Monday, October 1, 2012

Filner talks civil rights and diversity

A line of civil rights activists stood behind mayoral candidate Bob Filner near Hepner Hall as the former San Diego State professor spoke about ethnic inclusion, homelessness and his history with civil rights. Last Friday morning’s forum, centered on minorities and marginalized groups, included the participation from an ethnically rich and diverse group of Filner’s colleagues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activist Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, first openly gay official elected in the U.S.

Milk said his uncle did not stand only for gay rights, but spoke for immigrants, Latinos, Asians, the elderly and the working class, as well. “He, for the first time, brought communities together,” Milk said about his uncle. “And that is what we need here in San Diego. We don’t need someone who only represents Doug Manchester, our big downtown developer. We need someone who represents everybody.” Filner took the microphone after several others shared their history with the democratic candidate. Most recalled Filner’s intervention with the law as a young demonstrator for civil rights. Filner said when he was 13, he met Martin Luther King Jr., an experience to which he credits his drive for equality.

When he was 18-years-old, Filner was put in jail for protesting against segregation in the South as part of the Freedom Riders movement. Filner said the experience gave him optimism for change. “This city has a majority of ethnic minorities,” Filner said. “Everyone should get to sit on the table, because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Toward the end of his speech, Filner touched on the issue of homelessness in San Diego. According to Home Again, a nonprofit organization determined to end chronic homelessness in San Diego, current evaluations set the number of homeless San Diegans at 8,500. One in four homeless people are young adults of ages 18-30 and one in six are military veterans. Filner said the issue should be confronted not only in an economic manner, but also in a more humanitarian one. He said homeless people in permanent housing is the first step to end the problem and with the help of social service volunteers, the homeless may work on their issues of mental illness and/or alcohol/drug abuse and eventually find a job.

“A large motel in downtown, which houses 400, has become available and yet nobody has tried to use that for homeless,” Filner said. “(Homelessness) costs us more than the $20-million to buy (it).” Filner said the money would come from federal or state finances.

Filner said university campuses should not penalize in-state and local students because there is not enough money coming from the legislature. The remark was in relation to the recent California State University suggestion and decision to increase the out-of-state student population in order for college campuses to raise revenue. Filner said other priorities, such as building more prisons instead of more schools, get in the way of the legislature providing more money to universities.

Milk proposed changes to better the economy of San Diego, such as focusing on the future of the working class and furthering the inclusivity of San Diego’s LGBT community. “If you have somebody whose one parent may be doing janitorial work and one may be doing house work, let’s make sure that their children get some education to move to the next level,” Milk said. “That’s how communities grow economically.”

Milk said San Diego has done one of the best jobs in growing LGBT inclusion with other communities. “We need to make it comfortable where people who are going to the Gaslamp District can go to Hillcrest, and vice versa, where people who are LGBT couples would feel free to hold hands in Hillcrest can do that in the Gaslamp District and not worry about it,” Milk said. Milk said such advancements require societal change through leadership at the top. “Inclusion and the celebration of diversity means economic prosperity,” Milk said. “I’ve traveled the world and seen world-class cities and those that are thriving in this economy are the communities that include everyone.”

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