Prop C: Buy Alcatraz, lose the prison, create good vibes with a peace center

Along with prosaic proposals to renovate parks and tweak police retirement going before San Francisco voters next week is something just a little bit different:

Proposition C, “Shall it be City policy that the City should explore and facilitate the acquisition of Alcatraz Island from the United States government to transform it into a Global Peace Center?”

With no legal force or funding behind it, and a host of obstacles before it, not least of which is the act of Congress it would take to switch the island from federal to city hands, the measure's purely symbolic.

But that doesn't meant it hasn't stirred debate.

“Vote no on this ridiculous proposal,” the San Francisco Republican Party (yes, there is such a thing) thundered in a ballot argument against the measure.

“Perhaps we haven't reached the proper stage of enlightenment yet,” was the San Francisco Chronicle's more tempered editorial recommending a “no” vote, “but we're more inclined to support propositions with defined sources of funding attached to them.”

But the man behind the proposal is undaunted.

“Great ideas, very often, inspired ideas are always resisted. It's just par for the course,” says peace activist Da Vid (he legally changed his name to this after it came to him during meditation). “Any time you push the envelope, which is what we're doing here, there are going to be people that are going to push back.

On a recent gloomy day, Vid strode along the rain-lashed walkways of Alcatraz — dark and forbidding under a pewter sky — and expounded on his visions for the island.

Often referred to as “the Rock,” this rough-edged chunk of land in San FranciscoBay is famous as the site of a civil war fortress, military prison and maximum-security federal penitentiary. It's also known for the 19-month American Indian occupation of 1969-71 that is considered a rebirth of American Indian activism.

The idea behind Proposition C is to tear down most of the federal prison and replace it with a dome-shaped peace center as well as other buildings based on the geometry of a hexagram. The project has tie-ins to various mystical beliefs, according to a Web site supporting the proposition.

By converting the island, “a place of pain and suffering,” into a “JEWEL OF LIGHT,” says the Web site, “We will activate Powerful Forces for Cooperation, Reconciliation & Healing.”

Which is more than you can say for most municipal elections.

“We're talking true, spiritual, mecca, artistic space because there's tremendous creative energy in this Bay area that can be unleashed and harnessed in creating this type of a project,” Vid said.

Alcatraz gets about 1.4 million visitors a year, most bent on having their pictures taken in the forbidding remnants of the prison that once held the likes of Al Capone. Vid argues that the peace center would be a much bigger as well as more uplifting draw.

He believes backers would come forward to provide money for the $1 billion conversion project if it had popular support.

Vid says there's no merit in making a brutal old prison a Bay area hallmark and he suggests a museum could preserve the history and influence of the island's various incarnations, in particular the American Indian occupation. Vid noted the island is a sacred site to American Indians and said he is working closely with that community.

But others say the prisons need to stay as a warts-and-all reminder of the way things were.

“That island is a national treasure and it needs to stay as it is,” says John Garvey, a regional historian who has written about Alcatraz.

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, who helped plan the '69 occupation, notes that the military prison at Alcatraz also has a place in history as the place where some Indians were incarcerated for refusing to send their children to boarding schools aimed at “Americanizing” them.

At the office of SF Mayor Gavin Newsom, spokesman Nathan Ballard couldn't take a position on a ballot issue. But he did have this to say: “While the mayor is in favor of global peace, right now we're in a budget crisis, so it would be difficult to come up with the money to buy Alcatraz from the feds.”

On the Net: http://www.globalpeacefoundation.org/

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