Dinnertime patrons of the restaurants on San Francisco’s Market Street, those wood-paneled, big-windowed places that make the casting scouts of Cialis commercials giddy, left their chairs to observe the throngs of marchers passing by candlelight. A few of them ventured to ask: “What is this for?”
“Harvey Milk,” someone inevitably replied. Every year on November 27, dating back to 1978, a march has taken place on the day that Milk, a Woodmere-born Jew and gay rights activist who was then a city Supervisor, and George Moscone, the City by the Bay’s mayor, were cut down in San Francisco’s City Hall by Dan White, a deranged former city Supervisor. In 1978, the candlelight march started in the Castro, San Francisco’s best-known gay neighborhood, at Milk’s camera shop–the veritable Muqata of local activism–and ended at City Hall. But in every year since, the march has flipped routes, symbolically emanating from City Hall and the seat of power that Milk had improbably attained with its terminus back in the Castro.
The idea of having a commemoration on the anniversary of the tragedy struck some as odd, including Moscone’s youngest son Jonanthan, who spoke at the event on the steps of City Hall, along with Milk’s nephew Staurt, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, and former Mayor Willie Brown.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m deeply touched that people remember my father,” he said. “We are always and every day grateful that we live in a city that does not forget. But there’s just something wrong in this notion that the day we remember our lost leaders is the most violent day of their lives. … It’s almost as if we’re giving the senselessness of these deaths way too much respect by centering our love and passion and yearning on the day these beating hearts … stopped forever.”
The younger Moscone’s query wasn’t directly addressed, but throughout the various speeches, songs, and chants of the evening, ending at Harvey Milk Plaza, the answer was clear. In the years since Milk’s death, a number of notable things have happened. Both San Francisco mayors present symbolized the city’s progress in electing their first black and Asian heads of government. Openly gay politicians have increasingly been elected to office across parts of America and marriage equality bills have passed in a handful of states.
But as each speaker suggested, not enough has happened. Other problems exist, including a number of issues championed by Milk. Among those mentioned last night: poverty, nudity, infrastructure, and education. On a local level, the prohibition on gay marriage in California has even outlasted Twinkies, the snack of permanent shelf life (which infamously figured into trial of Milk and Moscone’s killer Dan White).
While Milk eschewed formal religion, there are obvious parallels between the sensibilities of outsiders in whatever casting. The language throughout the proceedings last night reflected that symmetry.
“Freedom is not assimilation,” one speaker declared. “We still have to take care of each other.”
I could picture a number of rabbis I know saying that.
“We have to take the ‘ass’ out of assimilation,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano shouted.
Okay, so nothing is a perfect parallel. Nor should it be.
Moscone, Milk Celebrated at Annual Event [SF Chron]