The Advocacy Era
In 1988, a political advocacy group called the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF) commissioned an audit from the Third Sector Management Group (TSMG), a little-known organization designed to help interest groups meet the challenges and responsibilities of the nonprofit sector. With a membership of about ten thousand, HRCF sought guidance about how to become a more effective political advocate for their constituencies of lesbian and gay Americans. In the face of what TSMG described as "a less active and more cost-conscious government, increasing competition for foundation and corporate funding, and growing service needs and delivery costs," the nonprofit advisement company asserted that organizations like HRCF would need to adapt to new economic and political realities and, by extension, new industry standards. Central among these new standards, they explained, were four basic imperatives: constituency services, public presentation, marketing, and fund-raising. In short, TSMG—itself an organization funded by private companies including Exxon, the Ford Foundation, and the Washington Post Company—counseled HRCF to take on more conventionally "corporate" functions.
Of course, HRCF was not the only organization struggling to navigate the challenges of political advocacy in the Reagan era. Nor, for that matter, were these standards completely new. Advocates representing women, racial minorities, and other historically disadvantaged groups had long understood the value of strong public relations, effective fund-raising, and robust channels of communication between themselves and the communities they served. Yet the Reagan administration's fiscal austerity added an additional hurdle to a long list of obstacles facing minority communities—a list that included discrimination, social scorn, public health crises, and more.
Despite these challenges—and also because of them—a professionalized, nonprofit model of political advocacy steadily gained traction. In many cases, these nonprofits—like HRCF—sought to harness and redirect the radical verve that had characterized the protest movements of the 1960s. The new generation of political advocates, though, typically took a pragmatic, state-sanctioned approach to political engagement. Where funding allowed, they employed a paid staff of strategists, policy specialists, and lobbyists.
This basic story has been widely noted, and it has taken many names. According to one account, middle-class, suit-wearing legal advocates led a "minority rights revolution." According to another, a "new liberalism" took hold, marked by the emergence of citizen groups focused on quality-of-life concerns rather than redistributive ones. More broadly speaking, the United States experienced an "advocacy explosion" that increased the number, influence, and visibility of nationally active interest groups. These terms each gesture toward one aspect or another of the same historical phenomenon: professional, nonprofit advocacy groups working to secure rights, protections, and political incorporation diversified Beltway politics, contributing to a thriving, competitive, and policy-savvy advocacy universe. In fact, between 1981 and 2006, the number of politically active organizations with a presence in Washington, D.C., more than doubled, with particularly high rates of growth among identity groups, public interest groups, and social welfare organizations.
This book offers a new interpretation—or, more modestly stated, examines an underexplored aspect—of these developments. Stated most concisely, the chapters ahead analyze how the U.S. advocacy explosion impacted not only how Washington came to understand and incorporate various group interests but, just as important, how interest groups encouraged citizens to understand themselves. As interest groups carved a space within the political process for themselves, they instructed their members, followers, and constituents on how best to serve as effective and industrious political claimants. In doing so, these organizations demonstrated a need for strong advocates and for attentive and dutiful constituencies willing to support and advance group interests.
Centrally, then, this book does not seek to explain which strategies are most effective or which policy goals hold highest priority. Rather, it interrogates processes of interest group representation in order to explain how interest groups advance group interests, frame American citizenship, and, perhaps most important, link these two goals. As many scholars have pointed out, political representation involves a process of constant negotiation between represented groups and the individuals and organizations that represent them. This process shapes how both representatives and their constituencies understand their roles within American politics.
Interest group representation engenders, in short, what I refer to as "interested citizens." I invoke this term not to describe a mass political awakening; that is, I do not claim, as one standard definition of the term "interest" goes, that advocacy groups piqued the concern, curiosity, or enthusiasm of social groups in a manner that political parties or other channels of political engagement could not. Rather, this book's central and titular concept refers to an ideal-type—namely, the ideal-typical citizen that emerged from processes of interest group representation as it developed throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This process helped create and foster coherent political identities and interests; it cultivated bounded forms of political participation; it mobilized standards of public conduct seen to befit the most worthy claimants of the American pressure system. In short, interest group representation has molded group-specific political interests that are intelligible to, and feasible within, our contemporary social and political landscape. To become an interested citizen, then, is to digest and metabolize these apprehensible and attainable political interests rather than some set of utopian, subversive, or impracticably egalitarian political objectives. To become an interested citizen, moreover, is to advance these interests in a way that respects the prevailing individualizing and economizing trends of the American political process, as well as the juridical framework that keeps it afloat.
Today, more than 1,600 organizations speaking for diffuse public constituencies—including single-issue ideological groups, professional associations, racial and ethnic groups, and more—maintain a presence in the nation's capital. These nonprofits utilize professional management techniques to mobilize support. They identify viable strategies for organizational growth. They strive to maintain strong public relations. They fund-raise. In short, after years of practice and many growing pains, today's advocacy groups exploit the languages, strategies, and professional skills long employed by economically privileged groups. Organizations like HRCF have demonstrated that histories of disadvantage and marginalization do not preclude groups from entering the political fray. Indeed, within ten years of its audit, membership at HRCF—which later changed its name to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)—grew twenty-five-fold, to 250,000. Years later, boasting millions of followers on social media, an operating budget measured in tens of millions of dollars, and a ubiquitous and recognizable logo widely viewed as the preeminent symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement, the organization has not stopped growing. Though the magnitude of HRC's growth is particularly extraordinary, it nevertheless stands as part of a broader pattern of historically disadvantaged groups expanding their presence as part of Washington's pressure system. The details and contours of this development—including, notably, the types of citizens that these groups have sought to create, elevate, and activate in order to gain a foothold in Washington—are critical to understanding both contemporary political advocacy and its many critics.
