Activists hold “Sitting Olympics” to protest controversial sidewalk ballot measure

A musical group plays during the "Sitting Olympics," an event put on at The Starry Plough by a coalition against Measure S.
Matthew Lee/File
A musical group plays during the "Sitting Olympics," an event put on at The Starry Plough by a coalition against Measure S.

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Opponents of Berkeley’s controversial sidewalk ballot measure held a “Sitting Olympics” benefit on Sunday to raise awareness of the issue and protest the measure, which they believe violates civil rights.

About 30 members of the community and activists against Measure S — which will restrict sitting on city sidewalks within specific hours — gathered at the Starry Plough Pub at 3101 Shattuck Ave. to take part in a benefit for and hosted by the Berkeley Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition.

“Our main purpose is to salute the extraordinary athletes who brought sitting to the fore,” said Carol Denney, who organized the event. “But we hope to raise consciousness about Measure S, which would criminalize the simple and peaceful act of sitting down.”

The benefit featured various comedic and musical acts by local Berkeley celebrities, including comedian Wes “Scoop” Nisker and musician Hali Hammer. Denney said the Irish pub was chosen for the event because it was one of the first businesses to publicly oppose the measure.

Throughout the event, Denney encouraged people to donate to the coalition and encouraged the acts to bribe the judges in an attempt to receive homemade gold, silver and bronze medals that would be handed out at the end of the benefit.

“I understand that there’s going to be people that are opposed to (the measure),” said Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. “There are people who are invested in maintaining the status quo. It allows people to deteriorate on the sidewalk, and the status quo harms people because it harms businesses.”

If voted into law in November, the measure would ban sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts of the city between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Violators would then be required to pay $75 or perform community service on the first offense.

“I think it is good silly fun, and it calls attention to one of the absurd aspects of the law where it makes sitting down on the sidewalk illegal,” said Bob Offer-Westort, campaign coordinator for No on S. “It’s already illegal to obstruct the sidewalk and threaten people, so there’s nothing really people can do that isn’t prohibited already except for sitting down itself.”

Contact Andy Nguyen at [email protected].

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  • YES on Measure S!!!!

    The Anti-S flyers are literally jam-packed with lies, saying among other things, that children would not be able to have lemonade stands if the measure passes.

    Measure S is only for BUSINESS DISTRICTS during BUSINESS HOURS.
    Anyone can sit anywhere they want OUTSIDE OF BUSINESS DISTRICTS 24/7, and within business districts between 10pm-6am.

    The people who oppose Measure S are **LIARS** who are wiling to knowingly mislead Berkeley voters to get what they want.

  • Alf

    What will predictably happen, if you prevent homeless people from sitting on commercial arteries during the day, when no shelters are open, is that they will sit on residential streets, or parks (yes, an even bigger crowd on People’s Park), or the UC campus. I don’t see exactly how this is better.

    • [I don’t see exactly how this is better.]

      If you think they are going to start sitting in residential streets, then you are truly clueless. The squatting bums sit on Telegraph in order to solicit handouts from foot traffic into the local stores and commercial establishments. Most people figured that out already, even if it’s beyond your own mental pay grade…

    • Yup

      I would rather see the bums hanging out in People’s Park, where they belong, than driving business away from Telegraph.

  • Lestin

    I loved this event. I barely stopped laughing for an hour and a half. The acts were amazing, the company was good, the Starry Plough is wonderful.

    It’s funny that we even need to campaign against Measure S. We know from San Francisco that sit/lie is a complete failure. And an expensive one, at that.

    But we do, because it’s easy for something like this slip by. I’m so glad we have a thriving community of people who care in Berkeley, who will stand up to bad laws that target homeless people. We need all the voices we can get, so that everyone knows by November 6: making it a crime to sit down doesn’t help businesses, it doesn’t help people, and it drains city resources that we desperately need to solve real problems.

    • Fact Check

      Sit/Lie in San Francisco has been a SUCCESS in the neighborhood that fought for it, and where it is currently being enforced – The Haight.

  • Stan De San Diego

    These attention-starved idiots are merely geriatric 1960’s hippie holdovers trying to relive the glory days of their wasted youth, and nothing more.

  • Calipenguin

    Shouldn’t it be called the “Squatting Olympics”?

  • I_h8_disqus

    Of course, a pub that is about 20 blocks away from the young adults who are sitting around BART or Telegraph can support opposition to the measure, and the anti-measure group has no problem meeting there either. Let them bring their bag pipes over to the BART and sit with the kids instead of hiding a couple miles away. One thing I really dislike about some Berkeley residents is that they hide away in their quiet little neighborhoods from everything bad and support the bad activities. If you don’t support the measure, then run your protest where the action is.

