(Click photos to enlarge.)
Thanksgiving Day, November 27, was the thirtieth anniversary of the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Traditionally, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club memorializes the event by recreating the candlelight march that took place in the wake of the murders.
They often take some license with the particulars of the event. When the anniversary coincided with the world premiere of the opera, 'Harvey Milk," instead of marching to City Hall, the march ended outside the Orpheum Theater (where the opera was being performed). This year, they reversed the direction of the march, starting at City Hall steps and ending at 575 Castro, the site of Harvey's camera shop.
I think that a combination of two things -- the fact that this is the 30th anniversary (and many believe that all anniversaries in multiples of five are significant milestones that must be marked), and the release of Gus Van Sant's "Milk" -- helped turn this year's memorial into a much larger event than it has been in recent years. The crowd was considerably larger than the last time I went to one of these -- in fact, I'm pretty sure it was considerably larger than the organizers expected. There were more speeches than the last time I attended (Tom Ammiano, Stuart Milk, Willie Brown, George Moscone's son, Carol Ruth Silver, Harry Britt, Holly Near), and the SF Gay Men's Chorus performed several numbers. They also asked the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band to perform a couple of numbers (one to open the memorial, and then at the end as accompaniment for the chorus "If My Friends Could See Me Now"). And they asked the band to lead the march down Market Street (which they don't do very often, either). (By the way, sorry I don't have pictures from City Hall. We were lectured sternly about moving around a lot during the speeches and the chorus numbers, since we were effectively "on stage" the whole time.)
Now, usually I'm pretty jaded about such events. I have a very "if you've seen fifteen of them, you've seen them all" attitiude. And I think that music choices can be very tricky as well -- "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is way too maudlin for my tastes, but "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker" would be horribly inappropriate as well. In fact, we had been told to bring "All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun)," but mercifully we did not ever play it. And by and large this event was very predictable, very much like all the others. So I would prefer to mention the moments that stood out for me.
* I was personally very pleased to see and hear Harry Britt -- probably the last time I saw him was at one of these very memorials several years ago.
* Tom Ammiano's one joke involved what Harvey would have thought of Sarah Palin: "Hate your politics, love your shoes."
* Holly Near commented on the three television helicopters hovering overhead, saying that they must think we were holding Brad and Angelina's wedding instead of a memorial. No one could have voiced my own internal feelings more accurately at that moment.
* The shouts of "We can't hear you in back" grew tiresome. I believe it was Carol Ruth Silver who finally snapped back, "Thank you for the constructive criticism." For some reason, it made me flash on the Sermon on the Mount scene from "Life of Brian" ("I think he said 'Blessed are the cheese makers'").
* When they were giving the "Thank you" list at the end, when they mentioned the band's name, the surge in the crowd's reaction was more than I would have guessed, and it was very gratifying.
* As we passed Lucky 13, several people came out of the bar to watch, and they applauded as we passed, and I heard of couple of them yell "Thank you."
* As we passed the Lookout (formerly "The Metro"), several people on the patio applauded, and the band and the marchers started chanting "Out of the bars and into the streets." Which is slightly tainting the Milk and Moscone memorial aspect by dragging Prop 8 to the forefront, but nevertheless appropriate under the circumstances and in keeping with Harvey's spirit.
* When we were marching downhill, I turned around to see the march behind us. I was surprised to find that I could not see the end of the march. As far as I could see up Market Street, it was people with candles.
* I think we made some people's night. There was a HU-U-UGE line down Castro Street of people waiting to see "Milk" (as it turns out, the line went around the corner onto 18th and around the corner again onto Hartford, where it disappeared into the dark). To be standing in line outside the Castro Theater waiting to see a movie about Harvey Milk, and having the candlelight march pass you in real life while waiting.... The only place I can think of that I would rather be is right where I was -- in the front of that candlelight march, playing "If My Friends Could See Me Now."
It's always good to end one of these events on an extremely up note.
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