More from the man behind the evening’s talk.
The Living Wage Campaign couldn’t have been more effectively promoted through paid advertisement. Cleve Jones, a community organizer immortalized in Milk and most known for the creation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, spoke Monday in an event held by Northwestern Community Development Corps and Peace Project.
A number of other groups co-sponsored the talk at Cahn Auditorium — including the LWC.
Jones’ lecture spanned his extensive career, describing his internship with Harvey Milk to his current project, Sleep with the Right People. Jones opened by addressing The Daily Northwestern’s recent editorial, which disagreed with the LWC’s approach.
“Their editorial on the Living Wage Campaign is probably one of the most stupid, offensive things I’ve read in a college newspaper in a long, long time,” Jones said. “For a paper on this campus to suggest that it would be wrong to give these people a wage sufficient to live upon because they may no longer qualify for food stamps — that’s your best argument?”
Jones utilized a versatile style in taking the audience through his experiences as a community organizer and activist. Jones was often irreverent — noting how many people responded that they had seen Milk and were expecting Emile Hirsch, who played him in the movie.
But these moments were contrasted with anger and sadness that Jones described. With palpable indignation, he remembered a government he said was unresponsive and neglected the emerging AIDS epidemic.
“The Republicans had a convention in Palm Beach [in 1985]; they had a bumper sticker that said, ‘AIDS is killing all the right people,’” Jones said. “We had a president at the time, who has since been elevated to sainthood in some parts of this country. His name was Reagan. He would not say the word publicly until more Americans had died of AIDS than had died in the entire Vietnam War.”
Even more prevalent during this period of his life, Jones explained, was a pervasive sense of hopelessness. “If you could just imagine that all of you were best friends,” he said, “and then in the course of about a year and a half, everybody in this group but you died.”
In discussing his current work, Sleep with the Right People, which creates a coalition between the UNITE HERE labor union and the LGBT rights movement, Jones stressed the importance of working for many causes under a unified purpose in the future of community organizing.
“Really though, I don’t work for the labor movement. I work for the movement,” Jones said. “And in my heart and in my head, it is one movement. And whatever your issue is…you are part of a broader and deeper movement that has continued for centuries. You are taking your place in the ranks of ordinary men and women who throughout history have stood together and said no to war, no to racism, no to slavery and yes to community, yes to solidarity, yes to justice.”