Do Interest Groups Disperse or Consolidate Political Influence?
The story of the U.S. advocacy system's growth and diversification is not a linear, sanguine tale of social progress, particularly as many forms of inequality that have long plagued the United States stubbornly persist. While terms like "minority rights revolution" and "new liberalism" largely describe how new groups entered the policymaking arena, observers of corporate interests describe a "political awakening of corporate lobbying" and an "unseen revolution" of business interests that also penetrated Washington during the 1970s. While this book does not focus squarely on how business interests grease the wheels of American government, Big Business's political emergence is by no means tangential or irrelevant to the development of interested citizens. Indeed, as business groups increasingly succeeded in their advocacy endeavors, nonbusiness groups learned from, and adapted to, the business community's successes.
In part as a result of the dominance of business lobbies and the concurrent spike in economic inequality, many scholars question whether interest groups function as effective representatives for historically disadvantaged groups. The growth of the interest group system, after all, has accompanied the troubling emergence of a "New Gilded Age," marked by growing disparities of income, wealth, and political power. Income gains over the past several decades have disproportionately accrued at the top 1 percent (and particularly the top 0.1 percent) of the income ladder. Economic mobility has stagnated. And as the advocacy system became more expansive, it also became more expensive; recent decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court—including most notably the controversial ruling in Citizens United v. FEC—have exacerbated this decades-long trend of increasingly costly American elections. These developments appear especially troublesome in light of recent empirical findings demonstrating that policymakers more closely follow the political preferences of economic elites than those of "average" Americans—results that suggest, perhaps, that the United States is more plutocratic than democratic.
Taken together, these findings indicate that although the nation has witnessed an apparent dispersal of power via an advocacy explosion, it has also experienced a consolidation of power and sociopolitical privilege. What are we to make of these seemingly contradictory trends? And why has the inclusion of new voices in Washington not produced a more substantively equal society? Certainly, the political incorporation of various minority groups into processes of governmental decision making should, according to our lofty democratic expectations, help redress past injustices. Yet governing practices aimed at inclusion and political incorporation in and of themselves offer no assurances of just or egalitarian outcomes. In this respect, we ought to examine the nature of this inclusion and incorporation. Have the very terms of inclusion and political incorporation been built upon inegalitarian grounds? Have our representative institutions actually helped cultivate some of the very problems that have fostered a New Gilded Age?
This book answers these questions with a qualified "yes." While my opening vignette about HRC's acclimation to a corporate model of political advocacy offers a snapshot of a long-forgotten, behind-the-scenes, banal event within the organization's history, it also evidences a change in how advocacy organizations began to relate to, mobilize, and communicate with constituents. This change is most pointedly marked by the economization of citizenship, in which civic efficacy merged with consumerist ideals and market-driven sensibilities. Thus the advocacy explosion that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and had blossomed by the 1990s not only engendered more—as well as more professionalized—advocacy but also served as part of a transformation of opportunities, incentive structures, and channels of political engagement for members of various social groups. In short, the advocacy explosion changed how disadvantaged citizens (among other groups) experienced political representation. Geared toward pragmatism and professionalism, this representation privileges and perpetuates forms of civic action that are most welcomed by the prevailing corporate ethos. Rather than swim against the most tempestuous and disquieting currents guiding American political and economic life, the most successful leaders and organizers swam with these currents in an effort to connect their communities to the levers of power of American politics. In doing so, they have not reversed the current, but they have helped more types of citizens swim in troubled waters.
The argument that advocacy organizations generally favor some citizens over others is a lesson with strong grounding in feminist scholarship—and in particular intersectional feminist scholarship—which has long held that our governing institutions privilege some voices over others owing to multiple and cross-cutting layers of marginalization. Indeed, the arguments presented in this book are largely indebted to this line of research. Scholars concerned with intersectionality and marginalization, after all, seek to amplify the voices of those who have long been rendered voiceless even by the representatives and institutions claiming to speak for them. Over time, what Ange-Marie Hancock calls "intersectionality-like thinking" has given rise to greater efforts to "render the invisible visible." In doing so, we can also bring fresh perspective to what has already been visible. That is to say, a focus on who (or what) has been disempowered may also bring new scrutiny—and perhaps a new label—to the social and political forces that disproportionately empower some expressions of citizenship over others.
Interested citizens, I will argue, have become primary actors of political engagement, particularly for historically disadvantaged and minority groups. Interested citizens stand in marked contrast to individuals, groups, and movements that seek to disrupt prevailing economic rationalities or promote utopian ideals. I explain how interest group actors endeavored to mobilize an interested citizenry throughout this book by documenting how and why they created ideal-types, mobilized them, and put them to use. Moreover, I explain the impact of this mobilization upon the political identities, participation, and conduct of historically marginalized constituencies. I argue that advocacy groups, acting within and through the incentives of neoliberal governance—a widely discussed and provocative concept that I unpack throughout the chapters ahead—worked to mold constituencies capable of competing and thriving within an increasingly money-saturated advocacy marketplace. Stated differently, as new governing principles created new standards of civic engagement, nationally active interest groups became instrumental to the process of acclimatizing citizens to the new and evolving rules, incentives, and expectations of contemporary citizenship.
