"A substantial contribution to GLBTQ history and to the larger history of the struggle against oppression."
An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk's Speeches and Writingsby Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk was one of the first openly and politically gay public officials in the United States, and his remarkable activism put him at the very heart of a pivotal civil rights movement reshaping America in the 1970s. An Archive of Hope is Milk in his own words, bringing together in one volume a substantial collection of his speeches, columns, editorials, political campaign materials, open letters, and press releases, culled from public archives, newspapers, and personal collections.
The volume opens with a foreword from Milk’s friend, political advisor, and speech writer Frank Robinson, who remembers the man who "started as a Goldwater Republican and ended his life as the last of the store front politicians" who aimed to "give ‘em hope" in his speeches. An illuminating introduction traces GLBTQ politics in San Francisco, situates Milk within that context, and elaborates the significance of his discourse and memories both to 1970s-era gay rights efforts and contemporary GLBTQ worldmaking.
"A substantial contribution to GLBTQ history and to the larger history of the struggle against oppression."
"These selections capture the voice of this coalition builder who worked to forge connections between unions and gay people and poorer and other people in the Castro district. . . . Recommended."
"A useful record of the beliefs of an important figure and the battles of the 1970s."
"An important contribution to the corpus of work on Harvey Milk as a writer and an orator."
"The collected speeches assembled in this excellent book show Milk as obsessive, determined and resourceful."
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An Archive of Hope
Harvey Milk's Speeches and Writings
By Harvey Milk, Jason Edward Black, Charles E. Morris III
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2013 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
"Interview with Harvey Milk"
Kalendar, August 17, 1973
Harvey Milk's political career began in the summer of 1973 in a campaign for San Francisco Board of Supervisors, launched in a principled yet soon-to-become signature emotional outburst against systemic class bias and its material harms, increasing corporate power at the expense of hard-working ordinary people, and the abuses of Watergate. Milk was an unknown, unlikely candidate, a hippie Castro Street merchant without political connections or experience, whose passion and populist vision had to overcome knee-jerk negative reactions to his ponytail, his being openly gay, and his candor and outspokenness. But as everyone—friends and foes alike—would soon discover, Milk was a "natural" political performer and activist.
This interview fittingly was published in the San Francisco free gay paper, Kalendar, given shortly after declaring on Castro Street his candidacy for Board of Supervisors, while standing upon that wooden box inscribed "soap." Milk's motives and mission as a "gay candidate" seeking a diverse constituency and wide-reaching transformative vision are here first articulated, a political platform that remained remarkably cohesive throughout his career. Milk's preoccupations included homophobic discrimination; gay rights and the means to achieve them; bureaucratic privilege, abuse, and obligation; the economy; victimless crime; answering the needs of ordinary citizens; and nurturing neighborhoods. We also get a glimpse of what would become Milk's unmistakable political demeanor. Here we experience Milk's strong and long-lasting first impression.
* * *
"Freedom of speech and action is only tokenism in this country. Where there is repression there is violence that makes a mess of the world. It's force and repression," he said.
It was Saturday morning. I sat in a hill-top Castro apartment looking past a lavender-leaved Wandering Jew at the lazy skyline of San Francisco.
Assignment: Harvey Milk, outspoken gay candidate for Board of Supervisors. The Place: His apartment. I had met him a few minutes earlier in the camera shop he runs with his lover Scott. The shop was large with the air of an art studio in the beginning days. (The shop is, in fact only three months old).
Harvey was at the front desk grinning broadly at me as I came through the door.
First impression? A rush of invigorating air. Gemini. It figured.
He showed me photography displays on the walls, telling me he encouraged people to hang their best prints there as a kind of unofficial show of the week. The project obviously excited him.
I made quick physical appraisal of him as we talked and looked at the photographs. Long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail that hung half way down his back. Hazel eyes. Trim body ... moving with a virile forcefulness.
After a few minutes, we left Scott in charge and walked up to the apartment.
He put some coffee to grind and we sat at the kitchen table talking.
