In 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially designated May 22 as Harvey Milk Day––even though the year before he vetoed the measure. What changed? “Milk has become much more of a symbol of the gay community,” explained Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson Aaron McLear, citing the award-winning film Milk and President Obama’s posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom as reasons for Schwarzenegger’s change of heart.
Today Gus Van Sant’s powerful portrait of the slain gay San Francisco leader still resonates as a profile in courage and a blueprint for social change. Sean Penn––who won an Academy Award for his performance––brilliantly embodies the passion, humor, and humanity of Harvey Milk. In our unsettled political times, the role of citizen-fueled resistance movements is greater than ever. In honor of this gay rights hero––and as part of Focus Features’ 15th anniversary celebration––we look at six powerful lessons modern-day activists can take away from Milk.
“Harvey served less than a year in public office before his brutal assassination but his life profoundly changed a city, state, nation and a global community. His courage, passion and sense of justice rocked a country and stirred the very core of a put down and pushed out community, bringing forward new hope and a new vision of freedom”
~ Harvey Milk Foundation.
Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978)
After three unsuccessful campaigns, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. His election was a landmark event. The reason? Harvey Milk was gay, and his election was the first of an openly gay elected official in the United States. To win the election, Milk had to gain the support of all segments of his district.
On election night, Harvey Milk reminded his supporters: “This is not my victory — it’s yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight.”
Milk knew that his position as a San Francisco Supervisor advocating gay rights placed him in danger. Hate mail began to pour into his office. With chilling foresight Milk made a tape recording on November 18, 1977, with instructions to have it read only if he died by assassination. In it he says, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer who had clashed with Milk over gay issues. After shooting the mayor, White entered Milk’s office and shot him five times at his desk.
If ever you accused Barack Obama of fearing to offend or suffering from lack of spine, you have to hand it to him now: President Obama is acting more and more like a leader every day, one specific leader in fact: George W. Bush.
Take the recent disclosures about the National Security Agency’s massive spying on the world. The data dragnet mimics the worst of the Bush administration.
It’s hypocritical in the extreme to gather data in the name of preventing terrorism while the administration’s own policies are creating terrorism around the world, says MIT professor emeritus, Noam Chomsky in this GRITtv exclusive interview.
Photo credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Ryan claims that he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don’t care for Paul Ryan’s sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage.
I wonder what Ryan’s favorite Rage song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of “Fuck the Police”? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!
Don’t mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta “rage” in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.