Focusing on nonprofit advocacy from roughly 1950 to 1990, much of this book centers upon the emergence and trajectory of interest group representation for those who were first known as "homophiles," then "lesbian and gay" citizens, and eventually LGBT and queer (or LGBTQ) peoples. Using this movement as an exemplar of broader trends taking place within the American advocacy system, I chronicle the role that nationally active advocates played in creating an LGBT political constituency out of what had once been widely thought of as "deviant," "immoral," or "neurotic" sexual behaviors. Often considered "the quintessential identity movement," the LGBT political community is, in part, a product of the advocacy era. Once a group lacking a social identity and political voice, the LGBT community has blossomed into a movement that asserts itself as an empowered bloc of policy-active constituents. Yet what may appear as a story of steady or even rapid progress—a story of a path from the closet to K Street—is actually a complex account of the interplay of strategy, compromise, in-group conflict, marginalization, and the subdual of alternative forms of representation. While this book is not principally a historical narrative about the LGBTQ movement, significant portions of this narrative help illuminate the basic themes most central to the emergence of an interested citizenry.
From Pluralist Expectations to Postpluralist Critiques
The perspective on interest group representation outlined above suggests that organized interest groups serve as incomplete, inadequate, or ineffectual representatives in the face of consolidated political power and spiking inequalities of wealth. Such a perspective contrasts with how scholars once viewed interest group politics in the United States. Those who view interest groups as indispensable vehicles of democratic representation often look first to James Madison's "Federalist 10," which explored the destructive yet inevitable influence of factions within free societies. According to Madison, of course, liberty unavoidably gives rise to faction, with republican government best able to control factions' most harmful effects. A long line of twentieth-century scholars including, notably, Arthur Bentley, Robert Dahl, and David Truman would follow Madison in confronting this question about the role of groups. These authors, who came to be known as "pluralists," argued that dispersed groups, rather than grand majorities or secretive cabals, govern. According to Bentley, for example, individuals are "of trifling importance in interpreting society," as politics takes place in the social activities that give rise to groups and group interests. Whereas Madison argued for the necessity of constitutional protections to safeguard against majority tyranny, twentieth-century pluralists largely sought to expose majorities as nonexistent.
Though the pluralists made no claims to a mechanistic or deterministic account of the political process, they did portray intergroup competition as an organic and perhaps natural process, with latent groups organizing to fend off threats (or potential threats) whenever circumstances demanded it. This "laissez-faire" form of pluralism presented the American political system as self-regulating and self-correcting because of the natural tendency of groups to defend their interests when threatened. This approach viewed power and authority as dispersed among various actors within a system of controlled competition. In Dahl's terms, the United States governed as a "polyarchy"—or what Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page would later describe as "majoritarian pluralism"—with power neither as centralized as under an oligarchy or dictatorship nor as atomized as under direct democracy. Thus competition among groups served as a proxy for majority opinion, and it therefore tended to benefit average citizens reasonably well.
Assuming a liberal framework of individual rights and liberties—and in contrast with C. Wright Mills's view that a "power elite" dominated politics—the pluralists described an open political system whereby a diverse marketplace of interests prohibited the rise of a tyrannical monopoly over political power and policy influence. "Pluralism," then, came to serve as both a descriptive account of American democracy and a democratic ideal toward which Americans ought to continually strive. Interest groups and advocacy organizations, of course, served as the natural manifestation of these ideals, and they provided the primary vehicles through which Americans could exert influence in a just and judicious manner.
After a brief period of preeminence within political science, pluralism—at least in its laissez-faire form—came under attack from nearly all traditions of political research. (To contemporary readers, that pluralism reached its zenith during the 1950s—an era remembered for its cultural uniformity and its harsh social and political repression of women and minority groups—seems ironic indeed.) Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action leveled perhaps the most prominent and damning of the early rational choice critiques, asserting that individuals are prone to "free ride" due to conflicts between their individual interests and their interests as members of groups. Other critics looked to the stark imbalances of political power to critique pluralist ideals. E. E. Schattschneider penned the locus classicus of this flourishing tradition, famously claiming that "the flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper class accent"—now an obligatory quotation across scholarship seeking to understand the dynamics of group politics in the United States. Schattschneider's quip, damning though it appears, may actually understate the nature of bias in the American system, as economic class provides only one lens through which to view disparities of influence.
Yet just as scholars began to expose this mismatch between pluralist ideals and the realities of group representation in the United States, many new voices entered the interest group system in the 1960s and beyond. While these newcomers did not overtake traditionally advantaged groups, they nevertheless diversified the policymaking arena amid an advocacy explosion—noted above—that witnessed a nearly fourfold rise in national associations from 1959 to 1999. Within this reconfigured civic landscape, protest movements gave way to (or, at least, began to supplement) professionally led campaigns to lobby government, galvanize public opinion, and influence elections. As Kay Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry Brady put it, the Beltway now includes "an astonishing number of organizations representing an astonishing number of interests." Since the 1970s, a large majority of Americans have held membership in at least one such organization. These trends have led to a revitalization of scholarly interest in group politics—and group-centered theories of political behavior—after a brief period in which such studies had disappeared from political science "like an exiled monarch."
