Observance for 9/11 & Mark Bingham
In the heart of San Francisco's beautifully diverse gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Castro neighborhood, from 1 to 2 PM today, one-hundred persons gathered under our community's iconic rainbow flag flying at half-mast in Harvey Milk Plaza, for an observance honoring all the lives lost in 9/11 and local hero Mark Bingham.
These are some random notes, photos and impressions from the event.
1. Community photographer Bill Wilson, pictured, who performed most of the organizing tasks for today, and emcee Billy Bradford, set up a garden tribute at the base of the flag pole featuring large photos of Bingham and Father Mychal Judge. Large glass candles were lit, with small rainbow and American flags behind the candles, while a 6x4 New York state flag was draped over the cement base of the pole.
Bradford, pictured, after setting up his sound system, made introductory remarks about his activism and gay equality, and was an excellent emcee. Wilson talked of linking Harvey Milk activism with today's gay concerns, then read a moving statement from Bingham's mom, Alice Hoagland.
2. Props to Mayor Ed Lee, pictured center, for a number of reasons. Even with the heated controversy over control of the flag and small chance of a protest, he not only showed up but he came early and was engaging with everyone who approached him. His remarks struck the right tone of remembrance and honoring the fallen, and made mention of Bingham and San Francisco native Betty Ong. She was a flight attendant on the Boston-to-LA plane that was hijacked into the North Tower at the World Trade Center.
3. Among the other speakers were housing rights advocate Tommi Avicolli Mecca, candidate for sheriff Paul Miyamoto, John Caldera who serves as the only gay rep on the veterans commission, video activist Sean Chapin, the head of the Castro Benefit District Andrea Aiello, a young man affiliated with the Log Cabin Club, Supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener, myself and a few others.
4. In the crowd packing the plaza listening to the remarks were gay deputy sheriff Vince Calverese, SF GOP leader Chris Bowman, many American and foreign tourists, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty, political artist Clinton Fein, gay gun rights advocate Tom Boyer, Castro merchant Isak Lindenauer, SF Sentinel editor Pat Murphy, former Bay Area Reporter columnist Wayne Friday, dozens of ordinary city and Bay Area residents, Anna Damiani who's on Mark Leno staff, open lesbian Amy Brown who's the acting city administrator, and assorted reporters, cameramen and press photographers.
5. At 1:30 PM we observed a moment of silence for all who died on 9/11/2001. It was quiet enough for the flapping of the lowered rainbow flag to clearly be heard.
Shortly thereafter, five U.S. Air Force jets streaked across the Castro sky, as if on cue to symbolize a link to our occasion.
6. The Dixieland Dykes Plus Three Jazz Band, pictured, who are part of the SF Lesbian and Gay Freedom Band, entertained everyone with a few New Orleans style tunes. They were situated in the alcove next the memorial garden, which was the ideal location for the crowd in the plaza and all passersby to hear their music.
Many thanks to ALL who showed up today. I had expected no more than forty folks would show up, so I'm happy to be proved wrong on that account and to report one-hundred individuals came to the event.
If you don't want to read some political comments regarding larger local issues, please skip what's below.
There was a weird element to the proceedings, due to a number of factors, part of which stemmed from Bill Wilson and I having little more than a week to get the event pulled together. What exactly was so queer, old definition of the word, about it?
After seven months of getting zero help from Wiener to effect change in the illegitimate control of the flag on public property by the private Merchants of Upper Market/Castro group, he had the chutzpah to show up and act entitled to speak. He not only didn't lift a finger to make today happen, he's been fine with MUMC keeping severe restrictions in place preventing flag lowerings.
I would not have needed to step up to the mike before Wiener spoke, to remind the crowd of the torturous process it took to get us to the plaza under a rainbow flag at half-mast, and to call for brave people to challenge MUMC's control policies, if the controversy over who rules the flag had been resolved in the spring.
If there were mature, responsible civic and political leadership in the Castro, IMO, this is the scenario that would have played out.
Back in early July, Wiener would have convened a public meeting with MUMC, the Castro Benefit District, elected officials and heads of city agencies, along with the general public, and organized a more full observance.
We would have seen Wiener, MUMC and the CBD transparently collaborating over two-months for an official Castro remembrance, one that would have engaged the rugby club Bingham belonged to, the gay men's chorus, the entire freedom marching band, local cops and fire fighters, every officeholder and all candidates seeking office in November, and a whole heckuva lot of other city and Castro stakeholders, to make for a larger and even more terrific event.
That is, if MUMC's intransigence and extreme uncooperative methods were a thing of the past, and a transparent community process in place to bring people together to Harvey Milk Plaza for important occasions.
Seeing such a great turnout this afternoon amply illustrates how lots of diverse people want to come together in Harvey Milk Plaza, use the flag and pole for commemorative or celebratory purposes, share our laughs and tears and anger and hope collectively, and revitalize this horribly under-used slice of public space.
Our remarkable city of San Francisco deserves improved community organizing and civic engagement regarding using the inspiring rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza.