The Human Transaction: Door-to-door; Click-by-click

In the fight for LGBT equality we are often told that voters have already — several times in fact — disapproved of this concept, and presumably we should therefore just give up and yield “to the will of the people,” or certainly at least shut up about it already. While I fundamentally disagree with this conclusion (not to mention with the idea of silencing a minority according to majority will), here is one small and powerful element of truth: To win votes, if people don’t know you, sometimes you need to go door-to-door.

While it may seem unfair to treat matters of civil rights like regional sales campaigns, I think it’s true that the heart of lasting and meaningful social change is in the profundity of the human transaction, person-to-person, in ordinary, daily life. In fact, hard-working folks such as those at EQCA have been redoubling just such a “Sinead’s Hand-like” door-to-door effort at gaining acceptance ever since Prop 8 passed. And of course few know about the importance of going door-to-door as well as the Mormon Church.

During the past few weeks at work I’ve been thinking a lot about the “door-to-door” element of diversity. My company (a giant global enterprise software company), has an annual celebration of Diversity Days during which it reaffirms the commitment that the key to success is in embracing the value of the rich diversity of its workforce. One of the featured talks during this year’s Diversity Days was about people working with disabilities. It was good to get a look at this form of diversity in our workforce, often only all-too-invisible in my experience. There is such unique “explosion of value” in any particular form of “disability” or diversity, as presenter Gary Karp cited, for example, with IBM “master of invention” (and deaf person) Dr. Dimitri Kanevsky.

The 2002 movie Door to Door about American salesman Bill Porter brought the humanness of the sales and disability diversity transaction to light: “He tries everything and even goes door-to-door:”

Though I’ve never really liked the concept of “salesman” and probably would be more likely to slam doors in his face, from the early days of the door-to-door salesman humans have engineered ways to make the seemingly heartless financial transaction seem more human. I love this example of Bill Porter because it shows how elements of acceptance and tolerance also come down to the great sales job.

In an age where we transact more and more online, this notion of going door-to-door seems at the very least, at first glance, ironic. I would venture to guess that many of us prefer shopping online not only because we can find things more easily from around the world, but exactly because we feel socially inept, and maybe it’s Scary to Actually Meet Real People.

But this is the very thing that makes all the difference. Not so long ago a man from a place called SaveEnergy Company visited our house and chatted with us about our family and our lives and learned what was important to us. It was a low-stress visit, hardly what seemed like a sales call, and we were not intending to contract for new windows that day, yet by the end of the day — of course you know how this story ends — we had contracted for the new windows.

In this case, money seemed to change hands among friends, at a friendlier, less lonely, human occasion. Were we tricked into transaction feeling like we were acting socially rather than financially? Does it matter if in the end the windows – and the experience – were good? Is it possible that many people choose online transactions specifically because they are afraid of feeling “tricked” to be human in exactly this way?

Nowadays we Yelp and Facebook and Twitter to find out what our peers and community think about local vendors and beyond and we regularly connect with friends we know to vet a business before we go. This is of course not new — it simply replicates the in-person experience of door-to-door salesmen or earlier bartering communities online.

Recently I did just this for a major purchase decision — a new (used) car with the help of car broker Bay Area Hand Picked Cars. I read the glowing Yelp reviews and transacted with this business, and in the end I had not only a new car but a new perspective. Now I don’t feel like I ever want to consider large sales transactions in any other way (here’s not looking at you, Target). I also feel like we have a friend in Ioanna Stergiades of Bay Area Hand Picked Cars who would go door-to-door for us, should the need ever arise.

The point is that today the online transaction is hardly less human than the in-person transaction, and becoming less and less so every day. The massive “in-the-moment” coexisting, casual status updates that lead to stronger connections, “accidental” business-to-friend conversions, and particularly my pals at my company who follow me on Twitter and then happen to see my live-Tweeting from the courtroom trial against Prop 8 — and then DON’T unfollow me: These are how the keys to humanity are played these days. Far away from the temporary online momentary monetary transactions we’ve come to presume, I submit even these tiny transactions alter us, little by little, every second of every day.

Back at Diversity Days at my company, I could not help comparing battles for LGBT civil rights with the battle for the rights of those with disabilities. The fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability — whereas 20 years later we still can’t pass a similar protection based on sexual orientation (ENDA) — was not lost on me. We may yet learn a lot from the patience and persistence of someone like Bill Porter, the true salesman, whether we interact online or offline.

