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    When We Rise Brings Raw Emotions and Memories Back to the Surface

    DebraWalker-biggerBy Debra Walker

    I love Gus Van Sant’s work. He seamlessly captures the raw emotion of a time I, and many of you, lived through in the new ABC miniseries When We Rise. I admit to feeling cynical when I first started to watch an advance copy of the series. But the actors’ connections to the characters seemed heartfelt and genuine, and drew me in.

    I was vividly reminded that I was actually there, in that time, thanks to Dustin Lance Black’s sensitive treatment of Cleve Jones’ book of the same title. Those of us who remember what happened here in San Francisco in the decade between 1975 and 1985 were rocked to our core then. This miniseries helps to fill in those memories.

    Since I know the real people portrayed by the actors in When We Rise, it was a head-turning, mind-blowing experience for me to watch the lives of these familiar individuals on the screen. It was if I had stepped into a time machine. It was also incredibly moving to see the times we lived in though through their eyes, and through their personal experiences.

    Honoree Roma Guy with Cleve Jones at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's 40th Anniversary Dinner at the Somarts Cultural Center, on August 11.

    Honoree Roma Guy with Cleve Jones at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club’s 40th Anniversary Dinner at the Somarts Cultural Center, on August 11.

    The series is a must-see for any activist who thinks they invented activism. You are reminded of the conduits of resistance, the humane nature of revolution, and, most especially, of the constant need to engage in our world issues.

    Seeing my good friend Roma Guy in the person of young actor Emily Skeggs was unsettling. Skeggs, however, convinced me she was Roma. As for Mary Louise Parker, well, that was harder. But Mary Louise Parker is so good it just works. I was in tears as the second episode ended. So many things came together: the truths and revelations that were heaped upon our community, on our young lives, and on so many lives shortened seemingly without reason.

    This is a very hard series, emotionally, to watch. Once the tears came, they did not stop. The story of our community, of any community breaking through oppression, is both hopeful and devastating. There is no way around the horror of what we went through. You might ask if it is too soon for this story to be told so forcefully. The answer is “never.” It is never too soon for the truth.

    This miniseries does a really great job of showing what our lives were like in the documented period. It captures the intimate moments, the public humiliation, courage and pride. All of it.

    This series is a must-watch all the way through. The brilliant art of Van Sant, the talent of each of the actors, and the stories of the leaders in our community will change your life. These are the heroes among us. Please watch each and every moment of this captivating, timely story that continues to play out among us.

    Call your parents and get them to watch. And, oh yeah, come out if you haven’t.

    Debra Walker is a Commissioner for the City and County of San Francisco Building Inspection Commission. A past president of the Commission, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and the San Francisco Arts Democratic Club, Walker is also an internationally recognized painter and printmaker. For more information: