Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Janice Mirikitani Interview
Narrator: Janice Mirikitani
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: January 19, 2016
Densho ID: denshovh-mjanice-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So describe what happened yesterday. Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day.

JM: Yesterday was Martin Luther King's birthday, 2016. Cecil and I received an award, and there were protesters outside, lots of cops.

TI: Who were these protesters?

JM: They were the ones who were angry about (Mario) Woods' murder, who was shot, what, fifteen, twenty times, which truly was overkill. And so they were demanding the mayor to fire the police chief, and they were demonstrating at the Marriott where the breakfast for King was being held. And we were being honored, and a lot of them were young, most of them were very young. And so the labor leader came out and said, "This is Martin Luther King's birthday. Why are you protesting here? And we're honoring Jan and Cecil at Glide, they serve homeless people, come on." So they go, oh. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so they didn't know?

JM: They didn't know; they didn't seem to know. So the police were not allowing the protesters into the hotel by the request of the hotel, not the committee. So when this young man, I guess, broke rank and ran into the room and started yelling at the people, "You should be ashamed, look in the mirror, you should feel shame for not joining us," and he was criticizing the mayor and criticizing politicians in general, and he ran out of the room, Cecil said to the emcee, "Get that young man back in here and tell all those protesters to come into the ballroom." And so when we went up to get the award, Cecil invited them to join us.

TI: Up on stage?

JM: On the stage when we were getting our award. And he was talking about King, this is what King was really about, it's about protesting for what you really believe in. And we all believe in justice for all of us, and we all have different ways of expressing it, but we have to work together. And what King really was about was about love. Of course, I started crying, everybody else started crying, but the protesters just were like, "You're actually letting us do this?" And I talked about love and how important it was for me, and how important it was for me to have the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King awaken the kind of smoldering that was happening within us as Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II, and how we started the reparation movement very closely aligned with the Civil Rights Movement.

TI: But going back to yesterday, though, again, what you and Cecil did was extraordinary, what Cecil did, because I think about a lot of the politicians today, and they were part of the movement back in the '60s and '70s. And I think it's a valid criticism that many of them maybe not have turned their backs to it, but they aren't really doing much.

JM: Well, politicians are politicians. Once you become -- I mean, somebody wanted Cecil to run for mayor, I said, "If you run for mayor, I'll divorce you."

TI: You think because it will change him?

JM: Yes. Because when you become a politician, you have to compromise. You have to compromise, and compromise to me means that you're in danger of selling your soul. Now, I'm not saying all politicians sell their souls, I am not saying that. But I think that if you're a politician that you have to be concerned about the total community, and you have to be concerned about people who have money, who don't have money. I mean, every mayor had gotten criticized about the homeless, but every mayor has not been able to do that our current mayor is doing which is to bring in developers because they're getting a tax break. Now that is creating a really big crisis around economic injustice. And so he's going to get fire from a lot of different sides, and that, I think, is the job of the politician, of a leader, of a political leader, they have to make decisions, and they have to make decisions on behalf of a city. Now, you may not agree with it, and I'm not being a liberal here, I'm just saying I understand it. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and trash the mayor, trash the chief, because if we were to fire a police chief every time there was a shooting in any city, we'd run out of candidates for police chiefs within a week. You know what I mean?

TI: But you've been on the side of these protesters. So what's their goal? What do they, where do they go?

JM: I think that they want a voice, I think they need to be heard, and I think that's what was so transformational of yesterday's event at the Martin Luther King breakfast. Because they were heard, because they were respected, and because it was also the environment. The environment was it was a Martin Luther King celebration. It's different from a mayor being inaugurated at City Hall where you're being yelled and shouted down. And when the mayor appeared for the Martin Luther King celebration, he said that they were shouting him down. And I'm saying I think that that is the difference, which is why I don't want Cecil to run for mayor. I wanted him to be the spiritual leader, I wanted to be a moral leader, and I think there is a huge difference. And it's not to say one is better than the other, it's just to say that that's his genius. It's his genius to be able to spiritually and morally lead people in a way that they could see something that's bigger and better than themselves.

So yes, on the side of the protesters, we were adamant the Vietnam War was wrong. It was wrong; history will prove that it was wrong, we lost that war, and we lost so many, many young people in that war, our people, not just the Vietnamese. And yes, killing black people wholesale is wrong. So when the police were surrounding the Black Panthers in the '60s and early '70s, we went there to surround the building so they'd have to break through our lines in order to break into their offices. And we would bring together coalitions of... when Patty Hearst was kidnapped and I'm not sure what year that was, I can't remember anymore.

TI: Yeah, I can't remember either. It was about that time, though, the Symbionese Liberation Army.

JM: It was around about that time, the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation front. And they kidnapped Patty Hearst, Randolph Hearst called Cecil and said, "I need your help. I need to understand what their demands are." So he asked Cecil to pull together coalitions of radical movement leaders from the Native Americans, the Latin community, from the African American community, from the Asian American community, LBGTQ community, all these different leaders. And he said something to Randolph Hearst which I think was so poignant, which only he could... it's so simple, and yet so basic. Randy said -- I can call him Randy -- Patricia Hearst's father said, "These newspaper people keep asking me things. Do you have any advice for me?" And Cecil said, "Randy, did you ever tell Patty that you love her? She's your daughter and you love your daughter." And Randy went like that, it was so interesting. Which is what I mean by kind of the spiritual force that helped me.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright (c) 2016 Densho. All Rights Reserved.