The battle over Amendment One in North Carolina began a bit slowly in the fall of 2011. After a difficult legislative session, which included the amendment being placed on the ballot by a single vote, the amendment’s opponents were dispirited and disheartened. In fact, some independent observers believed that the amendment would pass with little difficulty or attention.
They were wrong.
Over the course of November and December, a campaign to defeat Amendment One began to take shape, and the foundational staff and consultants were put in place.
Campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy and the Steering Committee set an aspirational budget of over $3,000,000. They brought in Lake Research (led by noted pollster Celinda Lake), Armour|Griffin (led by media consultant Mark Armour and Prop 8-opposition architect Chad Griffin), along with Chadderdon Mail Group, Sky Blue Strategies, and others who had extensive campaign experience in North Carolina and beyond.
The campaign then made an unprecedented investment, for a statewide campaign at least, into brand development, storytelling, online video, social media, and other elements of community building by hiring the team at New Kind.
We presented a plan for a three-pronged campaign built around symbols, stories and airwaves.
The symbols were inspired by of some of the most successful nonprofits, advocacy organizations, political campaigns and movements with strong visuals and symbols tied to their overarching messaging and theme. The most memorable symbol in recent political history was the Obama “O” which tied together the Obama campaign’s “hope” theme and, perhaps most relevant to our goals, became a canvas that supporters could use broadly or customize with their own look and feel. We knew that powerful symbols and a strong visual language for the campaign could be one of the keys to rallying supporters into a movement, just as a flag becomes a rallying point for a country.
We also knew that strong stories existed because hundreds of thousands of straight and gay North Carolinians were going to be impacted by the passage of the amendment. Even beyond the gay couples who would be denied recognition as a direct impact of the amendment, many others were passionate about defeating it because of their passion for protecting the rights of their neighbors, friends, and family members. To capture these stories, we sent a documentary filmmaker around the state to record as many as we could and use them to elevate the voices of everyone opposed to the amendment. Some of the people we filmed were famous elected officials, others were average citizens who had stories to tell about how they or their families or friends would be harmed by Amendment One.
In order to ensure the strong symbols and powerful stories we were developing were heard, we had to take them to the airwaves. To do so, the campaign made extensive use of social media outreach efforts to gather support and multiply our impact.
For symbols we developed a branding set that included a unique shade of blue (All Families Blue, if you will), and a mark (the word “All”) that could be used by the 120+ coalition partners with their own branding as well as applied to a range of displays including t-shirts, yard signs and bumper stickers.
The branding would later be translated into merchandise that spread the message of the campaign. For example, we had yard signs which read “Amendment One Harms Children. Vote Against.” and t-shirts that read “My Family is Voting Against Amendment One” and “I’m Voting Against Amendment One. Ask me why.”
The merchandise was then loaded on to the website and made available to those who donated a certain amount of money. This tactic is most often seen on the national political level, but our campaign made the decision that we would not spend tens of thousands of dollars to display signs when we could make them available for a donation instead.
For those who were not able to make a donation, we made our branding packages available for download on the website. One campaign supporter, Mark File of Greensboro, took this branding package, added Greensboro-specific language and web addresses, and printed off more than 900 of the signs to distribute throughout Guilford County.
The key symbol for the campaign was the use of the word “All.” Both “Protect” and “Families” are perceived as part of the conservative messaging; as a new campaign, we needed to communicate with our own base supporters through more inclusive language. The choice of adding “All” to the name and focusing on it as part of the design was intended to showcase our overall campaign goal: protecting and supporting all North Carolina families (traditional and nontraditional) by defeating the amendment.
The stories we discovered over the course of the campaign were emotional, powerful, inspiring, and thought-provoking.
We held open calls in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and Greensboro.
In Raleigh we had a woman show up who took a day off work and drove three hours to be filmed for fifteen minutes. This video , the powerful story of Andrea, whose sister was killed by an abusive boyfriend, was viewed more than 50,000 times. Andrea was deeply concerned that other women like her sister would lose domestic violence protections in the aftermath of Amendment One’s passage.
We also heard from some unlikely sources.
Russell and Sally Robinson are pillars of the Charlotte community, long time philanthropists, and major donors to Duke University. Russell literally wrote the book on corporate law in North Carolina and is a prominent Republican. We later discovered that his grandfather was the principal draftsman of the North Carolina constitution — a fact he never mentioned.
Jesse Paddock, the talented filmmaker we worked with on the campaign, showed up to Russell and Sally’s stately home in Charlotte with few expectations. He filmed them and returned home to put the video into production.
When we watched the video you could tell that something wonderful had transpired. In the video Russell and Sally represented the very best of an almost stereotypically “Southern” relationship. Russell was deferential, Sally was passionate and clearly full of fire and brimstone, and Russell deftly and gently tore apart the amendment in a methodical, legal fashion.
The video would achieve substantial views. Perhaps more importantly, it generated earned media in Charlotte and a number of blogs wrote up the amazing nature of a traditional, older couple with deep North Carolina and Republican roots appearing on video to condemn such an amendment.
Some in Charlotte would credit Russell and Sally with sparking an onslaught of public figures who spoke out in the weeks that followed.
By the end of the campaign we had filmed and shared over 100 videos of people like Russell, Sally, and Andrea, from across the state. The videos had almost 3/4 million page views combined.