Despite this renewed interest in the study of groups, scholars of interest group politics continue to look at Washington's advocacy climate with a critical eye, and few would argue that we have arrived at a heavenly or harmonious balance of power. Indeed, our scholarly outlook is no longer pluralist but "postpluralist." That is, many scholars generally accept the idea that group interests and identities remain vital to understanding American politics, though the consensus view suggests that interest groups have been ill-equipped to deliver influential political incorporation for historically disadvantaged groups. In other words, postpluralist scholarship acknowledges that Americans often view themselves as members of various groups and organize themselves on that basis, though it also suggests that these organized interests tend to reflect and even perpetuate long-standing inequalities even as they seek to redress them.
Schematically, we may divide postpluralist critiques into two broad categories. The first tradition focuses primarily on the proportionality of disadvantaged groups within the interest group system. Taking Schattschneider's repartee about pluralism's bourgeois accent as a starting point, this camp contends that despite the growing number and visibility of organizations representing the disadvantaged, imbalances in resources, access, and other markers of political influence persist. Thus while the scope of the system may have expanded, the bias remains the same. In other words, although the inclusion of more voices in the wake of the advocacy explosion produced a "higher decibel level" in Washington, as Kay Schlozman and John Tierney noted in 1983, the voices of business and professional groups continued to outpace the voices of historically disadvantaged constituencies.
A great deal of recent scholarship has further elucidated the contours of upper-class bias, particularly regarding the dominance of business interests. Schlozman and her coauthors of The Unheavenly Chorus, for example, largely corroborate her earlier findings about the scope and bias of the pluralist chorus, noting that more than half—53 percent—of all Washington-based interest groups represent business lobbies. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Winner-Take-All Politics further explicates the interest group system's lack of proportionality, documenting Big Business's "organizational counterattack" upon the regulatory state during the 1970s. As part of this counterattack, corporate public affairs offices grew in number, as did the number of registered lobbyists and corporate PACs. Further adding to this story, Lee Drutman notes that by 2012, businesses spent a whopping $34 for every dollar spent on lobbying by unions and public interest groups combined.
The second (and oftentimes more critical) camp focuses on the lack of responsiveness on the part of advocacy organizations themselves. In other words, there exists a principal-agent problem of interest group representation in which agents (interest groups) may neglect the preferences or interests of their principals (social groups, organizations, or other such constituencies). Largely echoing Robert Michels's "iron law of oligarchy," Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward have become the standard-bearers of this critique. In Poor People's Movements, Piven and Cloward argue that advocacy organizations tended to abandon an oppositional politics in favor of (largely symbolic) attention from elites. Others have echoed this critique in the postmortems of the Black Power movement. In his now classic book Black Awakening in Capitalist America, for example, Robert L. Allen describes how wealthy philanthropists—particularly the Ford Foundation—coopted black militants in the 1960s precisely by funding militant organizations, exerting outside influence and control, and deradicalizing them by using them to promote capitalist economic principles and mainstream electoral channels. Such a growing symbiosis between nonprofit liberal foundations and indigenous organizations has, as Dylan Rodriguez notes, "helped collapse various sites of potential political radicalism into nonantagonistic social service and prostate reformist initiatives." As the national advocacy realm grew in both size and diversity, then, protest was adopted as part of a middle-class advocacy repertoire.
Given that this broad and multipronged critique posits nonprofit organizations as bastions of middle-class antiradicalism, contemporary observers worry that today's advocacy groups have neglected particularly disadvantaged subgroups and eschewed democratic governing procedures. Due to cross-cutting issues within groups—such as gender, sexuality, or race—as well as processes of in-group marginalization, interest group representation renders some group members silent, favoring instead those most easily incorporated into dominant institutions. In her survey of nationally active economic and social justice organizations, for example, Dara Strolovitch finds that interest groups tend to disproportionately advocate for relatively advantaged members of their constituencies, often to the disadvantage of intersectionally marginalized constituents. Such findings also apply to state-level advocacy organizations, which tend to underrepresent gender-based issues in particular.
As noted above, these concerns are at least in part connected to the constant search for funding. In the face of fund-raising imperatives, it is not surprising that advocacy organizations exude "an abiding conservatism" relative to the social movements and indigenous organizations from which they sprang. Simply put, advocacy organizations must satisfy donors and adhere to a limited range of political objectives in order to ensure continued funding and nonprofit status. As the title of a collection of essays on nonprofit advocacy concisely states, "The revolution will not be funded." Indeed, the very process of fund-raising tends to ensure that civic participation is linked more closely to purchasing power than to classically republican notions of shared rule. Resultantly, interest groups have become little more than "bodyless heads"—a term that Theda Skocpol employs to suggest that professionally managed national associations have supplanted the more participatory civic associations of generations past. The advocacy explosion, from this perspective, does not derive from an expansion of democracy in any meaningful sense. In fact, even nationally active progressive groups employing teams of enthusiastic canvassers utilize few, if any, grassroots decision-making procedures. More pessimistically still, Schlozman, Verba, and Brady find that less than one-eighth of all organizations active in national politics are membership groups. Taken together, scholarship on contemporary interest groups suggests that if the inclusion of new groups into Beltway politics has made pluralism lose its upper-class accent, the new drawl appears to be bureaucratic rather than blue-collar, studious rather than rebellious. The effect, this scholarship further suggests, is the demobilization of much of the American public.
