For Milk's birthday, sit on a sidewalk!

The perception of the Haight is scaring away tourists and causing businesses to lose money


Sit/lie, a law that prohibits sitting or lying on a sidewalk near a storefront, has had a long and tumultuous history in San Francisco.

Forty years ago, it was used against hippies in the Haight and gay men in the Castro. Gay activist Harvey Milk came out against it after 14 gay men were arrested one night outside a gay bar. Thanks to the efforts of the ACLU and LGBT organizations, the law was struck down in 1979.

A little over a year ago, some businesses in the Haight pushed for a new sit/lie, characterizing their neighborhood as a war zone ravaged by violent, drug-crazed homeless kids sitting and lying on sidewalks. It proved a successful strategy for passing a sit/lie initiative at the polls after the Board of Supervisors rejected the measure by an 8-3 vote.

Now police in the Haight are beginning to enforce the new ordinance with warnings and citations, something that was supposed to improve things for the merchants. But the perception of the Haight as a scary and dangerous place has stuck, so tourists are staying away and businesses are losing money, according to a recent article in The Bay Citizen.

Karma is a bitch.

Berkeley businesspeople are traveling down the same path. They've convinced some City Council members that the homeless and others sitting outside their stores have caused a drop in sales. Berkeley may soon have a no-sit ordinance to accompany its no-lie law.

What's a poor activist to do? Organize, of course. This Sunday, May 22, activists on both sides of the bay are holding another "Sidewalks are for People" day (several were held last year during the campaign against SF's sit/lie), with outdoor events that assert our right to public space. It's also, not coincidentally, Harvey Milk's birthday, a state-designated holiday since 2008.

In the Castro, QUEEN (QUeers for Economy Equality Now), a coalition of queer groups and individuals who want to push economic justice to the top of the gay agenda, will stage a QUEEN-In at Harvey Milk Plaza (Castro and Market streets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Participants are encouraged to bring games, picnic lunches, musical instruments, conversation, etc. Live music will be featured, and a soap box (like the one Harvey used on that same corner) provided for people inspired to give prepared or extemporaneous speeches (they don't have to be about sit/lie).

At 1 p.m., everyone will march to Harvey's old camera store, which is now being rented by Human Rights Campaign, a group that has come under fire in recent years for excluding transgender people from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and for its complete lack of open meetings and accountability to the community. May 22 is reportedly the official opening of HRC's new store at that location.

Harvey would indeed be proud that on his birthday, his legacy of resistance is being honored by activists in two cities protesting an unfair law that he fought 40 years ago. 

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer activist for the past 40 years, is a founder of QUEEN and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights).

For a complete listing of events, check out the Facebook pages "Sidewalks Are for People: Harvey Milk's Birthday!" and "Stand Up Against Sit/Lie Berkeley."



Why do tourists get surprised that their are homeless kids and street people hanging out on Haight and Ashbury...that's what made it famous, a bunch of runaways and lost souls coming together and some of them played cool music and some of them sat in their own filth. Idiots visiting here, not wanting to see what they came to see. Why come here then? What do they want, animatronic hippies playing recorded Mamas and Papas piped in through speakers placed in their robot asses? Rediculous.

Posted by chelsea on May. 18, 2011 @ 9:52 am

That was the Bad Old Days, wouldn't want to go back to the 79's. Today we have persons blocking the sidewalks, causing trouble for people and businesses. If you are causing trouble the law should apply, if you are just standing outside the bar, chatting like we used to do when bars closed, that shouldn't be a problem. Sitting down on the curb having a cup of coffee and something to eat should be a problem. Reading, waiting, or taking in all in shouldn't be a problem. What is the Problem, yelling, blocking, forcing people in the street, getting in the way of doorways, buses, businesses, or any other sort of entry. Panhandling that equals threats, yelling, name calling or reaching out and grabbing others

Posted by Garrett on May. 18, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

The other thing i would imgaine where Harvey had his story, people were standing and sitting, but they didn't cause trouble for the local and others around them. His store was the center of the Gays rights movement, it must have been a place to gather. Missed it because when he was shot i was in jr high.

Posted by Garrett on May. 18, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

So now Kent Uyehara of FTC Skateboarding, SFO Snowboarding, who campaigned harder for the Sit Lie Law than any other merchant in the Haight, is on the board of a NEW merchants group (the Haight Ashbury Merchant’s Association) that " has vowed to stay clear of politics and instead promote the streets’ attractions."
Right. No politics from this guy:

"For Kent Uyehara, owner of FTC Skateboarding on the same block, the gangs of thugs are all too real. Just the other day, he was walking with his elderly mother and 10 intimidating youth with scary-looking dogs blocked the entire sidewalk and refused to move.
"Am I going to say something in that situation? Absolutely not," Uyehara said. "It's a fear of retaliation.""

"Kent Uyehara, the owner of a Haight Street skateboard shop, hosted today's event. He said a group of merchants and residents, the Civil Sidewalks Coalition, are trying "to take back our neighborhoods.""

Posted by Guest on May. 18, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

Kent is unbelievable. After street kids, who gets fucked with more by cops? ...oh yeah, skaters. The fact that a guy who owns a skate shop is acting like such a wus that he is afraid of people sitting on the sidewalk is laughable. What a turd kent is. If I ever need any gear in the area, I will stick with Carol and family @ skates on haight.

Posted by Guest on May. 19, 2011 @ 1:17 pm