Social Justice and Empowerment

The term “social justice” refers to a belief that society and its institutions should be based on principles of solidarity and equality.

Use these definitions to think about the Harvey Milk quotes which follow.

Key Social Justice Terms:

Social Justice: Includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.

Empowerment: When target group members refuse to accept the dominant ideology and their subordinate status and take actions to redistribute social power more equitably.

Coalition: A formation of people, collectives and groups that agree to build an alliance and work together through joint action. Members of coalitions usually have overlapping interests.

Civil Resistance: A form of action that uses non-violent methods to challenge oppressive powers. Actions include boycotts, demonstrations, sit-ins, etc.

Solidarity: The feeling or expression of the common ties that bind a society together.
Oppression: Exists when one social group, whether knowingly or unconsciously, exploits another social group for its own benefit.

Privilege: Unearned access to resources (social power) only readily available to some people as a result of their social group membership.

Subordinated/Targeted group: Members of social identity groups that are disenfranchised, exploited, and victimized in a variety of ways by the oppressor and the oppressor’s system or institutions.

Most terms borrowed from this source.

Have students read the following quotes by Harvey Milk and discuss the ways his vision for the LGBT community was based in the concepts of social justice described above.

  • “We don’t want sympathetic liberals, we want gays to represent gays… I represent the gay street people—the 14-year-old runaway from San Antonio. We have to make up for hundreds of years of persecution. We have to give hope to that poor runaway kid from San Antonio. They go to the bars because churches are hostile. They need hope! They need a piece of the pie!” –Harvey Milk
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Oppression, Empowerment, and Privilege)
  • “The non-gay community has mostly accepted it. What San Francisco is today, and what it is becoming, reflects both the energy and organization of the gay community and its developing effort toward integration in the political processes of the American city best known for innovation in life styles.” –The New York Times, November, 1977
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Social Justice, Coalition, and Solidarity)
  • “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. I considered the movement the candidate. I think that there’s a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement. I think I was always part of the movement. I wish I had time to explain everything I did. Almost everything was done with an eye on the gay movement.” –Harvey Milk
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Empowerment, Civil Resistance, and Subordinated/Target Group)
  • “It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.” –Harvey Milk, after winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Empowerment, Social Justice, and Solidarity)
  • “Hope will never be silent.” –Harvey Milk
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Civil Resistance, Social Justice, and Empowerment)
  • “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” –Harvey Milk, in a 1973 speech during his first unsuccessful run for supervisor.
    (Hint: Think about the definitions of Civil Resistance, Oppression, and Coalition)