Saturday, June 06, 2009

Freak Power On The Prairie

Freak Power On The Prairie: The Campaign I'd Like To See

In 1970, the greatest writer on the planet, Hunter S. Thompson, ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado. The campaign, prefaced by his amazing article "Freak Power in the Rockies," seemed outlandish, but the premise was very serious. Aspen had changed and the counterculture was unrepresented in local government. As the Doctor wrote:
Aspen is full of freaks, heads, fun-hogs and weird night-people of every description…but most of them would prefer jail or the bastinado to the horror of actually registering to vote. Unlike the main bulk of burghers and businessmen, the dropout has to make an effort to use his long-dormant vote. There is not much to it, no risk and no more than ten minutes of small talk and time – but to the average dropout the idea of registering to vote is a very heavy thing. The psychic implications, “copping back into the system,” etc., are fierce…

And we learned, in Aspen, that there is no point even trying to convince people to take that step unless you can give them a very good reason. Like a very unusual candidate…or a fireball pitch of some kind.

"Freak Power" outlines a campaign of outlandish and legally questionable promises that exaggerated, yet illustrated, the very real problems. Traffic congestion was addressed by a pledge to tear up and sod the streets. Abuse of the land by developers was greeted by a proposal to rename Aspen "Fat City" and tearing down all buildings that blocked views of the mountains. Thompson only moderated his views by pledging not to use drugs while on duty. The platform was combined with a very basic, practical, we outnumber them get out the vote program. Thompson came dangerously close to winning.

Iowa City's "freaks" are the students, perennially left out of local government. As we saw in the 21 bar vote in 2007, a We Outnumber Them strategy can work in Iowa City politics as well, as long as there's a compelling motivation to vote. So we know the strategy can work. All we need is the Thompsonian "fireball pitch," which I hereby propose.

  • Iowa City is a college town. This is a strength, not a problem. We need to embrace our strength. Anyone who says they love the Hawkeyes yet complains about the students will be exiled to Marengo, which is what Iowa City would be without the undergrads, and forced to miss the first quarter of all home games while stuck in an I-80 traffic jam.

  • Downtown is a place to go out, not a place to shop. Retail moved west in 1998 when Coral Ridge Mall opened, and ain't never coming back unless we bulldoze the entire Pentacrest to make it a flat, free parking lot (which would be filled by 7:30 every morning with University traffic). But accepting our new condition has been delayed a decade by the over-representation of downtown retail on the city council.

  • The 21 year old drinking age is an unenforceable law, and if the state of Iowa wants us to enforce it they can foot the bill. A law that cannot be enforced is a law that can't be respected, and breeds contempt for the law and the legal process in general.

  • The council's January organizational meeting will be held at the State Capitol in Des Moines, where the new council will address the "underage drinking problem" (sic) by lobbying the Legislature for a law consistent with the 18 year old right to vote. Once that's addressed, then the city can address the legitimate issue of alcohol abuse without age in the way.

  • In the meantime, the fine for PAULA will be reduced to one dollar cash, payable immediately to the officer in beer-soaked quarters. Tickets will be issued on site and redeemable for a cab ride home (recipient responsible for own tip and puke cleanup). Proceeds will be used to retrofit sidewalks made of that spongy stuff from the Ped Mall playground, so falling drunks will suffer fewer injuries.

  • The vacant site of the former Vortex will be converted to beer truck parking. Instead of unloading trucks mid-street, a fleet of Cooper Minis will shuttle deliveries to the bars, one keg at a time.

  • Likewise, since marijuana prohibition is also unenforceable, the fine for simple possession will be reduced to $5, in honor of the nickel bag, and the charge will be renamed Stinking Up The Great Outdoors. Officers issuing such tickets will be required to sing the Subway Five Dollar Footlong song, complete with hand gestures and dance. Tickets will be redeemable for said sub, as recipients will no doubt be hungry, dude.

  • Recipients will also be issued towels to stuff under their dorm room doors. The University will be reimbursed for the higher water bills resulting from RAs flushing joints, the preferred legal response back in my day.

  • With these changes, jail crowding on weekends should be less of a problem, but any overflow can be housed in the football dorm, which is just easier for everyone. Work release for games will be considered.

  • The city will make up for the lost revenues by increased tickets for anti-bike offenses like blocking sidewalks or refusing to share the road (a share of all proceeds donated to the Donald Baxter Legal Defense Fund).

    Officers will also occupy their time by posting signs at all entrances to University Heights reading WARNING: SPEED TRAP.

  • The city charter will be revised to expand the council to 25 members, roughly one from each voting precinct. Districts will be drawn to maximize representation of previously under-represented groups (no student has been on the council since the present district system was enacted in 1975). With a city of 60,000, and about 25,000 students, that should translate to about ten students of 25 council members.

  • Terms will be shortened to two years with all seats up each election, allowing students to vote and serve more often and making the council more responsive.

  • The larger council will require a move out of Harvat Hall. Meetings will be held on the dance floor at Brothers, with the mayor chosen either by direct vote of the people or a dance contest. Harvat Hall will be converted to an alcohol free fun center, "Planet H." It will then be rented out to the University six months later when Planet H closes for lack of business.

  • Rent control failed twice in the `80s so we won't go there. Instead, rental permits will require landlords to live one month per year in one of their rental properties, on the average income of their tenants. Ramen noodles--you'll love `em.

  • Normandy Drive will be recommissioned as a water theme park to compete with the Amana water slide, with whitewater rafting every decade or so with each 500 year flood. The new amusement park will be expanded by installing a roller coaster over a re-opened Hutchinson Avenue hump.

  • Finally, to complete the park, Marc Moen will be commissioned to build the world's tallest building, on stilts, on the Fine Arts Floodplain, and our nickname will change from "Athens on the Prairie" to "Dubai on the Prairie."
  • No comments: