At 40 years old, Harvey Milk sat in a gray New York City cubicle at a large insurance company. He wasn't proud of a single one of his accomplishments. Luckily for all of us, Harvey Milk was not content to live out his days in an unremarkable fashion. He rose up, and he took us with him.
In the remarkable portrayal of the first openly gay elected official in the U.S., Sean Penn brought the story of Harvey Milk to a new generation of people, just as the tide of activism, volunteerism, and interest in politics was taking hold again in this country. Harvey Milk stands as a shining example of possibility realized, of personal accountability and responsibility, of the power of a single individual to unite a group of people for a common cause.
Harvey Milk's story is especially important now as we consider and re-consider laws and propositions whose central issue is decency and respect and dignity. Someone's sexual orientation, gender, cultural heritage, religion, race, and socioeconomic status too often determines the course of someone's life in our country. And it must stop.
I've heard people say that every generation has its own societal ill that becomes central to its history, shaping the lives of its members going forward. Ours is very basic, very easy to articulate. Once and for all, are we going to support the notion that all humans should be treated humanely, regardless of circumstance? Will we finally make the statement "all people are created (and therefore treated) equal" a reality? If so, then all of Harvey Milk's efforts, and the efforts of millions like him, will have all been worthwhile.