Commentary: Reflections on a Continuing Story

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Richard and the Evo that began a movement. Photo by Randy Stern

"As soon as I thought I was out, they dragged me back in!”
– Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather – Part III”

Not exactly dragging. The lure of the story and how quickly it developed was something to experience indeed. My limited experience as a journalist gave me a chance to document a story that may have been one of the biggest on election night.

When Richard Herod III was told by his townhome association to remove his "Vote No" yard sign from his property, the polls called Minnesota's Amendment 1 – the marriage amendment – too close to call. Some polls had the amendment approved by a very slight margin, but with plenty of voters undecided.

The story grew like wildfire. Once Herod's photo of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with the "Vote No" message wrapped on his car landed on Facebook, it ignited a grassroots effort to amplify the message. In the end, over 200 vehicles across the state were wrapped by Herod, my friends Eric Blad, Rick Perry and others in the Twin Cities and Duluth.

Aside from own coverage here, in GayWheels and Lavender, Herod appeared on KARE11 (NBC Twin Cities), K-TWIN radio (Twin Cites) and SiriusXM’s OutQ…to name a few media outlets. The daily Duluth newspaper interviewed Herod, as have the weekly published where he lived in the East Metro.

As a bonus to all of this, a photo I took of Herod leaning against his Evo made it on the front page of the Duluth newspaper. That became my first ever photo credit in a daily print publication. I was also asked by the weekly paper in the East Metro to provide the same photo, as well. It felt good to see this portfolio grow in the guise of photojournalism.

The three articles I wrote were simply context for the story. Where the challenge came about was capturing all of this through my camera. Herod saw that I was able to capture some key images from the first encounter with this movement, therefore he asked me to do more. I was able to capture the vehicles as they were staged at the State Capitol in St. Paul and along three caravans throughout the Twin Cities.

In part, I was able to talk to some of the people as to their motivations of wrapping their vehicle with the "Vote No" message. I also had a chance to talk to passers-by about what they were seeing. What I found were a lot of affirming stories that lead towards the result on last Tuesday night. One of those affirming stories came from a couple with two sons serving in the Armed Forces – one being gay.

The message I got was how dedicated this diverse group of people was to start conversations about how the issues affected them. They were dedicated enough to amplify the message onto their private vehicles – a swath of vehicles as diverse as their owners. From smart forTwos and MINI Coopers to Jaguars, Mercedes-Benzes, Lexuses and BMWs, these vehicles were part of a new form of mass campaign messaging never seen on this scale in Minnesota politics.

The result goes beyond Tuesday's victory. The previous Thursday saw a debate on the amendment at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul where some of the wrapped vehicles paraded the nearby venue. From the monies collected from the wraps – and matched by other donors, Herod gave a total of $17,000 to the Minnesotans United for All Families. I wondered what campaign manager Richard Carlbom thought about all of this. I wondered if it did have an affect on the result at the polls.

Just before Election Day, I put the entire story to bed. In total, my words and images would appear in five outlets across Minnesota and this country. There was nothing more I could do but wait for the end result.

Normally, I try to stay out of politics. Yet, this overall campaign hammered on pieces of the automotive industry. The Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, stated in the first debate that he would shut down Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors. In a later soundbyte, Romney misinterpreted an announcement by Chrysler to expand Jeep production in China to meet the growing demand for the brand. Romney's interpretation of this story was repeated by a tweet from billionaire Donald Trump, which drew the ire of SRT brand CEO Ralph Gilles on a reply tweet back to Trump.

One would point to Obama's showing in Michigan and in parts of Ohio as some form of truth. One should never underestimate this industry and its power to defend itself from false statements. To bare false witness upon something than began as a way to save the domestic economy during the final months of the President George W. Bush's administration created the widest divide I ever seen this nation go through.

No one would consider this divide to hit close to home. When the automobile is being used to defeat legislative arrogance as an insult to the Minnesota conscience, I knew I had to put myself in the action of capturing this story.

Would I consider myself a journalist after this exercise? That is up to you to decide, dear reader. From where I stand, I felt more like one when I published the final piece of this story on Lavender's website.

I believe it is time to get back to doing what I do best – awarding VOTYs and reviewing vehicles.

If you want to check out the photos from the "Vote No" vehicle wrap campaign, you can check them out here!

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