Puke and privatization in Dolores Park

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Editors note: the vow by Chicken John Rinaldi to vomit in Dolores Park has gotten a lot of media attention -- but there's a real story behind it that the press has missed. Chicken sent us this opinion piece presenting his side of the story.

By Chicken John Rinaldi

It happened pretty quickly, when privatization came to Doritos Park. Sorry; Dolores Park. I keep forgetting they haven’t sold the name yet.

It didn’t come like a wraith with icy fingers or an immense monster with an army of lawyers. Privatization came to Dolores Park in the form of a nonprofit incubator for immigrant women entrepreneurs called La Coucina. For a progressive city like San Francisco, you can’t get much more cuddly than that.

I hear the Trojan horse was adorable, too. It had a cute mane and soft eyes and was made of really high quality lumber. You’d be a fool to criticize that kind of craftsmanship. But it was privatization of a park, even so. Selling space on public land without the public’s consent.

And there was resistance, of course. But the resistance was met with the oddest enemy. The resistance didn’t find itself fighting against people who believed that the park should be privatized. The resistance debated with people who did not know what privatization was. The resistance debated with people who did not know it was coming. The resistance debated with people who knew what it was, but refused to recognize it.

“Yummy tacos!” they chirped, as though that actually was an answer. Enron served tacos, too. Every Tuesday. The problem wasn’t the tacos: it was Enron.

“It’s just a food truck!” they said. “For immigrant ladies! No one who gives work to immigrant ladies could ever be involved in something bad!” This kind of thinking, that anything is okay as long as it also raises money for a good cause, is what will sink our own City of Art and Innovation: San Francisco.

The people who resisted asked questions: Why can’t they park the taco truck on the curb, where cars belong? Why drive a truck on the grass? Why not rent a parking space for the truck? Ummmmmm….. “Yummy tacos!!!” They said, looking around the room for approval.

The people who resisted pointed out that the public outreach that was supposed to be done before this kind of thing is authorized was never done. They told us at the first meeting that it was too late to stop. They did that thing where they create the illusion of inevitability.

Some things are almost impossible to undo once they’ve happened. Sacking the city of Troy, for instance. Or detonating a neutron bomb. Or kissing your best friend. Or doing all the cocaine in the cab before you get back to the party. Privatization is like that. Once a government starts getting easy revenue from a public trust, it doesn’t want to go back. Then it starts taking everything else with it: once one park has a food concession, every park that doesn’t have a food concession starts to look like a drain on the budget. Once one park gets a gift shop, every park needs a gift shop. Pretty soon you end up with a city full of park-themed malls. Well, in the rich neighborhoods anyway. The poor neighborhoods will have fences around the parks. Because they can’t carry their weight.

This is what a class war looks like. Straight up. RPD (mainly the general manager, Philip Ginsburg) has declared class war on San Francisco.

We’ve seen where this leads before: like in the news industry. Back in 1967, network news was almost … almost … a public trust. There was tight regulation. There was no consolidated corporate ownership. The people who owned the stations had zero influence on what was broadcast. Most importantly, no one expected network news to turn a profit. It was something the networks did, for the public good, as a condition of getting access to the public airwaves. It wasn’t perfect, but it tended to be solid news about factual issues that were relevant to the times.

That began to change in 1968, when CBS started a show called “60 Minutes,” and for the first time in network history a news show made a profit. Suddenly all news had to make a profit. And then it had to make a bigger profit, and then a bigger profit. It was a slippery slope. By the 2000 election we had FOX news.

As part of this trend, facts got replaced with opinions – because opinions are cheap and profitable. You want to make more money? Cut your foreign reporters, replace them with a pundit who once visited France. Need to make more money? Cut your congressional reporters and replace them with a couple of hacks arguing about congress.

As a result of the rush to make a profit, news coverage has become completely tabloidized … which is why some idiot with a cause needs to throw a “Puke-In” to get attention to a relevant issue like the privatization of parks. And it worked.

A cleverly worded publicity stunt that claimed I was going to “Fill Dolores park with vomit and watch the trailer of privatization float away on a river of puke” got attention. News organizations that never would have run a headline like “parks department fails to consult with residents” were tripping over themselves to be the first to run headlines like “Incensed man vows to puke on immigrants” and “park activist to puke on vendors.” All told, 57 stories appeared online and in the papers.

 Eventually, most of them mentioned that the park was going to get privatized. It was ugly, but it was a win – and with the media the way it is, everything’s ugly.

After it had been going on for two weeks, I had to explain to people that my cheap and obvious publicity stunt was a cheap and obvious publicity stunt. This lead to more headlines. But come on – “puke in?” That’s funny! But for the record, no, I’m not going to throw up on immigrants. I do have $750 worth of novelty vomit, but all I’m really doing is collecting signatures for my petition: Did anyone really think I could puke on another human being … someone who I didn’t know … just because we had different opinions on the location of a taco truck? After I ran for mayor for second place? After Porneokie? After a career in San Francisco spent producing benefits and rallies and meetings and art incubators and pot luck dinners and bus trips to amazing places?

Well, actually… yes. People thought I was going to go assault someone. Welcome to San Fransandiego. Whatever. The point is: the Recreation and Parks department is trying to rent out public parks to make money, and they’re not consulting the neighborhoods. And while they’ve found the nicest, sweetest, bestest cause they could find to rent the first plot of your land too, the next time it might be FOX news. It might be Exxon. It might be Goldman Sachs. They don’t care: they’re just in it for the money.

Privatization came to Doritos Park. Shit, I did it again. Sorry. Privatization came to Dolores Park. And the progressive left of the Mission showed up. We showed up and we showed that we have a gag reflex. We let Mr. Ginsburg know that privatization makes us nauseous. If they’ve got budget problems, close a few golf courses, they’re horrible for our ecology anyway. Endangered species; frogs and what have you. Lowering kids services 30% and then raising your payroll 670% is not gonna work. Duh. You can’t fire all the kids’ teachers that were making $35K a year, close the clubhouses and then hire thirteen $120K a year bureaucrats and not start a class war. There should be 50 neighborhood groups at your door with torches and pitchforks!

If the Recreation and Parks Department needs more money, they should show good faith and manage what they have better first, before selling our future with privatization. And if they need more money from the General Fund, then lets find it! Lets partner with them to seek solutions or restructure how the financial system works so they get the money they need without ruining our city.

As for us eating each other alive over this issue? I think it’s worth our time to talk this out, argue it out. Work it out. It’s definitely worth poking taco truck sized holes in this moral justification for selfishness. Which is what I think we have here. I think fighting that is worth signing a petition, and worth protesting. And it’s worth a cheap publicity stunt. I bet I can think of another one, too.

Chicken John is a San Francisco showman. Here is the petition: