Anne Sweet, a married mom and phone company employee at the time, was seemingly everywhere during the No on 9 campaign. (Read about her call to Bigot Busters when the OCA targeted Black church-goers in her neighborhood.) Here, Anne reflects on her union activism, being a loaned organizer with the No on 9 campaign, and the educational outreach she helped lead.
This transcript of No on 9 Remembered’s conversation with Anne has been edited for clarity and length.
I grew up in Mobile, Alabama. My first campaign was working to elect the first Black mayor of Prichard, a little town outside Mobile. It taught me so much about what everyday people could do. We got him elected! But we didn’t have the foresight to elect and develop a council to work with him, so he got jammed. I brought that organizing experience, information, and victory from the late ‘70s to my labor work.
In the early 1990s as part of our union, Communication Workers of America (CWA), I was in a group called Wild Women in Leadership. It connected me as an organizer with women in Canada and Mexico – lots of jobs were leaving the U.S., going to Canada and Mexico. So I was deliciously involved in that, learning organizing, bridging the things I’d learned about the civil rights movement in the ‘70s with CWA.
We were in Evergreen, Washington in 1988 when the Oregon Governor’s executive order [banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment] was repealed [through the passage of the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s Measure 8]. Something happened in my mind and brain. At the same time I was learning more stuff about oppression. It reminded me we that all hang out in the camps of the oppressor and the oppressed.
I realized the places I was an oppressor, as an adult to children, to disabled people in my able-bodiedness. As a perceived heterosexual woman, I was given the role to be oppressive to gay and lesbian people. And I didn’t want that role. I didn’t want to look at what I knew about gay and lesbian people and how I treated them, and how as a perceived heterosexual person that I held myself as deserving better treatment.
So I got involved, much to my ex-husband’s disapproval.
The telephone company I worked for at the time, they had a history of loaning people out to political campaigns. I got loaned to the No on 9 campaign. I asked for it, but didn’t have to fight for it. They were doing internal pluralism work at the time, and I was a facilitator for the pluralism training. It was one of the first places I could see comingling around social issues with my union and the company; particularly at that company, there were lots of internal [affinity] groups.
Once I was inside the No on 9 campaign, I worked with the churches, getting Black ministers, and Black people period, to sign a Sunday newspaper ad [urging the community to vote No on 9]. I got a professor in theology from Spelman/ Morehouse College to come to Portland, one of his students was a pastor at a Portland church who could have been gay [but was not out].
I also worked with the door-to-door canvass volunteers. Canvassing attracted lots of young, white gay and lesbian people, and a lot of the canvassing happened in the Black community. We would have classes on how to behave in the Black community. For white kids, it isn’t, “Hi Betty!” It’s “Mrs. Jones, how are you today?” – helping to dilute the social entitlement that persists in racism.
I did the same thing in Black communities and organizations to remind Black people that when we say “gay and lesbian” the picture we get is white – but remember that’s not true. When they throw out the gay and lesbian people, that’s your brother, uncle, cousin we’re talking about.
Antoinette Edwards, her husband and I were canvassing the beauty shops and barber shops. This women went on a tirade [against gay people] and the person doing her hair was flaming gay, begging us silently not to confront her and out him. But trying to interrupt that woman who felt very entitled to say those things; wanting her to remember when he can’t get a license to do your hair or open a beauty shop [if Measure 9 passed], he can’t do your hair anymore.
Teaching people to just think about it, how it would negatively impact them if this passed. Your uncle; your bull dyke neighbor who mows your lawn and fixes your car for free; your son who we all know is gay but we pretend they aren’t. Helping them to make a personal connection.
The lesson I’ve learned in coalition building, is that the most effective way is noticing what we all have in common. Kathleen Saadat helped me see that, inside this piece of work. I got to be mad when someone insulted me, but I didn’t get to take my marbles and go home. I had a responsibility to share my mind, thinking, and patience. And my willingness to look for a solution – to develop the solution alongside others, not to bring the solution all by myself. There were lots of people at the table talking about and acting on that coalition piece at that time.
I hate the word “inclusion” because it’s like, you already have the answers and I’m coming in at a deficit, one down. How about, let’s sit at the table, everybody bring their marbles. We have to push back about all of the places where we’re not encouraged to hang out together.
There was a tiny bit of us coming together back during Measure 9. People got exposed to the actual oppressiveness; the misinformation and no information and how that negatively impacts gay and lesbian people, got into rooms that it may never have gotten into without this campaign. But as soon as we won, people went back to the coziness of their lives, like “this is done,” despite such a high percentage of Oregonians voting Yes on 9.
In terms of my union work at the time, we had great solidarity with the unions in Canada, especially the ones focused on women’s issues; not so much in Mexico. My international union was headed up at that time by Larry Cohen, a wonderful, crazy guy. I felt very supported by him.
Given the amount of work, energy, cost put into this work over the decades, how am I doing now? I have the intellectual thought process to be as active now, but not the physical energy. It frightens me, knowing the tasks we have at hand, given the pandemic, threat of war, rise of antisemitic behaviors, the push on trans stuff – all of those issues are hanging out big time. They feel as big as the No on 9 stuff did.
What are we doing to transfer the knowledge and wisdom from the earlier fights? Is there a mechanism? I think about that. About a fluid movement, that’s constantly building; a movement that’s ready for what’s needed.
I visited with a friend recently. We hugged, then she asked if I had a gun; if I was going to get one. Because she lives in rural Washington where the posse lives – they ride their horses, they meet in the grange hall, and they talk about war.
As they say on The Moth Radio Hour, “Moth stories are true as remembered and affirmed by the storyteller.” Read more about the benefits and challenges of historical memory.