We may think we go to the Web to avoid people, but we don’t. Every transaction we make, door-to-door, click-by-click, matters. Be maybe afraid, yet utterly human.

PS: End Don’t Ask Don’t Tell THIS WEEK — find out how.

Prop 8 ruling: When law goes viral

August 4, 2010; Castro at Market

August 4, 2010; Castro at Market

It was cold, foggy, and even a bit drizzly all day, but yesterday was a beautiful day in San Francisco. I paced around the Federal Building on Golden Gate Street awaiting Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case on the constitutionality of Prop 8. Judge Walker had announced the ruling would come down between 1 and 3pm on Wednesday, August 4, and it would be delivered via the court’s Web site as well as in hard-copy at the Clerk’s office in the Federal Building.

But as I waited in line, sometime after 1pm my Twitter stream told me that Jeremy at Good As You got to it first.

Members of mainstream media channels (Reuters, KCBS) were waiting with me in line and scrambled around a bit disbelieving when I read from the pages that Jeremy had posted onto Scribd. Scribd was quick to confirm that this document had become its most viral document ever posted.

Although it’s wise, as a rule, to not take anything for “true” at first glance on Twitter, I don’t think anyone can say as a result which “official” broadcast called the decision first. I have a collection of tweets and text messages, but no real “announcement.” Sometime after 2pm, a cardboard box arrived at the Federal Building, and the handful of us still left in line got our copies of the Prop 8 opinion, still warm from the copier. It’s a great thing to have and hold, but the City was already partying by then.

This is what “viral” looks like. PS: This is also what “beautiful” looks like.

The kryptonite that bought Prop 8

via creative commons license from courosa on flickr

via creative commons license from courosa on flickr

Freeze-frame in memory from my daughter’s infancy:

She’s rolling around on the floor several feet away. I’m talking with someone on the couch. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a tall lamp post begin to fall in a trajectory towards my daughter’s head. I leap up from the couch and my body flies horizontally, lingering in mid-air to barely intercept the lamp post before it makes contact with her head. Then everything returns to normal, I’m back on the couch, and we resume our conversation.

In fact, what was happening behind the scenes was that my body was transforming from mild-mannered “parent” into cape-clad superhero, faster than the speeding lamp post that threatened my child. Parents in particular are instinctually familiar with this state, but I have learned that these powers used in service of good are also highly vulnerable to purposeful deception when the safety of kids is involved.

In Behind the numbers of Prop. 8 today in the LA Times, David Fleischer takes us through the revealing study of just how effectively the awesome power of parental instincts was exploited to move a half a million parents to pass Prop 8 in California:

The Yes on 8 campaign targeted parents in its TV ads. “Mom! Guess what I learned in school today!” were the cheery-frightening first words of the supporters’ most-broadcast ad. They emerged from the mouth of a young girl who had supposedly just learned that she could marry a female when she grew up.

Among the array of untrue ideas that parents could easily take away: that impressionable kids would be indoctrinated; that they would learn about gay sex; that they would be more likely to become gay; and that they might choose to be gay. California voters, depending on where they lived in the state, were exposed to the Yes on 8 ads 20 to 40 times.

This deception is the kryptonite that bought Prop 8. It’s important to note that these parents are far from evil. They are not motivated by hatred, as Fleischer points out most crucially:

Another misconception was that those who voted for Proposition 8 were motivated by hate. This does not describe most of the 687,000 who changed their minds in the closing weeks. After all, they supported same-sex marriage before the opposition peeled them away. Yes, they turned out to be susceptible to an appeal based on anti-gay prejudice. But they were frightened by misinformation.

Although it is is not news to folks close to the campaign that we lost because of these school scare tactics, it’s good to see it validated in today’s report. Yet while the No On Prop 8 campaign reacted as if stunned by the explosion of kryptonite, and the other side knew all too well we didn’t have time after the ad-bombs to recoup in the dwindling days of the election, we’ve all had no excuse to not see this coming again. In fact, the exact same ads were used with success to beat gay marriage just last year in Maine.

The blame is not on the parents who are only doing what they are instinctually conditioned to do. Likewise, the solution lies not in further trickery and deception. To truly help parents continue to do what they do best is to expose these scare tactics for what they are, but sadly, the element of fear remains a top-seller in our world. I have asked myself how to neutralize this element every single day post Prop 8.