Friday, September 09, 2005


Lashawn Barber links to a Boston Globe story about two gay activists who are posting the names and addresses of signatories to the anti-gay marriage petition being circulated in Massachusetts. The objective, states Mr. Thomas Lang, is to
"...give gay people the tools to know, to defend themselves and their families, to let them go neighbor-to-neighbor and say, 'I don't appreciate your signing this.'"

"I'm going to be aggressive personally," he said. "I want to know that the people I do business with are not against (gay marriage). This is going to be won by economics."

The names and addresses are a matter of public record, but obviously this action will make them a lot more public. Ms. Barber responds:
Nasty fellows, aren't they? I hope supporters of the ban on "gay marriage" will be just as aggressive in trying to stop this madness. What do all these rabid activists plan to do with the information? Mail letters? Call and harass people who signed the petition? Show up on their doorsteps? There are laws against trespassing, and the last time I checked, it was legal to own a gun in Massachusetts.

While I agree I that this particular project gives me somewhat of a pause, it seems that the activists have been pretty clear that the objective is NOT to intimidate.
[Alexander] Westerhoff already introduced himself to one of the first petition signers, Madelyn Shields of Beverly. Shields told the Herald she found the meeting "a bit odd," but described Westerhoff as gracious. She said she hopes other exchanges between gay marriage advocates and petition signers are as gracious.

Sounds real intimidating. Given all of that, I have to agree with Andrew Sullivan (who--I'm assuming she's referring to him--Ms. Barber refers to as "some big liberal blogger." Geez, one vote for Kerry and it's off to the races isn't it?) that Ms. Barber's response is way out of proportion.
Here's the question: why not mail letters trying to persuade people out of their position? Why not try and persuade people who disagree with you? Besides, wouldn't you be proud to have signed a petition that bars gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and the like, if that's your position? Why wouldn't you be eager for a dialogue? Why is your first thought about gay activists coming to your door is that you'd be prepared to shoot them? Maybe I don't want to know the answer to that last question.

Ms. Barber responds that "his version of what I wrote is inaccurate." While I assume that Ms. Barber doesn't actually believe that "see gay person, load rifle" is a proper sequence of events, it's really her who has distorted the issue. The Globe story makes it pretty clear that all the gay activists want is a dialogue--or, at most, the opportunity to not provide economic succor to people who seek to deprive them of fundamental rights. Both of these things--deliberative democracy and free association--seem to be not just acceptable but noble goals in the most American of traditions. Wizbang, concurring with Barber's argument, says that he thinks that the amendment should be on the ballot and that he'd vote against it--that this is the way democracies should work. That may well be, but another part of democracy is discussing and debating the merits of the issues we propose. Democracy is dysfunctional without some sort of debate--that's what's being stifled here, an attempt at a grassroots, person-to-person discussion on the merits of an issue of vital importance, free of the distortive and corrupting effects of lobbyists, interest groups, and massive ad buys. What on earth justifies Ms. Barber's "lock and load" suggestion? Sure, it's possible that some kooks will call and harass the survey signers. That's unfortunate, but my opinion of how to make a functioning democracy is to default to more speech, not less. And in any event, this particular argument wasn't made until after the fact: the post title specifies that Barber thinks it's the two activists themselves who are trying to "intimidate," not any particular nutcase who might piggy back on their efforts. Hence, it seems to be the product of her own text and intent (we know how much conservatives love those!) that the gun be pointed at gay activists who want nothing more than a discussion. That's appalling.

There is something critical to note here--the importance of context. Holstein Grove claims that if the actors were flipped (that is, it was anti-homosexual activists putting up names and addresses of gay rights supporters), everybody would be up in arms. I can't make claims as to the relative sanity of the mass media--but we have to note certain things. As noted above and contra the Grove, this is not an effort to intimidate but an effort to initiate a dialogue. If a reversed attempt was made by Christian activists that was also focused on dialogue (as opposed to harassment), then I say sure, let's go. But the record of the "Christian" right isn't so hot here. They published the names and addresses of abortion doctors, for example--but did it to put them on Most Wanted posters and crossed their names off when they were killed. A .45 may speak volumes, but it doesn't count as a conversation in my book. I'm not saying that a reversed effort would necessarily turn out like that. But if it did (and since it has before), then the Katie Couric sob story would be perfectly justified. In ethics, intent matters. As the intent here seems to be benign, if not noble, I see no problem with it.

And with that, I leave for my lovely Carleton College. When I next post, I'll be living large in Northfield, Minnesota. See you in Central Time!


Anonymous said...

I think I was the first to tackle this story (at, and after a little Googling, I uncovered the full name, address, and phone number of the two gentlemen behind this move's place of business. I wrestled with my conscience, and in the end decide I wasn't going to publish it.

Are you saying that it would be absolutely fine and dandy for me to list that information, along with a summary of their actions?


(Jay Tea of

Northern Debater said...

welcome back to Minnesota! you do great work and I am glad to join the tiny community of Minnesota political blogs! Keep up the great work down there!