In what ways has activism changed over the past six decades and in what ways has it stayed the same? David Mixner knows, having been a civil rights, anti-war and LGBT rights activist for 60 years. Having been around that long in the protest movement, David possesses an incredible amount of wisdom and experience, which he shares in this interview with David Jensen and Cecily Chambers. David is a storyteller and for much of this conversation, he imparts his biggest lessons in life through his powerful stories. In a world that is once more in upheaval, his message of courage is an inspiration to all those who continue to stand for what is right to this day. Whether you’re a long-time activist or someone who has just started making their voice heard, this episode is definitely for you.
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60 Years In Civil Rights Activism And Meaningful Mischief With David Mixner
We have David Mixner. David, who Newsweek once named the most powerful gay man in America. He has been a leader in international human rights and American politics for over 60 years. He is a three-time bestselling author and has served as a Cochair on several presidential campaigns like the Bernie Sanders campaign. David is a warrior fighting for justice and going against the grain, even in the face of serious consequences. He is the ultimate mischief maker creating change for the good. In our interview, you will get to know him speak about spirituality, living on the edge, conquering fear, finding joy, loving oneself, and avoiding victimhood. One thing that has stuck with me after the interview is he talks about the purpose of a movement and how it is to change hearts and minds. It is not to punish people who come to the movement later. We should celebrate when people join. We want to make the vision of hope comfortable that others want to join us. I found this interview to be very inspiring and I hope you get a lot out of it too. Now on to our chat.
Welcome, Mr. Mixner. We are happy to have you with us here.
It’s a joy to be here, David, especially with you and Cecily. It doesn’t get any better.
You have been a rebel with a cause for many years if not many decades. What’s your secret sauce?
Spirituality. Surprise, surprise. I have been doing activism for 60 years now. I started as a volunteer for John Kennedy. Early on, I became enamored with Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology basically put is the left-wing of the Catholic Church that says, We are put here on Earth only for one reason and that’s to serve others. For 60 years, through anti-war protest, gay rights, AIDS, and the environment I have kept my promise to serve others and have not deviated from that path. That means to serve others, one of the most important ingredients is to give voice to the voiceless, to give power to the powerless, to give healing to those who are sick. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it is I guess in today’s world.
I was going to say it’s revolutionary. It has been with the movements that you were part of and helped co-lead in the late ‘50s, ‘60s and into the ‘70s. Where do you think we are at with what some people are calling JEDI, Justice, Equality, Diversity Inclusion or Black Lives Matters? Does that square with that idea of giving back?
I’m always amused that when they can’t come up with any more initials, they somehow managed interesting little names for pain, justice and inequality. One of the things that we have to understand that every day I get up and I say my morning rosary, and it is the same for more than 60 years and I haven’t missed a morning. It says, “Dear God, no matter how dark and how bloody the rocks might be that you will have me walk through, do not let me miss the moment of joy, of knowledge and of love.” I haven’t missed a moment. I say that because it is a tough one. This may be the toughest in my over 60 years. 1968 was bad. I can go for some others that were tough for me, but this is probably the darkest.
It’s the first time that I questioned whether democracy can make it, but it will make it because of those moments of light and love and joy. When despair gets its darkness and the rocks, the bloodiness, we see a nation rise together, white, black, rich, poor, young, old, suddenly realizing it has a responsibility to act less racism in America. I’ve never seen anything like it. How can we not be filled with joy and hope and seeing millions of people from all backgrounds? Not blacks, not activists, but people, Americans coming together and saying, “We finally have to deal with this.” I’m hopeful that we can fill the streets with people for women’s rights. I’m hopeful that from the days when my family considered having lobotomy done on me because I was gay, that I can go to houses of gay couples with children. It’s important to understand where you’ve come from in order to have the courage to go where we want to go.
I was inspired by the quiet protesters that were in Portland. Not all of the protests in any major city or any place have always been peaceful. When the Department of Homeland Security was deployed to protect federal buildings and started firing on the protesters and people said, “We’re going to stand there arm and arm.” Moms protecting the protestors. Dads getting their leaf blowers to blowback tear gas. To me, that was inspiring. What was amazing was then when finally the Department of Homeland Security pulled out. The protest turned peaceful again.