Postpluralist analyses, in sum, focus intently on how the interest group system and the advocacy groups that comprise it have deviated from the pluralists' "heavenly" ideals, namely, the ideals of proportionality and democratic responsiveness. My understanding of the interest group universe—including its biases and its role in creating an interested citizenry—both builds upon and challenges this overarching perspective. In doing so, I view advocacy in the context of several trends that have swept American political life, including—but not only including—the heightening forms of political and economic inequality sketched above. Additionally, historical forces of administrative, managerial, and representational authority have given rise to economic procedures, governing logics, and forms of knowledge that both reproduce this authority and delineate civic practices designed to uphold it. Put in simpler terms, broad economic and political trends shape how citizens understand their placement within the political system, and interest groups have come to serve a vital role within the story of this new and evolving political landscape.
Political Representation amid an Advocacy Explosion
The harshest critiques of the advocacy era tend to view organized advocacy as beholden to political and economic power brokers. The result, according to critics, has been a "nonprofit industrial complex," or a "nonprofitization of activism," in which corporate interests and state power converge to co-opt political movements. Indeed, in this book I generally accept the premise, stated succinctly by Adolph Reed, that "1960s radicalism dissolved into pluralist politics," accepting, too, his qualification that this dissolution was neither natural nor inevitable. (Certainly, the radical spirit witnessed in the 1960s has not gone away entirely, as evidenced by the periodic emergence of groups like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa.) The dissolution of radicalism was, however, deeply structured by the ideas, institutions, and processes central to neoliberalism—a concept most basically understood as the drive to reduce the state's role in administering social welfare and "liberate" the individuating, entrepreneurial ethos necessary for capitalist economic development. In this way, neoliberalism at once minimizes citizens' capacity for collective governance and instills a set of economizing virtues as fundamental elements of citizenship.
Building upon this widely shared lamentation, I examine the extent to which the shift toward professionalized political organizing has reverberated among the pluralist arena's "emergent contenders." In doing so, I explore the formative element of political representation. Whereas many accounts of political representation in the United States focus on particular institutional actors, methods of accountability or authorization, or other features of a formal relationship between groups and their representatives, I view representation as imbued with sets of practices that establish constituencies, identify relevant political actors and groups, designate relationships of expertise and authority, and establish systems of knowledge and conditions of possibility. In other words, political representation does not entail objects of analysis—that is, "the represented"—situated as naturally existing entities; rather, these constituencies are produced historically through discursive and institutional mechanisms.
With this conceptualization of political representation in mind, I inquire about the degree to which political advocacy has helped mobilize neoliberal subjects of the pressure system. Briefly stated, these subjects act upon their self-interest as members of a group; they insert these interests into a competitive advocacy environment; they utilize the cost-effective languages and strategies employed by the private sector; they invest their time and their money in practicable policy solutions; and they embrace ideals of personal (and group) accountability and responsibility to mold a marketable product for policymakers and opinion leaders.
Importantly, then, the story of American advocacy is not merely that of professional advocates succumbing to the interests of the upper-middle class. Rather, it is also a story of "making citizens." Following emergent trends in both democratic theory and empirical political science, I begin from the assumption that interest groups are, in fact, democratically representative organizations, despite lacking both formal legitimacy and electoral accountability in a traditional sense. While their ultimate aim is to influence public policy, their representation also serves a constitutive purpose—that is, they actively strive to shape identities, establish modes of participation, and regulate the political conduct of their constituents. Thus these organizations serve a particular representative function: to mediate between the state (broadly defined) and their members or constituents. Viewing interest group representation as a process of mediation helps reveal mechanisms through which interest groups not only represent disadvantaged groups to the state but represent state institutions, logics, and processes of governance to disadvantaged citizens. As Strolovitch argues, interest group leaders "act as emissaries" between a social group and the policy process; in doing so, she contends, advocates must mediate between and among various internal constituencies, as disadvantaged groups are by no means internally homogeneous. Throughout this book, I draw upon these dynamics of interest group mediation, explaining interest group representation as part and parcel of the process of generating a constituency and defining its interests and demands.
Most succinctly stated, advocacy organizations mobilize historically marginalized individuals into the political order; in doing so, they help stultify mobilization against it. Certainly we should not overlook the degree to which democratic inclusivity—for example, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell or the expansion of same-sex marriage rights—has reshaped our previously exclusionary institutions. But this reshaping is reciprocal, as the struggle for inclusion necessarily privileges those who stand ready to take advantage of its potential, whether by serving in the military, professing monogamous love at the altar, or enacting any other form of state-sanctioned and state-regulated activity, particularly if that activity shifts the burden of care from the public to the private sector.
