By Sidney Brinkley
SAN FRANCISCO - Sunday December 15, Sunset PST: Well, it’s over. Nelson Mandela is gone. After 95 years of life followed by 10 days of mourning, on Sunday Mandela was finally laid to rest in his home village in South Africa.
The tributes were world wide. Seldom does the entire world stop to honor one person but Nelson Mandela was such a person. He had a special relationship with the Bay Area. “Here” was the center of the anti-apartheid movement.
It was “here” that activists and others agitated for Mandela’s release from prison. And when those efforts succeeded Mandela came “here” to express his appreciation. He loved the Bay Area and the Bay Area loved him back.
On Wednesday morning, December 11th, San Francisco held its tribute to Mandela in the grand rotunda of San Francisco City Hall. An enormous photo of Mandela stood at the top of the ornate marble staircase and African Drummers played as hundreds of attendees took their seats.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had ordered all flags on city property to fly at half-staff until sunset on Sunday, December 15th.
In his remarks to the audience the mayor spoke warmly of Mandela’s support for Gay Rights, his support for people with AIDS, and his battle against oppression.
“San Francisco mourns as we have lost a friend and truly inspirational leader who never stopped fighting for equality,” he said.
However, Mayor Lee wasn’t being entirely truthful. Not all of San Francisco was in mourning - and he knew it, along with a number of other people in that room, in particular District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.
To see for themselves all anyone had to do was take a walk up Market Street to the heart of the Castro, Supervisor Wiener’s domain. Not far at all from where everyone was gushing about how much they honored and respected Nelson Mandela.
All along the route one would’ve seen flags standing at half-staff. Flags flying over private entities were lowered as well, in solidarity.
However, upon reaching the corner of Market and Castro, site of Harvey Milk Plaza, one would’ve seen the Rainbow Flag flapping in the wind from the top of the flag pole.
How can this be? Did someone not get the memo?
In fact, someone “did” get the memo to lower the flag - they just chose to ignore it. That someone was the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro (MUMC), an organization of Gay business owners with establishments in the Castro.
In an unusual arrangement, while Harvey Milk Plaza is city owned land, the actual flag that flies above the Plaza is the personal property of MUMC. And its been their long-held practice, going back at least three years, that no one, and that includes Mayor Lee, can order them to lower “their” flag, under any circumstances, unless “they” choose to do it.
In effect, MUMC told the city they chose “not” to lower it for Nelson Mandela. What’s more, in effect, the city of San Francisco said, “OK.”
How can MUMC do this, one may ask? The answer can be summed up in one word: Clout - both political and financial.
And it’s beginning to look like MUMC may own more than just those few yards of multi-colored cloth hanging from the top of the flag pole.
While activists like Michael Petrelis howled in protest, and concerned ordinary citizens signed petitions calling for the flag to be lowered, not a single Gay politician with ties to the Castro is on record as being opposed to MUMC’s blatant act of defiance and disrespect.
Not Supervisor Wiener, not former Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno, both now California Assembly members, and not Supervisor David Campos, who wants to move up the political ladder by replacing Ammiano who’s being termed out of office - and is eyeing a possible run for San Francisco mayor in 2015.
To be sure, to a man they would wax poetic about their respect and support of Mandela and all he stood for. But MUMC’s political largess buys silence from public servants who should be most vocal about doing the right thing. Instead MUMC gets a pass to do the wrong thing, at the wrong time.
And MUMC may have more than the Gay pols in their hip pocket.
On Thursday, December 12th, the new issue of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) the local Gay newspaper, hit the streets. It was the same day of the photo of the flag that accompanies this piece.
As expected, the BAR was full of tribute to Mandela. In fact, editor Cynthia Laird was positively effusive in her praise for Mandela. However, the BAR did not do a “news” story on the flag issue, which by then had been raging for days, something Laird was well aware of because Petrelis had told her about it earlier in the week.
Instead, as a concession of sorts, Laird printed a “letter to the editor” from Michael Petrelis. For the BAR, as far as MUMC was concerned, that was it. There would be no story. End of story.
Viewed in that light, what am I to make of Laird’s words of praise for Mandela now? Was that just more of the same NVL (Noe Valley Liberal) bullshit in which San Francisco is awash? How could she praise Mandela on the one hand, then on the other, choose to ignore the biggest affront to his memory flying in her face?
I have my own answer to that question: Cynthia Laird and the BAR know who butters their bread. The BAR would be in deep shit without MUMC advertising. They literally can’t afford to piss MUMC off.
So, where does that leave all who care about this issue now?
There was some talk about yet another petition. Not interested!
It’s time to evict MUMC, and “their” flag, from Harvey Milk Plaza. Their latest act of defiance was just too egregious. This is making Gay San Francisco look like ungrateful hypocrites. MUMC should not be in a position to control the Gay image of San Francisco.
San Francisco should raise its “own” Rainbow Flag. I will never look at “their” flag in a positive way again.
In spite of everything I can still unabashedly say, “I love San Francisco”. It’s been my home for twenty-two years. And when visitors come to my beautiful city and stand on the corner of Market and Castro I want them to see a Rainbow Flag that is a symbol of the very best of what San Francisco represents - not a flying insult sullied with the stench of White entitlement, indifference, and arrogance.
MUMC can hoist “their” flag from the roof of one of “their” businesses. I would suggest their putative headquarters, Cliff’s Variety Store, just a few feet away from where "their" flag not-so-proudly now flies.
Mayor Lee may usually leave Castro politics to Castro Gays, but ultimately he is the boss. This is happening on “his” watch. This will be a part of “his” legacy as mayor.
"Former South African President Nelson Mandela fought against injustice and oppression to build a South Africa that set off a global movement,” Mayor Lee said at the tribute. “His values are San Francisco values."
If you really believe that Mayor Lee, here’s your chance to put action behind your words. Show us that San Francisco's values are indeed comparable to Mandela’s because there’s no question of what “he” would do in this situation.
Now, what will the City of San Francisco do?