Let’s understand what that was about. You’re absolutely right. The moms, the vets, the dads, the students putting their lives on the line, it was an occupation. It was occupation from a private police force created by the President of the United States. I say many of them are not serving in government, but Blackstone mercenaries who were sent there for a purpose. To create chaos in the streets, to create violence so that Trump could have campaigns. That is a fact. What is hopeful is that people are not buying into it. Yes, there were some broken windows and someone’s spraying some graffiti. “We can’t wash it off?” It’s like, “How could they spray paint a building?” On the other hand, it takes us forever if a black is lynched somewhere or have a knee across their neck and smothered to get the federal government to get involved any day over hate crimes.
David, I couldn’t agree more. I’ll go one step further. I saw that as a test balloon for Trump. Assuming he loses or if he loses or refuses to leave the White House that he surrounds himself by a private military force, a private police force that will allow him to try to remain in power. To me, it backfired as well. When they left and people stood up to them saying, “Shoot your rubber bullets at us. We’re going to get your tear gas canisters. We’re going to blow the tear gas back at you. We believe in our first amendment right to freedom of speech. We’re here to protest what we believe has been an injustice.”
We believe in our families. We believe in our kids and we believe in our neighborhoods that should not be occupied by a private army set there by the President of the United States. That was the hopeful part. You’re right. I’m glad he’s doing all this stuff. I’m glad he’s hinting that the election might be questionable. I’m glad he’s fighting against male invokes now with the exception of Florida. The man is on drugs. Let’s face it, he is mentally challenged and on drugs. It gets it out there now. It would be a different ball game if he kept a secret plan to himself and on election night he dropped it on us. Right now, people are on to it. Now he knows he has to hold the Bible right side up if he’s going to use the Bible. We all learned. He learned which side is right side up for the Bible. It usually says The Bible and you could read. I had to laugh. I want to ask him if it was a King James Version of the Bible. I don’t know if you all know it, but King James was a gay man. I have to say, this King James version, this is the gay version.
Nobody did their research. It’s too funny. Let’s go back. Cecily, I know you have some great questions for David.
It’s such an honor to speak with you. I was printing out a ton of research on you, highlighting it and writing notes and was feeling so inspired by everything you’ve accomplished. Thank you for joining us. I’m curious because I feel like you don’t seem to be afraid of people with power. I would love to know how you get over this fear of people with power and use them as targets to go straight at it.[bctt tweet=”When despair gets its darkest, we see a nation rise together, suddenly realizing that it has a responsibility to act. ” via=”no”]
You’ll have to forgive me because I’m an old Southern hillbilly storyteller. That’s how I get my points across. We didn’t have electricity until I was about ten. Storytelling was an art and still is an art. There are two ways that I’ll answer that. As someone once described to me, which I liked, as the best outsider who’s effective on the inside. That I understood. Fear is paralyzing in every aspect of our life. It has a zero reason to be in any of our minds because every time I’ve walked through fear or have been threatened, and there are times I’ve paid the price. I’ve been in jail, I’ve been beaten, I’ve been blacklisted and couldn’t work for four years. I was selling my watches at a pawnshop. Every time I’ve walked through fear, you realize that it’s always much better and it’s never as bad as you think.
You have to understand that if we believe in our Constitution, if we believe in our Declaration of Independence, that we all are created equal, why should I be intimidated by it? She’s my equal. They are my equal. I’ll tell you a story. I knew the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. When I was in Chile and I met him, we were walking on the back porch for the summer home. At that time, he was suffering from cancer and there was this most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. We realized that the reason the sunset was beautiful because there had been some open-air nuclear testing and that we both thought of Yeats’ quote from Easter Sunday of 1916, “A terrible beauty has been born.” His house has a porch and we’re watching the sunset.
There’s a football field size of seagrass and to a cliff that dropped off like 1,000 feet, as you see in the movies where the cars tumble down the side of the cliff. I wasn’t getting near that damn cliff because I’m terrified of heights. I lived in fear of heights. Fear dominated my life when it came to heights. There was a group of artists and writers, who always were dancers and actors before the coup d’etat. It was a tradition in his house that you’d go out and watch the sunset at the edge of the cliff. I’d always find an excuse not to go out to that edge. No damn way. It was the two of us that night. He said, “Help me up, David,” because he was not well.
