Activists respond to sit-lie with handmade benches

Some sit-lie opponents placed this bench in the Mission late at night on April 10.

Sometime before 1 a.m. on April 11, a group of activists installed handmade benches at 10 different locations throughout San Francisco as a political statement against the city's sit-lie ordinance. The law, approved by voters last November, prohibits sitting or lying down on city sidewalks.

A spokesperson from the group offered to share images of the benches with the Guardian on condition of anonymity. The person noted that the benches were built by hand using wooden pallets found on the side of the road. The images were sent in an email with the subject line, "Angry queers protest sit/lie with public art."

The do-it-yourself bench installation was accompanied by a statement. "These benches are more than places to sit," the message reads. "They are a visible resistance to the privatization of public space." It goes on to list a number of reasons behind the action, beginning with, "We believe that public space should be for everyone, and right now it is being taken away from those of us who need it most. Those of us whose presence in San Francisco has made our city the radical and creative haven it has been for decades. Those of us who have the least access to private spaces (which continue to get more and more unaffordable) and whose safety nets (like our shrinking public services) are being continuously destroyed."

It hasn't been the only statement against the sit-lie ordinance recently. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a homeless advocacy group, recently featured a blog chronicling the first time a sit-lie ticket was issued by the San Francsico Police Department. The post noted, "The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, which coordinated the campaign against the law, has vowed to challenge it in court, with the aid of several public interest law firms and private attorneys who have been chomping at the bit for a good plaintiff."

Meanwhile, homeless advocacy groups in Berkeley are already wary of efforts to push for a similar ordinance patterned after San Francisco's. Here's a word from Berkeley Daily Planet editor Becky O'Malley, writing in an April 6 editorial:

"On Monday I was imprudent enough to go to the Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee (sorry, Governmental Affairs Committee) meeting on their proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance. ... According to the press release that announced the meeting, the ordinance, 'which has yet to be written, will most likely ban sitting or lying on sidewalks of commercial districts within the city during regular business hours. It is likely to be at least partially modeled on a similar ordinance in San Francisco that went into effect in January, 2011.' Coming in late, I realized that my attendance was most likely superfluous, since the small meeting room was packed with a fine assortment of the most impressive defenders of the poor who work in Berkeley, and they were loaded for bear."

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