Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sit-Ins Reclaim Public Space in Downtown Monterey

As a variety of restaurant owners are legally expanding their business operations on to the sidewalk of downtown Monterey by creating outdoor dining areas, a small group of community members are using civil disobedience to reclaim the right to sit in public downtown. They say the city has removed benches and enacted a new sit-lie law in an effort to rid the downtown of homeless people and travelers. In response they have organized a series of sit-ins held on the sidewalk of Alvarado Street to directly oppose the law, by breaking it, and to raise awareness about Monterey's, "assault on the houseless," as they have described it.

"They should just put out benches for you all," said one person who was walking past the group at their latest sit-in on August 7.

"They have been taking the benches out," replied a member of the organization Direct Action Monterey Network, who was sitting on the sidewalk, participating in the demonstration.

Since February, Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) has organized the monthly sit-ins to oppose the new law, which went into effect in October of 2014. Sec. 32-6.2 of the Monterey Municipal Code now bans sitting or lying on most commercial sidewalks in Monterey between the hours of 7am and 9pm. To issue a citation, though, police officers must first warn an individual they are violating the ordinance.

The demonstrations have angered nearby business owners, and Monterey Police attempted to shut down the May 1 sit-in, but individuals persisted and remained sitting that day, even after officers issued the official "warnings."

For the last three sit-ins, however, the group has been left alone by police and local businesses owners. As a result, a sense of community is forming around the demonstrations, and the group has effectively reclaimed public sitting space in downtown Monterey, even if it's only for a couple of hours each month.

"We will continue challenging this law, which is only one expression of Monterey's war against people without homes," an announcement for the August 7 sit-in read. Future actions are planned for the first Friday of every month from 4pm-6pm.

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