I thought he wanted me to help him to take a rest in the house. Instead, he took my hand tightly and walked me right to the edge of that damn cliff. I was shaking. My teeth were clattering. I think I wet myself. I was so scared. He didn’t say a word. He knew that my youthful arrogance and ego would not let me tell him that I was afraid, which was silly in itself. He said, “David, this is where you belong, on the edge. By the Law of Physics, no one can stand in front of you. They’ll fall. You will be able to see the colors of the sunset that no one else can see. You will be able to describe those to the people who were afraid to come to this age and help them get here. That’s your choice in life. You can stay back on that porch in fear or you can walk through your fear and be the one who describes the colors of the sunset instead of having them described to you.”
I know that you’ve talked about how courage is not a lack of fear, but sometimes a lack of options. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I can’t take the originality of that. I’d like to quote books in the future as my unique quote and I probably could get away with it, but it would be unfair. None of us wake up in the morning and say, “I want to be courageous. Where’s my Superman outfit?” Go out and look for someone ready to start in front of a bus and you push them out, get good media coverage or the more profound fear or courage where if you stand by your principles and values, you’re going to pay a price. That has happened a lot to me. I remember when I went to Mississippi in 1964 and I stayed with a woman named Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the great Civil Right icons of all time. She was a pig farmer in Roseville. She had been permanently disabled from beatings by the police because every day she’d get up and walk down the dusty road to the courthouse to register to vote and every day they would beat her. I was about 17, 18 years old. I can’t remember. I was a young pup.
I was assigned to go down to Sunflower County and Louisville where I stayed with Mrs. Hamer. The night before I knew I was going to get arrested for the first time and put in the slammer for a while, in Mississippi no less, I started crying. I was embarrassed to cry in front of Mrs. Hamer, who had suffered much more and given much more, she is a legend in time. She came over and she was a big lady and she put her arms and hugged me. She said, “Honey, we all are scared.” I said, “How do you do it day in and day out knowing you’re going to be beaten?” She said, “Honey, courage is a lack of options. You’ve got to do the stuff that’s put in front of you. That’s unjust, unfair, hurting others, demanding the absence of love, trying to shut down knowledge. All of those things require us to have courage. We know our values and we know our principles. We know where the line is drawn. When someone crosses that line and we have the strength of our values and principles, we do what we have to do.”
How do you communicate that and inspire the next generation of activism? I’m not sure what you’re doing. I know with COVID, you’ve been in your home, but how are you getting your message and experience out to those folks that are spearheading either Black Lives Matter, JEDI, or other types of forms of activism?
I have mentored many of the leaders of those groups over the years. I’ve been a great mentor. There’s a corner in a restaurant called Mixedness Corner before COVID where people would come and sit. It was known as a place that we could come and we could chat about things and remind them. I still do a lot of Zoom calls of young leadership around the country and Black Lives Matter and environment LGBTQ, and I write. Part of the wisdom of all of this is me not missing what they’re teaching me. There’s always new and better ways and times are changing. It’s not 1960. It’s not the Civil Rights March in 1963 that I went to or the Vietnam War marches. This is 2020, they have new ways, new ideas and amazing parts and kindness. I want to make sure I don’t miss what they have to teach me. Once I say, “No, I’m listening,” I am eagerly embracing their knowledge that they have shared with me. We can enter into a dialogue and trust is built.
What have you learned?
One of the most valuable lessons was having worked on Civil Rights since 1960. I was at the march on Washington and went South. I went to jail without pretending. I’m an old jailbird. I like handcuffs, what can I say? I have watched our march and battle against racism, violence and hate crimes of all people. Sometimes when you run into Donald Trump, and I’ve never used the word president before his name since he’s assumed office. You run into a Donald Trump who embraces David Duke and racism and returned to segregation, anger, and hate. It was a little tough for me. I see many of the things that I had worked many years for threatened. What I learned is at the darkest moment, there’s a broader base of coalition of Americans say, “It’s time to end this in our nation.” I never saw and I never dreamed that’s possible. One of the things I learned is we forget historically how close we are to the Civil War and slavery.
When I was eight years old, I used to walk across the fields back home, cross the farm over, jump over to each room and sit at the feet of a man named Mr. Garrison. Mr. Garrison fought at the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War. He went in at fourteen as a Confederate soldier. I used to hear him describe the bloody battles of the Civil War. He helped make me one of my core values and principles of a pacifist because in the battle he fought in, 21,000 died in two days to preserve slavery. You’re talking to someone who knew slaves and who knew people who fought in the Civil War. You’re one generation removed, literally.
