A few months ago, I participated in the No H8 Campaign. The campaign was started by photographer Adam Bouska in response to the lamentable Prop 8 decision and ensuing political debate which pitted loving LGBT couples against the Mormon Church-driven hate campaign. The decision is still in the court, despite being ruled illegal by the California Supreme Court. The Church’s dollars keep seeking appeals and the LGBT community has to keep on defending itself from the vitriol.
The NoH8 Campaign can be seen as an activist campaign geared towards consciousness raising and ally identification. While established as a 501(c)3 non-profit, the main thrust of the campaign is the photographs themselves. (As best I can discern, the money raised goes back into the campaign, not filtered to outside marriage equality organizations). So far the No H8 campaign has photographed thousands of people including soldiers, celebrities, families, couples and individuals. Most people pose with some personality identifier like headphones, showing their tattoos, or holding other hand props. (I held pencils and red pens).
The session costs $40 and lasts a long time of waiting and a few moments in front of the camera. Bouska himself is delightful- with the endurance, humor and appreciation necessary for holding space for so many people.
As I stood in the W Hotel in San Francisco, sipping wine and trying to keep my temporary tattoo from smudging, I thought about activism as a vanity project. No doubt this project appeals to the ego. The photographs have become popular enough that it’s a campaign everyone wants to be involved in. There’s no real call to action beyond getting your picture taken, and it’s easy to imagine that many of the people photographed have never done anything to support marriage equality. The photos are also retouched so that everyone looks gorgeous. It certainly feels good to see a picture where your eyes just ‘pop’!
There are many ways that the average person can be involved in progressive causes. Usually this looks like 1) donating money, 2) volunteering some time 3) being willing to engage in conversations with people who may disagree with them 4) calling or writing their political representatives 5) participate in “consciousness raising” like phone-banking, peaceful protests/marches, writing letters to the editor, etc.
Coming from a non-profit background, I’d have to say that consciousness raising of this variety isn’t nearly as powerful as donating boo-koo bucks to progressive causes or reaching out to voters, but it’s not irrelevant either.
I do have a problem with people feeling so satisfied with themselves that they’re willing to ignore the work that really needs to be done in the trenches. Does the No H8 Campaign achieve its goals? Likely yes. The photographs will certainly stand over the years as a good representation of the cultural response to Prop 8. But is it enough? Hell no. The best result of this campaign is for people to realize the negative impact of Prop 8 on real California families, and for all Americans to realize how destructive the current marriage laws are to the safety and happiness of gay and lesbian families. I doubt the No H8 Campaign will get this far. In the meantime, though, it does offer a tiny sense of righteousness, solidarity, and lightheartedness amid the ugly battle for equal rights.