Two and a half weeks ago, a website went up. There was a Facebook page. There was a Google map. Its only instructions: on March 27th, do something in public in San Francisco. Make it fun.

“A friend and I were just brainstorming how to turn around the narrative in the media that the streets of San Francisco were this dangerous, unpleasant place,” says Andy Blue, one of the site’s builders. And so “Stand Up Against Sit/Lie” was born.

Sit/Lie’s life began even earlier.  On  March 2nd,  Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced legislation that would make it illegal to sit or lie down in any public space in the city between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.   Newsom says the legislation was inspired after a walk with his infant daughter down Haight Street – he saw a man smoking crack, while sitting down and blocking the door to a business.

Though the man in question was already in violation of several city laws, Newsom and police chief George Gascón decided that the situation in the Haight had become ungovernable to the point where a new law was necessary: one that would allow police to ticket, and ultimately arrest people for sitting or lying in public areas, without requiring a complaint from a citizen first. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the law this Tuesday. If it is rejected, Newsom has stated that he will put it on the ballot.

Blue and others decided that did not sound like fun.  Their protest, on the other hand, would be.

So on Saturday there was banner making, and a brief rally at Castro and Market Street, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra and speeches were made (local writer Rebecca Solnit pointed out that the Buddha had attained enlightenment by meditating for three days under a Bodhi tree that he almost certainly did not own.)

Otherwise, if it weren’t for the “Stand Up Against Sit/Lie” posters taped to various objects, it would be impossible to identify Saturday’s activities as political action of any kind. People sang karaoke, danced in the street, soaked in an improvised hot tub on Caesar Chavez, held yard sales. Blue, when asked how he felt about people using the protest website to promote their yard sales, responded “A yard sale is a protest.”

Indeed, yard sales can inspire conversations about the appropriate use of public space with the local constabulary, reports Jenny Villagaran, who held a combination protest/yard sale at 18th and Guerrero with her boyfriend, Derek Taylor.

An inviting parking lot at 19th and Valencia that is popular for the display opportunities provided by its chain-link fence is particularly prone to visits from the police. “I used to live on Capp Street,” says Villagaran. “And there never were cops there when I needed them. I felt kind of neglected.” As she talks, a woman behind her struggles into a plaid skirt, then flounces in it experimentally. “There were people sleeping on the street. There were people doing drugs. There were people having sex outside my door. I worried for those people, especially when they would have fights with each other. But I never felt threatened by them. I know that they say this law has to be citywide, so that it can’t be pushed into another neighborhood. But there are always going to be pockets. Like my old street.”

Stated reasons for participating in the protest varied from the polticial, to the hedonistic, and then back again. But all of the participants cited regular, daily encounters with people living on the street. “I understand the motivation for it,” says DJ Spider, who is hosting a bluegrass radio show from a carpet on the sidewalk in front of Pirate Cat radio.

“Those kids in the Haight are rude, and it’s totally unacceptable. But I think that community policing is the way to deal with it. In the Lower Haight, having two community cops made a huge difference. In the Upper Haight – you just don’t see many cops walking the beat, and engaging with people.”

“I am against Sit/Lie. And all new laws, actually,” says former mayoral candidate Chicken John, emerging from an improvised hot tub in front of his warehouse on Caesar Chavez. “I will exploit any opportunity that the agents of control afford me to the end of community building. And I am committed to leisure.”

“I met all both of my roommates at public events,” says Brooke Cooley, ladling out a cup of chili in front of a closed real estate office at Valencia and 22nd. Next to her, a woman belts out “Crazy,” by Patsy Cline on a home karaoke machine. “I used to live on Polk Street. There were a lot of people living on the street. Some of them I considered to be my neighbors. I feel like: that could be me one day.”

“It’s not going to go through,” adds Supervisor John Avalos, who joined the crowd of chili-eaters on his commute back to the Excelsior.  He declines to sing karaoke. Over the sound of a man doing a surprisingly good rendition of “When I’m Sixty-Four” Avalos adds, “They’re trying to use this as a wedge issue. To scare people. But laws like this have been tried before. They don’t understand how much we value diversity here.”