We had for 400 years of slavery before. That’s the reality.
If you keep it in a historical time complex to see finally, overwhelmingly by two-thirds, and I’ve never seen it before, embrace the task ahead of us putting that period behind us. To put that period behind us, we have to acknowledge what we did. We have not acknowledged our participation in it and we have to do everything we can truly, the vision that we have of America is true.
David, I couldn’t agree more, especially having grown up in DC in the South, having a grandmother who used to talk about her father who had slaves and worked and had a farm.
It wasn’t the Civil War. It was the war between the states. My relatives never called it the Civil War.
In my lifetime, this is the first time that I have truly felt that America and generationally has said, “Enough. We need to heal this deep wound. We need to live by the words that the founding fathers created for everybody.”
When you asked me what I learned, I’ll tell you one thing I learned. I didn’t realize the importance of monuments to people. I never took that seriously. I thought what’s written in stone is due to be washed away. It’s always been my attitude. I realized that for African Americans and others to come up in their cities, in their squares, in their parks, they are facing the monuments of slave owners and traders and people who committed treason against this country. It would be like putting statutes with Hitler in the middle of Berlin. That’s something I learned that yes, indeed, we should spend time on that. That’s a small thing, but if you watch, you learn. There’s an old Bertrand Russell quote that I’ll share with you.
Berty was a miserable, cantankerous person. He won the Nobel prize, and he was such an egotistical maniac. He thought the autobiography of Bertrand Russell deserves three volumes. All you had to do was read the first couple of lines in his autobiography for what basically was the wisest thing in three volumes. “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life, the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” That’s it. If you follow that, you’re okay. You’re on the right road.
You started volunteering for John F. Kennedy in 1959. You’ve been friends with Bill Clinton, Pope John the 23rd, Dianne Feinstein, and many others. I’m curious, who left the biggest imprint on you?
I would say three people. As a child, Gandhi, who I never met, his writings and his life was a great inspiration.
How old were you when you started reading about him?
In my teens. I started reading about him after Dr. King started talking about him. I would say Dr. King is one of them, hands down. I would say Barack Obama still takes my breath away. His quiet power and his refusal to be intimidated by the bigots in Congress. John Lewis, I knew well and every time I was with John, I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. He gave me some good advice back in 1968 when I first met John. People forget. It’s ironic how times changed. In 1963, they almost didn’t let him speak at the march in Washington because he was considered too radical. He was the left-wing of the Civil Rights Movement and Freedom Rides. People forget that the mainstream of the Civil Rights Movement was against the Freedom Rides who were against the sit-ins.
They thought it was going to make their legislative agenda more difficult. Roy Wilkins and others opposed them. Dr. King was considered almost too radical back then. I remember one time, I became important in my own head at an early age to myself and I paid crisis off and on overtime for that. We were talking one time and I said, “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.” He said, “How are you going to relax? What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m too busy. I’m too important. I’ve got to be in this city and this demonstration. The world can’t survive without my advice next week.” He said, “Sit down.” I immediately sit down because when Mr. Lewis said to sit down, you sat down.
He said, “David, I am inspired by you. I like you. I see a great future for you, but you’ve got to leave your personal life in every aspect, the way you want to see the world. If you don’t have that in your own life, if you don’t have relaxation, laughter, fun, sexuality, and joy, how are you going to describe it to others? You won’t know what it feels like. It will sound like a cold ideologue.” That’s been one of my secrets. When I go on vacation, I don’t take my cell phone for business. When I would go on vacation, I’d go on vacation. If I go away for a weekend, I want to be with the people I’m with. I make them put their cell phones away. I say, “You can either talk to me or you talk to it. I’m easy, but I’m not going to sit around and listen to you talk to it. I can read more than I can waiting for you to get off the goddamn phone or text.”
It’s that ability to be present at the moment is important for us to have.
It’s also not only rejuvenating, it enables you to have the time individually to examine where you’re at and where you want to go and whether a Renaissance is needed in your life.[bctt tweet=”Every single human being has the right to plot their own journey and make their dreams come true. Real failure is not trying.” via=”no”]
Also, a chance to float too. I realize I’m creative. I find more creativity and inspiration when I have a moment to pause and float. I imagine myself as a little kid back in my backyard when I was seven old or something.
