Growing concern about the cost of housing and threat of evictions helped spur a large turnout at Wednesday’s 35th anniversary vigil and march commemorating the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
During the opening rally, which filled Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro and Market Streets, long-time activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee and Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance both echoed Milk’s words — “I am here to recruit you!” — urging attendees to fight to keep San Francisco accessible. Shannell Williams stressed the importance of saving City College. Unlike past years, no elected officials spoke at the rally.
Cleve Jones, who worked with Milk during his days as an elected official, recalled that Harvey himself was priced out of his camera shop and apartment on Castro Street due to a 300% rent increase. More recently, long-time resident Jonathan Klein jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge after a threatened eviction. Jones then unveiled a large “EVICTIONS = DEATH” banner made by rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence offered an invocation remembering the many queer and counterculture icons that contributed to the city’s colorful history: “The Cockettes, the Angels of Light, the founders of the Sisters, the Beat poets, Janis Joplin and the 60′s rockers — they never could afford to live in San Francisco today.”
By the time the crowd took to the streets the rally — which most years draws fewer than 50 people — had reached approximately 1,000 strong.
The march route along Market Street provided a tour of recent gentrification, passing several high-end condo developments and the newly opened Whole Foods Market and coming within a block of the headquarters of Twitter, which received a tax break to locate in the run-down mid-Market neighborhood.
More speakers rallied the crowd on the steps of City Hall. “The vision Milk held for us is diminishing,” warned former supervisor Christina Olague. “Twitter didn’t give themselves a tax break — policymakers did. We will not be evicted and we will not be co-opted. “
Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of the 2008 biopic Milk, said that despite its changes, San Francisco remains a “beacon of hope” for LGBT people and other outsiders. To maintain this legacy, “all of the us’es must come together again.”
March organizer David Waggoner noted that this year’s march brought together more than 30 organizations united in their desire to keep San Francisco welcoming to all people regardless of income.
“The march was a call to arms,” Waggoner told the Castro Biscuit. “Are we going to simply surrender to greed, to gentrification on steroids, to back room deals? Or are we going to stay and fight? Harvey and George lived, worked, and died to give hope to the hopeless, to empower the powerless. What is at stake is nothing less than the soul of this city. We owe it to them — and we owe it to each other — to fight like hell so that San Francisco is once again a place where anyone can call home.”
All photos by Waiyde Palmer unless otherwise noted.