EIGHT PEOPLE ATE their lunches on the sidewalk outside city hall on Monday, August 24, and several more gathered for picnics on sidewalks across the city. The "sidewalk picnics" were organized on Facebook by a 289-strong group of Portlanders against a planned reinstatement of the city's controversial sit-lie law.
The law, which outlawed sitting or lying on the sidewalk downtown during the day, was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in June and police have since suspended its enforcement. But Mayor Sam Adams vowed last week to craft a new version of the law after Multnomah County Judge Stephen Bushong clarified his opinion about the old one being unconstitutional two weeks ago ["Sit on It," Hall Monitor, Aug 20].
Criminal defense attorney Chris O'Connor set up the group in response to the mayor's intended resurrection of the law, he says, but more importantly, to show that the mayor's office was falsely claiming public support for renewal. Adams' chief of staff, Tom Miller, told the Mercury last week, "The public doesn't care that this is our fourth pass at trying to craft this law, the public cares about getting this issue right."
"We want it to end," responds O'Connor. "The judge has spoken. The constitutional rights are quite clear; they can't have it."
O'Connor suggested Portlanders organize a picnic on the sidewalk on Monday in reaction to an Oregonian opinion piece by two downtown legal assistants published on Wednesday, August 19, saying they were "stressed and ridden with anxiety" since the law was struck down.
"It was not a protest, it was merely lunch in a public space," says O'Connor, who gathered with a handful of other attorneys and passersby at the corner of SW 5th and Morrison for chocolate chip cookies and a burrito.
"You could call it that, or you could call it a protest," says Patrick Nolen, an activist with Soapbox Under the Bridge who was one of the eight city hall picnickers. "We were there to celebrate the ending of the old sit-lie law, and to enjoy our picnic, but also to protest the possibility of a new version of it. In six days almost 300 people have signed up to show that they oppose the law's renewal."
"It was a surprisingly nice place to sit and have lunch," says O'Connor. "We saw lots of interesting people go by, and chatted to lots of them about the sit-lie ordinance, and then we all went back to work."
Council has yet to release any details on a proposed overhaul of the law, although City Commissioner Nick Fish promised last week that there would be no "son of sit-lie." "This is America," he said.
Fish, a former civil rights attorney who is now responsible for providing affordable housing for the city's homeless, is up for reelection next year. He said any new law would be about "sharing the sidewalks," and not about targeting the homeless.
"But that's what they said about the last one," says O'Connor. "It's always been supposedly about sharing the sidewalks, when really it's about targeting specific groups."