Feature: Equal Marriage Act

December 1, 2009

Equal Marriage Act
Nov. 9, 2009
By Madeline Shattow

The vote to overturn same-sex marriage in Maine discouraged equality advocates far beyond the borders of the rural Northern state.

State Sen. Dennis Damon sponsored the Equal Marriage Act, which passed through the Maine State Legislature in May, allowing Maine to become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage.

Less than two months later a referendum was proposed for the November ballot, banning same-sex marriages. Maine voters passed Proposition 1 last week by a 6-point margin, according to official election results.
“I am terribly disappointed in the outcome of the vote,” said Damon in an e-mail interview. “ I felt it was going to be close, but in my heart I always felt like we would prevail.”

‘NO-on-1’ or Protect Maine Equality launched its campaign in July of 2009 in response to the proposed referendum proposed by a people’s veto of 50,000 signatures of Maine residents. Since then, it raised over $4 million for the campaign, according to the campaign finance report.

More than just Mainers joined the NO-on-1 effort to establish equal marriage rights in Maine.

For example, the Sunday before election night, Maggie Campbell, a sophomore at American University, sat in front of a room of 14 volunteers in Washington, D.C..

The board behind her had instructions on how to use the online phone bank database, along with helpful hints such as “Smile while you dial!”. Her phone rang as the Maine area code appeared on her screen. She answered, looked a little confused, and then smiled.

“Yes, I do support gay marriage,” Campbell listened as the caller on the other end of the line read the same script that sat in front of each of the volunteers in the room. “Actually I’ve already voted absentee.”

A few of the people who overheard the call laughed as Cambell explained to the caller that, she, too was working at a phone bank, making calls to supporters of the NO-on-1 Campaign.
Campbell started the satellite phone bank at American University in September. Volunteers met every week for two months to make calls to a state 600 miles away in hopes of being part of a successful campaign to support gay marriage.

“On this campaign everybody just appreciates everybody else,” Campbell said. “This phone bank isn’t any more special than any other phone bank, but we’re working just as hard.”

In the weeks approaching the election, the focus was on getting supporters to vote, Campbell said. CallFire.com, the electronic phone bank tool, connected volunteers’ cell phones with listed supporters and electronically collected response data of the calls made.

“When creating a support list, we start with a database of all the registered voters. Trained volunteers call them and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 on how supportive they are on that certain issue in order to create voter ID cards,” said Devinne Mack, associate outreach director for American University Democrats, and former Maine Hancock County field organizer. These online tools made it easier for people outside the state to participate in the campaign.

“It’s not only a Maine issue, or a Californian issue. This is an equal rights issue,” said Carol Foster, American University sophmore and gay rights advocate.  “It’s about securing equal rights for people; it doesn’t matter what state they live in.”

The majority of the phone bank participants at American University were not Maine residents. They did receive occasional criticism from Maine residents, prompting some of the Maine residents they called to criticize them, according to Campbell.

“No, we’re not in Maine. We believe in gay marriage for everyone, not just in our home state,” said Campbell.

Had Maine voted down the veto of the Equal Marriage Act, it would have been the first state to have a popular vote in favor of equal marriage rights, said Mack.

The Protect Maine Equality opponent, Yes on 1 campaign, hired the firm of Frank Schubert, which ran the successful Yes-on-Prop. 8 campaign that eliminated equal marriage rights in California in the 2008 election.
The Preserve Marriage campaign raised over $2.5 million.

“Traditional marriage is the foundation of society and has served our state well for centuries,” the Stand for Marriage web site reads. “If Question 1 fails, marriage will be redefined, the focus being only about what the adults want for themselves, and not what is best for society as a whole.”

It was with this argument that the Preserve Marriage campaign convinced 53 percent of voters to support Question 1.
“In the end, the opponents strategy of scaring people worked.  Fear is widely recognized as a powerful motivator,” said Damon. “The antidote for fear is knowledge and it takes far more effort to educate than it does to frighten.”

Protect Maine Equality voters hoped that the religious freedom affirmation stipulations of the Equal Marriage Act, which allowed congregations to chose to marry same-sex couples, would convince those who opposed gay marriage based on religious beliefs, said Campbell.

