Sunday, February 19, 2017

Regarding "When We Rise"
   How history repeats itself and why we
   must protect "San Francisco Values"

San Francisco Values. The term has been associated with same-sex marriage, high minimum wages, anti-war activism, pro-choice politics, marijuana decriminalization, and free migration. But it was first created and used in a pejorative sense by conservative commentators and politicians to describe a secular progressive culture commonly associated with the city of San Francisco.

In fact San Francisco is is the home of California Empirical Egalitarian Progressivism. It is under attack and we must defend it. Next week, ABC will be airing on its channels and through Hulu an eight hour miniseries that provides the historical context for San Francisco Values. This post offers some reflections on this event.

From When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones, (pp. 113-116), Hachette Books, 2016, Kindle Edition:

     We all still began every morning with strong coffee and Herb Caen’s column in the SF Chronicle. But before we read Herb, everyone was reading a delicious new series called "Tales of the City," by a previously unknown writer with the improbable name of Armistead Maupin. Like Harvey Milk, Maupin had been a naval officer and a Goldwater Republican. Also like Harvey, Maupin came out a bit late in life, at 30. Born in Washington, DC, he grew up in North Carolina, a big fan of archconservative Jesse Helms. But he took a job with Associated Press in 1971 in San Francisco, a move that transformed him as he fell in love with the city and its characters.
     The city soon fell in love with Armistead as well, and delighted in reading the various escapades and dramas of Mary Ann Singleton, Michael Tolliver, Mona Ramsey, and the pot-growing landlady Anna Madrigal as well as the other characters, many obviously based at least partially on real people. For years people would love to claim that they or someone they knew was referenced in one of the installments.
     The news from south Florida was getting grim. The fundamentalist Christians that Anita Bryant had aroused with her libelous campaign equating homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children were on a roll. Money for their campaign to defeat Dade County’s nondiscrimination law poured in— raised by the faithful in churches across the country. The gay community sent Jim Foster and others to try to assist the locals, but Harvey— ever the outsider— was not impressed, seeing them as emblematic of the old strategies of keeping the spotlight away from gay people and relying on straight supporters and vague slogans of “human rights.”
     We all wanted to help, though, and a local producer decided to organize a benefit variety show at the Castro Theatre called Moon over Miami. Harvey got behind the idea and asked me to help get the word out. I was pleased that he’d asked me to get involved, so my friends and I plastered the neighborhood with posters. I started spending more time hanging out in his camera store.
     A few days before the show, Harvey was concerned that ticket sales were lagging and decided to hold a press conference to publicize the effort. We scheduled it at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, sent out the announcements, and followed up with phone calls to the local media....
     The night of the event, the venerable old theater was packed and the audience loudly applauded, cheered, and stamped their feet after every performance and each speaker. Then Armistead Maupin took the stage and announced that he would be reading from his as yet unpublished next installment of "Tales of the City." The crowd hushed as Maupin began to read what turned out to be a coming-out letter written by Michael Tolliver to his mother, living in Miami. At the end of the letter Michael appeals to his mother to vote against the repeal effort. When Maupin finished there was a moment of silence, broken only by the sound of people sniffling and crying throughout the theater. Then we rose as one in a foot-stomping standing ovation.
     On June 7, 1977, Dade County voters, in record numbers, overwhelmingly voted to repeal the gay rights ordinance, and Anita Bryant danced a jig on TV and vowed to take her campaign nationwide.
     Large protests erupted in cities across the country, particularly in San Francisco. Thousands of people shut down Castro Street, and Harvey Milk stood among the crowd with a bullhorn and spoke for us, channeling our anger into a march that ended finally without violence at Union Square. The tension deepened when gay bashers randomly murdered a young gay man named Robert Hillsborough in the street just days after the Dade County vote.

From "How Great", a song from the Chance the Rapper album Coloring Book, 2016:

     The book don't end with Malachi.

On Monday, February 27, 2017, ABC will begin airing a four part docudrama miniseries "When We Rise", a 50-year history of the gay rights movement as experienced by four real people:
  • San Francisco AIDS and LGBT activist Cleve Jones who worked for Harvey Milk when he was a county supervisor amd was there the day he was assassinated, who in 1985 conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and who served as a historical consultant to this mini-series, staying in filmmaker Dustin Lance Black's home in the Hollywood Hills while writing his own memoir quoted above;
  • Early San Francisco women's rights leader, social justice activist and policy leader in public health, poverty, and homelessness, Roma Guy;
  • Bay Area African-American community organizer and Vietnam Veteran Ken Jones; and
  • San Francisco LGBT community health related issues and transgender rights activist Cecilia Chung.
Starring in the mini-series are Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Michael K. Williams, and Ivory Aquino. Guest stars include Henry Czerny, Whoopi Goldberg, Arliss Howard, Sam Jaeger, T.R. Knight, Mary McCormak, Kevin McHale, Rosie O'Donnell, Denis O'Hare, Pauley Perrette, David Hyde Pierce, Richard Schiff, Phylicia Rashad, Rob Reiner and William Sadler.

As explained by ABC, the drama presents "the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today."

"Unfathomable successes of today."

The project was initiated four years ago by filmmaker Black whose 2008 film Milk received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and winning two, for Best Original Screenplay (Black) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Sean Penn). As a New York Times article noted:
But the world is a different place than it was when ABC first commissioned the project four years ago. Barack Obama was in the White House, and gay leaders were celebrating a series of court and statehouse victories, which would soon include the Supreme Court’s recognizing a constitutional right to marry by same-sex couples. After President Trump’s election, questions that seemed largely settled about gays in American society — same-sex marriage, equal treatment in the workplace and in housing — suddenly seem in doubt.

Mr. Trump is hardly a champion of gay rights, and Mike Pence, his vice president, has a record of explicit opposition to gay rights measures. Mr. Trump could well end up altering the ideological composition of the Supreme Court that handed down the marriage decision.

Still, as celebration has given way to intense anxiety, Mr. Black argues that the election’s outcome has made the mini-series even more urgent.
Black's argument is correct. We only have to remember the Tales of the City miniseries which interestingly has not been mentioned in any review.

Mentioned above in the excerpt of Cleve Jones' book is Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series of novels, set in San Francisco. Jones references the first portions of which were published initially as a newspaper serial starting on August 8, 1974, in a Marin County newspaper, The Pacific Sun, picked up in 1976 by the San Francisco Chronicle, and later reworked into the series of books. The first of Maupin's Tales novels was published in 1978. Five more followed in the 1980s, a seventh in 2007, an eighth in 2010 and a ninth and final volume in 2014. In Babycakes, published in 1983, Maupin was one of the first writers to address the subject of AIDS.

HBO acquired the rights to the first two Tales of the City books in 1982 in the hopes of turning them into a weekly show. Pre-production began in the fall of that year with a pilot script by Richard Kramer. But in the face of the rising AIDS epidemic and a changing social climate in the conservative Reagan era, HBO reportedly felt that the book's attitude toward homosexuality and marijuana usage would not be deemed acceptable by the viewing public. The channel ultimately scrapped the project.

Finally, six-part miniseries was produced by Britain's Channel 4 Television Corporation in conjunction with San Francisco's PBS station KQED and PBS' American Playhouse. It premiered on Channel 4 in the UK on 28 September 1993, and was screened by PBS in the US in January 1994. Tales of the City gave PBS its highest ratings ever for a dramatic program. Despite the ratings success, PBS bowed to threats of federal funding cuts and backed out of producing or airing any followup installments.

Channel 4 eventually teamed up with Showtime to produce the sequel, "More Tales of the City", which premiered in the US and UK in 1998. The third installment of the series, "Further Tales of the City", was produced by Showtime (without Channel 4) and was originally aired in the US on Showtime in May 2001.

In 2005, Entertainment Weekly named "Tales of the City" one of the ten best miniseries on DVD. I would agree. We have them all on DVD. If you've never seen them, get the DVD set

IMDb indicates that the Production Company is ABC Studios with Distributors being the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Disney-ABC Domestic Television. That "When We Rise" is appearing on an American broadcast TV channel after the last election is surprising and indicative that indeed to some degree we do have "unfathomable successes of today", sort of.

What is really ironic is that "When We Rise" was originally set to air its entire eight hours over four consecutive nights beginning Monday February 27 but Donald Trump accepting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s invitation to address Congress that Tuesday has forced ABC to shift the schedule skipping Tuesday with the last episode now on Friday.

The show has been attacked, mostly by the alt-right. One story led with "How much does liberal ABC-Disney Television Network  respect middle America?"

But let's reverse the question. How much does middle America respect San Francisco Values? It appears that answer is "not at all." When one realizes that San Francisco Values include love, peace, tolerance, diversity, creativity, freedom, spirituality, prosperity, community, truth, justice, and care for the environment it is a little hard to understand why anyone would not respect San Francisco Values.

Commentator O'Reilly said San Francisco values "seek to exclude spirituality from the public square but embrace displays like the bay city's gay pride parade, where Christianity is often mocked and demeaned."

In a sense, O'Reilly is wrong. And that brings me to the second quote above from "How Great", a song from the Chance the Rapper 2016 album Coloring Book: "The book don't end with Malachi." That refers to the last book in the Old Testament, the point being there is some confusion in the world of Christianity about the priority of the New Testament and Jesus of Nazareth.

By the time of the founding of the United States, that confusion was so bad and so warped that Thomas Jefferson assembled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly referred to as the Jefferson Bible, a book constructed by Thomas Jefferson in the later years of his life by cutting with a razor and pasting with glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus. He explained in a letter to John Adams dated October 13, 1813:
In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.
Holders of San Francisco Values permit spirituality, but are careful how it infects "the public square." Their spirituality is Jeffersonian when it comes to Jesus, relying upon the words of Jesus. For instance:
  • With regard to those "Christians" who were following Anita Bryant in Florida the response might be: Judge not, that ye be not judged. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.
  • When it comes to "Christians" accumulating wealth, the response might be: And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
  • When it comes to "Christians" resenting taxes, the response might be: Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
  • With regard to "Christians" responding to insults and wishing to save face with violence, the response might be: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
  • And with regard to "Christians" telling you about commandments and rules offered in the Old Testament, the response is to explain that in the New Testament Jesus replaced all those with this simple commandment now known as The Golden Rule: Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
But even those words revered by Jefferson are not allowed to be embraced by a government guided by San Francisco Values because the separation of church and state is a necessary American tradition and the law of the land.

And so the four part docudrama miniseries "When We Rise" is about us. We will embrace it and defend ABC because we know that again we will have to defend vigorously its values: love, peace, tolerance, diversity, creativity, freedom, spirituality, prosperity, community, truth, justice, and care for the environment. We will continue to need people like Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Ken Jones, and Cecilia Chung honored by "When We Rise" so that ordinary people like those portrayed in "Tales of the City" will not be deported or jailed or beaten or killed or simply abandoned to a death from disease.