(Disclosure: I sit on the board of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada, as well as the Nevada Stonewall Democratic Caucus.)
A group of us from various local LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including Stonewall and PLAN, went to Senator Harry Reid's office to thank him for his commitment to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and discuss next steps in making it happen. Reid will be working his hardest within The Senate chambers to gather the votes, negotiate with Republicans on the amendment process, and get it done from the inside.
Meanwhile, it's our duty as equality activists to work from outside on reaching out to those Senators still on the fence and educate them on why most Americans want to see this done, why most soldiers want to see this done, and why this must be done by the end of this year so that this policy can come to an end and our military can stop letting go of good soldiers just because of who they are. While I was thinking about those Senators in other states that local activists there need to talk with, someone else in our group had an idea on one more office we needed to visit.
State Senator David Parks (D-Las Vegas), Nevada's first out state legislator and an Air Force veteran himself, was among our group yesterday. And after we finished meeting with Harry Reid's Las Vegas staff, he suggested we go across the hall and meet with Senator John Ensign's staff.
Yep, you heard me right. He said it was worth a try for us, so we all just did it.
When Rachel Maddow mentioned The Washington Blade report...
Laura Martin, communications director for the club, said she and other activists on Thursday met with Margot Allen, Ensign’s regional representative on military issues, who informed the group of Ensign’s opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intention to vote for the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.
“The first question was about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his staffer said he supports repeal,” Martin said. “We asked her to clarify three times and she said he will vote in the affirmative on the defense authorization with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in it.”
Martin said the question they asked was based on the condition that the vote would come up in December after the Pentagon working group completes its report on implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“We said after Dec. 1, when that report is out, and the defense authorization act is up for a vote with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ will the senator vote in the affirmative to pass it?” Martin said. “And she said, ‘He will.’ And we asked her to clarify that two more times and she said, ‘Yes, he wants it repealed.’”
She mentioned Laura Martin, Stonewall's Communications Director. She was there with us, and we both broke the news on Twitter yesterday as our jaws were dropping and we were wondering if we were dreaming.
Basically, we went into the office. We were then greeted by the receptionist at the front desk, who told us someone would be out shortly when we asked about scheduling an appointment to talk with them about Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal. We weren't even expecting to have a meeting that day, but all of a sudden Margot Allen stepped out, greeted us, and told us that Ensign wants to read through the official Pentagon report as soon as it's released... But once it's released and he looks through it, he intends to vote for the defense authorization bill with the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal provision included.
Again, we were all floored. But as Allen was explaining how Ensign is approaching this, we caught it again and realized our ears weren't playing a trick on us. Yes, it's happening. Yes, Ensign will support DADT repeal. And yes, we citizens can still make a difference.
Frankly, this is what we need more of. Despite what you may have heard, our members of Congress still have to pay attention to those letters we write them, those calls we make to their offices, and the office visits we make. Citizen lobbying matters. And right now, as we're looking to firm up support from Senators like Ensign and Lisa Murkowski who are all of a sudden very open to DADT repeal, we need to keep those lines of conversation open and keep encouraging them to listen to us, listen to the troops, and listen to their consciences.
We're closer to getting at least 60 Senate votes to repeal DADT than ever before. Call Ensign's office at (202) 224-6244, email him here, and thank him for supporting DADT repeal while encouraging him to follow through on it. And of course, call Reid's office at (202) 224-3542, email him here, and thank him for all the work he's done to make this all happen. All this personal contact we've been making is really making a difference. It is here in Nevada, and it can across the country.
Despite all the Beltway chatter you may have heard over the last few weeks, local community activists kept talking with Harry Reid and his staffers about DADT repeal. And despite premature notices of its "death", Reid is following through on his promise to us to keep pursuing it until DADT gets repealed. And now, we may end up with Ensign on board as well. That's the power of our voices.