San Francisco's Harvey Milk Day Plans Are Pathetic
This Saturday, May 22, is the inaugural Harvey Milk Day in the State of California. As you'd expect, there's lots of stuff happening in San Francisco commemorating the gay icon. What you might not expect is how tame San Francisco's events are compared to other cities in California and around the country.
Harvey Milk stood for ... tricycle races?
Outside of S.F., Milk Day is commemorated with public demonstrations like those we watched (a bit too repetitively) in the 2008 film Milk. New York City is honoring Milk's activism by organizing a march to City Hall. Los Angeles will have a week of events touching on various topics as well as hosting a Town Hall meeting, a march, and two rallies. Hell, even in St. Louis, they're marching to City Hall.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco there are no marches planned.
Instead there will be tours and window displays and street fairs and dedications (mostly in the Castro). There will be lots of educational moments and an interfaith blessing. There will be a presentation (but not a demonstration!) against the proposed sit/lie ordinance. That sounds like the most pointed moment of the whole weekend. Did I mention there's going to be a tricycle race? Let's not forget the tricycle race.
Why is San Francisco, Milk's adopted hometown -- the place where his legend was created and where he was martyred -- discarding activism in favor of trikes? Maybe it's because of a scheduling conflict with the San Francisco Symphony. Saturday also happens to be the biennial Black and White Ball -- a charity event that takes up blocks of real estate surrounding City Hall. Tents are already under construction in that neighborhood.
According to the Bay Area Reporter , "San Francisco Symphony officials asked organizers of the Harvey Milk Day observances not to counterprogram anything against their big fundraiser that night." So the symphony has orchestrated a ploy to keep San Francisco City Hall -- the site of Harvey Milk's triumph and assassination -- off-limits to the very first statewide celebration of his life.
He wasn't recruiting you to shop ... or race tricycles
Sorry, not good enough. In an attempt to keep peace between the middle-class gays and rabble-rousers, the merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC) were put in charge of organizing the events for Milk Day. They were tasked with containment and control. Nothing major is planned for Saturday night (gays with money must go to the Black and White Ball) and plans for an event on Friday night also crapped out.
MUMC arranged a full schedule of events that can be summarized by this quote from their newsletter: "Not only will it commemorate Harvey's legacy, it also will draw LOTS of additional visitors to do our favorite thing, Shop, Eat and Drink in The Castro." Sounds like a real win-win, eh?
Not to be outdone, Equality California (EQCA) is also participating in the recognition of Harvey Milk Day by throwing a few events to help raise money. For at least $75 per ticket, you can hear Nancy Pelosi, Mark Leno, and Tom Ammiano speak in San Francisco. In Los Angeles, $2,500 will get you a private audience with Sharon and Kelly Osbourne. EQCA is throwing parties all over the state this weekend. This Harvey Milk Day idea is a big opportunity to raise (read: make) money.
Not to be entirely dismissive, Dustin Lance Black -- who wrote the screenplay for Milk) -- is encouraging everyone to sign up for a day of outreach on Saturday with EQCA's "Harvey Milk Day of Action." It's an attempt to change hearts and minds by marching door-to-door in hostile neighborhoods begging heterosupremacists to have mercy on us. Who could say no to DLB? I never thought I could, until now. This tactic might have worked to stop Prop. 6 from passing in the 1970s but the country has become much more polarized since then. Do you sense a modicum of open mindedness in the rhetoric of the teabag right wing? I don't.
I'm disappointed that Milk's legacy in San Francisco has morphed into a cash cow. All the agitation and confrontation and demonstration that he inspired seems to be forgotten. Milk's message has been bowdlerized into trickle-down social justice: The goal is to work your fat ass into a seat at the table of power and be satisfied with that success.
How much has changed in 30 years of following that philosophy? In the years since Milk's murder, many LGBT organizations and individuals have risen to prominence. And while they have found success for themselves, the rest of us are burdened with more restrictions on our lives than when Milk was alive. Will that be addressed this week in San Francisco in between all the shopping, eating, and tricycle racing?
Patrick Connors is an uppity fag who won't be shopping in the Castro this weekend.
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