FOUNDER OF THE COURAGE CAMPAIGN
by Jason Gutierrez
Having spent the early half of his career traveling the world and learning to navigate foreign politics and international business deals, there was only one thing for Rick Jacobs, founder of California's grass roots equal rights movement The Courage Campaign (www.couragecampaign.org) to do—it was time to take his broad and varied base of knowledge and focus it into making the world a better place.
For the past few years, The Courage Campaign has been one of the leading voices in the fight for equality, setting the activism bar high and taking the fight viral via social media and blogging. With over 700,000 followers, The Courage Campaign is an online hub for grassroots activists looking for a way to sway public opinion in favor of equality for the LGBT community. "Courage is the ability to stand up, command, and act for what's right even when it's not popular," Jacobs says.
The Courage Campaign has been on a bit of a roll politically, with some conspicuous victories and even more conspicuous current actions. Their structure for activism includes user-friendly tools like the Prop 8 Trial Tracker (www.prop8trialtracker.com) that brings clarity to coverage of California's court battle to restore the stolen marriage equality of same-sex couples as well as responding to right-wing attacks on the process. Issa Watch (www.issawatch.couragecampaign.org) is another online tool to hold Southern California representative Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, responsible for his political tactics and bring transparency to his actions. The Courage Campaign also creates "Progressive Voter Guides" so Californians can easily make their voices heard via the ballot box; champions the struggle for funding for NPR and PBS to be able to keep broadcasting; helped stop wage cuts to 200,000 state workers who were almost casualties of ex-governor Schwarzenegger's budget panic; created a groundswell of support for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and is doing the same for defeating the Defense of Marriage Act; and runs "Camp Courage" trainings in other states to teach citizen activists how to effectively lobby. Their multi-use advocacy brings progressive change to California, and now the rest of America.
As the humble, yet proud, founder of this nonprofit organization, Jacob's says although he's never been happier than he is today, running The Courage Campaign, and being completely in love with his partner, Shaun Kadlec, he wouldn't trade his experience as a domestic and foreign affairs businessman.
His first job out of college was at The World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was right near his hometown. "By its very nature it was a huge community organizing project," he says. "The local community took some convincing that it was a good idea. So did The Bureau of International Expositions in Paris, the US Government, both Republican and Democratic parties, too. My main contribution was convincing foreign governments to participate and show up. I started there when I was 22 and right away, took my first big trip to the People's Republic of China." That was October of 1981.
In every possible way, he says, that was an exciting experience. He was able to travel to new countries and learn about foreign policies, governments, and business handlings. It also gave him the courage to set his sights on new opportunities, move west, and finally feel comfortable in his own skin.
"I always knew I was gay, however, I didn't want to be gay," he says. "I moved to LA because I knew it would be an easier place for me to be me, in the long run."
In the City of Angels, Rick found a mentor in Armand Hammer. "I went to work for Armand Hammer, who was the Chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum," he says. "He was 84 and I was 24, and I was able to learn a lot from him. While at Occidental Petroleum, over seven and a half years, I became vice president and assistant to the chairman. I was the youngest corporate officer in that company's history."
He calls Dr. Hammer an amazing renaissance man who was an avid art collector, captivated by teaching people and international education. "I spent the 80s with him learning about business and politics. We went to Russia, at least once a month. I think I went 60 times during the 80s. Through the United Nations, we got very involved with getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan. My experience with Dr. Hammer really exposed me to politics at the highest level. It also gave me the opportunity to meet the Gore family, which allowed me to get involved with Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign."
The adventures in Rick's life showed no signs of slowing down. He continued his business dealings around the world; Jacobs became more active in progressive issues and politics. He also became more active with political campaigns, his last being Howard Dean's campaign in 2003.
Then, he decided it was time to put corporate America on the back burner and take a stand for equality by breaking new ground with the Courage Campaign.
As stated on the organization's web- site, The Courage Campaign is an online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots activists to push for progressive change and full equality in California and across the country.
"I founded the Courage Campaign in 2005 for the LGBT community," he recalls. "I wish I made more money, but I have never been happier in my life than I am now, doing what I'm doing. There's no question that if I applied myself I could make a lot more money by doing more commercial things, but that wouldn't bring me the happiness I've found with the Courage Campaign. I spent a lot of time early on in my life, doing things that I thought I should do. I don't have any regrets, but now I am able to fuse together the things that I really love into my life. It feels good and whole."
Fighting for equality isn't a path Jacobs would have imagined himself walking, especially in the 1980s when he was still coming to terms with his own sexuality. Now it's his mission in life, to make sure equality is not something that is swept under the rug, on domestic or global fronts.