Though the outcome is discouraging for Campbell, she said that the campaign was not a total loss. “I take heart in the fact that so many Maine people were brave enough to stand for equality. Make no mistake, this is not over.”

The vote in Maine triggered a variety of responses and theories about what is to come next in this civil rights battle. One American University junior involved in the campaign said that the vote goes against the pattern of history. “A group has never not gained civil rights. It’s just going to take awhile, but it will happen.”

A movement to continue the fight for equal marriage has already begun, according to a statement Jesse Connolly, campaign manager of NO-on-1, released on the campaign’s web site.

Despite the defeat of his bill, Damon remains optimistic, “Thomas Jefferson said, ‘… laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.’  In spite of the vote, I still believe we do want to end discrimination in civil marriage and protect religious freedom … and we will!”

American Forum

October 15, 2009

American Forum
October 14, 2009
By Madeline Shattow

Erosion in Democratic support from young voters is the result of President Obama’s lack of utilization of the media as a tool to encourage participation in the upcoming midterm elections, according to the American Forum panel of political media experts.

American University hosted another American Forum this week as part of their now 20 year series at the School of Communications. Are Young Voters Talking Back to President Obama questioned a panel of experts on their perceptions on young voter’s support of President Obama nearly one year after he’s taken office.
Dean Kirkman of the American University School of Communications stated that the forum on Tuesday was likely to be the highlight of the series. Students filled the theater of the Katzen Arts Center to hear opinions on the effectiveness of Obama’s presidency and weigh in themselves.

David Gregory of Meet the Press was the first to remind the audience of the connection that Obama made with so many voters in the 18-29-age bracket. Of those voters, 66 percent voted for Obama in 2008 according to CNN exit polls.
Gregory believes that recent decline in support is most likely because of the high expectations Obama’s message set during the election. “Campaigns are highly efficient,” Gregory said. “The federal government is not.”
David Corn of Mother Jones Magazine agreed, stating that America’s youth support Obama as a leader, but did not necessarily agree in the same way, with his administration.

One of the younger panelists, Jose Vargas of the Huffington Post actually went as far as demanding why Obama had not used his expertise of the media to inspire America’s youth to once again get involved with the policy. He discussed how Obama’s campaign “wrote the book on social networking,” but has since been put on hold.

Controversial subjects such as global warming, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy, and gay marriage should be rallying points for young voters, according to Vargas. However, Obama’s lack of action since taking office may have affected his followers as well.

Corn supported Vargas’ statement. He stated that Obama was elected by his ability to socially network, and his administration has not been able to reach young voters the way that they were able to during the 2008 election. “Young people liked the unconventional canvassing with the new forms of media. It was a new type of politics,” said Corn. People expected him to continue to engage with the media and citizens in the same way he had during the campaign, said Corn.

Congress Daily reporter and American University alumna, Erin McPike used the example of student reporters. She said that during the 2008 presidential election, representatives from Obama’s campaign would be texting, calling, and emailing student organizers across the country.

Obama did attend a health care rally at the University of Maryland last month. McPike feels that this was a feeble attempt at reaching out to the student population, and his lack of action is in part due to the fact that a public option health care system is not likely to pass.

The panelists consented that health care is not a topic that engages young voters. “Congress is unpopular because what they do is unpleasant and does not yield concrete results,” said Gregory. Gregory believes that this unpopularity contributes to the lack of interest among important congressional issues.

President and founder of The Winston Group, David Winston admitted that people are confused on health care. As a Republican strategist he stated that both the Obama administration and the right are to blame for a lack of awareness among young voter.

America has seen a surplus of town meetings on health care, but not enough of decisive leadership from Washington on the matter, according to Winston.

Despite the lack of clear policy coming from the White House, the steps taken in the last year were revolutionary. “The Federal government is the most interesting start up of 2009,” said Vargas.

Mentions of President.gov, twitter, and other new forms of technology instigated discussion among the members of the audience and the panel. Vargas mentioned that if the amount of Obama facebook fans were to occupy a country, that country would be the fifth largest country in the world.

These new technologies only have so much affect on politics. “If Oldsmobile had 13,000 email address would they do any better? No, the problem is that they are Oldsmobile,” said Winston. Republicans are motivated by the fact that will not be able to sustain the margin of loss they suffered in 2008. They have to learn how to have a conversation with 18- 29 year olds.

None of the panelists discussed what affects a lack of young voters would have on the midterm elections. “The opportunity for expression is there,” said Gregory. It remains to be seen if young voters plan on seizing it.

September 21st Class

September 21, 2009

Sep 21 Class

We started the class by discussing our guest from the previous class, Ethan from the Eagle. We all agreed that he was knowledgeable and smart; Professor Walker compared him to a sponge. There were a number of comments on the Eagle itself, particularly on the sex column and on the front-page editorial on drinking. The conversation geared towards articles verses columns, and it was concluded that even in an opinion column, it is good to use journalistic techniques in order to gain credibility with readers. The Eagle Rants are back. They are amusing.
The fact that we liked the Eagle Rants because we could relate to them acted as a segway to the importance of being able to relate to the articles we write. People took turns reading from their latest blogs on teen trends. The trends ranged from greek life, to illegal downloads and were very well written. Professor Walker mentioned that AP style was a common problem among the blogs (which as a collective were good), and so we were given a quiz on proper quotation punctuation and form.
After the quiz, we discussed the reading on how to cover speeches and rhetoric. We talked about a few notably historic speeches and then reviewed the impact they had.
How to cover a speech well:
-Get the background info
– Learn the key players in the issue
– Be able to ask intelligent questions (see Professor Walker for an embarrassing anecdote on not being able to come up with a good question)
– Get the agenda for the conference, if available
– Have contacts in mind to reach for clarification
– Get an advanced copy of opening statements

During the speech or meeting:
–    Arrive early, find a good seat
–    Introduce yourself, be known
–    Take detailed notes, and use a recorder as backup
–    As you listen to meeting or speech try to think opposition and controversial points to follow up on outside of the speech
–    Speak to participants afterwards
–    Speak to opponents later to provide readers with extra info.
We then discussed Obama’s weekend address, and classmates shared their leads for critique. We also looked at an Associated Press Article by Will Lester. The general consensus was that the lead and the article were “serviceable” and slightly dull.
Professor Walker will email us with the homework.

Blackberries and Teens

September 17, 2009

Blackberries

By Madeline Shattow

What started as a tool for the high-powered businessman has now become child’s play, as more teenagers are exchanging their average cell phones for Blackberries.

Devinne Mack, a 19-year-old political science major of American University is dressed in a high-wasted black skirt, a silk pink top, and flip-flops. Poking out of her bag is a pair of simple black heels as she walks down Connecticut Ave. to work. As cars whir by her commute, a beep comes from inside her purse. She takes out her Blackberry and laughs. “My friend just posted a video on my facebook wall,” she says. She continues to laugh as she watches a youtube video of a cat sticking its head under a running faucet.

Mack is not too young to remember when the technology of someone receiving a video to his or her cell phone seemed unlikely. “When I was younger my mother got one of those car phones through her work. It came in this clunky pouch and we could make calls home when we got stuck in traffic. Now it seems that everyone from 12-year-olds to senior citizens have at least a plain cell phone.” It’s true; cell phones are made for every age group. But, as texting gains in popularity among teens, more and more phones are exchanging their 12-button displays for full key boards, allowing those who text to do so more efficiently. Blackberry was ahead of this curve, creating full keyboards in it earliest models. It wasn’t until recently that the necessity for full keyboards in phones for teens became prevalent. Of course, having the ability to text friends faster isn’t the only attractive thing about a Blackberry that sets it ahead of its competition when it comes to this age group.

The majority of Blackberries come with web-browsing capabilities, a GPS, ability to store music, take pictures and videos, and of course, make phone calls. This was originally designed for the businessman on the go, a man in a suit who needs to be able to stay connected when he’s not at his desk. But recently, the target market has turned to a younger crowd, teenagers. The new add campaigns show how easy it is to store music and download applications and games for your own entertainment. Accessories now come in various shades of neon colors. The look of young professionalism of the Blackberry with the added fun is appealing to teens.