"I'm forty-three," he said, "and I can do one of two things. I can concentrate on a lot of money while I enjoy perhaps another ten years of active gay life. Then after fifty-three I can just coast. Call the whole thing good. Afterall, I've had a lot of fun, fantastic experiences."
"Or I can get involved and do something about all the things I think are wrong in our society."
"I remember that not too long ago in New York in Central Park, gay people couldn't bathe out in the sun on the weekend with their shirts off without being busted by police."
"I'm forty-three, so I'm past that but Scott, my lover, is twenty-three and there's another generation coming up and somewhere someday somebody's got to say 'I'm going to fight, not only for myself, but to make it easier for the next group.'"
"I've got to fight. Not just for me but for my lover and his lover eventually, whoever it is. I've got to fight for them too."
"Homosexuals are still criminals; until that changes, we are not free. When Herb Caen in his famous comment about my running said, 'What do these people want?' it reminded me of a southern colonel in the war who asked a similar question concerning blacks."
"I want freedom for gay people. I don't want ... laws or citations instead of jail terms. I don't want more bars or baths or newspapers. I want legal freedom to be who I am."
"If we take the criminal element off of us, the next generation can't be told we are criminals. They can accept us."
"Right now the parent says to the child, "homosexuals are good and bad, nothing to be upset about."
"The kid says, 'Then why do you call them criminals?'"
"The parent says, 'well ...'"
"The kid is left unanswered and we're still against the law."
It was clear to me that Harvey Milk was not afraid to speak his mind. "For years, like everybody else, I've been bitching," he says. "But what really pisses me off, really got me moving, was Watergate."
"Every day I'd end up screaming at the TV set: 'You lying mother fuckers.'"
"Also everyone is out to get the gay vote. Politicians are concerned. They want us. They want our votes. But it's just lip service so long as we remain criminals and nothing is done to change it."
"The Board of Supervisors says they can't do anything about it because it's state law, but they can cut the balls off the police department by cutting the budget. But they pass the police budget like Washington passes the Pentagon's. Without questioning."
"So I'm running. It's going to be a campaign. If other gay people think I'm wrong, let them run, too."
"I'm not representative politically of the whole gay community. There's no such thing as being representative of the gay community in that way. There's some gays who are John Birchers. Others are communist."
"But when the election's over, I'm not just another politician who promised to support gay freedom. I'm still gay and I have a lover I am sexual with."
"If there comes an oppression as there did in Germany for the Jews, it won't matter where we were different in our economic thinking."
"Hitler didn't care if the Jew was an ultra liberal or a conservative. He was Jewish and he went into a concentration camp."
"We're in bed together ... by the fact that we're all homosexuals. If we don't understand that, we're in trouble."
"The ex-chief of police is running for the Board of Supervisors. If he gets elected, it's going to get more conservative. It's going to crack down more. They've already closed Broadway. Next month it may be the porno shops. After that ..."
For the next hour we talked about a variety of controversial subjects including election of the Board of Supervisors by district, full time supervisors, lower taxes, the economy, religion, the theater and drugs.
His ideas came racing out at me as I sipped my coffee. I could feel the excitement in him, the intensity, the idealism he had to build a better world.
Supervisor, he feels, is something that should require a man's full time.
"If $9,000 a year is not enough for Ron Pelosi, I say, let him step down."
"All tax income should be invested," he declares, "so the interest coming in on it will lower our taxes."
The fact that the people who handled Watergate are building our economy is frightening to him. His experience as a security analyst in New York, Dallas and San Francisco he uses to evaluate the present situation.
"I know, for instance, oil companies can tell you to the gallon how many gallons of gasoline they are going to produce, refine and sell for the next three years. And all of the sudden the oil company says there is not enough oil. That's bullshit. It's because they wanted the Canadian/ Alaskan pipeline built. They said if we don't have this built there's going to be a shortage of gasoline. So the legislation passed and now there's not going to be a shortage for the rest of the year. The public is spoon fed and the press doesn't do anything about it."