“I am here because I am a citizen and these are my sidewalks,” says Linda Lagunas Atwood, as she pours a glass of lemonade at 20th and Florida.  “I don’t think it’s for the police to decide who is or is not a vagrant.”

Lagunas Atwood reports good relationships with her local police, at least now that she’s no longer a teenager being told by them to move along and go hang out someplace else. “We had a shooting around the corner, and the cops and ambulance responded really quickly. And I got mugged down the block on the way back from my bachelorette party. We had no trouble flagging down a police car. Everyone got mugged but me. I told the muggers that I was getting married in a week, so they let me keep my purse.”

She sets down the lemonade. “Would you like this to tickle, or not to tickle?” she says, reaching under the folding table for what appears to be a bottle of vodka.

“What are you doing?” a small child asks Lagunas Atwood.

“We’re protesting,” she responds. “Do your parents mind if I give you a cookie?”

Follow Us

Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published.

  1. The conspiracy marches on. Mayor hair saw an area where citizens were complaining and is now using it to his own advantage. The larger conspiracy of the progressive mind is always interesting but the history of this issue didn’t just spring up a month ago, and it wasn’t designed to thwart the superior values of the entitled progressive.

    Merkirimi and the rest of the utopian progressives have better things to do then address the concerns of the people in their districts. The people who live in the Haight had been asking Merkin to do something about the thugs and he did nothing, just as I have E-mailed do nothing Campos on the same type of subject. They have more important things to do than serve the citizens of their district.

    Now after these actual citizens of the city get fed up it’s all about an attack on homeless people? If the so-progressives like Merkin listened to the actual voters instead of professional criers this wouldn’t be an issue.

    As there are already enough laws on the books and as a kid was I tormented by the cops for no good reason, I feel this law is a bad idea. Still all the tin foil hat non sense here means that you have no idea how this was festering or just refuse to be in touch with reality and see the conspiracy everywhere.

  2. Let us remember that M. Getty rode to power on the hot wind of “care not cash,” and now he’s in another campaign. Only the deeply cynical would assume this was just another campaign commercial, rather than a serious effort on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce to “solve” the city’s homeless problems by driving homeless out of the city. Lucky he’s not running for Governator.

  3. I agree that homelessness needs to be addressed and that current city and national policy does not do this appropriately. I do not think that you could find one person who participated in this protest who disagrees with that statement. Currently, there are 1100 shelter beds for and estimated 6500 homeless people. Every day many try to get into these beds and are turned away into the street. Therefore, making it illegal for these people to exist, while at the same time not providing a viable alternative is a travesty. This law would criminalize everyone for participating in normal behavior, but it would be used against people who have nowhere else to go. Just because I am against a ban on everyone sitting on the sidewalk does not mean that I think that it is a viable place for people to live.

  4. The streets is a bad place. Those that advocate letting the homeless live in it, sleep in it, and lie in it are not showing compassion for them. The streets is where the homeless end up abused and eventually die. There’s no protection for anyone on the streets, not dogs and cats, not even rats. The thing to do is get them into shelters and get them to use the services available to help them establish some kind of life. To protest it in this spectacle with singing and sunbathing is to make the streets look fun and entertaining. While it is cool those of you who can return to your safe and comfortable homes afterwards, those living on the streets go back to that dangerous environment and try to make it through another day. San Francisco needs to grow up and look at issues from the not so pleasant point of view and spend some real effort to solve these problems. Protest is easy, but protesting doesn’t solve problems. San Francisco is the home of protesting, but no problems ever get solved. And the homeless continue to die on the streets of San Francisco without anyone ever caring about it.

  5. I find it entertaining that the authoritarian progressives like Avalos are against this law.

  6. John – Thanks for the correction. I’m very sad to have missed the Midnight Cowboy theme.

  7. actually I ended up singing Everbody’s talkin at me, theme song to midnight cowboy by Harry Nilsson.

  8. Its not just an inconvenience or a campaign against the disenfranchised (which it also is). Sit/lie is a clear violation of our Constitutional right to free assembly. Guard that right carefully, as we live in one of the few places on Earth where that right is guaranteed by law.