Pray-in at S.F. gas station asks God to lower prices
By David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Rocky Twyman has a radical solution for surging gasoline prices: prayer.
Twyman - a community organizer, church choir director and public relations consultant from the Washington, D.C., suburbs - staged a pray-in at a San Francisco Chevron station on Friday, asking God for cheaper gas. He did the same thing in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday, with volunteers from a soup kitchen joining in. Today he will lead members of an Oakland church in prayer.
Yes, it's come to that.
"God is the only one we can turn to at this point," said Twyman, 59. "Our leaders don't seem to be able to do anything about it. The prices keep soaring and soaring."
Gas prices have been driven relentlessly higher this year by the bull market for crude oil, gasoline's main ingredient. A gallon of regular now costs $3.89, on average, in California, while the national average has hit $3.58.
To solve the problem, Twyman isn't begging the Lord for any specific act of intervention. He is not asking God to make OPEC pump more oil. Nor is he praying for all the speculative investors to be purged from the New York Mercantile Exchange, where crude oil is traded.
Instead, he says anyone who wants to follow his example should keep it simple.
"God, deliver us from these high gas prices," Twyman said. "That's all they have to say."
Consumer advocates who have been howling about gasoline prices for months say they understand his frustration, even if they haven't tried his tactics.
"Given the complete inertia and silence of this White House on a crisis that has people feeling just hopeless, prayer is probably as good as anything," said Judy Dugan, research director with the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog. "Frankly, I wish them luck."
Her organization has a list of proposals to help tame gas prices. Federal officials could stop adding oil for the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and start selling some instead, for example. That would boost supplies in the market and drive down the price. Officials also could tighten oversight of crude oil trading.
"This is government's job - it shouldn't be God's job - but government is in gridlock or ignoring it," Dugan said.
Some of Consumer Watchdog's ideas may finally be gaining support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on Thursday asked President Bush to stop filling the strategic oil reserve. And on Friday, she called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the oil market is being manipulated.
Twyman, 59, has a history of taking on interesting causes, some whimsical, some deadly serious. Three years ago, he led a petition drive to have Oprah Winfrey nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It didn't work, obviously, but he says he had a great time with it.
His real passion, however, has been persuading African Americans to become bone marrow donors. A friend of his who had just adopted a child died from leukemia in 1995 without ever finding a donor, and Twyman threw himself into the cause.
For years, racial and ethnic minorities have been underrepresented on the national donor registry, a problem because people in need of a transplant have a greater chance of finding a match with donors of the same race or ethnic group. Twyman estimates that his bone marrow drives, many of them organized through churches, have netted 14,000 potential donors. The drives also brought him an Above & Beyond award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Twyman knows his approach to gasoline prices may sound simplistic. He's quick to point out that anyone praying for cheaper fuel also has an obligation to do something more active about the problem.
"People have to walk more, leave those cars at home, and carpool, man," he said. "We have to become more practical."
He's also hoping that if enough people start praying at the pump, politicians who might actually be able to do something about the problem will listen.
But he says his prayer for gas-price relief from God is sincere.
"I've seen him work miracles in my life," Twyman said. "He told us that all we need to do is ask and believe. He can do it, and he will do it, but we have to ask him to do it."