More than a memorial

Pub date November 26, 2013

When Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk were assassinated in their City Hall offices on Nov. 27, 1978, San Francisco changed in innumerable ways. Among those ways is the city lost two of the leading progressive advocates for renters and affordable housing ever elected here.

Today, as San Franciscans mark this tragedy with their annual memorial march, organizers and activists have broadened and elevated the event by enlisting the support of 20 community organizations now doing work to combat the eviction, gentrification, and affordable housing crises that are gripping the city.

“We wanted to make this even more than just a candlelight vigil,” David Waggoner, one of the organizers of the event, told the Guardian. “We want to use this time to remember Harvey and George’s legacy in really fighting for the underdog.”

He noted that attendance at the march has waxed and waned from year to year, but the coalition putting this one together promises to have a strong turnout this year because of the surging progressive activism around housing issues and the need to organize the community to save the soul of the city.

“There is very little to stop what’s happening with the rapid gentrification,” Waggoner said, but he also noted, “By building coalitions, the same way Harvey and George did, we can fight.”

“We’re not only honoring the history of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, but we’re honoring their legacy by making them relevant today,” Brian Basinger, head of the AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, told us. “The Milk March is going to be very exciting. We have over 20 community groups invited and helping us put it together.”

Basinger said the progressive activism will continue through the 25th annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, and that participants in both events will be asked to present their demands to the city for dealing with the AIDS and housing crises. That list will be presented at City Hall during a noon rally on Dec. 2.

He said that affordable housing issues are LGBT issues given that nearly 30 percent of the city’s homeless population identifies as LGBT, while that identification makes up just 15 percent of the overall city population.

“Those of us who are lucky enough to talk to the folks who knew Harvey remind us that it’s about coalition-building,” Basinger said, noting that many of Milk’s contemporaries are now being forced to leave the city by evictions or economic displacement.

One voice from that era who is still around and active is gay activist Cleve Jones, who was an intern in Milk’s office at the time of the assassination and wrote a poignant guest editorial in the Nov. 21 issue of the Bay Area Reporter about what Milk and Moscone advocated.

“They fought for renters, honored labor, and built coalitions to connect, not divide, us from each other,” Jones wrote. “They would, I’m sure, be pleased by the progress that has been achieved on some of the issues they cared about. But they would be alarmed by the growing chasm between rich and poor, they would be angered by the evictions of the elderly, disabled, and people with AIDS. They would be fighting to keep City College open and they would be outraged by the violence and despair experienced by so many in our city’s neighborhoods.”

Organizers of the event say they think this is just the kind of memorial that Milk and Moscone would have wanted.

“We want the housing crisis to be front and center,” Waggoner said. “We want this to be a time for people to connect with the legacy of Milk and Moscone in a very direct way.”

The march begins at 7pm in Milk Plaza, Castro and Market streets, and continues with a rally outside City Hall.