Today is Harvey Milk Day, what're you gonna do about it?
By Andy Campbell,
1:36AM, Sun. May 22, 2011
Who was Harvey Milk? There are two ways I can think of to answer that question. One is to rent the documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, and to read Randy Shilts's The Mayor of Castro Street. Both of these sources give accounts of Harvey Milk's biography. But still, the question remains, who was Harvey Milk?
The second way of answering the question is longer, more complex, and less neat – and it's bound up in a second question, why is Harvey Milk important?
It may seem facile to say that Harvey Milk could've been you, or could've been me. But truly, Harvey Milk was a local politician – one who was deeply hooked into his immediate San Francisco communities. Harvey Milk was never the national figurehead we currently know him as until well after his death. Documentaries, books, narrative accounts of his life came to broad recognition in the 1990s and 2000s, when groups of LGBTQIA folks needed a political figure to inspire a movement politics.
Milk's not a bad choice. He was an incredibly skilled orator, had a knack for coalition building, and was radical in his call for everyone to come out. He was, in short, successful at what he did.
But Milk was also familiar with failure – he failed to get the nomination to be a city supervisor a couple times before he won. He had a host of complicated relationships that sometimes got in the way of his politics. And, to be frank, his tenure in office didn't even last a year as he was assassinated by his colleague Dan White.
What do we make of the legacy of a former business-owner, local politician murdered soon after taking office? So what is it, or who is it, we're remembering when we participate in Harvey Milk Day?
I don't know. Milk is an important queer ancestor, but he was important for celebrating homo-life, while at the same time insisting on justice for all citizens. He wanted to decrease the cost of daycare and make public transportation free in San Francisco. And this may be the key to answering that question of who, exactly, was Harvey Milk?
Milk is still important because Milk's message was ultimately local, with national implications – replicating a kind of structure of grassroots political activism (local to national movement). It's worth remembering, as we round the corner to June, a month when most cities have their official Pride celebrations, that Milk's messages were meant primarily for queers, and not just the businesses that could make a buck off of queer patronage.
Harvey Milk Day, then, is a caution and a preamble to what most consider to be little more than an opportunity to debauch. Participating may mean that we're still that conscious movement, in a world that increasingly wants to see us as an unthinking market. So perhaps LGBTQIA folks, you could show your faces, and be present for Harvey Milk Day tomorrow.
Visibility, y'know, it's important.
The day's activities begin with the NoH8 campaign photoshoot at the W Hotel from 12:00-4:00 – the visual project that came out of the fight against Proposition 8 (the anti-gay marriage bill in CA) but has lived long past the initial political purpose.
This will be followed by the good stuff at 4pm with a pre-march rally on the steps of City Hall, a march to the capitol, and a post-march rally on the steps of the capitol. Things should be wrapped by about 8pm.
Pump a fist or two for me.
For more information please click HARVEY MILK DAY.