There was a sense of innocence, a sense of adventure, and we always want to recapture that. We don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to cease to be excited about something I see for the first time. I went to Iceland in January 2020 and saw the Northern lights for the first time and I was dancing around the room and jumping up and down. My friends thought I was going to have a heart attack. Don’t ever lose the joy of being amazed at what you see and who you’re with.
I love hearing the joy of being amazed. In Structured Mischief, one of the things we’re probing is how do we reconnect to our childhood past, to that moment of innocence, to that place where you didn’t have parameters that were causing you to see the world a certain way, but you were open to things. Can you talk more about how you allow yourself to be open to things and that joy that you experienced seeing the Northern lights for the first time?
Maybe like an openness to the unknown too.
It goes back to your real question about fear. We shut out many opportunities to do amazing things, see and meet amazing people either because we’re afraid. We think we’re not equal with people, that you can’t spare time, that you’re too important to deviate from your routine. It goes to the heart of how we view ourselves. Not only must we love others, we must love ourselves. We must consider ourselves vessel-worthy of not only receiving love, which is hard. It’s easy to get. Receiving it is harder and it’s even much harder to love yourself and to love your journey. I remember as a child, when I grew up, I had three things I wanted to do. We didn’t have television. My periscope was Life Magazine that came each week and I devoured it because it opened up the outside world to me.
Things like Hollywood to me was a city that had searchlights going back and forth with bright lights and stars on the sky. I remember the first time I went to the Oscars and I saw that, I immediately went back to childhood and Life magazine and said, “Don’t miss this. You’re here. Don’t get full of yourself that you have missed that you’re here, that you’re seeing those lights.” I was in awe that night. We tend to want to be sophisticated or this is normal. There’s nothing normal about going to the Oscars. I don’t care how many times you’ve gone. It is a joy. It is exciting and seeing people. When I was a child, I said, “I want to see those places where all that’s happening. I want to see those places.” Before bucket-list became in fashion, I created 25 places in high school that I wanted to see before I died.
Have you seen them all?
Every single one. I’m working on my second list.
I was going to say you must have a second list going.
Always have something in front of you because there’s no reason to go forward if you don’t have dreams.
That’s a great segue to another question we had for you, which is advice. What is the advice you’d give someone who’s unsure how to start living their dreams?
Everything I believe in life goes back to the concept of luck. To have dreams and to have them and feel that they’re for others and not you is a real disconnect. “I’ll never get there. That will never be me.” The moment you start saying never, won’t, can’t, shouldn’t and people won’t approve, you’re doomed because those will be self-fulfilling prophecies. I’m going to put a little spice in here because you’re starting to bore me. Even in sexuality, I tell people, “What are your fantasies? Put shame aside, put aside the fear of judgment. What are your fantasies that you have not fulfilled sexually?” They’re embarrassed. Some share them with me and some don’t.
I say, “Let me tell you what those fantasies are about. If you fulfill those sexual fantasies, those are the easiest dreams to make come true. If you feel them and you’ll find out how easy and you’ll find out that you didn’t like some, some are hysterical and some moved you, then you can do the same thing with dreams. You don’t have to worry about judgment. You don’t have to worry about fear. You don’t have to worry about shame. You belong where you want to go.” It’s important to realize that every single human being if they choose, has a right to plot their own journey and their own dreams and to make them come true. What I have done throughout my life, when people say don’t, can’t, shouldn’t, David, what are you doing, and it’s been often. I knew that those were my decisions.
It sounds like you doubled down on them.
My life was not up for a vote. It’s a dictatorship of one. I did fail and I did get hurt and they were right. The real failure would have been not to try.
That leads into a good question, which is what have you failed at?
What have you learned from those failures?
Do we have to go in there?
Absolutely. Now we do.
It also comes back to self-love because it’s being able to love your failures as well.
I don’t know if I’ve learned to love my failures, quite honestly. I’ve learned to learn from them and respect them. Most importantly, in my failures, I’ve learned that it’s important to understand them and my role in them and not to take full responsibility if I didn’t have to. To not beat myself up so bad that if there was a hurricane in the Atlantic, I would take the blame for it. In 1986 was probably my biggest failure. For nuclear disarmament, I went to the Great Peace March, which was a march that was supposed to go across the country of 5,000 people. It captured people’s imagination. It was on the front pages, but I made a serious miscalculation. I believed the press about myself. I saw a headline in The Denver Post, which was clear across the page, the Moses of the Peace Movement. I believed that. I started making decisions to be popular and stripe-free instead of leadership.
