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: LYRIC, Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Idriss Stelley Foundation, Interesting Times Gang, LAGAI-Queer Insurrection, Saint James Infirmary, Senior & 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.
Symbolic chalk soap box to honor Harvey Milk and his practice of using the Plaza to make political points.
ACT UP/SF’s Dean Oullette helps unload newly constructed public bench
Local AIDS/Occupy activist , Craig Rouskey, installs a new public bench at HM Plaza
Craig Rouskey puts the finishing touches on the new, illegal bench at HM Plaza
Activist Craig Rouskey, Carmen Simon enjoy the new illegal bench at Harvey Milk Plaza while longtime LGBT organzier, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, looks on.
Teresa, a Senior Activist, demands the public benches be returned.