Lighting a Candle
The liberals in the House strongly resemble
liberals I have known through the last two decades in the civil rights
conflict. When it comes time to show on which side they will be counted,
they excuse themselves.
— Shirley Chisholm
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never
did and it never will.
— Frederick Douglass
We were standing in front of John McLaren School in
Sunnyvale, protesting the deaths of 87 young adults from all parts of San
Francisco who died in violence in 2004.
A group of young women aged 13-15 stood next to me
and my friend who teaches in the Bayview.
Someone handed out cups and candles. Watching the
people around them, the young women figured out how to put the candle in
the cup. They tried lighting the candles with a lighter. At that moment, I
said, "Do you need a light?" With my lighted candle, I showed them how
each one could light their neighbor's candle. And in that moment, I
continued the legacy of activism by teaching a new generation how to light
each other's candle.
I was thinking about teaching new generations when I
was at the showing of "Unbossed and Unbought" by director and co-producer
Shola Lynch. The documentary is about Shirley Chisholm's presidential
campaign in 1972. A free showing this weekend was sponsored by Supervisor
Bevan Dufty (a former legislative aide for Chisholm), Supervisor Sophie
Maxwell, the Castro Theater, and others, and it was truly a Valentine's
treat for San Francisco.
The video showed that the Congressional Black Caucus
did not endorse their only female member, Shirley Chisholm. The
documentary also made it clear that many within the National Organization
of Women didn't endorse the only female candidate running for president.
Chisholm told how the 1972 Democratic presidential
frontrunners called her, telling her to drop out of the race because she
was hurting their chances with the female and/or African American vote.
Yet Chisholm ran to the very end.
Chisholm carried 151 delegates at the 1972 Democratic
Convention in Miami and won the right to speak from the main podium. While
she didn't have the votes to be nominated, she was trying to have a say in
The first blow to her plan came when longtime
supporter Congressman Ron
Dellums, who was supposed to introduce her, instead
The second blow came from Willie Brown. Under the
bylaws of the California Democrats, the winner of the presidential primary
was to take all of the California delegates' votes on the first vote. But
McGovern had beaten Humphrey by a very thin margin (with Chisholm coming
in third). So there had been discussions of breaking the California
delegates into a proportional representation to better reflect the
California votes for each candidate.
Yet at the convention, Willie Brown, a member of the
California delegation for McGovern, got up and yelled, "Give me a 271-man
delegation." Yes, my friends, he used the word "man." And all of the
California delegation's votes went to McGovern, putting him over the top
for the presidential nomination. In November 1972, McGovern lost to Nixon
by a landslide.
Shirley Chisholm did not win the presidential
nomination. But she said in the film, "I ran because most people thought
the country was not ready for a black candidate, not ready for a woman
candidate. Someday. It was time in 1972 to make that someday come."
The year 1972 opened doors to a future “someday.” For
example, one of Chisholm’s campaign workers was a Mills College student by
the name of Barbara Lee (now Congresswoman Barbara Lee).
No doubt, there were other young men and women who
looked up that night and saw Shirley Chisholm on the podium — and said to
themselves, "I am going to get there." And because of the example of
Shirley Chisholm and others, they will.
All it took was one person to show them how to light