10.30.08

My Night With Sean Penn

Congressional candidate and “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan was Sean Penn’s date at the Milk world premiere on Tuesday night. And she went there looking for a fight.

I have been friends with Sean Penn for a couple of years, ever since my protest in front of George Bush's ranch in the summer of '05. I was there due to my sorrow and anger over the untimely and unnecessary death of my son, Casey, in an illegal U.S. war of aggression aimed at Iraq. Sean and I met in Sacramento not too long after, and he has been a supporter ever since.

A few months back, I called Sean to see if he would support my campaign against Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco. He said an enthusiastic "yes" and invited me to come to the set of the movie he was working on at the time: Milk, the true story of the first openly gay man to hold public office. I got to watch him film a scene and meet the cast and crew.

The idea for me to attend the world premiere here in San Francisco at the historic Castro Theatre happened back in August when Sean and I saw each other in Denver at a Ralph Nader rally. He and Josh Brolin, who stars in the movie as Dan White, the alleged Twinkie junkie, came into my dressing room to say hello. Josh is also starring as George W. Bush in the Oliver Stone movie W. and I told Josh he should take me to the premiere of that movie as a famous W protester. Josh sort of blew my request off, but Sean said: "You should come to the premiere of my movie." I readily agreed.

Harvey lost a long-term love relationship because of his tireless work for human rights, just as I also lost a 30-year relationship.

Last night we learned that Nancy Pelosi was one of the chairs of the premiere and she was scheduled to attend. I was anxious to confront her personally about not debating me--I am her opponent and we have spent thousands of hours and well over a half a million dollars campaigning against her--and out of respect for the democratic process and her constituents. However, as with the other few times that we were invited to the same events, she did not show. She missed a fabulous movie. Her loss--it was exactly the thing I needed to see last night. I am exhausted by campaigning, but I felt invigorated watching Sean's wonderful portrayal of Harvey, who never gave up, raging against "The Machine" time and time again until he was successful.

My trajectory has a few parallels with Harvey's (whom I never met personally, but whose legacy is still palpable here in San Francisco). Harvey Milk moved here from New York and saw a void that needed to be filled: a lack of representation from his community. He was told that he was a carpetbagger, but he desperately wanted to serve the people, as I do. To be a public servant and not a politician was his goal, as has been mine since my son was killed.

Harvey also lost a long-term love relationship because of his tireless work for human rights, just as I also lost a 30-year relationship, because once you find your passion and path in life, no one can pull you off of it. Our energy is in doing the work no matter how much we have to sacrifice.

If Harvey were alive today, I know he would be leading the charge against the ignorant anti-same-gender marriage proposition here in California. Milk organized to defeat Prop 6 in 1978, which would have denied the LGBT community civil rights, and even though the proposition was ahead up until the end, it was thankfully defeated and I hope Prop 8 is defeated on November 4th.

I would encourage anyone and everyone to go see Milk. It doesn't matter if you are gay, straight, or both. It is an inspiring story of perseverance that should be a catalyst for committed activism wherever one sees a need.

Side note: Sean will probably be nominated for an Academy Award, but watch the role of Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch. I know Cleve, somewhat, so the first time I saw Emile in the movie, I zoned in on him immediately. Emile's performance as the nascent activist is riveting!