Same-day protests were held in San Francisco, Berkeley and Portland to challenge laws banning sitting or lying by homeless people. These “copy-cat laws” travel from city to city, as municipal officials copy each other’s efforts to erode human rights by making it illegal for poor people to exist in public.
“Mona Lisa of the Streets” I gave the woman a simple smile,/ some dollars, knowing not enough./ Her aura glowed: she once had style./ I gave the woman an open smile/ then plowed my way, single file/ holding tears, keeping the bluff./ I have Mona Lisa a knowing smile/ some dollars that were not enough.
If every Christian was raised to meditate on three words, “Jesus was homeless,” churches would be true places of refuge, shelter and sanctuary, open to everyone. When cities enact laws that criminalize poverty, the homeless become refugees who must be offered sanctuary and asylum from unjust laws.
Poets held a poetry reading to challenge the City Council’s proposed sitting ban. How delightful it would be if we could just sing our way right past this terrible proposal to outlaw something as natural as sitting down. We should pour enough poetry on it that it is doused entirely.
A unique, quirky and imaginative protest was held at the Berkeley BART on May 22 to protest the City Council’s proposed sitting ban ordinance. Called a “Chair-a-Pillar,” the colorful act of defiance summoned forth a powerful historic echo of past sit-ins for civil rights.
Human rights include not only civil rights, but economic rights as well. George Lippman, chair of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, said, “Nothing defines the right to human dignity more clearly than such elemental human needs as the right to sit, the right to rest, the right to eat.”
Contrary to everything our society teaches, the Masters of War and the Wall Street bankers are in a rat race for last place. Instead, the meek will inherit the earth. As Bob Dylan warned, “The order is rapidly fading, and the first one now will later be last.”
Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal, including job discrimination, housing discrimination, and denial of the right to vote.
Oakland tenant Aiyahnna Johnson said, “They caused us a lot of stress and anxiety in our community by trying to frighten us out of our housing. They have been trying to pressure us into signing documents in an effort to force us to move out of our homes.”