Recently, I was asked to present at the Australian Progress FWD+Organise event in Sydney on the Rainbow Families’ Plebiscite Campaign. The Rainbow Families’ campaign was led by Felicity Marlowe and was part of a bigger anti-plebiscite campaign coordinated by Rodney Croome, Ivan Hinton-Teoh and Shelley Argent. Since then, I’ve been asked by a number of people about the presentation so have posted it here as a blog.
I was required to present in the ‘Pecha Kucha’ style where you display 20 slides for 20 seconds which was a really interesting challenge. It means you have to be incredibly focused and succinct – and not cough or sneeze while you’re presenting! If you read to the end, it will take you six minutes and forty seconds!
As a parent, our first job is to protect our children and that’s a very powerful motivating factor. I think it’s why this campaign was supported so effectively by so many people; we knew it would be rough on our kids and we pulled out all the stops to ensure it never happened. So ‘Thank you’ to the thousands of families and friends who phoned, emailed, donated, shared, tweeted or travelled. You done good! Here’s the presentation…
1. The campaign team
I want to start by acknowledging the key people in this campaign. The Canberra road trip was the brainchild of Felicity Marlowe (in the red shirt) who provided leadership and expertise and coordinated with Rainbow Families Council (Victoria) and Rainbow Families NSW. Twenty-seven kids and twenty-one grown-ups travelled to Canberra, and were supported by many thousands of families across the country.
2. This is personal
This campaign was deeply personal for me and for everyone involved. This is my family: my partner Sarah and our three kids: Corin, Scout, and Cully, and Cooper the dog. We live in Kew in Melbourne. The cornerstone of the campaign was giving a voice to the real families who would be affected by a plebiscite. And, we believed we had something new to offer that MPs hadn’t already heard.
3. ‘Think of the children’
We knew the focus of the ‘no’ campaign would be almost entirely on our children and the suggested negative outcomes for them of having two parents of the same sex. Even before a plebiscite, material had started to circulate detailing these outcomes: unemployment, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts.
4. One simple message
We knew it would be very bad for our kids and we had one simple message: Do not hold a plebiscite on marriage equality. There was no compromise on this. We didn’t care if it was self-executing, if it was funded or not, if the vote was compulsory or voluntary. Any plebiscite was a bad plebiscite.
5. Information kit
Sarah Marlowe produced a kit that provided a background to why we were engaging in this campaign which was sent to all parliamentarians with the aim of complementing our face to face meetings. The information in the kit added weight to the stories the kids told, and provided MPs with research and data.
6. A road trip to Canberra
The road trip was built on successful previous Rainbow Family Council campaigns – around adoption, access to fertility treatment, and birth certificates. Those campaigns had engaged the rainbow families’ community effectively and developed a respected ‘brand’. We had learnt the value of telling personal stories, not just in letters and emails, but face to face.
We ran a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to cover the cost of travel and accommodation. We started with a target of $3000 which was met in 16 hours, then added another $2000 which was met shortly afterwards, by a total of 91 supporters. The GoFundMe page got 500+ shares on Facebook and was highly effective in advertising the campaign.
8. Preparing the kids
All of us talked to our kids beforehand about what they wanted to say and we encouraged them to focus of their own personal experiences. The kids were very clear about their message and able to articulate it confidently. Listening to them, no-one could think they had been drilled or coerced in any way.
9. What they said
The younger ones talked about the fact that people would say nasty things about their families, that there was something wrong with them or their parents. The older kids talked about how unfair it was for everyone to have a vote about their family, and how it was like ‘paying people to insult us’. A highlight for me was watching fifteen year old Mietta go head to head with Tim Wilson!
10. Party room meeting
In the afternoon, Flis organised an ALP party room meeting where Penny Wong and Louise Pratt shared personal stories, and the kids read short, prepared statements. We showed a video clip featuring 100 rainbow families who couldn’t make it on the day, but who’d sent in their photos with our ‘no plebiscite’ signs.
11. Calls to action
The rainbow families’ community was highly engaged and very responsive to calls to action. The requests for crowdfunding and family photos were met promptly and MPs were inundated with emails and phone calls. On the day I phoned Bill Shorten’s office, the staffer was friendly and positive, but clearly bored by hearing the same message over and over again!
12. Social media
A “rainbow families say ‘no plebiscite’” Facebook page and Twitter account were set up which kept people closely engaged with the unfolding campaign. On the Canberra day, we installed key people at home in front of computers to share posts, tweet and support immediate calls to action.
13. Print and TV media
Media coverage of the day was comprehensive with both TV and print running great stories with fantastic images. The Guardian ran a widely viewed, on-line interview with three of the kids which helped to increase the impact of the day. But it was this Huff Post piece that was my particular favourite.
14. Impact on the kids
There were certainly some challenging moments for the kids, but overall it was an incredibly positive and affirming experience. Being listened to by some of the most influential and important people in the country gave them a remarkable sense of personal agency and was extremely empowering. I think it inoculated them against some of the negative commentary they’ll inevitably hear over time.
15. Impact on the plebiscite (1)
Before the start of the August parliamentary session, Bill Shorten had expressed his dislike of a plebiscite, but had not publically committed to opposing it and he was still under significant pressure to support it. Our visit exposed him – in a very direct and personal way – to a community that would be significantly affected. Sources tell us our visit was a critical turning point.
16. Impact on the plebiscite (2)
The very personal stories our kids told, the concerns we as parents expressed, provided him with the authenticity, the credibility with which to emphatically oppose the plebiscite. The ALP party room meeting, and other meetings that rainbow families had with the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch, served the same purpose.
17. Round tables
After the Canberra day, Felicity Marlowe attended the round table with Bill Shorten in Melbourne and other rainbow families contributed to the Sydney and Canberra discussions. A smaller group of families went up to Canberra again, attending a press conference and building on the success of the original visit.
A huge ‘thank you’ card with photos of our 100 families was hand-delivered to parliament. We wanted to acknowledge the fact that they had listened to us – to our kids – and had acted decisively to support us. We wanted to show our support in return and urged rainbow families to email or call and say ‘thank you’.
19. Samuel Leighton-Dore
This quote is from the editor of Same Same, just this week:
“Focus groups held on the subject of marriage equality displayed with no uncertainty that a firm majority of Australians were in favour or indifferent to the idea. However, once subjected to anti-equality advertisements featuring young children, a significant percentage of support dropped off. Basically, the centre moved right.”
20. Cooper the dog
Leighton-Dore argues that given this – and reflecting on Brexit in the UK and Trump’s victory in the US – in all likelihood we would have lost the plebiscite. I think he has a point, and so does Cooper the dog. Thank you.