San Francisco Politics: Jello Biafra and Sister Boom Boom

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In 1979 Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco. It was a dark time. Jonestown and Moscone and Milk’s assassination occurred about a year earlier. The election for mayor was bringing up a lot of bad memories. Everyone was affected in some way- had known someone who died in Guyana, was a friend of Milk, or like myself, went to school with Moscone’s daughters. Dan White’s trial had just happened and most people were upset with the lenient sentence.

My parents had a deep distrust of politicians, most likely stemming from Watergate. Upon reading about Jello my father said something like “He can’t be any worse than the people in there .”

I thought it was fantastic. It was so …………..unexpected. I was young, and had never heard of anyone that young or nutty running for office and dammit San Francisco could use some levity at the time. It must have resonated with some other people too because Jello came in fifth place (6591 votes) and you know there weren’t  6591 punk rockers in S.F. with their shit together enough to go voting.

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A few years later I was given an assignment for my civics class to volunteer for an election campaign and write a report about it.  Jello was still political and was organizing events like Rock Against Reagan, but unfortunately he wasn’t running for office at that time.

But there was someone else running: Sister Boom Boom, one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

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The Sister were a group of gay activists (kindof) founded in 1979, around the time Jello was running for mayor. I would see them in the Castro- campy nuns. They got your attention. They raised awareness on queer issues like the fag-bashing that was going on in the Castro. They raised money for Cuban refugees, and organized the first AIDS fundraiser. They also brought some levity to the city. I remember a few Sisters on the corner of Castro and Market handing out pamphlets that said “Make Plants Wear Pants” lampooning ……who knows? The flyer didn’t say.

Ok, it wasn’t Jello Biafra, but a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence had to be pretty interesting.

The voter bulletin had an address for Sister Boom Boom’s campaign headquarters, but no phone number, so I figured I’d go there to volunteer. Luckily a classmate needed to do the same project and was game. We went to the “headquarters” together- a multi-unit apartment building, no names on the door. We hung outside for a bit, then noticed an open window on the ground floor with a curtain gently blowing in the breeze. We penned a note on a scrap of paper found on the street and pinned it to the window with one of our punk rock safety pins. The note read something like:

“HI! WE WANT TO VOLUNTEER FOR SISTER BOOM BOOM. PLEASE GIVE HER THIS NOTE. WE HAVE TO DO THIS FOR SCHOOL ASAP. HELP! HELP… WE DON’T WANT TO FAIL CIVICS. (plus phone numbers)”

To my complete surprise, Sister Boom Boom called the next day. He said his name was Jack and could use some help handing out flyers. We arranged to meet in the Castro. How cool, I thought, handing out flyers to all the interesting people in the Castro.

When we showed up I think he was a little surprised that we were straight white girls.(a little punk rock, meaning we wore black trench coats which made us look a bit like little old men)  He probably thought he was getting two frustrated queer youth, not a couple of Catholic girls. But he was pleased because he was going to capitalize on it.  He said he’d over campaigned the Castro, and wanted to hit more “straight areas”.  We were going to hand out flyers at Stonestown.

Ugh, this was the mall in the part of town that I lived, and where we went to high school. There would be no one interesting in Stonestown. I knew that already. But we did our duty and handed out flyers. Some people were amused but a lot were offended and would hand the flyers back. It wasn’t fun, but I sure learned about shock tactics and politics.

Afterwards Jack took us to lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory on Castro Street. I can’t remember much about the conversation but he did mention he was an astrologist and he thought he should have run for School Board because he could really make a change there. We probably probably talked about how much school sucked and that we couldn’t wait to graduate so we could go see the Dead Kennedys at the Mab whenever we wanted.

I never talked to Sister Boom Boom or Jack again. I would occasionally see his astrology column in a paper –maybe the Chronicle or possible the SF Weekly. He retired from the Sisters about 4 years later and became a Muslim.

Sister Boom Boom got 23,124 votes for Supervisor and placed 8th in the election, which goes to show you the electoral power of the gay community. 8th wasn’t enough to serve. But Jack made his mark. The city passed a law the following year that said candidates have to run for election under their real names. To this day it’s known as the Sister Boom Boom law.

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Fundraising flyer for Sister Boom Boom…the broom spells out “Surrender Diane” referring to Diane Feinstein, the Mayor at the time (who Jello lost to.)

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