Fighting Prop 8 with social networking: How to spread equality through technology

On May 26, California made national news when the state’s supreme court upheld Proposition 8 – a ballot initiative that stripped the right to marry away from gay and lesbian couples.

Legal analysts say the court made its decision because … while acknowledging that marriage is a “fundamental right” … the state constitution does not explicitly protect “fundamental rights,” and that therefore there is no ground to protect them from a popular vote. 

Political analysts, meanwhile, point out that State Supreme Court justices are elected in California, and that the six justices had been threatened with recall efforts had they voted the other way.

But Joel Federman, who directs Saybrook’s Social Transformation Concentration, says there is sufficient precedent already for California to stand behind gay marriage.

“The California court had a precedent they could have followed to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional, a 1996 US Supreme Court decision, Romer v. Evans, involving a constitutional amendment, Amendment 2, passed by a majority in Colorado, and intended to deny state and local government protection of “homosexuals, lesbians or bisexuals” from discrimination,” Federman wrote at  “As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in that decision, striking down Colorado Proposition 2: ‘A state cannot…deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws.’ That eloquent phrasing captured the essential meaning of equal protection under the law, and applied it to same-sex discrimination.”

Eventually, Federman says, same-sex marriage will be an “unquestioned right, as obvious to the fair-minded as interracial marriage.”

“But,” he says, “in the meantime, we protest.”

But what will that protest look like?  Civil rights marches emerged for the era of TV – what new forms of protest will emerge for the era of Facebook and Twitter?  How effective will they be?

Those questions, both in general and specifically as applied to the marriage equity movement, will be discussed at a seminar at the June Residential Conference, entitled “New Communication Technology and Social Change.” 

Federman, who is facilitating the seminar, says, “New technologies and media are shifting the possibilities of social activism in revolutionary ways, and we are really just at the beginning of the arc of this shift.  We’re very happy to have gathered some of the pioneers in the social activist use of these technologies to share their work with Saybrook’s scholar-activist community.  The seminar will combine an exploration of the cutting edge of this kind of work in the field by some of the people at that cutting edge, and some broader reflection on the strengths, weaknesses and social implications of these new forms of social engagement.”

Presenters/topics at the RC seminar will include: 


  • Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs;, and developer of the Social Media Classroom: “Participatory Media and Collective Action: ‘Smart Mobs’ and Beyond”
  • David Taylor, Executive Director of Radical Designs: “Using the Internet to Build Social Movements”
  • Kip Williams, co-founder of One Struggle, One Fight, presenting “A Case Study in Using Online Tools for Grassroots Activism: The LGBT Movement”
  • Marc Silver, founder of, a cross-media platform effecting social change through progressive participation across borders:  “Digital Multi-Media as a Vehicle for Social Change.”
  • Gail Ervin, a Saybrook Human Science/Social Transformation student:  “Communication Technologies as a Social Transformation Delivery Tool:  Constructing a Graduate Research Agenda on Transnational Conflict Resolution Networks.”