When the Minnesota legislature placed the proposed state constitutional amendment to limit civil marriage to heterosexual couples on the November general election ballot, many Minnesotans were outraged. Jeff Zuckerman, an editor and teacher at Walden University and the University of Minnesota, decided it was time to act. He began talking to his friends, colleagues, and the members of his shul about the idea of establishing a forum to articulate rational reasons why the amendment would be bad for Minnesota, even though the ballot initiative was 18 months away.
A native of Pittsburgh and first-time blogger, Jeff Zuckerman has lived in Minnesota for more than 30 years, where with his wife they raised their two children. TC Jewfolk asked Zuckerman to explain what the blog is all about. He shared in thoughts about the proposed amendment, Jewish values and why civility in political discourse matters.
TCJF: Why did you start this blog? What are your goals for publishing 365 Pretty Good Reasons?
JZ: Until the legislature approved the marriage amendment last May, I was in a post-2010 election slumber. That vote hit me like a bucket of ice water. A blogger pal and I discussed what I could do about the amendment, and I came up with the idea of blogging one reason a day to oppose the amendment. At least it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, anyway.
The “pretty good” business, of course, is pirated from Garrison Keillor’s Pretty Good Poems and Pretty Good Groceries. The idea of “365 Pretty Good Reasons” captured my purpose: to offer reasonable Minnesotans some reasonable fodder for rejecting the amendment.
How often do you post? As I write this, I see that there are more than 30 posts for this month and the month isn’t even over yet!
I’ve been posting once a day since November 6. If I have time I write a few ahead of schedule. I’m linking to other people’s stuff a couple times a week. On a good day the thing just writes itself.
Your blog obviously assumes a great belief in civil discourse, and you’ve called 365 Pretty Good Reasons a “rant free zone.” These days so much of what is published and and commented upon online seems rigid and disrespectful of other points of view. Why have you set a different tone with your blog? Can a civil tone make a difference?
Right from the start it was really important to me to keep it civil. I was worried that all we’d hear for a year would be hate and screaming and yelling. Not that I’m opposed to screaming and yelling—half my people are Russian Jews, and I did plenty of screaming at protest rallies going back to the 1970s. Getting older and calmer helped me realize no one is going to change his or her vote by getting yelled at. I’ve been delighted to see that Minnesotans United for All Families has taken that stance.
People on the far sides of the issue are going to vote the way they’re going to vote. I am interested only in reaching the 10% or so of Minnesotans, according to the last poll, who haven’t yet made up their minds. As it’s turned out, though, I hope some of the stuff I’ve written has provided additional ways for opponents of the amendment to articulate their opposition.
What have you learned or experienced with this project that has surprised you? Disappointed you? Energized you?
I’ve learned that writing a blog is a real test of your self-editing skills. If you can say it in 200 words, the trick is to say the same thing in 125 words. I used to be a reporter, and I’m glad to see that I can still write on deadline. Also, about 25 years ago when I was a columnist at The Daily I used to be funny. A friend of mine who dislikes everything told me she thought the blog was “hilarious,” so that’s nice.
One thing this effort has confirmed is that social media can be really valuable to getting your message out, and I absolutely suck at it, especially Twitter. You know anyone who wants to intern for me? I can write them a nice letter of recommendation on university letterhead.
I’m also eager to get more submissions from readers—a story or even three sentences saying why you oppose the amendment. That’s plenty!
What feedback have you gotten from people about this project?
I got a big bump in hits and comments about a month ago when my son Isaac and I posted an animation on YouTube called “So You Support the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.” Most people thought it was funny and, to my surprise, depressing. A couple of friends thought the lesbian heroine acted too coolly, and I get that.
I also got a ton of comments on a personal story I wrote a couple weeks ago about my Cousin Ellen, who I love dearly, and who married her sweetheart Lori in October in New York City. Personal stories really have power, and I hope to feature more stories in the months ahead about gays and lesbians I know.
Do you see a connection between your Jewishness and/or Jewish values and your commitment to this project?
My Jewishness absolutely is at the heart of this effort. My grandparents escaped Russia at the time of the pogroms and my dad and his family from Central Europe just before World War II. Some of them were atheists. Some were Orthodox. But in the eyes of the tsar and Hitler, all that mattered was they were Jews, right?
Now it’s 2012. I thank God I am an American, but I am mortified by the way the Religious Right is tearing down the Jeffersonian wall that separates church and state. Now they’re even hijacking that reality by claiming anti-Christian discrimination. It’s Orwellian and drives me crazy, but I’ve gotten snarky only once or twice in the blog and I try to keep it informative, light, and respectful.
Also, there’s no way not to sound like an ass by saying this, but half the pals I’ve made at Shir Tikvah are gay or lesbian. My last four rabbis are. And in terms of the Jewish tradition of fighting for social justice, I have yet to hear any argument that explains how this amendment is any less destructive than the anti-miscegenation laws of 50 years ago.
You’ve already presented many arguments in favor of voting “No” on the marriage amendment. What do you think is the most compelling reason to oppose this ballot measure in November?
A constitutional amendment is permanent. Most people under 35 plain don’t care who marries whom. I’m old enough to know that over time tolerance in America has won out over bigotry. This proposed amendment is a last-gasp effort to stall our inevitable destiny that favors the power of love and human dignity over ignorance and injustice. But that doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker—ergo, a daily blog.
How can people reading this help you with 365 Pretty Good Reasons?
I welcome guest posts from readers! Short, long, funny, or personal. I still have more than 250 reasons to go!