This book, then, reframes the growing pessimism surrounding the post-1960s advocacy era by examining the representative role that interest groups play not merely in coopting leaders to fulfill the interests of the state or the wealthy but in mobilizing broad constituencies to carry out the most efficacious forms of civic engagement. One way to mobilize neoliberal citizens is to foster support for tangible policy initiatives rather than transgressive, transformative, and often unattainable demands for systematic reform. Perhaps more important than the content of these policy reforms, however, are the ways in which modern advocacy encourages citizens to strive for these reforms—by exhibiting entrepreneurial skills (among the leadership strata), by encouraging financial investment in strong organizations (among well-to-do group members), by exuding upright and virtuous conduct suitable for maintaining strong "public relations" (among the broader group), and so on. These forms of civic engagement have been essential to the development of modern advocacy. The role that interest groups play, then, is not simply to measure the latent mood among constituents and subsequently translate this sentiment into policy initiatives, as optimists might hope, or to coercively assimilate constituents to the more narrow interests of economic elites, as critics assert. Rather, they have, for better and for worse, worked to produce industrious citizens that (1) are suited to the advocacy system and the moral and political universe in which it takes part and (2) can navigate the challenges of the modern advocacy system and find ways to succeed even on its inegalitarian terms.
Thus I not only understand interest groups as democratic representatives, but I also aim to bolster an emerging tradition within empirical political science that understands democratic representation as a mobilizing and generative force. In taking this position, I situate my research within what Suzanne Mettler and Joe Soss term the "political tradition" of research on mass political behavior. Characterized by its departure from standard, individual-centered approaches to political behavior, this diverse tradition emphasizes the multidirectional flow of political communication, the ways by which opportunity structures facilitate or deter specific types of citizen demands, and institutions' and organizations' ability to cultivate and mobilize particular demands. In line with this tradition, I argue that interest groups and advocacy organizations have emerged as primary sites of political action for the disadvantaged; in this regard, the methods, aims, and tactics of contemporary interest groups like HRC cannot be fully understood apart from broader cultural and political trajectories. The argument here is not that formerly viable tactics of dissent such as demonstrations, counterinstitutions, and other politically subversive actions faded away after successful and concerted efforts by elites to control the masses. Rather, interest group leaders and identifiers alike are increasingly conditioned by the parameters of possibility available through contemporary neoliberal governance. The result is the production of more order-affirming forms of political dissent—and, in turn, more order-affirming citizens—than, say, those that characterized the mass movements of the New Left of the 1960s.
Beyond the merits of understanding advocacy from the perspective of the concerned social scientist, there are also tangible political reasons to reassess and reevaluate the role of interest groups as political representatives. While I do not intend to decry inclusionary or affirmative goals or assail those who give charitably or exude an entrepreneurial spirit in the name of social justice, I argue that order-affirming, neoliberal standards of political representation—like those promoted by the TSMG in the opening vignette of this introduction—largely overshadow alternative paths forward that might expose new horizons of self-understanding, participation, and action. The story of the national advocacy system's expansion, then, is also a story of lost possibilities and marginal political programs that prevailing structures of political representation have tended to suppress. By engaging in what M. David Forrest terms a "disruptive tradition" of American politics research—to some extent, an outgrowth of the "political tradition" noted above—I hope not only to evaluate the nonprofit model of political advocacy but also to reveal tension points and vulnerabilities within the political system that groups might exploit to create egalitarian change.
Research Methodology and Chapter Outlines
The chapters ahead further unpack the concept of an interested citizenry by clarifying the concept's meaning and uncovering several processes by which organizational leaders endeavored to "interest" citizens. The book's primary data and evidence, then, are historical. In the chapters that follow, I marshal evidence from movement documents housed at various archives across the country. (For more information on data collection, see the appendix.) I also utilize an ever-growing literature on the history of LGBT politics in the United States. In short, this book blends historical and critical methodologies in the tradition of American political development (APD)—a historically minded research approach focusing on the continuities and discontinuities of sites of governance that give rise to durable shifts in social relations or structures of authority. In other words, APD research explores how power and authority are constructed, dispersed, and enacted. At its best, it explores, too, how these processes interact with civic relationships, practices of citizenship, voluntary civic behaviors, and social organizations.
While APD research has clear and multiple connections to research on American citizenship, it has until recently been slow to embrace studies of how our democratic institutions have positioned sexuality as a modality through which we experience citizenship. In one of a growing number of exceptions to this erstwhile silence, Margot Canaday's The Straight State describes how bureaucratic agencies came to understand and define "the homosexual." These agencies at once created a social category and rejected it because of its perceived threat to the American community. In Canaday's telling, midcentury bureaucratic institutions played a central role in fostering social understandings of what we would later come to know as "sexual orientation." As Stephen Engel further points out, the American state consists of various sites of governing authority that have unevenly structured U.S. recognition of LGBT citizenship, leading to a "fragmented" citizenry that must conform to different structures of meaning and recognition "across space, time, and policy issues." In other words, LGBT citizenship—like that of various minority communities—has been marked by historical (and ongoing) patterns of contestation.
As Engel and others carrying on the APD research tradition recognize, nonstate institutions also serve as sites of authority, as American governance consists of "multiple, conflicting governing orders." Despite this acknowledgment, relatively little APD research has explored how these nonstate actors have interacted with state authorities to shape American citizenship. In postwar American life, civic associations—and, increasingly, national associations—grew into this vital role. Interest groups are thus key players in the story of the shaping of LGBT citizenship.
