Sunday, October 18, 2009


" A NOT SO FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO WASHINGTON D.C."

Had my preparations for the March on Washington gone as planed, this would of been a mini-journal of that journey. My adult life has been like a ongoing gay soap opera, and often documented by my traveling companion... my camera. Over 30 years ago, my photograph of Harvey Milk, taken at an impromptu San Francisco March, on June 7,1977 became a footnote in gay history... and introduced Milk, nationally 5 months before he was elected as the country's first openly gay male politician, via the Associated Press. I always regretted not going to the gay march on Washington D.C. in 1979. This time, I made up my mind... I would be
in Washington for the National Equality NOW March.

A few months ago, I hooked up with the local chapter of "Join the Impact" group. And since that time, we had weekly meetings to plan our participation in the National Equality March in Washington. It started with the "An evening with Cleve Jones" event. Cleve was inspirational, as he told the audience filled with mostly young gays, the reasons why we should make the pilgrimage to D.C. in October. At our meetings, we talked about having a single bus take us there, but as the time grew nearer, the local JTI organizers had filled 4 bus loads with over 250 Chicago area pilgrims.

We had sign making parties, and created a few original chants to go with them. I entered a video contest sponsored by the "Equality" March... the winner was to make a speech at the rally. As luck would have it... I was one of 5 finalist. Voting for the 5 entries, took place on YOUTUBE . When the votes were tabulated... I came in 3rd. The winner, an 18 year old college kid from New York, won with a powerful presentation. Ironically... he was "straight"!

Several of us, decided to put together a mini-video documentary about our D.C. adventure... based on "What I would of said in my speech", had I won the contest. At the same time... we were going to find "OUT" why others on the buses, and in D.C. also made the journey. Sam Sussman, the winner of the "speech" contest asked to meet me there... as well as several reporters.
On Saturday, the video crew came to my apartment... we made some predictions, and they made a video of me walking out my apartment door, and on our way to history in the making... We then met in back of the Art Institute, and started boarding the Buses at 6:30 P.M. It was a jovial mood... Rainbow flags, signs and non-stop smiles, once we started our journey... we watched a few old "Maude" TV shows, and a movie... and we made it to what was to be our first pit stop in Genoa , Ohio at exactly 1 minute after midnight. However, it was announced that the bus was having transmission problems... and the next 5 1/2 hours was spent in a Hardee's food mall, before help would arrive... ...but by then, it was too late to get us to D.C.in time for the march. So, we returned to Chicago... to add insult to injury, our signs could not be taken out of the broken bus's storage area... and were not available for those who took part in the Daily Plaza rally when we arrived back in Chicago... So like the best made plans of mice and men... our effort to be part of this historic event... did not take place. Disappointed,yes! However thankful that the 3 other buses, and thousands and thousands of gays made it in person... and I was able to see the historic great march on C.SPAN!

Attached is the "Speech" I would of made, had I won... or to be included in the video, that never happened,too.



The "What if "speech had I won... PASSING THE TORCH...

Thanks to television, I have witnessed a lot of history in the making
— and often that history came "OUT" of Washington, D.C!

One of those historic events was the inaugural address of a young
President, John F. Kennedy, back in 1961. He was the first Roman
Catholic ever elected President! This was something I had been told
would never happen in my lifetime — I was then 24 years old.

Among his many ideas and challenges was his statement, "Ask not what
your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."
Another phrase caught my attention and I thought it was aimed directly
at me when JFK said, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of
Americans" — this was made clear after 8 years of the presidency of
Dwight D. Eisenhower. In another speech, he talked about landing of a
man on the moon and returning him and his crew safely back to earth by
the end of the 1960s — truly an event that, when promised, seemed a
million light years away!

But there is a great gap between dreams and reality — I began the
1970s in San Francisco, a year after JFK's prediction of a man walking on the
moon came true. Even with this stunning prediction of space conquest, it seemed
that my dreams as a gay man were even farther away than the sun!!

The only exercise I had back then, was walking from one gay bar to
another — and hoping I would not be arrested! There were laws on the
books of many cities saying that it was unlawful for two adults of the
same sex to hold hands, dance, or kiss each other in public. And if
these things happened, patrons would be arrested and the gay bars
raided or have their licenses taken away.

By the mid-70s, changes began to happen: we had gay newspapers and
magazines; there were gay-sponsored softball leagues and a new kind of
sport: gay politics! A transplanted New Yorker named Harvey Milk,
began to wake up our senses and pride. He spoke about coming "OUT" of
our closets and talked about gay rights. Yet, at the same time,there
were still right-wing bigots who were trying equally hard to get us
back into our closets, and have the doors sealed shut. They even tried
to get new laws passed which would ban gays from public teaching jobs.
Once Harvey was elected as the first openly gay politician in the
country in 1977, many cities had "Pride Parades" and a few token
rights were granted. However, the politics of assassination which took
John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy on a
national scale also found its way into San Francisco when Harvey Milk
and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down by a hate monger, Dan White.
I knew them both as friends but they did not live to see the
fulfillment of all the changes they had started.

Since that time, there has been progress in the field of Gay Rights–
however, often at a snail's pace during the past 30 years. In recent time,
especially after the release of the Award-winning movie,"Milk", which
introduced Harvey Milk, and that era of gay rights to millions of people,
young and old, gay and straight, here in America and around the world.

I marvel at some of the many instances of progress made here in
Washington…after 8 years of "Bush", we now have a new young black
president — again something that was not supposed to happen in my
lifetime– and I am now 72 years of age!

Once again, I am getting the feeling that the "torch" is passing to a
new generation of gay and straight equal rights fighters in America —
there's good news coming OUT OF WASHINGTON, D.C. However, this time, I
am going to be there(before the bus broke down)… to witness the
passing of the torch — and I will be accompanied by thousands and
thousands of gay AND straight Americans from small towns and large
cities, from all across this country. Today, October 11, 2009, it is
my hope that they will bring us equal rights for all in my lifetime, and
yours...
My Fellow Americans, this is OUR country,too.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

Great stories Jerry. Keep them coming, because people need to hear them.

.
ALL of the © JERRY PRITIKIN images on this blog
cannot be reproduced, re-posted elsewhere or published without PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION