By Steven T. Jones
Last night's annual dinner of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club was a truly memorable event that stands as testament to the strength, vitality, depth, and verve of this city's progressive movement. Political events can be deathly boring, but not this one, not with back-to-back speeches by Senator Carole Migden and Assembly member Mark Leno (who is running for Migden's seat), presidential candidate Mike Gravel hitting the most progressive themes of his field, masseur Mike Jones talking about how and why he outed the closeted Rev. Ted Haggard, Sup. Chris Daly being honored for his work on affordable housing, the irrepressible Donna Sachet serving as MC, a snappy and well-produced ensemble musical tribute to the Summer of Love, and a crowd full of notables.
I had the honor of sitting next to pot guru Ed Rosenthal, whose latest trial for cultivating medical marijuana wraps up this Tuesday. Rosenthal knew Milk personally and told me about a conversation they had three weeks before Milk was killed. Rosenthal's pro-pot stands were creating so much hostility that he feared for his life, particularly after receiving a death threat. Milk faced similar animosity for being a gay political leader, but he told Rosenthal that you just have to do what's right and ignore those who seek to cower you.
"Three weeks later, he was dead," Rosenthal said.
It still isn't easy to be a leading crusader against the drug war, but Rosenthal heard lots of support from this crowd. "To go into a liquor store and be able to buy marijuana, that's fine with me," Gravel said, noting that he wants full legalization for pot and legalized government regulation of the hard drugs. He is also calling for withdrawal from Iraq by Christmas and is pushing Congress to pass legislation setting a date certain and to find President Bush in contempt if he ignores it. "He goes to jail or he ends the war. It's just that simple," Gravel said. "The plan will work, all you need is guts and leadership."
Leno also voiced support for Rosenthal, saying, "Let's make sure Ed Rosenthal stays out of prison once and for all." Actually, Rosenthal's freedom isn't on the line -- it's simply an appeal of his conviction, for which he was sentenced only to his one day time served. But it is a significant trial for political and states rights reasons. But Leno made up for the gaffe and a fairly dull speech later by making the winning $250 bid for a massage from Jones and telling auction mistress Sachet, "but the massage is for you."
Migden gave her first significant speech since revealing that she suffers from leukemia, which may have played a role in her car accidents last week. "I want to thank all of you for the nice outpouring of support over the last week," she said, calling her decision to finally reveal a 10-year battle with the disease "like my second coming out."
During this difficult time, Migden said she poured herself into her work, which right now is focused on fighting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's massive prison expansion (which Leno supported) and accompanying cuts to social services for the most needy. "My goal is to protect us against Arnoldism," she said, later adding, "We will not tolerate the spread of Arnoldism in our district."
She closed with a subtle but pointed dig at Leno, noting that politics is not a popularity contest and that it takes tough people willing to play hardball. "That's why you put me there and that's why I'll stay there."