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'Season of the Witch': A Dive into the Tumultuous Era of Heroes, Hippies, Druggies, Deadheads and Psycho Killers

David Talbot’s book is an insightful, inspirational and frightening take on the cultural and political transformation of the U.S.

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DH: Let's end up with this quote from Cleve Jones: "I think every city has a soul, every city is unique and special. But for San Franciscans, I don't think there could ever be another place to call home. And a lot of it has to do with what I saw that night: with this ability to suffer horrible and dreadful events, earthquakes, civil turmoil, assassinations, and to not only endure but create something beautiful from it."

So that’s the voice post-Harvey Milk's death. Is that a fair representation?

DT: For me, that kind of sums up the book in a way. And Cleve is a great voice for that because he’s someone who went through the trauma and the glory. He was this kid who shows up on the streets in the Castro and is taken under the wing of Harvey, who probably thought he was cute. And Cleve is this kind of force of nature. And he became sort of the embodiment of Harvey’s spirit. And so when Harvey dies, he literally inherits the bullhorn — Harvey had given him his bullhorn that he used to rally the troops all the time, in all those demonstrations in the streets.

And so Cleve talks about the devastation that fell over the community and the whole city after those double assassinations and he thought that was it — the end of the dream. But he’s going to try one more time to rally the troops and march down to City Hall after Harvey and Moscone are killed. And he has the bullhorn out, and he just sees, suddenly, people from all over, and not just gays, but all different races, all different ages, all converging on Market Street to march. And he realizes, the city does have a soul and it has not been killed. And then San Francisco keeps rising again and again after the earthquake, after assassinations, after riots, after murder sprees like Zebra and Zodiac.

And that’s, I think, the true spirit that I tried to convey in the book of ultimately this triumph, after everything the city’s gone through. But it’s a triumph not just for the city, but for its values, San Francisco values.

DH: How are those values represented today? 

DT: Most recently, when President Obama acknowledged that people of the same sex have the right to marry. Gay marriage was fought out first here in San Francisco — people died for that right, literally. So San Francisco values are still very relevant. They crop up in every presidential race, they're used as a whipping board by the Right, and I wish that more Democrats at the national level would, instead of running away from those values, would say these are the right principles and we’ll take a stand on them. But more and more people are just coming to accept those values because they see that they are decent, fundamentally decent. 

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

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