I wanted to be loved and I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be Gandhi. I wanted to be Dr. King. You don’t get to choose that. The people choose that. My ego got out of control. As a result of my ego, I made bad decisions that led to the failure of that march as it was envisioned. It was a bad failure. It was on the front page of every newspaper. I had to declare bankruptcy. I had to get therapy. I was viewed as a villain for about a year. Every time I hear that words Great Peace March, my gut would knot up. I sat back and there were a lot of people like Barbara Streisand who made $25,000 contribution to it. When I declared bankruptcy from the march and myself, there was about $400,000 worth of vendors, small businesspeople, that were going to lose money because of their belief in me.
I made upon what Gandhi calls our wilderness year when we are forced to go back and lead. We made a total decision to accept responsibility, accountability, and to build upon that and not be destroyed. I made a decision that my parents had to be not to pay back the billionaires who invested in the Great Peace March. Over the next ten years, I laughed when I call it, “That’s my house.” Instead of buying a house, I paid off every one of those people who I own $400,000 to $600,000. Personally, I didn’t do fundraisers. I didn’t ask other people to pay for my mistakes nor did I announce that I was doing them because that was ego. That would mean I wanted everyone to say, “What a great person he is.” That would have defeated everything. Ironically, by quietly doing that, when I needed some of those people later, they were right by my side.
David, building on this a little, I want to go in one direction. We’re looking at ways to understand what we’re calling Structured Mischief. One idea we have is a minimum viable collective in order to create good in the world and create change. We’ve identified what we’re calling three persona types. These aren’t three people. These are types of people that you need in order to be successful in that minimum viable collective. We’ve got a hacker, a hustler, and a hipster. We want to ask you which one are you? Maybe you’re a combination of all three, but we also wanted to get some feedback about that as an idea.
Tell me what each of those represents because this is a chance for me to learn from you.
The hacker is the computer hacker type who gets in and discovers the undiscoverable, that finds the path to be able to create some computer code. In a literal way, that can help facilitate the cause, or in a less computer environment, create that path, the barriers that are resisting the change. The hipster is I would say the tastemaker. It’s the person who’s got the finger on the pulse of the cultural change. The hustler is the good old person who gets out there and says, “We’re doing this thing.” He convinces people to give money, time, mind space in order to affect the change.
I’ve learned something here. Thank you both. What you’ve defined are community and neighborhoods. I don’t know where I fit into that. I have always viewed myself as a lone prophet. I’m very much a loner. Probably the thing I most regret in my life is not having someone in my life as I enter into my twilight years. I’m alive and a lot of my friends aren’t alive. All of those people needed to create a neighborhood. If I understand you correctly and I liked how you described it, what makes that work is that when it is necessary for each of those people to put their identities aside and to come together as one, they are willing to do so for the greater good.
They use their powers for good to combine.[bctt tweet=”The purpose of a movement is to change minds and hearts. It isn’t to prove that you’re righteous and correct.” via=”no”]
I grew up in the environment when the neighbor’s barn burned down and we were dirt poor. Everybody where I grew up was dirt poor. We didn’t sit there and say, “So and so should give because they have more money.” We would take whatever blankets we had and walk over to the family and give them some blankets, clothes and food. When someone died, we would bake a cake or pie. If we knew they had trouble paying for the funeral, we would go into the viewing and slip in and hand some cash. That’s a neighborhood. That’s a community. That says no matter what the other life path, whether we like them or not, why do we like the hustler or not. A lot of people don’t like hustlers.
They can’t have a derogatory term. I want to reinscribe it in potentially a positive way as well.
It is a positive term. Another word for it is the person who takes what the hacker and the hipster has created and create a community. We should never be afraid of leadership. We’re always afraid. Fear is predominant among us that movements get messed up. We have to watch ourselves and Black Lives Matter and all of these things. The purpose of a movement is to change minds and hearts. It isn’t to prove that you’re self-righteous and right. It isn’t to punish people who come later to a concept of justice than you did.
