FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs 04-09
Card Check History
Bruce E. Levine
Oscar Winning Hope
Feminism & War
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The Oscar Winning Politics of Hope
"I want to thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than, by their churches, by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."
— Dustin Lance Black
Except for the queer content, there was little in Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech upon winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Milk that was at all unusual. It was the usual cross between Hollywood faux-humility and faux-liberalism with a patina of political promise.
But why be so mean? After all, here is a mainstream Hollywood film that actually takes gay rights and gay politics seriously. Isn't this what gay activists and audiences have been waiting for? In a world where gay rights and issues are not taken very seriously, even by the new liberal Obama establishment, Milk does set a new standard, at least with its intentions, of what a queer political film might address. And its relative success at the box office—not a huge hit, but certainly a critical and economic hit—shows that there may actually be an audience out there that is interested in a film about queer politics. Sure, the magnetic performance by Sean Penn helps, as does the fact that the queer political content is subsumed under the most genre-bound convention of the Hollywood biopic. But still...this is good, right?
If you tuned in late, Milk, directed by the openly gay Gus Van Sant, details the political rise and assassination of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay person to be elected in California to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk was in office for 11 months before he was shot to death, along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber), by Dan White (Josh Brolin), a former supervisor, ex-cop, and ex-firefighter, who had just resigned from the board because of political differences. Milk's death sparked a memorial march that evening of 30,000 people. In May of 1979, after Dan White was sentenced to just over seven years in prison for the murders—the jury cited diminished capacity—more than 3,000 people rioted in the streets and burned several police cars.
Rob Epstein covered this material in his brilliant 1984 Academy Award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. Van Sant—once a Hollywood maverick, now a team player—ends his film with Milk's assassination, not the rage and riots that followed the injustice that came later. This was no mistake. Milk, as good as some of it is, is a drastic rewriting of history that takes some very hard and complicated political truths and repackages them as ahistorical, sentimental, feel-good pap. What more can we expect from a Hollywood film? After all, when was the last time a Hollywood film, based on actual events, was even close to accurate? That said, the reality is that in the midst of the fight over California's Proposition 8, which rewrites the state's constitution to forbid same-sex marriage, Milk has nonetheless become a rallying point for young activists looking to it for hope, inspiration, and a road map for organizing.
So how is Milk inaccurate? Black's script plays fast and loose with a host of facts, many of which are intrinsic to understanding the gay political scene of the time and the queer community. The film presents Harvey Milk as being the only gay politician who had the nerve to come out at that time and it pits him against closeted gay power brokers who were always trying to squelch him and his radical approach.
The reality is that San Francisco in the mid-1970s was a hot bed of grassroots organizing and had been for almost a decade. The only reason that Milk emerged as a viable political candidate in 1975, was that the groundwork had already been laid by a complex network of vibrant political and cultural organizations that were formed and run by collectives, organizations, and individuals who had come out of the feminist, civil rights, and leftist movements. Despite the film's clear implication that Milk's radicalism was sui generis, the reality was that he was a Democratic Party politician who distinguished himself by articulating a radical critique in a mainstream context. No mean feat in 1975, but not a solitary revolutionary.
Milk also implies, in repeated scenes, that Milk was one of the main reasons that Prop 6, commonly known as the Briggs Initiative—a ballot initiative that would have banned all lesbians, gay men, and their supporters from teaching in the California school system—was defeated at the polls. In reality the landslide defeat of Prop 6 was affected by the work of grassroots activists who went into communities across the state to urge people to vote against it. By never really showing this, the film implies that Harvey Milk was the primary reason Prop 6 was defeated.
Milk and supporters march to City Hall—photo by Daniel Nicoletta
The most striking historical inaccuracy in Milk is the absence of a vibrant social and sexual community in the Castro District. There is no sense that the political and social cultures of the moment were centered on, and fueled by, the open sexual culture of the city. It was this sexual energy and public sexual culture that facilitated the political organizing of the time, by Milk and others. Sex was the glue that held the gay male and, to a slightly lesser degree, lesbian communities together. Throughout Milk we do see several large demonstrations taking place. While the images are stirring—especially the large memorial march at the end of the film—it appears as though this gathering of people simply happened, or was the result of Harvey Milk's political organizing. The reality is that these men and women already knew one another from a wide-range of community-based organizations and social settings.
These complaints may seem to hold the film to a higher political standard. But I think this critique strikes at the heart of a serious problem with contemporary queer political organizing.
Given the absence of a more radical message from the gay community it is no surprise that Milk's sanitized version of queer history, its insistence on the politics of celebrity rather than on community, and its politics of "hope" resonates with younger queer activists who have grown up under eight years of a Bush administration where "hope" was in short supply. It also is a reflection of how our contemporary mainstream culture has chosen a few, safe, queer "stars" to represent all of queer life—Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John—so that the public face of homosexuality is essentially, in the words of lesbian novelist and organizer Sarah Schulman, a "fake homosexuality" that is constructed mostly for heterosexual audiences and purposely avoids any of the complexity, diversity, anger, or actual pain of queer people.
This begs the question: where are queer youth going to find out about queer history? This doesn't happen in high school or college. Since most of the mass-produced national queer press is more interested in profiling heterosexual celebrities or spotting the newest consumer goods aimed at an LGBT niche market, it isn't surprising that queer young people are attracted to the fake history of Milk and misread it as true and useful. Even when it gives us actual historical footage—as it does with Anita Bryant—they turn it into a silly joke, removing any of the very real, very deadly homophobic threat. It is all carefully constructed rhetoric that placates and doesn't move us forward.
For instance, one of the emotional high points of the film is the powerful speech Milk gives during the 1978 Anita Bryant campaign: "And the young people in Richmond, Minnesota, or Jackson Mississippi, or Woodmere New York...who are coming out and hearing Anita Bryant on television telling them that they're wrong, they're sick, that there is no place for them in this country, in this world.... They are looking for something from us tonight.... And I say, we have to give them hope!"
This is the scene that gets on all of the film's promotional clips and is the essence of Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech at the Oscars. There's nothing wrong with hope, but hope alone is not going to change the world, or make queer kids safe, or even change people's hearts and minds. Hope, in the film and in Black's speech, is a generalized, hyped, political commodity that has only vague meaning and little substance. It is about a personal feeling, not a community response.
Michael Bronski is a journalist, cultural critic, and political commentator. He has been a visiting professor in Women's and Gender Studies and Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College since 1999.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.