In an effort to build upon this burgeoning work, then, I chart the rise of interest group organizations not only as policy insiders but as mobilizers of nationwide political constituencies. A longitudinal analysis of the advocacy realm is necessary in order to grasp the formative effects of political claims-making upon the politicization of historically disadvantaged citizens. Stated differently, democratic representation—for my purposes, representation provided by advocacy organizations—entails a process of calling forth constituencies by naming them, drawing boundaries of group inclusion and identity, asserting group interests, and shaping the parameters of proper conduct and participation. Importantly, the narrative that I advance here is not a linear story detailing the slow and steady emergence of an all-inclusive advocacy era that encompasses all political dissent and suppresses all alternative forms of political action. It is not my claim, for example, that the emancipatory energies of 1960s gay liberationism have seamlessly given way to an oligarchy of Washington-based organizations. Rather, I suggest that the post-1960s era witnessed a shift in prevailing modes of representation for marginalized groups.
In Chapter 1, I unpack the primary theme of this book, that of interested citizens. I do so by way of two burgeoning trajectories of contemporary political science research: (1) research on neoliberalism and inequality, and (2) research on the concept of political representation. While the former concepts help clarify postpluralism's dissatisfaction with modern advocacy, the latter introduces "fourth-faced," "de-faced," or "productive" conceptions of political power, helping to describe how citizens have acclimated to (and, perhaps, have been hurt by) the neoliberalization of American pluralism. I extend these conversations by describing interest groups as part of the process of constituting particular types of social actors. This chapter, then, further spells out how political advocates serve as part of a broader process of "making" citizens. Finally, I introduce the figure of the interested citizen, as well as the LGBT "case" that shall guide the rest of the book. For some critical scholars, what I am calling an interested citizenry has served as a point of derision among those on the Left who have come to view it as a privatized, demobilized, and depoliticized nonconstituency. By contrast, I argue—contra widespread claims that neoliberalism provides a depoliticizing force—processes of (neo)liberalization have politicized LGBT identities in a manner that fosters increased democratic inclusion even while it also draws problematic boundaries around the proper limits of democratic citizenship.
The empirical component of this book explores the dynamics of interest group representation through an examination of LGBT advocacy between roughly 1950 and 1990—an era before the widespread emergence of issues like same-sex marriage and military inclusion. Of course, LGBT advocacy organizations are today numerous and, in some cases, influential to both public policy and mass opinion. Perhaps surprisingly to some, modern LGBT advocacy organizations have existed for only a short time, and for much of their histories they were largely underfunded and ineffectual. However, they planted the seeds of contemporary advocacy during a rapidly changing political environment for LGBT people and other new entrants to the U.S. political system. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5, then, chart the rise of nationally active homophile, lesbian and gay, and, later, LGBT and queer advocacy groups. These chapters devote particular attention to how these groups impacted prevailing conceptions of democratic citizenship.
Chapter 2 explores the theme of identity formation by detailing the development of "homophile" advocacy during the 1950s and 1960s. Homophile organizations—a category of groups that included the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis, and One, Inc.—provided the first organized efforts to change citizens' perceptions of same-sex eroticism. Though small in size and without much direct policy influence, these organizations fostered partnerships with sympathetic authorities who were willing and able to shift the widely shared discourse of "the homosexual" from one who is criminal or deviant to one who varies from others only in her/his desired sexual partners. Perhaps just as important, these organizations spawned the first sustained efforts to communicate with a lesbian and gay constituency. Such an effort, as historian John D'Emilio points out, "became a laboratory for experimenting with a novel kind of dialogue" about what it meant to be lesbian or gay in America. Recent scholarship has revived the homophile legacy after years in which these groups appeared as mere footnotes in LGBT history. Significantly, homophile representatives began to cultivate a broader homophile citizenship, which famously entailed "respectability"—a buzzword geared toward strategically upholding heterosexual cultural values so as to attain greater legitimacy and inclusion. This process of identity building was critical to the construction of a uniquely homophile political self-understanding geared toward the inclusion of lesbians and gay men within a political system that had previously refused to accept them.
Chapter 3 focuses on the theme of participation—a broad theme that takes on a very specific, if veiled, meaning within modern advocacy efforts. In the world of political advocacy, a participating citizen is, above all else, a financial contributor. To demonstrate this point, this chapter details the financialization of political advocacy that occurred simultaneously with the growth of national lesbian and gay advocacy organizations during the 1970s. Though the 1970s are most commonly remembered for the widespread "liberationist" sentiment immediately following the riots outside New York City's Stonewall Inn in 1969, it is perhaps just as significant for the establishment of the first nationally active advocacy organizations that worked to rein in and supplant the emancipatory energy of groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Together with the gay newspaper the Advocate, groups like the National Gay Task Force (NGTF) and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund encouraged citizens to place their trust in professional gay leaders and lobbyists who would work closely with policymakers, administrators, and other officials. In order to grant them this access, however, these groups—with minimal success at first—called upon lesbian and gay constituents to generously donate money to fund their efforts. Often characterizing alternative forms of participation as destructive, unproductive, and juvenile, these organizations laid the groundwork for what would quietly become a major event in LGBT history: the creation (and expansion) of HRCF, which quickly emerged as the most influential voice—with perhaps the most narrowly defined manner of membership—of the LGBT movement.
