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WHOSE OMNIBUS? OUR OMNIBUS! (An Update on the Discussion) (10-25-11).

Among the Occupiers, the cry is often: Whose Streets? Our Streets! It’s also heard in LGBT activism, like the night the police tried to clear the street party for marriage equality in front of The Stonewall, but were stopped by this chant.

It’s a statement that puts the issue of ownership over this society and our government in its appropriate perspective. It says that social policy should reflect the interest of the people, because the ownership resides with the people.

It is this understanding that we need more of from both this movement generally, and Representative Polis’ approach to the Omnibus, which does not have a public process, or even a committee of community stakeholders empowered in the process.

As a result, we are at the final stages, and no one can explain clearly why Title VI is not in the Outline, what process there is for community input, and why the community call for Full Federal Equality & Equal Civil Rights is being ignored.

Via this platform, I am trying to open that dialogue and bring the conversations to light, so that all can be informed and participate. But already the problems with insider, behind-the-scenes, one-on-one conversations are appearing.

One result was the last post I wrote – “Gay Inc Blocks Title VI,” which was based on the story I was clearly told by Rep. Polis’ staff, but is now denied. I shared that with HRC Board members directly via FB messages, and it resulted in a flurry of exchanges.

Here is what I learned in separate calls from Representative Polis’ Chief of Staff, Brian Branton; Legislative Director, Eve Lieberman; and, from Fred Sainz, HRC’s Spokesman who was on the line with David Smith. I invite their corrections.

I have no idea what the next steps are, but there are conference calls in various groups in the works. And I did made it clear that we were in this for our human rights, and not inclined to give up.

REASONS OFFERED BY POLIS’ TEAM ON WHY TITLE VI IS NOT INCLUDED
(Note: this summary was shared with HRC/Polis team, and no corrections have been offered).

1. Different visions of an “Omnibus”. Rep. Polis’ team said they see the omnibus as only a collection of previously filed bills. REPLY: The Outline they produced already includes new components – “public accommodations and public facilities” which are Titles 2 & 3 of the CRA, which are not in any previously filed bills. And if this new bill were only a collection of our past bills, it would be obviously incomplete, and there would be no value added. It would not be “omnibus”. Moreover, all previous draft “omnibus” bills, which prompted this effort, include Title VI, and various Resolutions and Proclamations from elected officials, and community centers, call for Equal Civil Rights, some Title VI specifically.

2. The Polis Outline Coverage & Title VI. Rep. Polis’ team stated that the other provisions included in the Outline, together, are the equivalent of adding SO&GI to Title VI. REPLY: This is not accurate as a matter of law or fact. We referred them to the DOJ’s office that deals with Title VI enforcement and Internal DOJ memorandum.

3. The Omnibus is a bad strategic idea. Rep. Polis’ team stated the piecemeal approach is more pragmatic. REPLY: We maintain that the reason for an omnibus is to make a statement about our equality, as a beacon for our cause, and an organizing impetus for our movement. We need a bill we believe in.

4. Opposition from LGBT Groups.    Polis’ team’s explanation that Title VI was omitted due to opposition from HRC, NGLTF,NCLR, operating as a coalition, based on “pragmatism,” is no longer being offered (see below).

5. Pragmatism. This argument seems to have disappeared as well, as the focus is now on 1. Our vision of the Omnibus includes only previously filed bills; 2. Our Outline pieces covers Title VI, both of which are not accurate factually.

PROCESS ISSUES

1. Process & Public Participation. We have urged that Rep. Polis’ team create a more transparent process for a public debate on the scope of the Outline, and then on any draft bill. Polis’ team is opposed to a more public process. REPLY: This keeps all the people being consulted individually one-on-one in the dark as to who else is in the conversation, and precludes open grassroots participation, or a community-wide dialogue. Our intention is to bring as much transparency to this process as possible and to advocate for a legitimate process on this matter of clear community-wide concern.

2. Timeline. Repeatedly, Polis’ Team has said that they are waiting for Rep. Baldwin to file her health care bill, before they can file, and evidently, before they are able to offer a draft for comment. REPLY: Rep. Baldwin is running for Senate so may be pre-occupied. But we maintain we should not have to wait to begin a community conversation on the Outline, which is already available, and that the Baldwin bill should not preclude a conversation about Title VI. Overall timeline as I understand it is still January.

3. “Agree to Disagree.” Rep. Polis’ team repeatedly used this phrase when there was disagreement, even as to factual, legal matters, like the scope of Title VI as compared to the Outline. REPLY: It reflects a problem power dynamic, whereby the Chief of Staff becomes the authority figure for our entire movement, empowered to make unilateral decisions on matters of general concern to our entire community, with no public dialogue, or even committee conversation.

COMMUNITY POLITICS

1. Blog: “Gay Inc Stops Title VI.”   Rep. Polis’ team is now saying that they were misunderstood on this point. HRC says they are not working in coalition on the Omnibus, and have not offered input against Title VI. REPLY: I stand by my earlier reporting, which accurately reflected the information I was given by Rep. Polis’ staff, and am deeply troubled by this turn of events, which suggests to me the run around.

2. HRC’s Position on Title VI. HRC’s Spokesperson said that HRC would not make a public statement on the issue of Title VI’s inclusion until they had a draft bill to comment on. They have the Outline, but say they have not commented on that, and did not oppose Title VI. REPLY: We requested a statement from HRC supporting the inclusion of Title VI in the Omnibus, but so far have not received one. There is no reason HRC should have to wait to join this vital conversation in earnest and openly.

3. LGBT CAUCUS (Congress). Concern was raised about being sensitive to the feelings of other Representatives, and the individual work on individual bills. REPLY: We reiterated that the LGBT Caucus should be coordinating on a strategy, and holding a public process engagement with the community on an omnibus bill. This reflects a general problem whereby our agenda is treated as the private purview of individual Congress people, instead of belonging to the people.

WHOSE OMNIBUS?   OUR OMNIBUS!


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