HRC Blog

Celebrating Sen. Ben Nelson’s DADT Repeal Vote

This post comes from Nicholas Swiercek, one of HRC's organizers working on DADT repeal in Nebraska: The past two weeks in Nebraska have been nothing short of amazing. Dozens of dedicated Nebraskan volunteers stepped up their energy to mobilize our supporters and supplement our veterans’ lobbying to repeal DADT. After nearly three months of intense efforts on the ground in Nebraska, we succeeded in earning Senator Ben Nelson’s decisive vote on the Senate Armed Services Committee to clear the way to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year! On Wednesday, Senator Nelson released a statement saying:

“I don’t believe that most Nebraskans want to continue a policy that not only encourages but requires people to be deceptive and to lie. The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy does just that. It also encourages suspicion and senior officers to look the other way. In a military which values honesty and integrity, this policy encourages deceit.”

Senator Nelson couldn’t have said it better. Having once supported DADT, Sen. Nelson listened to the stories of dozens of Nebraska veterans who spoke out publicly and met with his staff privately. Our veterans’ stories played and enormous role in persuading the Senator to make the right decision on ending this discriminatory and shameful policy. Our statewide efforts in Nebraska led by two native-Nebraska organizers -- myself and Cassie Fleming -- demonstrated the power of intense, focused grassroots mobilization. Since mid-March, we have identified and mobilized thousands of Nebraskans to support repeal. We met with countless community groups and hosted numerous house meetings. We sponsored 5 Voices of Honor community forums with gay and straight, national and Nebraskan veterans. We gathered well over 3,200 postcards. We collected over 200 hand written letters. We made nearly 3,000 phone calls into Senator Nelson’s local and DC offices. Our veterans from across the state arranged two meetings with Senator Nelson’s Omaha and Lincoln offices. And eight veterans from Nebraska flew to Washington, DC nearly three weeks ago to participate in National Veterans Lobby Day. These impressive numbers could not have been possible without the incredible dedication of the nearly 100 volunteers who dedicated more than 300 volunteer shifts since mid-March.  Moreover, we were fortunate to have 8 organizing fellows who devoted 10 hours a week volunteering, managing phone banks, and conducting our ‘stop-and-dial’ outreach on college campuses, at festivals, and at farmers markets. These past two weeks, our volunteers ramped up our phone banks generating 60 to 85 phone calls a night patching our supporters into our representatives’ office voice mails. When our volunteers called completed a list midway through a night they eagerly called their friends and family or switched to turn out Massachusetts supporters. Our diverse volunteer base made this campaign a success—gay, straight and transgender; veterans and a few active duty servicemembers; high school students, college students, and university professors; long-time political advocates and first-time activists; lawyers, small business owners, and central Nebraska farmers; pastors and even a retired nun.  Nebraskans saw the critical role that they could play to make an enormous civil rights victory a reality. And they seized that opportunity. More than anything, this victory means all the more for our volunteers and organizers after personally getting to know so many Nebraska veterans with incredibly compelling stories.  I have talked with vets who have been discharged or opted not to reenlist because of DADT.  I met a number of talented and dedicated Nebraskans who would like to follow in their family’s footsteps of military service but fear the threat of being outted and losing their ability to serve.  I have heard the stories of air force veterans who served well over 20 years and from younger folks who returned from Iraq not long ago.  I am humbled by their service and courage to speak out to repeal DADT.  It is important to remember that this was not just a gay and lesbian rights victory.  It was also a personal victory for thousands of people with powerful stories. The past week was extraordinarily cathartic for our organizers and volunteers.  We proudly celebrated Wednesday when we heard Sen. Nelson would support repeal and cheered when the House voted 234-194 Thursday night.  We have been privileged to work with HRC on this campaign and we are honored to have worked alongside the countless Nebraskans who poured their energy into this campaign to make possible this historic civil rights victory.

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