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Lighting a Candle

By Kim Knox

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 platform.

The first blow to her plan came when longtime supporter Congressman Ron

Dellums, who was supposed to introduce her, instead endorsed McGovern.

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 their candle.