People say, “I was fighting for Civil Rights in 1966. Where does this person get off coming in 2020, starting to talk about Silverado?” That means I’m one. I should celebrate that person coming in 2020. That’s a step towards the progress. We’ve got to stop punishing people for being not ideologically pure or putting up a test that they have to pass before we allow them to participate with us. It’s the opposite. Our job is to change their minds, to make a whole and a vision of love and joy so comfortable that they want to join us. When we become self-righteous and rigid ideologues, there’s nothing comfortable about that.
There’s such deep cynicism in the world right now because of the political and corporate landscape, corporate imperatives that aren’t looking out for people and workers and end-users and consumers. That’s partially why we’re trying to help put some definition around this idea of a minimum viable collective for good, creating good in the world. Also, trying to see how that resonates back to the corporate world. I do think that there’s a movement afoot, especially facilitated by the social unrest in corporations where they are saying, “We have to change.” We’re hearing CEOs talk that way, which is fantastic. They have to be authentic. They have to act that way.
We all have to learn and take our lessons. The fact of the matter is greed got us into the spot we’re in right now. I’m not putting a tag on any of us. Even people who don’t have a lot of money who wanted more, who wanted more than their neighbor, who envied a car, a house, or whatever. Greed and envy got us into this stuff and we have to pull back. We have to heal America and rebuild America and make sure our schools are good for everyone. Everyone can get healthcare and then they can get love and mental health. We have communities like on the Navajo Reservations where the maternity death rate is higher than in many nations. Think about it.
As you are contemplating your next list of adventures and joy that you want to incur, can you talk a little bit about how you bring playfulness, going back to Structured Mischief and how you embrace playfulness in your life?
I love to laugh. I love to do practical jokes and make people light up. I love being a dirty old bear. Embrace it, love it, parade it shamelessly in front of others to the point where at times they’re uncomfortable. I know I succeeded. I love seeking knowledge. I love reading. I’m reading the history of the Ottoman Empire. I said, “I didn’t know that.” I’m writing. The secret is simply love. I love my friends unconditionally. I don’t put demands on them. If I see them one time a year, that’s not a bad thing. I don’t want to put any litmus test up. When I do see them, I want to make sure it’s special. I don’t want to miss that time and take it for granted. I’ve been more aware of time.
In the past few years, I’ve been in medical condition eight times and I’ve had eleven surgeries, but also I’ve done five off-Broadway shows. I have a home in Milan, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago. I organized a march for Cleve Jones for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in Washington while I was in the hospital and 250,000 people come out. It’s all how you look. The one thing I have avoided at all costs because it can only lead to depression, bad decisions and no happiness and that’s victimhood. That is the most dangerous place. We get angry when people don’t acknowledge our victimhood. David, you were at my last show off-Broadway.
I told the funny things that happened when I was in those surgical rooms and some moving things. You don’t look at what you haven’t been given or what you’ve missed. You look at what love is around you and you look at the condition. I lost 310 friends to HIV and AIDS, including my partner for twelve years. I have every right to be a victim. The fact of the matter is the way I look at that is I have to get the life that they weren’t given. I have to live my life even more full to honor their loss and make sure that people don’t forget them. I’ve had ten surgeries and stays in critical care. It’s important that I take that experience not about me but to show people that you can flourish even under the greatest adversity.
I’m writing plays and books still, and also to take that experience firsthand the economic consequences and stuff, and not become a victim, but become an advocate. Let me tell you what I’ve experienced and this is wrong. I got the best because of who I am. These people are losing their homes because they have a kid with Hodgkin’s disease or leukemia. You become an advocate. Avoid victimhood, become an advocate always. I know it’s like a cliché and I refuse to allow anyone to make it cliché. Love overcomes all.
I love that, David, and that’s a great place for us to end because in your not buying into victimhood and being able to go and create change, ultimately you’re creating the right Structured Mischief. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you for listening to me incessantly. Cecily, what a joy to meet you. You’re more intelligent than David.
I know she is. She’s got much better questions.
We have different types of intelligence, that’s why we make a good pair.
I have great respect for both of you. Thank you for creating this vehicle for people to hear the best and the brightest.
Thank you, David.
It’s been an honor.
No, my honor.
About David Mixner
- Internationally known human rights activist
- Unofficial advisor to elected officials and business leaders
- Known for his work in anti-war and gay rights advocacy