June is Pride Month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and the ongoing fight for equality. It’s a time to reflect on our progress and the work that still needs to be done. In honor of Pride Month, we’re highlighting an early step in the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, the pioneering civil rights activist and politician whose early career was marked by a creative dog poop campaign — no B.S.
In 1972, Harvey Milk moved to San Francisco’s Castro District, a neighborhood becoming increasingly tolerant and welcoming to the gay community.
Milk’s political career began in 1973 when he ran for the city supervisor board. He lost three elections, each time progressively gaining more votes and a greater following through a series of grassroots movements and protests.
Milk was called the unofficial “mayor” of the Castro District, demonstrating his influence and skilled community building. He eventually won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States.
One of the first things Milk did after being sworn in was to sponsor a bill that required dog owners to pick up after their pets. This was the city’s first “pooper scooper” law, requiring that dog owners clean up after their dogs and carry a suitable container to do so.
San Franciscans frequently cited this as a major quality of life issue. Milk famously said, “Whoever can solve the dogshit problem [in the city] can be elected mayor of San Francisco, even president of the United States.”
To draw attention to the issue, Milk invited the press to a public park where he “accidentally” stepped in some dog poop. His campaign manager later revealed that Milk had gone to the park an hour before the press op and planted the dog poop in a specific spot to ensure it would get caught on camera. It worked, and it earned his initiative a ton of praise.
A collection of Harvey Milk archive files at the San Francisco History Center include containers used as samples for dog owners, including the Scoop Te Doodle, Dog-Gone Bag, Dogmatic, and Poochie Bag. There’s even a letter from one woman who wrote in to suggest that simply using a piece of newspaper would suffice.
It’s funny to consider these scooper contraptions nowadays when we have different sizes, recycled and biodegradable bags, cute dispensers, and even scented options widely available. But the first pooper-scooper law only went into effect in New Jersey in 1971. The day before New York’s 1978 law followed, dog owners bought out stores’ entire stock of these new “pooper scooper” devices.
The “Scoop the Poop” Act was just an early example of the creativity, leadership, and influence Harvey Milk had in such a short time, connecting people of all backgrounds through the small and big issues we all face and the commonalities between us. However, it is widely believed that this small win gave him a bigger platform and a more open-minded audience.
He went on to campaign around civil rights issues, fighting for gay and marginalized communities’ rights. His coalition-building inspired a generation of activists and politicians, and he played a significant role in the early part of conversations we still have today.
Harvey Milk was tragically assassinated 11 months after he was elected, but to say he left a lasting legacy is truly an understatement.
Milk’s story is a reminder that progress is not always easy or straightforward. It takes courage, creativity, and persistence to fight for what you believe in, and the community is stronger when we find common ground.
Whether cleaning up after our dogs or building a more inclusive world for all walks of life, many of the issues Harvey Milk campaigned for nearly 40 years ago continue to be a challenge.
As we celebrate Pride Month, let us honor this legacy by continuing to fight for equality, recognizing the little things that bring us together, and doing what we can to make life less sh*tty for our fellow humans and their dogs — one step at a time.
The next time you’re cleaning up after your pup, know what to look for with Ollie’s guide to healthy dog poop.
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14 August 2023
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