Mar 28 2010

MIXNER IN HAWAII 1991 This coming month marks my 50th anniversary of organizing for justice, equality and peace. My very first effort at the age of 14 was as a regular volunteer for President John F. Kennedy in 1960. The concept of doing anything for fifty years is hard for me to fully accept. Hell, when I was young, I thought people who were 50 years old should start looking for funeral homes and picking out plots! Seriously!

Honesty compels me to share that I am having a really good feeling about this anniversary. How could I not feel pride with fifty years of helping others? Of course, those years have been dotted with defeats, failures and sadness. Yet all of those darker moments were overshadowed by the victories, witnessing history and times of just pure joy. Never can anyone accuse me of not trying to make difference. They can believe that I made wrong decisions, did a bad job or even maybe at times was self-serving, but never was I absent from the great struggles of our time. Right or wrong, I showed up to be counted.

The Point Foundation has blessed me by honoring those 50 years at a dinner on April 19th (sorry folks it is already sold out). For me, using the Hell's Kitchen Journal to share with you some of the moments from those years seems like a fun and cathartic exercise. There were about a dozen historical events that transformed me over the years. These moments in history are not necessarily the most dramatic of those five decades but they are the ones that shaped my journey. Hope you enjoy the next couple of weeks as I share with you. So here are the transforming events:

Atomic Bomb: When we first got our television, I was transfixed as they broadcasted live atomic bomb tests. For the entire early years of my life 'the bomb' hung over my generation like a ten ton anvil. We had drills in classrooms what to do in case of an atomic explosion. The Cuban Missile Crisis made nuclear war a reality and there were even real questions if many of us would ever reach our senior years. The impact of 'the bomb' on our generation can be overestimated.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: For the first time as a ten year child I was inspired by people against great odds attempting to breathe the air of freedom. With rocks against tanks, young people put their lives on the line against a great evil; the great sadness of their defeat was something I have never forgotten. Interestingly, it was also the first time immigration became an issue to me as my neighbors were against letting in the refugees from Hungry, even though they had just celebrated their courage.

Sputnik: When the Russians launched the first satellite into the heavens the reaction was both of awe and fear. For me, I was totally fascinated that there were entire worlds out there to still be explored. As a child I can remember waiting at night to see this amazing vehicle race across the sky between the stars. More than any other event, it stimulated my search for knowledge.

President John F. Kennedy: Those who were inspired to serve a greater good by President Kennedy were called "Kennedy's Children." No one fit that description more than me. President Kennedy gave me the gift of my idealism. He challenged young people to reach to into their hearts, to serve a greater good and live a life of grace and dignity. His assassination was one of the darkest moments of my life.

The Civil Rights Movement: Inspiration, bravery and determination are the words that described the civil rights movement in my journey. For the first time, I shed my parents' beliefs and fought for my own view of the world and it was one of justice and equality. Being even a small part of this astounding time is one of the richest moments in my life.

Vietnam War: In many ways, my work against the war was my introduction as a national leader. This time was my coming of age in national politics and movements. From the very first marches against the war, I showed up and was willing to do anything to stop this carnage. As one of the four co-founders of the Vietnam Moratorium in 1968, I realized that four young people with almost no money could organize massive marches against the war and challenge even the most powerful people in the world. This was the time I fully realized the reality of the old President Andrew Jackson quote "One man (person) with courage makes a majority."

The Year of 1968: Never in my entire journey has there been a year like the year of 1968. Just to list the events that dramatically impacted me seems overwhelming: The Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the continuing horror of Vietnam War, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy challenging President Johnson and forcing him not to seek re-election, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and resulting riots, the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy which changed our history forever, the violent and brutal Democratic Convention in Chicago and the election of Richard Nixon as President. Do I need to say more?

Proposition Six: Perhaps no other event since the insurrection at Stonewall impacted the community more than the defeat of Proposition Six (homosexual school teachers) in California. After being pounded with defeat after defeat by Anita Bryant, to rise up and win statewide in California was a moment never to be forgotten. As one of the statewide campaign coordinators for this effort, we (including Harvey Milk) were able overcome the skeptics within our own community who said we never could win.  We proved that, even in the most hopeless of times, the LGBT community was capable of greatness.  This was the birth of the modern age LGBT political movement.

HIV/AIDS: For 30 years, the AIDS epidemic has been a major part of my life. Those of us who survived the nightmare years of the 1980's and early 1990's will never again be the same. Personally I lost nearly 300 friends (all of them young) and in one two year period gave over 90 eulogies. The sight of a government systematically turning its back on its own citizens who were sick and dying was too much to bear. The power of the LGBT community responding to heroically fight to save our friends' lives, to take care of our sick and dying and at the same time never giving up on our struggle for freedom is one of the great epic stories of our times or any time.

The 1992 Presidential Campaign: This campaign will always be remembered for as the one where LGBT political power went national. Millions of dollars and tens of thousands of volunteers for the first time came from an out and proud LGBT community. The National Democratic Convention most likely will be remembered by many as the one where our community became visible and powerful in American politics.

9/11: What American wasn't changed or effected by the horror of watching 9/11 unfold right before our eyes on national television? The days that followed of missing people, tears and national unity are etched into our collective subconscious. For me, it was a time when my deep personal beliefs in non-violence, forgiveness and love were challenged in a major way. A time of great struggle for every American in so many different ways.

2008 Presidential Campaign: Never in my life did I believe that I would live long enough to see the two major contenders for President be a women and an African-American. The concept of an African-American being President in my childhood was just an impossible dream. And the image of hundreds of thousands of motivated citizens participating in their democracy was simply awesome to watch. This campaign is where, for the first time, I understood how technology has changed our political process forever.