    • I mean, if you were paying attention you would’ve realized that we had our campaign kickoff right next to downtown Berkeley BART…

      • I_h8_disqus

        A kickoff isn’t much. Take the real events to the areas where the action is happening. If you want to support sitting, then hold every event with the sitters. You could have had transportation available so the sitters could party with the supporters at the pub.

  • Guest

    “It’s already illegal to obstruct the sidewalk and threaten people, so
    there’s nothing really people can do that isn’t prohibited already
    except for sitting down itself.”

    Bob Offer-Westort conveniently overlooks gutter punks’ harassment of
    students and other passersby through their whining for “spare change”.
    When passersby who face the same pathetic characters every day ignore
    them, these gutter punks curse and make obscene gestures.

    Anyone who opposes this measure is either a goo-goo, intellectually deficient liberal or someone who panders for votes and support from the vocal community activists.

    • Berkeleyan

      Absolutely. STUDENTS, please do yourselves and the surrounding community a favor: vote YES on Measure S. If gutter punks are harassing you, what makes you think they’re not harassing us permanent residents in Berkeley? They ARE! The trouble is that most students who take the time to register and vote in our local politics are radical activists who vote down sensible approaches to improving the community and vote up the craziest shit the city council can come up with.

      Won’t you please, please, please consider how our community is being affected by gutter punks? Bless our chronic homeless, I love ’em to death and they don’t bother anyone. This measure is not intended to target them, but another rowdy element with bad behavior.

      Don’t believe the lies on measure s. Read the language of the measure for yourself.

      • Lestin

        One statement here is verifiably false: “This measure is not intended to target [chronically homeless people] but another rowdy element with bad behavior.”

        I recommend reading the measure. It would make it illegal for anyone to peacefully sit down. Chronically homeless people, the elderly, and children tying their shoes. “Don’t worry, it will be selectively enforced against groups I don’t like” is an argument against Measure S, not an argument for it.

        This law wouldn’t deal with harassment–that’s already illegal. It wouldn’t deal with blocking the sidewalk–that’s already illegal.

        It would waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of Berkeley money sending people to jail for being poor, in a city that has 135 shelter beds for 600 homeless people.

        Want to help people get off the sidewalks? How about having a shelter that’s open during the day?

        • Guest

          Your suggestion about having a shelter open during the day for these bums is laughable. They already cost too much taxpayer money. Send them to People’s Park if they have nowhere else to go.

        • Calipenguin

          Berkeley’s gutter punks don’t go to shelters in the daytime. It’s much more profitable to panhandle in front of high foot traffic areas such as Telegraph and Shattuck. In any case, if we build 600 shelter beds then 1200 new homeless people will arrive from surrounding cities and states.

        • [I recommend reading the measure. It would make it illegal for anyone to
          peacefully sit down. Chronically homeless people, the elderly, and
          children tying their shoes.]

          Maybe if some of these “chronically homeless” people spent their time looking for work, they wouldn’t need to sit on the sidewalk on Telegraph in the first place.

      • Chris

        Yes–do read the actual language of Measure S: It states clearly that state and local laws addressing encampments on sidewalks (with or without dogs) already exist! The measure says police can’t enforce already-existing laws due to insufficient resources–yet now they create a new, duplicative law to enforce? Meanwhile zero new services to address homelessness. Measure S also says clearly that diverting police resources from more serious crimes is a concern–and that’s precisely what Measure S will do. These are facts, not fear tactics. Read the measure. Don’t buy the well-funded glossy hype from Measure S big business and real estate groups–read what they put on the ballot. It’s a proven failure that does nothing but cost us money, divert police from real crimes, and punish homeless people for a business recession they never caused. No on S.

    • alum

      Well said. Harassment is harassment, and there’s no good reason for anyone to loiter around doing nothing productive.

      • Idle Hands

        Doing nothing productive should be a crime!

    • Goo goo inliberal

      Obscene gestures & cursing should be illegal? They’re clearly rude, but law books & etiquette manuals have very different purposes. Should acts tut-tutted by Miss Manners actually be criminal? & if you think they’re criminal, do you think they’re criminal to the extent that a second offense merits punishment equivalent to petty theft or assault? & if you think that’s so, then do you really think that all sitting on sidewalks should be treated on potential for such crime? & then do you think that potential for all crimes should be treated as equivalent to the crime itself?