It seems of little surprise to Mack that Blackberries are growing in popularity among others her age. “We’re a generation that’s completely dependent on technology,” she said. “We have email, facebook, twitter, texting. We need to stay connected to the Internet in order to stay connected with each other.”

Objectifying the Truth

September 3, 2009

So I may or may not have started this blog post with a google of the phrase “objectivity in journalism”. While I’m sure googling is frowned upon by some as a way to work past a mental block or check facts, I find it very helpful. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m starting a paper, one of my first stops is always Wikipedia. It tells me all the basics, the plot if you will, of whatever topic I’m writing about in an easy to read and neutral way. Right? Because a resource like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica is just about the FACTS. Except that it’s not really an “approved source” so to speak. Why? Because it’s not academic, it’s all publicly written. I almost feel that that makes it more objective. The more the people contribute to a narrative, the less one-sided it is. Now, I’m not sure weather this is the truth when it comes to Wikipedia or any public forum, but I do trust the “facts” on there as truth. I still like to back it up by a professor from Harvard, or a survey done by a national bureau. But who is to say that those people are any fairer or more objective than the Wikipedia article I am reading. Then again, that Harvard professor could very well be an author of that very same article.

Now of course, the majority of results in my google search have FOX news in the title, and I happened across this particular one on Ask.com, http://journalism.about.com/od/trends/a/cablenews.htm. It was written by a man named Tony Rogers who has a picture of himself with the title “journalism guide” along with a newsletter and a blog. The article is a basic on the stereotypes we find in news bias. “FOX, on the one hand, is the conservative alternative for people who believe the so-called mainstream media have a liberal bent. Its shows, led by ratings king Bill O’Reilly, offer viewers a steady diet of right-of-center commentary delivered with plenty of attitude and verbal sparring” (Rogers). I’d say that this a well articulated, witty even, description of how most see FOX news. But I live in New England, where most everyone is liberal, and I have to say, I’m not actually sure if conservatives see FOX news as objective or not. I feel that every since the days of the Watergate Scandal, when two liberal journalists brought down a conservative president, liberalism has been associated with the “truth”. So maybe it’s appropriate that mainstream media have a liberal bias. However, I’m not an objective judge.

I’ve Never Blogged Before

August 26, 2009

Well, this is my first time blogging…. ever. It seems like this class the beginning of a lot of new things for me. To begin with, I’ve never had a professor ask the class to text her with any questions, or send regular tweet updates for class. I’m looking forward to it, because getting involved with the constant stream of online information seems necessary to keep up with the fast-pace world of today. I’ve never been huge into blogs or tweets cause that seems like a lot of pressure to maintain such a public image. I mean, having your thoughts, actions, feelings criticized by unknown (or worse yet, known) public masses. I just get self conscious about my writing… it always comes across as over emotional and not witty. But alas, enough about me!

Comm 200 seems like it’s going to be an adventure, as with any writing class. I absolutely love words, but I’m not always amazing at getting them across. I think that I find certain things entertaining and funny that others don’t, but that’s not a surprise. That’s why I’m in communications in the first place, I suppose. I want to appeal to everyone. That’s kind of how I view college, in a way. What we (students) have been told time and time again is that not having a college degree will severely limit us, having a degree in something like art or literature will provide us with little or no option for the future. That’s why I chose this degree, this profession, this class. I’m a public communication major and everyone needs to communicate with the public at some point in time. Non profits, the government, huge corporations, celebrities, schools; everyone needs to communicate.

I except that this class is going to be a really good experience, no, seriously. I am looking forward to really focusing on writing skills. I want to be a good writer because that is a skill that will open doors, but beyond that I like to write. I’m willing to learn anything that comes up. I will warn those involved, that I am very stubborn when it comes to grammar. I don’t take stylistic comments to heart, because it’s my style. I should probably learn to let those things in, but no promises =).