His religion is music, Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner and Strauss. He likes the Rolling Stones, too.
"I think Mahler and Bruckner are more religious than the pope," he says. During his early days on the stock market in New York City he became acquainted with Tom O'Horgan who was later famous as the director of HAIR on Broadway.
In those days O'Horgan was putting plays on in his loft. Harvey helped him produce an all male cast of MAZE there.
The friendship eventually resulted in Harvey leaving San Francisco and the stock market to help Tom O'Horgan in producing LENNY and JESUS CHRIST SUPER STAR.
But Harvey's heart was in San Francisco and he left the theater to return. He is appearing, however, in a bit part of a film version of Ionesco's RHINOCEROS to be released in January.
I dreaded my next question, being tired of it and all the answers I thought he might give, but feeling it was too important not to ask.
"What is your stance on drugs?" I asked.
He's never smoked marijuana, he says, even though he's lived with people off and on for over twenty years who have. He drinks a little wine now and then, but that's about it. And coffee.
What other people do, he feels, is their affair so long as they don't harm someone else with it.
"I'd like to know a little more about your past—who you've been," I said, relieved to change the subject.
He smiled and I knew he liked to talk about that, could see he felt good about what had happened to him.
"I was born on May 22, 1930," he said, "about 20 miles outside New York City on Long Island in a little fishing village."
"When I was twelve I found out that religion was phony or hypocritical. At fourteen I found out I was a homosexual."
"That almost brought me back into religion because I went to a rabbi and I told him."
"The rabbi said something to me that really stuck. He said you shouldn't be concerned about what people said to you about how you lived your life as long as you felt you were living it right. He said that people spend more time legislating about morality and telling people how to spend their lives than about how to make life more enjoyable. Most legislators want to be god. Since they can't be, they try to legislate other people. They only think they are god-like. That's wrong. But instead of being angry and upset about them, you should have rachmones for them—a Jewish word that means: 'Have sorrow and pity with love and compassion.'"
"That almost brought me back into religion, but I found out he was a rare bird."
"I left home at seventeen and never went back except for special occasions and therefore grew to love and respect my parents."
"Went to teacher's college upstate New York."
"Campaigned actively for Harry Truman even though I wasn't old enough to vote."
"The Korean War was going on at that time and it was then patriotic to fight for you country, so after college I joined the Navy."
"When I got out, I realized I couldn't be a teacher because if it was discovered that I was a homosexual it would be the end of that, even though I wanted to be a teacher."
"I knocked around the country four or five years—yo-yoed between California and Florida and New York. Worked in gay bars. Finally got to New York and settled down somewhat. Had a lover for five years."
"Got involved in the stock market. Spent eight years working as a research analyst for the stock market."
"During that time I had another love affair that lasted eight years."
"Then I met Tom O'Horgan ..."
And the story goes on.
About the present situation and his campaign he said: "Maybe one day people will do it legally. Maybe they'll just accept us."
"Meanwhile I'm going out for the straight vote as well as the gay."
Harvey gave a wry smile.
"Some of my best friends are straight," he said.
The things that keep him going are the fact that he has a lover he loves, the music of Mahler and Bruckner, and the words of his rabbi to have rachmones for people, have sorrow and pity for them and love.
Excerpted from An Archive of Hope by Harvey Milk, Jason Edward Black, Charles E. Morris III. Copyright © 2013 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jason Edward Black is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and an affiliate professor in Gender and Race Studies at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He is the co-editor of Arguments about Animal Ethics.
Charles E. Morris III is Professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University and editor of Remembering the AIDS Quilt, Queering Public Address and co-editor of Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest.
Foreword: Frank Robinson, friend and speechwriter of Harvey Milk; member of Chicago Gay Liberation in the early 1970s, helped shape the rhetoric that Milk used to inspire the LGBT community across the country in the late 1970s. Robinson was a journalist for many years, has written numerous novels, several of which were turned into films (including the Towering Inferno). Robinson had a cameo role in the film Milk.
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