Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 38 / 21 September 2017
 

SF leaders call for love ahead of far-right rally

by Cynthia Laird

San Francisco political, faith, and civic leaders came together on the steps of City Hall Friday (August 25) to unite the city ahead of Saturday’s planned free speech rally by the fringe right-wing Patriot Prayer group at Crissy Field. Hundreds of people filled Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Way (Polk Street) and heard speakers urge city residents to come together.

The Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide United Methodist Church drew cheers as he kicked off the rally, following songs from the Glide Ensemble.

“My voice is fading,” he said, “but that’s not going to stop us. Together we know: love overcomes hate.”

(Students from Ruth Asawa School of the Arts performed taiko drums during Friday's Unite Against Hate rally. Photo: Cynthia Laird)

(Students from Ruth Asawa School of the Arts performed taiko drums during Friday’s Unite Against Hate rally. Photo: Cynthia Laird)

That was the theme expressed in a variety of ways by numerous speakers throughout the 90-minute rally.

The rally was an effort to counter fears of potential violence that neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others will engage in at Crissy Field. The National Park Service approved Patriot Prayer’s permit Wednesday, and lead organizer Joey Gibson has said through Facebook videos that he’s not about hate. But he arranged for the Oath Keepers, a far-right, anti-government group, to provide security, further sparking concern from city leaders, who want to prevent a repeat of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia two weeks ago when a white supremacist plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring others.

[Just as this blog was being posted, Gibson announced via Facebook that the Crissy Field rally was canceled and he and others would instead hold a news conference at Alamo Square Park. Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) issued a statement calling the Alamo Square Park news conference “illegal.” It is in “the heart of a residential neighborhood, and I am deeply concerned it will lead to violence, particularly given how close Alamo Square is to the counterprotest at Civic Center. As a matter of public safety, it cannot be allowed to happen,” Wiener said.]

“It’s been an unsettling past couple of weeks,” said emcee Renel Brooks-Moon, the voice of the San Francisco Giants who served on the advisory panel that picked Terminal 1 at the city’s airport to be named after the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk. “We stand against hate. We love everybody, no matter your skin color or sexual orientation. We are stronger together.”

Senior Rabbi Jessica Graf from Congregation Sherith Israel said that the weekend rallies (another one is planned for Berkeley on Sunday, though the city denied organizers, including trans woman Amber Cummings, a permit) come just as Jews prepare to mark the period leading up to the High Holy Days.

“The ram’s horn sounds, instructing us to wake up,” she said. “We are one people sharing an unshakable belief in society. We will never stop working to ensure basic rights for everyone.”

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), who recently called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, which allows the vice president and two-thirds of the Cabinet to declare a president unfit, was also on hand at the rally.

“Tomorrow, a handful of people on Crissy Field will be espousing hate,” she said. “There’s going to be an army of lovers throughout the city.”

Speier recalled that 13 years ago, San Francisco made history when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “We’re often at the forefront of social movement,” she added.

Mayor Ed Lee forcefully delivered the message that those expressing hate are not welcome.

“We’re all here the day before hate shows up on our shores,” the mayor said. “We’re the city of love … I want to say that this city leads with love and compassion. We are and will always be a city of sanctuary. We will resist the wall. We support our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Board of Supervisors President London Breed told the crowd that San Francisco “will not be defined by the ugliness of others.”

“San Francisco will always be a place of refuge. To those who feel threatened by people who look like me: welcome to America,” said Breed, who is African-American.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) cautioned that hate can appear suddenly.

“I come from the Jewish tradition. In Europe, it all looked good but changed in a minute,” he said, referring to the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. “We can’t ignore it. This president has let them out of a box. No more KKK, no more Nazis, no more white supremacists. We need to send a crystal clear message that if they come for trans children or trans service members … they have to come through us first.”

District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who was appointed to the board just weeks before Trump’s inauguration, said that as a gay man, a person living with HIV, and the father of a Latina daughter, he and his family felt threatened by the new administration. Sheehy, a former member of ACT UP, said that he wanted to shout the group’s famous slogan, “Act up, fight back.”

“But for tomorrow, their will be more of us than them, and ‘Act up, love back,'” he said, leading the crowd in some chants. “KKK comes to San Francisco.”

“Act up, love back,” the crowd responded.

There was a somber moment when city resident Chris Lejeune took the stage. His younger brother, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, was killed in May when he and another passenger on a Portland light rail train confronted a man who was harassing two teenage girls. One of the girls was wearing a hijab.

“On May 26 I lost a brother, but gained a hero,” he said.

Rapper M.C. Hammer performed a song and made remarks, telling the crowd he felt like he was going back in time.

“I feel like I stepped into a time warp when I read these signs,” he said, referring to many “Unite Against Hate” placards people were holding. “I was born in 1962 and I can tell you first hand that hate is dangerous. Hatred has no place in San Francisco or in the entire Bay Area.

“We can’t sit back and say let them demonstrate,” Hammer said. “We want to introduce them to more love.”

Peninsula candidate takes a stand
Ahead of the weekend rallies, Gary Waddell, Ph.D., a gay man who’s running for San Mateo County superintendent of schools, issued a statement and Facebook video calling on people to remember those killed in Charlottesville: Heather Heyer and two Virginia state police officers who were killed when their helicopter crashed.

“To further honor the memories of those that were lost to the senseless violence, racism, and white supremacy, there are four easy concrete steps we as a community of educators, parents, and neighbors can take with our children,” Waddell said. “First, we can filter the information that they receive in doses that are appropriate for their ages and be honest with them when they ask questions. Second, we can ask questions about how they feel and the questions that they have and engage them in authentic dialogue. Third, we can help them to understand their own agency and ability to respond to injustice in an age-appropriate way, Fourth – and most importantly – we can ensure them that they are loved and safe.”

To watch the video, go to https://www.facebook.com/DrGaryWaddell/videos/459747577728958/.

— Cynthia Laird, August 25, 2017 @ 3:25 pm PST
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