Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How I Was Converted By A Film

I am a pastor of a church of the homeless.  I'm not one of those guys who feels like he needs to evangelize every homeless person he sees, first of all because I believe in showing more than speaking, and secondly I know that most these folks are doing the best they can, whether being a Christian or not and they don't need anybody yelling at them, and only occasionally telling them what to do.

One thing I've always been firm about and that's politics doesn't help anybody who really needs the help.

I've got a lot of reasons for that.  First of all, democracy is about helping the majority, and the desperately poor is certainly the minority.  Second, to really get political action done, especially national or state action you need money and even if you got some political money it means compromising with the big boys who do not have your best interests at heart.   Finally, politics has a lot to do with bureaucracy and petty rules.  I am allergic to such things.

Instead, we get help for the homeless from community groups, especially churches.  We do as little as we can with the various governments.  Last year, when doing activity that benefited everyone, a local city governance group tried to shut us down, and that had been the extent of our relations with them.

Last week, I saw the movie Milk.  It stars Sean Penn, co-stars James Franco and is directed by Gus Van Sant.  It is based on a true story, chronicled in the film The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, about a gay community representative that becomes a city supervisor and eventually gets assassinated.  I heard that it was good and I'm a fan of Van Sant, so I thought I'd check it out.

It was a revelation.

Like the homeless, the gay community was actively oppressed, with laws on the books giving permission to their oppression.  Like the homeless, the police targeted them as a community and would do violence to them with no provocation or criminal activity.  Like the homeless, the gay community had community centers, but no voice in their community.

Through tenacity and a slow process of learning, Harvey Milk changed that.

Like Harvey Milk, I just want to see the books that actively oppress the homeless shut down.  I want to see people granted freedom to be who they became through no fault of their own.  Honestly, although it may be hard for some of my supporters to hear, Harvey Milk inspired me.

The fact that the film was so well made doesn't disturb me at all. Van Sant is a master-- no, strike that-- genius filmmaker, who can tell a story is many different ways and yet put it all together in a mind-boggling continuity.  Penn is very good and Franco is fantastic.  Each character is seen as a full human being, not just a gay stereotype (although you can see where perhaps some of the stereotypes originate).

Mind you, I am not ready to run for office.  In fact, my wife said that she'd vote against me if I did.  But it did happen that this last weekend a couple city officials did come up to me and say that they'd work with our goals for the city this week.  Huh.  Maybe there's something to this politics thing after all. 


  1. It's what I've been trying to tell you all along, Steve. It's not that politics is good or bad. Politics is neutral. It's just the thing we call managing interests. A lot of times people are bad at managing interests well and/or fairly, but many other times they are.

    Democracy doesn't exactly favour the majority. That's only true if it's not operating properly. A properly functioning democracy favours the will of the majority while addressing the concerns of as much of the population as possible. Don't forget, what's good for even the poorest people is usually good for everyone except the most greedy.

    Money needs to be out of politics in the States, that's first off. And beyond that, more good hearted, qualified people need to start getting involved. Leave it to the Herman Cains and Rick Perrys of the world and you're sure to have a political system that favours an interested minority while being a detriment to everyone else, including the poor and disenfranchised.

  2. Well, I still believe that democracy favors the majority. If that means it's not operating well, so be it, but if every specialty group has to have their day in the sun to establish justice, then there will never be enough time.

    I'd be interested to see how a group like the homeless-- totally poor, totally disenfranchised-- could get basic rights established in any kind of democracy. The slaves only got political rights because a war forced the issue. What would need to happen for the homeless (admitting that the homeless aren't as disenfranchised as the slaves-- at least some of them could vote).

    As cynical as I still am about politics, the story of Harvey Milk gives me hope. We of the poorest of the poor need to find and encourage our own Harvey Milk.

  3. I knew both Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone as friends. It was an inspiring time in the early gay rights movement in San Francisco. There was no road maps and few leaders, and it was the time of trial and error. Most people think S.F. has always been a liberal city, that is not so! However, the changes first came about when courageous drag queens fought to change laws that were unjust and anti gay. Like the one if a guy wanted to dress in drag, he had to wear a lapel tag I AM A BOY, or he could be arrested,even on Halloween! For those who were introduced to Harvey Milk via Epstein's documentary and
    through Gus Van Sant's movie MILK, I would like to recommend a great web-site that is dedicated to the evolution of a changing S.F. neighborhood in the Eureka Valley called the Castro into America's Gay mecca! It's not a recreation but actual images and stories by the pioneers in the gay rights movement.