Three people wearing shirts bearing the slogan "I Picked Out My Beverage All By Myself," had asked most of the 50 people in attendance at the "Million Big Gulp March" near City Hall to sign a petition against Mayor Bloomberg's proposed soda ban. One protester asked police officers watching over the designated protest space to sign, but all four declined. Finally, one passerby stepped up to add her name to the petition. Was she outraged over the mayor's Nanny-state proposition? Not exactly. "He took the fireworks off FDR Drive!"
The most common refrain at yesterday's sparsely attended rally was, "It's not about soda, it's about [insert lofty Libertarian platitude]." Indeed, many of the speakers said they swore off soda long ago. The event could have more accurately been called Rally Against Bloomberg. "Let's talk about the thousands of people who are stopped-and-frisked," Ron Moore of the Manhattan Libertarian Party said, shortly after an American flag blew onto him and knocked his mic stand to the ground. "Let's talk about the thousands of people who were arrested for marijuana possession…People whose homes were eminent domained—Mayor Bloomberg, that's not good for their health."
"We have more important things to do," City Council Member Dan Halloran said, seemingly affirming his statement by standing between two young women dressed as giant sodas. "This city has a 9.7% unemployment rate, we need to worry about getting people back to work." Most of the people on the stage persuasively argued that the issue was a trivial one. So why are we here again?
"If they can do this, what will they go after next?" said Zach Huff, the spokesman for the group that organized the rally, NYC Liberty HQ. What exactly is Bloomberg going after anyway? Certainly not hot dogs. And the ban doesn't apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, dairy-based drinks—and the rally's namesake, the Big Gulp, is likely to be exempt. "It's the responsibility of the individual to take care of themselves," Huff says, declining to comment on empirical evidence that shows tougher smoking laws and the trans-fat ban have increased the health of New Yorkers. "I don't want to get into minutiae."
We pointed out that America's 35% obesity rate wasn't exactly "minutiae," even if the mayor's proposal is full of holes and hypocrisy. "They need to educate people, not make criminals out of them," Huff said. "How many people are they going to put in prison over this?" Jim Lesczynski, who was drinking Big Gulps with his three children, put it more succinctly: "If you need to lose weight, get on a treadmill, and leave everyone else alone."
Margarita Mendez, the woman on the street who signed the petition, rattled off a litany of reasons about why she was upset with the Bloomberg administration: "They're cutting Head Start programs, saying they're gonna cut after school programs, people can't afford to live in my neighborhood anymore." Mendez, who lives on the Lower East Side, added, "This soda thing, it's none of his business." So what if Mayor Bloomberg hadn't cut Head Start and maybe tackled some of these more important issues, might she forgive the soda ban? "If it's Bloomberg's, I'm against it."
With Carrie Dennis