Saturday, June 28, 2014

On changing the world ...

In this Gay Pride weekend, I want to call to mind one of murdered gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk's great accomplishments. No, I'm not thinking of his landmark gay civil rights ordinance. I'm thinking of his "pooper-scooper law."

Within a month of being sworn in, he began to work on a city ordinance to require dog owners to scoop their pets' feces. Dubbed the "pooper scooper law", its authorization by the Board of Supervisors was covered extensively by television and newspapers in San Francisco. Anne Kronenberg, Milk's campaign manager, called him "a master at figuring out what would get him covered in the newspaper".

He invited the press to Duboce Park to explain why it was necessary, and while cameras were rolling, stepped in the offending substance, seemingly by mistake. His staffers, however, knew he had been at the park for an hour before the press conference looking for the right place to walk in front of the cameras. It earned him the most fan mail of his tenure in politics and went out on national news releases.

You can see vintage footage of Harvey's press conference at this link. Harvey had an instinct for what touched the humanity of voters and he didn't mind being thought a bit ridiculous in pursuit of such an issue.

San Franciscans still continue to push back against encroaching dog feces. On my precinct photographing project I've collected dozens of images of attempts to shame dog owners into dealing with their pet's leavings.

When Harvey was promoting the pooper-scooter law, he was laughed at. But as has happened with gay rights, some aspects of our world have changed for the better. I was touched recently by this anecdote from the Times Well Blog.

One of my 11-year-old twin daughters recently came home from school distraught. When I asked why, she lifted her foot.

There was dog poop on her sneakers.

She watched as I flicked away the doggy detritus with a twig, then scrubbed the sole of her shoe with an old brush and hot water. “We don’t like to pick up Buddy’s poop, either,” I could hear her telling her sister, “but we do it because it’s gross to leave it on the sidewalk.”

When I handed her the shoe, cleaned and as good as new, she beamed. “Thanks, Mom,” she said, lacing up. But after a few test twirls in the yard, she stopped.

“Didn’t that dog’s owner know he would cause so much trouble for other people?” she asked, brow furrowing. “He might have even caused trouble for himself if he came back and stepped in it!”

Maybe the lesson that we're all better off when curb our dogs is more socially significant for our society's survival than one might at first grasp. Maybe Harvey was on to something.

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