Our airwaves campaign (apart from traditional television and media) consisted of Facebook, Twitter, email, and blog outreach.
Our strategy consisted of pushing out our stories through a variety of multimedia platforms to inspire action, drive the debate, and alter the perception of the campaign.
Unexpectedly, at least from our view when we began the campaign, it would be blog outreach that would drive much of our campaign forward. We were fortunate to round up fantastic allies in the form of Joe Sudbay from Americablog, Scott Wooledge from Daily Kos, Pam Spaulding from Pam’s House Blend, and Adam Bink from the Courage Campaign, among others.
The goal for us was to change the perception of the campaign’s chances on a national level. When we first began reaching out, many people believed that we had no chance to defeat Amendment One because of how they perceived North Carolina and our people.
We quickly worked with the blog community to educate them about the remarkable coalition that the campaign had assembled. For example, the NAACP had only officially opposed one other amendment in the vein of Amendment One, and that was in California. The NC-NAACP would prove to be an invaluable ally, including the first instance in history of a state chapter of the NAACP launching a paid media campaign.
That was but one reason that we felt that our campaign and coalition were different and worthy of attention.
We worked with these bloggers to elevate voices against the amendment such as Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and Senator Kay Hagan.
They were also invaluable in altering the national perceptions by providing crucial buzz. They worked alongside us on two different “money bombs,” weeks that generated $100,000+ in online fundraising at key times for the campaign.
The buzz, the symbols and the stories combined to produce a compelling email campaign that would generate donations from more than 7,000 donors and break the statewide record of online fundraising for North Carolina.
All of the campaign’s work, including airwaves, culminated in the final days of the election with an onslaught of social media sharing and stories that helped alter the debate and power our campaign to the end.
Lauren Collins of The New Yorker captured this amazing grassroots movement in her piece on the amendment:
Still, having been away for a long time, I was surprised and moved to see the groundswell of support for gay rights (and for the rights of unmarried couples) amongst the people I grew up with. Many of them, I had assumed, would be opposed or indifferent to Amendment 1. The North Carolinians I know were on fire yesterday, on the telephone, on Twitter, and, especially, on Facebook, where the pitch and passion of the debate easily exceeded that of the 2008 election. There was Maggie Miller, whom I last saw in eight grade, writing, “One day in the future when hateful amendments like this are no longer in existence I look forward to telling my son with pride that I voted AGAINST amendment one… And while I’m at it, I very much consider myself a Christian and I have no concern about ‘facing God’ one day in response to how I voted on this amendment.”
The campaign was ultimately, and disappointingly, unsuccessful at the ballot box with a final margin of 61% for and 39% against.
We did, however, achieve a number of victories around the state, including:
840,000 votes against the amendment with a three-month campaign that was only on television for two weeks. When we began this campaign our win number was 535,000 and we thought to achieve that total we would need to turn out 70,000 new voters. Our numbers were far higher.
In every single county where we had a presence, we either won or tied. In Guilford and Forsyth it was rural areas with unprecedented turnout that impacted us the most and kept us from winning. Consider that in Greensboro proper, home to Republican Congressional representation, we won 73 of 79 precincts.
We achieved, with the help of the NAACP, faith leaders, and others, unprecedented “against” votes from African Americans. Consider Wake County — at Roberts Park, a predominantly African American precinct, the early vote was 671 for and 2,071 against. That’s 75% against Amendment One. You find this pattern in urban counties across NC. In Durham, the majority of African American precincts voted “no” by almost 65% and in Mecklenburg (Charlotte), it was almost 53%. Even in Guilford and Forsyth, where voters as a whole approved the Amendment narrowly, voters in African American precincts rejected it by 53% and 55% respectively.
In urban areas we even won overwhelming Republican precincts. In Wake County, for example, we won Country Club Hills — a precinct that has never been kind to Democrats.
And even in rural areas which voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment we had a number of success stories — including victory in the town of Duck where Jen Jones, Communications Director for Equality NC and a hero for Protect NC Families, led a remarkable town hall.
More importantly, the foundation has been laid for a movement that isn’t turning back. The campaign signed up tens of thousands of volunteers, more than 11,000 individuals donated to the cause (over 7,000 of them online) compared to only 1,000 donors who supported the amendment, and more than 800,000 people voted against LGBT discrimination. These accomplishments are all the more impressive given that in other southern states such as Tennessee and Alabama, similar amendments passed by 46 percentage points or more.
But the stories go deeper than the numbers show.
John Monti, a dedicated Raleigh volunteer, would drive around the state distributing yard signs and meeting with individuals in remote counties to inspire them to work hard against the amendment. Tracey Hollister would quit her job to dedicate hundreds of hours to ending discrimination.
Prominent businessmen and -women would donate large sums of money and declare their opposition publicly.
Public officials spoke out resoundingly, some at great risk to their careers, against the amendment, declaring that North Carolina was better than this.
A friend of mine had lived quietly as a gay person for his entire life. On election night he stood behind Jeremy Kennedy in solidarity and only an hour later he recorded a passionate interview with a local television station. The next night he spoke in front of our entire church community and declared that while we “were battered, we are not defeated.”
He has become a champion—and that, even if it were our only success, represents a victory for this community.