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

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].