it might have taken the wind out of the effort.

But that wasn't to be. Although pre-election polls showed Prop. 8 narrowly losing, it was clear by the end of election night that it was headed for victory.

Part of the reason: two religious groups, the Catholics and the Mormons, raised and spent some $25 million to pass the measure. Church-based groups mobilized a reported 100,000 grassroots volunteers to knock on doors throughout California. Yes on 8 volunteers were as visible in cities throughout California as the No on 8 volunteers were on the streets of San Francisco, presenting a popular front that the No on 8 campaign's $35 million in spending just couldn't counter — particularly with so many progressive activists, who otherwise would have been walking precincts to defeat Prop. 8, fanned out across the country campaigning for Obama.

"While we knew the odds for success were not with us, we believed Californians could be the first in the nation to defeat the injustice of discriminatory measures like Proposition 8," a statement on the No on Prop. 8 Web site said. "And while victory is not ours this day, we know that because of the work done here, freedom, fairness, and equality will be ours someday. Just look at how far we have come in a few decades."

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