Seattle college student takes advocacy across the country with phone banking project

Last February, John Vogan was studying abroad across the Atlantic Ocean in London, England when he heard the news that Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire officially approved a law to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in the state of Washington. John hails from Seattle, WA, and the news made him tentatively excited; he was thrilled that his home state approved marriage for all couples, but he knew that the opposition was already readying their efforts to overturn the bipartisan law. 

That's why when he returned to Seattle from his semester abroad, he got in touch with the campaign staff at Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to secure the freedom to marry at the ballot in November by approving Referendum 74. As a volunteer, John participated in phone bank persuasion calls to speak with Washington residents who have reported that they're undecided on Referendum 74, as well as some outreach and fundraising work.

In late August, when he flew across the country to Ithaca, NY, where he studies journalism at Ithaca College, he was excited to continue his volunteer efforts with Washington United. 

"I really wanted to stay involved even though I wasn't actually in Washington," John said. "I still hold a huge stake in Washington. I can't wait to get my absentee ballot in the mail so that I can personally vote on the freedom to marry. I'm desperately hoping that this passes, and I'm working to at least know that I've done everything that I can within my means and within my time limits to devote whatever energy I can to this campaign."

At Ithaca College, he's partnered with Created Equal, a student organization committed to LGBT issues, to host phone banks for Washington State every two weeks. Twice a month, John and Created Equal distribute posters and Facebook invitations asking students to "Help protect the freedom to marry, from coast to coast!"

So far, they've hosted two phone banks for the freedom to marry, and 8-10 people have attended each one. John leads a brief training and orientation to help volunteers understand what to say on the phone, to deconstruct some common conversation points people bring up, and to set the volunteers at ease about the questioning. 

"What we're really trying to do is to instigate conversations with people and engage in a meaningful dialogue," John said. "You can have really engaging conversations to really understand what people's apprehensions and misconceptions are. Hopefully, we can address those."

John and his team of volunteers talk on the phone about the Golden Rule and treating people the way they'd like to be treated. Most importantly, John said, they drive home the point that Referendum 74 only applies to civil marriage - that is, if it's upheld, religious organizations will still have the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

John is proud to see such consistent support from his friends and peers at Ithaca College, who contribute their time to support John's project and to support the campaign to uphold marriage for all couples in the state of Washington. He said he understands that for many college students, the idea of getting married seems a far way off in the future - and that few are planning on settling down anytime soon. Still, he said, same-sex couples deserve the option of getting married, and his generation should be mindful of the importance of having the freedom to choose who they marry.

"I would love to get married someday," John said. "The same virtues and values that go into a marriage for a heterosexual couple also apply to same-sex couples. So for me, this law is for the thousands of couples out there who want to be able to make that commitment. I don't plan to get married probably until I'm in my thirties and I've gotten some things established. But I think it's always important to keep the long term in mind, to have a long-term perspective, and to work toward what you believe in."

Ithaca College's next phonebanking effort will be held this Friday. To learn more about how you can support Washington United for Marriage, click here, or read more about all four states where marriage will be put to a vote in November.