A frozen bottle of Coca Cola rolled, fizzed and melted as it lay cold in a miniature casket mounted on a table at the corner of Richmond’s Macdonald Avenue and 37th Street. Residents, some in dark glasses, filed past and poured cans of soda into the cardboard casket, flooding the cold mass before dumping it into a trash can.
“We are saying goodbye to something unhealthy, something we don’t need,” said Jenny Wang, a public health worker and organizer of the ‘soda funeral’, a campaign event held to support the city’s measure to impose tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. “We are dumping soda, the message is one less can of soda for everyone.”
Around a dozen people showed up for the event, held in front of a newly unveiled 25-by-10 foot “Yes on N” mural that depicts Richmond as a city divided between powerful corporations, represented by Chevron and beverage manufacturers, and residents at farmers’ markets and in sports fields.
“I am so angry we are getting all these mailers funded by people from out of town who care nothing about Richmond,” Wang said, as she washed her hands after dumping nearly three cases of soda. “We are calling on all Richmond residents who care about the health of our children to join us in making sure that we reduce the consumption of soda, it’s unhealthy.”
Outnumbered and outspent by a factor of nearly 100 to 1 by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, funded by the American Beverage Association and Cinemark INC. USA, community groups and residents like Wang are grabbing at straws to sway public opinion in favor of Measure N.
”Just like the tobacco tax, it’s a tax to help people stay healthy,” said Brian Chiang, one of the residents who attended the event. “They are fighting against a tax that at most will raise $3 million a year in a very poor city.”
While the coalition against Measure N has spent more than $2.2 million, the Yes on N campaign spearheaded by Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman and supported by individuals like Wang and community groups has spent $29,000. Wang’s ‘soda funeral’ cost $100 to organize, she said.
“Even if [Measure N supporters] lose, it is good for the city of Richmond to start a fire that will spread to other cities,” Wang said. “They may have spent $2 million on this election, and they might even spend more next time, but we want to raise awareness, we will do it again and continue to push.”
At the end of the day, Wang and group of family friends and residents tossed the soda cans and handed out apples, peaches and bouquets of roses.