« Back

Reading 52 Books in a Year (1/52): The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.

I've recently decided to attempt the arduous task of reading a book a week and summarizing my thoughts on the book in question. It's a bit late in the year to make this a New Year's Resolution, but I figure that a year's worth of effort doesn't have to start or finish at any arbitrary point.

First a primer on who I am--Roger, startup growth guy for Springboard, food lover, sometimes-blogger teaching code at code(love) whose unifying theme is the belief that learning will rule the 21st century. I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to best optimize learning not only for myself, but for everybody around me.

Here's my latest from The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, an emotional eulogy dedicated to Harvey Milk and a history of how the nascent gay rights movement was born.

San Francisco's City Hall was built as a symbol of resilience after the 1906 earthquake destroyed its predecessor. It represents the eternal renewal of hope that has come to characterize the Golden Gate City. Stop a minute though, pause and study the building--and you can still see the scars that lurk beneath.

Pockmarks of the "White Night Riots" can be observed in the facade, if not physically, then metaphorically.

The White Night Riots were the night San Francisco went up in flames. Supervisor Dan White, a "family values" man and ex-policeman, had shot both Mayor Moscone, a liberal trailblazer, and Harvey Milk--one of the first openly gay politicians elected to major office, and an icon of the nascent gay rights movement. They had both died in their offices at City Hall.

Midway through shooting Harvey Milk, Dan had calmly stopped to reload his gun and then placed a bullet in Harvey's head execution-style. The jury ruled it a "crime of passion", and concurred with Dan's interrogators, former colleagues of his, that the "social and political atmosphere" of the time was conducive to justifiable murder. They sentenced him to voluntary manslaughter--equivalent to a hit and run and the lowest possible sentence he could have been given.

A generation of San Francisco progressives had seen their icons go to the sword, from MLK, to the Kennedy brothers. Now that sword had come to their city politics, cutting down two of their icons--and there was scant justice to be found.

A crowd quickly gathered around City Hall the night the verdict was announced.

The police cheerfully announced the verdicts, and played "Danny Boy" on the radio. One of them chanted the Notre Dame fight song. Only a few weeks ago, there had been death threats to both Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk etched onto headquarters walls. Now, there was open gloating about their deaths. Police officers patted Dan White's back for a "job well done."

History has recorded what happened in the White Night Riots when those pent-up tensions confronted each other head-on.

That's not what I want to highlight.

After the ruckus, after the stones breaking through windows, after the police cruisers that lay in flames--after all that, City Hall still stood, scarred but resolute.

The Yerba Buena center, so recently constructed when the killings happened, was renamed the Moscone Center. It just recently hosted the world's largest cybersecurity conference, and is currently hosting the world's largest gaming conference.

And what to say of Harvey Milk? He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When marriage equality came to all 50 states, a moment of silence was held in San Francisco for those, like Harvey Milk, "who fought for this, and didn't live long enough to see the day".

Harvey had always ended his speeches with a call to hope he would never see.

San Francisco's City Hall takes in tourists every day who may be blissfully unaware of its checkered history. They take pictures of its scars and display them as beauty. In many ways, like a mole that can't help both disfiguring and distinguishing-- it may be just that.

Scars, after all, have made San Francisco what it is today.

And San Francisco has helped shape the world.

Scars don't need to break you. You can't kill ideas by killing the leaders who hold them. You can rebuild, over and over again, until the justice you deserve is the one you get.

San Francisco's City Hall is testament to that.

I'm reading through Peter Thiel's Zero to One next: keep posted on the next recap by signing up to my mailing list :)

comments powered by Disqus