Chapter 4 focuses on the role of personal conduct within national advocacy, connecting advocacy efforts with a role that the state has long held: creating "deserving" citizens. I tell this story through a discussion of the era leading up to and during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Though financial contribution came to be viewed as the most significant act of political action, lesbian and gay citizenship also entailed a "private" element. That is, advocates called upon those who identified with the movement to project a positive public image. While local activists and power brokers were prone to celebrate the emerging "new masculinism" of the gay movement (or at least capitalize on it financially), national organizations linked the failures of the movement to the licentious lifestyle that had developed in the urban areas where AIDS hit hardest. Certainly, concerns over the health of the community drove these appeals. However, a subtle political message also pervaded national advocates' calls for responsible conduct. That is, if the lesbian and gay community wanted to make inroads into attaining political legitimacy and cultural acceptance, they would need to exude appropriate conduct both politically (in terms of voting, contributing to campaigns and organizations, etc.) and personally (appropriate dress, sexual responsibility, etc.).
These three imperatives—identification, monetarized participation, and "responsible" personal conduct—helped propel the movement into the 1990s, and into familiar debates about inclusion, marriage, the military, and other matters familiar to contemporary LGBT activists and supporters. Yet the production of an interested citizenry was not a smooth, unproblematic, or totalizing process. Embedded within the growth of the advocacy system—and by extension, the rise of the interested citizen as the archetypal political claimant—is a tension between a politics that affirms and a politics that transgresses neoliberal models of political action. These tensions are always at play within movements, organizations, and even citizens themselves. Perhaps no group has embodied these tensions like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), the subject of Chapter 5. This final empirical chapter explores the tensions between a neoliberalizing political order—and by extension, a neoliberalizing advocacy realm—and activists who rejected this neoliberalization. Such an exploration demonstrates that an interested citizenry is neither a panacea nor a totalizing force; rather, alternative political projects are always possible—and at times even effective—particularly in times of great uncertainty, turmoil, or transition.
Before proceeding, I would like to offer several important caveats and clarifications. First, the historical account ahead—and particularly the narrative offered in Chapters 2 through 5—does not focus on any of the vast number of individual citizens who themselves underwent this "interesting" process. In other words, this book does not offer a detailed social history of the LGBT activists who served as the de facto citizen-army of the interest group system. Rather, this book focuses on the activists—often, professional activists—who worked diligently to mobilize interested citizens as ideal-types. In this respect, the historical component of this book offers a story of neoliberalism-at-the-grassroots, told primarily through a focus on those seeking to mobilize neoliberal citizens. A secondary focus is, at times, granted to those who mobilized against such ideal-typical citizens. While input from, and interactions with, the lay citizenry is interspersed throughout the narrative, it is not the central focus of this book.
Second, this book does not offer a complete and detailed political history of the LGBT movement. While readers will certainly learn a great deal about consequential LGBT and queer leaders, readers looking for a more comprehensive historical account would be wise to supplement this book's narrative with historical works, Lillian Faderman's The Gay Revolution perhaps most notable among them.
Third, this book does not draw clear and well-defined lines between "neoliberal" and "radical" camps of activists, or between any ideological factions for that matter. Many activists—including many of the "professional" activists detailed throughout the chapters ahead—expressed varying degrees of radical or utopian ideals. Rather, this book seeks to clarify the degree to which the most successful activists of the mid- to late twentieth century utilized, advanced, and ultimately helped develop the economizing impetuses central to neoliberal forms of political engagement. Included among these advocates were pioneering gay leaders like Hal Call, Frank Kameny, Bruce Voeller, and David Goodstein. (Readers may note that lesbian activists and persons of color are absent from this short list. While "neoliberalism" is not synonymous with "white" or "male," white men have typically provided a driving force behind the neoliberalization of political incentives. Here again, "intersectionality" offers a conceptual framework for recognizing these silences in the historical record.) Certainly some gay pioneers were more conservative, "establishment," and, ultimately, neoliberal than others, but the professional advocates described throughout the book were united by a push to follow existing or emerging incentives rather than risk political impotence in the name of ideological purity.
Lastly, in focusing on nationally active LGBT organizations between roughly 1950 and 1990, this account describes only a small number of organizations that, even collectively, reached a relatively small number of people. Many of the activists and organizations detailed in the pages ahead reached only hundreds or, perhaps, a few thousand people rather than hundreds of thousands or even millions of people as do today's most successful organizations. Nevertheless, I contend that by exploring the specific trajectories of this small number of activists and their organizations—that is, by tracing the processes and interrogating the developments and incentive structures through which influential activists built organizations and mobilized fellow citizens—we can uncover broader trends pertinent to understanding political advocacy and political representation in the advocacy era.
A Note on Language
In accord with the most common contemporary parlance, I use the term "LGBT" throughout the book in reference to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender coalition. Recognizing that different movements, organizations, and authors frequently use different terms, I use the term "LGBT" when referring generically to contemporary efforts to represent those bearing nonnormative sexual identities. However, I also use more historically and movement-specific terms such as "homosexual," "homophile," "lesbian and gay," or "queer" where merited.