For seven months, a ragtag group of activists have camped out across the street from City Hall. Calling themselves the Portland Peaceful Encampment (PPE), they originally threw down their stakes to bring attention to the war in Iraq and the plight of thousands of its civilians. However, as public attention waned from military maneuvers in the Middle East, the group shifted its attention to defying the sit-lie ban, a city ordinance drafted behind closed doors nearly two years ago prohibiting any person from obstructing sidewalks downtown.

Many critics have complained the rule was designed to appease the Portland Business Alliance and downtown department stores, which do not want homeless and street kids loitering around their businesses. But because constitutional protections do not allow the government to take away forms of non-violent political expression, the sit-lie ban has walked a fine line between its enforcement and violating free speech rights. PPE sat precariously on the safe side of these protections.

But on Tuesday--again behind closed doors and with no public input--Mayor Vera Katz revised the city ordinance. The revisions chucked out certain exceptions and made enforcement even easier--essentially, after being given notice, any person sitting has eight hours to clear out or face arrest. Even before the ink had dried on the new rules, the eight-hour clock began ticking for the PPE. By Wednesday morning, the PPE activists had been cleared from the sidewalk by police.

"I think this was designed to get rid of the Peace Encampment," assets Alan Graf, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild and who has led several lawsuits against the city for police abuses. "[The encampment] was an eyesore for Vera," adds Graf. "She'd rather look out her window and see Nordstrom."

To express their displeasure with the new rules, on Friday afternoon about 70 protesters rushed downtown and plopped themselves down on the pavilion in front of City Hall. But Graf says the enforcement of the new rules is wishy-washy. Under the new rules, anyone standing on his feet is not in violation; as soon as you sit down, you are subject to arrest.

"This is absolutely a violation of free speech," asserts Graf. "First of all, you can't say standing is okay but no sitting down. You can't delineate how someone will express their views." On Friday evening, police arrested six of the protesters, including one of Graf's paralegals.

"Whoever wrote this needs to go back to law school," concludes Graf.