While this article demonstrates the workings of petitioning and initiative and referendum in California and raises some legitimate points as to the frivolity of this campaign, it is really worth reading for the quotes from Howard Epstein, Chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party. San Francisco is on the frontier of progressive action and organizing, yet I find it ironic that this story is what the mainstream media have found interesting to report about it. Drawing upon San Francisco's progressives and activists, what other initiatives or petitions could instead be taken up using the same format that might have more real impact on the daily life of San Franciscans? In an effort to study and report in more depth on the topic, more on San Fran will be coming soon. -Editor
Satire at the ballot box to 'honor' Bush
Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
(06-23) 18:49 PDT -- If you've attended an event or festival in San Francisco lately - or even just hung out at a city park - you've probably seen them.
Admittedly, they're hard to miss. Someone in the group is usually toting a large American flag, and another is often carrying a boom box blaring patriotic music. Sometimes one of them dresses up as Uncle Sam.
They're the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, but don't let the serious name fool you. The group's intentions are in the gutter: They want to rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant come January, when the next president is sworn in.
During the inauguration, the group also wants supporters to participate in a "synchronized flush"- a way to send a gift to the renamed plant, which supporters say, would be a "fitting monument to this president's work."
It sounds like a harmless joke, or maybe a college civics lesson gone awry. But the handful of friends who dreamed this up over beers one night say they have already collected 8,500 signatures in support of the plan - 1,300 more than the minimum needed to put the question to city voters in November. When they submit the signatures in July, election workers will have to verify that at least 7,168 are from registered city voters for the measure to qualify for the ballot.
"It's a very simple yes or no question, and there's no real fiscal impact- just the cost of relettering the sign in front of the plant," said organizer Brian McConnell. "This is the way the democratic process is supposed to work, even though it's a silly idea in some people's eyes."
Silly might be an understatement. Howard Epstein, chair of the San Francisco Republican Party, called the measure an abuse of the system and "loony bin direct democracy." He vowed to "use all means" to defeat the measure if it qualifies for the ballot. That includes those very expensive glossy mailers, he said.
"There's no use other than to make these nutcases feel good," Epstein said. "It's typical San Francisco crazies."
Still, most people approached on a recent Sunday seemed open to the idea, even if they all didn't stop to sign the petition.
Bright Winn, a San Francisco plumber, enthusiastically gave his signature to the cause.
"(Bush) has always done well for the affluent of America, and anyone that does well for the affluent should be named for the effluent," he said.
The idea behind the renaming runs the gamut from the humorous ("Clean up the mess caused by Bush!" one supporter shouted ) to the sarcastic ("No other president in American history has accomplished so much in such a short time," the group's Web site reads) to the philosophical.
Satire, McConnell said, is one of the great American traditions.
"Fifty years from now in a civics class, students will learn about the Lincoln Memorial, that other presidents are on Mount Rushmore - and George W. Bush got a sewage plant," he said. "It will prompt people to ask why, and they can discuss the Iraq war, and everything that led to it. People want to forget bad moments of history, and this is our way of making sure that doesn't happen."
To be fair, there are already other tributes to President Bush, including a Stockton elementary school and, of course, the presidential library planned in Dallas.
Organizers of the petition drive believe the measure will pass, noting that 2006's Proposition J calling for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney passed with 58 percent of the vote.
The biggest opposition in this Democratic stronghold, McConnell said, is people who oppose naming anything after the 43rd president.
Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which owns the plant, say they get the humorous intent. But they note that the plant is an award-winning facility that keeps the city's streets and the ocean clean.
"If you are looking for a place to make a negative statement about the Bush administration's impact on the environment, this would be the last place to do it," agency spokesman Tony Winnicker said.
Find out more
For more information about the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco: presidentialmemorial.wordpress.com.
E-mail Marisa Lagos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle