When parades are a political issue

I used to think that the tradition of marking off sections of sidewalk with tape and chalk (and sometimes chairs and cones or even barrier tape) was cute.

This year, I’m having a little trouble seeing it that way.

Portland City Council passed what’s called a “sit/lie” ordinance that declares people who block the sidewalk persona non grata, and lets the police round ’em up and ship ’em off to jail. Portland’s tried this before and when it gets challenged in courts, the courts say it’s unconstitutional since the measures that get passed (last time, through some back-door shenanigans rather than a straight-up vote) are drawn broadly enough to impact our basic rights of assembly and free speech. The last such ordinance was used to arrest Iraq war protesters, for example. All in the name of “livability” of course.

The driving force behind the “need” for a way to round up the undesirables is largely seen as the being the Portland Business Alliance, a trade group of business owners. And sure enough, another sit/lie ordinance was pushed through city council this year just in time for enforcement during Rose Festival. But this time, City Commissioner Randy Leonard is registering his objections.

See, this year, the sit/lie law was tied to some concessions that were aimed at giving the homeless a day center, with lockers and showers, installing some public restrooms downtown, and providing benches outdoors for people to sit in (hopefully away from the shopping district so as not to scare away the paying customers, I’m sure). Homeless advocates kept up pressure on the city council until that was put into place.

But even though enforcement of the sit/lie law is going to start next week, during the Rose Festival, when tourists flock to our fair city and drop loads of cash… there ain’t no day centers, there ain’t no public restrooms, there ain’t no showers. OK, we got some benches. Big whoop-de-do.

I’m sorry, but the image of the PoPo sweeping up the undesirables in order to make room for the tender eyes of the paying suburbanites who lay down their tape and chalk on our public sidewalks just angers me this year. I used to buy into the image of Portland as a friendly, happy, progressive place, but I’m increasingly seeing the authoritarianism and disregard for civil rights that lies just under the surface, and no, sir or madam, I don’t like it.

How do the parade-viewers see themselves? You’re not gonna believe this. They’re protecting themselves from the “selfish” people! From a story in the Trib:

Yvonne Moore of Portland was out this week marking her spot with sidewalk chalk along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“It’s not greedy,” Moore said. “You want to be able to enjoy the parade, but a lot of times you come [and] some of those selfish people that don’t get out here and mark their spaces want to be in your spot, which is not nice.”

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh… It’s the people who have the nerve to show up on the day of the parade and want to stand near the fearful shoppers who are “selfish”. How fuckin’ rude of them!

You go, Randy Leonard.