Activist Protest Removal of Public Benches from Harvey Milk Plaza

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About fifty activist gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza this afternoon to voice their anger and objections of the unilateral decision removing public bench seating from Milk Plaza by Community Benefit District (CBD) with the hearty support of the Merchants of Upper Market Castro (MUMC) and Supervisor Scott Weiner.

The November 2nd removal was a response to what some in the community deemed, ‘an undesirable, vagrant, homeless element’, who often used the open to the public benches. The decision to pull the seating was never brought to the greater community for input. No open to all, town hall, styled meetings were held to look for alternative solutions or broached to our knowledge. Neither were local groups who work with many of the affected communities, many of which endorsed todays action, consulted.

Proportionally a large number of the homeless are LGBTQ youth who often sought refuge within the confines of the Castro after getting less than hospitable welcomes in other parts of the City. The benches are public space, open to all, and their removal without the consultation of that public had led to the call for today’s protest to take back the space and return it to ‘all the public no matter who they were, how much money they had, with a home or without’ as one protestor commented.

In a direct action of civil disobedience protestors produced a hand made bench and installed it where the others had been. They also challenged the much hated and failed, ‘No Sit/No Lie’ San Francisco ordinance by sitting on the ground and in chairs they’d brought with them. Symbolically they drew a ‘speaker’s box’ on the bricked plaza and asked people to testify as to why they were opposed to the benches removal. Slain Sup. Harvey Milk, for whom the plaza is dedicated to, often would bring a box to the same location, clamber atop it and make speeches about Queer rights, building bridges with other communities and standing up for the downtrodden to the passing crowds when he was known as ‘The Mayor of Castro Street’.

Today’s demonstration had a diverse, multi-generational participants from members of organized labor, local organizations, affinity groups, non-profits, as well members of the local homeless community. A wide variety of these and other groups/organizations endorsed the action including: LYRICHousing Rights Committee of San FranciscoIdriss Stelley Foundation, Interesting Times Gang, LAGAI-Queer InsurrectionSaint James InfirmarySenior & Disability Action, ACT UP/SF, and Queers Undermining Israeli Terror (QUIT), Occupy Bernal and Occupy the Auctions. Several radio stations, journalists and ABC 7 were on hand to document the peaceful event.

More actions are in the works according to organizers. Stay tuned for developments.

Waiyde Palmer

Waiyde Palmer loves San Francisco, social activism and punk rock(ers). His work has appeared in Handbook Magazine. SF Bay Times, The Advocate, Diseased Pariah News and American Music Press . He also has an extensive and repeatedly redacted FBI file.

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2 Responses

  1. I lived in the Castro at the time of Harvey Milk,and Harvey Milk was a friend of mine, and you base your history on the Movie "Milk", rather then true History.The movie was a recreation of events, however there were mistakes in the movie,and Harvey talking to crowds on a Soap Box is one of them. There was many scenes within the movie that never happened or locations and timelines were wrong. The scene where Harvey talks to the crowd on the evening that Anita Bryant led the vote in Dade County Florida cause an impromptu march shows Harvey with a bullhorn in front of the Castro Theater and ending at City Hall.That never happened that way. I should know because my image of Harvey on that evening is what that scene is based on. For the true history of "Orange Tuesday" 6/7/77( that I created the name)visit:
    http://www.thecastro.net/street/memoriespage/pritikin/sc...

    also the scene with the boy in the wheel chair before the march was the imagination of the writer. My photo was the only one on the Associated Press or any other wire service was the only one of Harvey, and it came at the end of the march at Union Square(not City Hall as shown in the movie).

    That being said, I praise the movie "MILK"for introducing Harvey Milk, to millions of people,young and old,gay and straight,here in America and around the world.

    If you do a Google search on Harvey with the bullhorn, there are only those of Sean Penn as Harvey and my image.

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    • Waiyde says:

      How lucky you were to count yourself among Harvey Milk's friends. What an exciting time to live in the Castro. I appreciate your input and recollection. I do not base my writing of this article or comments on the movie, 'Milk'. It's a quite big leap on your part to presume that I did. I based it on my 25+ year relationship w/many of Harvey's surviving pals who've recounted events & stories about Harvey and that era. One repeated by at least three being that of Harvey at the MUNI stop on Market rallying crowds on different political issues of the day that were important to our community. They did not say he did it daily or often-just-that he did it. This is also noted in the excellent book, 'The Mayor of Castro Street' written by another old friend of mine and yours, the late Randy Shiltz. Harvey did own a bullhorn that was used in demonstrations-as you mentioned-though-I'm unclear how the movie and them getting it wrong about how it was used or where is germane to my article? It was passed on to Cleve Jones who still uses it on special occasions like the last March on Washington. The movie is just that-a movie-which is why it stated as 'based on a true story'. They are rarely as accurate as many would like-especially one's so near the center of the all the action. Recollection is quite a tricky business especially when it comes from multiple sources and multiple memories. Oral history is rife with multiple views of the same exact event taken in by many people and than filtered through memory, feelings and perceptions. I am so excited to see more of your photos and look forward to hearing more of your stories of the Castro.

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