Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anchorage Passes John Martin Sidewalk Law

John Martin and Police Chief Mark Mew Chat at Break
It's rare that a government passes a law to deal with just one person.  One person.  Where's the imagination to come up with Solomon-like solutions?  It's also the easy way out - like a parent telling his kid, "Because I'm your father and I said so."  Except Dan Sullivan is not John Martin's father.

[An aside - I talked to Dan Sullivan for the first time ever today.  He was at the meeting, there was a break and I thought I'd get a picture of the Mayor.  He saw and waved.  It was out of focus so you won't see it.  But went over and introduced myself and I told him I had talked to Sam Abrams - the expert on Finnish education he'd invited up to his Education Conference last week - and that I was delighted to hear from Sam that the Mayor backed free school lunches for all students.  It was a very cordial and pleasant short conversation.  He told me Sam went out to Bethel today.  I do think that people have a lot more in common than they think and if we could break down our images of each other we could get past a lot of unnecessary bickering.  But that's another post.]

Here's a video of Martin I made during a break.  He explains why he was there.

I had to leave the Assembly meeting about 6:30 for another meeting, but I got an email at 10:30 saying the sidewalk ordinance had passed.  Bummer.  It had failed in July after the
 Anchorage Daily News  carried a story about a homeless man who'd taken up residence on the sidewalk in front of city hall. 
The idea of a new law came up, said city attorney Dennis Wheeler, because the administration wanted to remove John Martin. Martin hung out with his blanket on the City Hall sidewalk for days and nights in late June. He is now set up on the sidewalk kitty-corner from City Hall at Sixth Avenue and G Street
Martin said Tuesday that he is protesting the mayor's treatment of homeless people -- particularly, the city's decision to take and destroy some homeless people's possessions during the course of clearing out illegal camps on public property around town.
The law didn't pass in July, but it did, apparently, Tuesday.

From a Nov. 7 ADN:
The law, if passed, would make it illegal to sit or recline on a sidewalk downtown from 6 a.m. until late evening, with exceptions for things like medical emergencies or parades and demonstrations that have permits.
It would also prohibit panhandling downtown.
The revised ordinance extends the no-sitting provision later into the night on Fridays and Saturdays than the initial version -- until 2:30 a.m.-- to keep sidewalks clear for people downtown late on weekends, Sullivan said. On other nights, it would be OK to sit or recline on the sidewalks at midnight.
The idea for the law arose out of a homeless man's sit-down protest on sidewalks near City Hall. The protestor, John Martin, has been sitting or standing on a blanket either right in front of City Hall or across the street, off and on for months. He has said he's protesting the city's treatment of homeless people.
The administration wanted to remove him, but found there is no city law that forbids lying or sitting on a sidewalk, city officials have said.
It's unclear how or if new sidewalk rules would affect the more recent protest, Occupy Anchorage, in which people are demonstrating in Town Square Park across from City Hall. They've had a tent set up, a chair or two and a portable heater, along with signs.
I've sat down on the sidewalk before.  This seems like an overly broad bill.  Can't I bring a folding chair and sit discretely and watch the world go by?  I guess not any more in Anchorage.  
I really wanted a friendly but serious conversation with the Mayor about why he couldn't have come up with a more compassionate and imaginative way to resolve this.  Instead of thinking like a mediator or negotiator, he seems to have needed to show that he was boss.  He made it into a win-lose confrontation.  But who actually won.  John Martin has gotten a lot of attention and he got the mayor to spend a lot of time on an ordinance to prevent him from sitting on the sidewalk.  It didn't seem the right time, and I had to go anyway.  But it would have been nice. 

In my world, a true leader knows he's the mayor for all the people of Anchorage, not just the people who agree with him.  Putting the city hall lobby television on Fox News is like a poke in the eye to more than half the population of Anchorage.  It says to me, Hey, I'm mayor and I can do what I want.  Just as bad would be if he didn't have a clue how offensive having the city play Fox News in OUR city hall lobby.   This isn't high school where our clique tries to beat out your clique.  This is the adult world where we realize that we all are humans with human problems.  Some of us got better starts in life than others.   Some of us believe strongly in obeying all the rules, some of us believe everyone else has to obey all the rules, and others challenge those rules we don't think are fair.

But both sides have to recognize that they need each other so that neither side goes too far out toward one extreme or the other.  We need to find that kernel of humanity that we can respect in everyone, so that we can work things out instead of carrying on never-ending feuds between 'us' and 'them.'

OK, it's late and I'm starting to ramble and get preachy.  Dan, I challenge you to find a more imaginative solution to your next confrontation.   John Martin, I wish you well, and in my mind, this will always be the John Martin Sidewalk Law.

[UPDATE - I've got some follow up posts with video on this:
March 27, 2012:    John Martin Back Camped Out In Front of City Hall
March 27, 2012:    Mayor Sullivan Brings Coffee and Chats With Sidewalk Sitter John Martin  (with video)
March  30, 2012:   Police Bust Sidewalk Campers - $1000 Fine (with video)]


  1. You mentioned two things to get to a agreeable solution, which the Mayor doesn't have: Compassion and Imagination.

  2. Sitting in public places is how community gets built. Sitting on curbs to watch parades. Sitting on the steps in the public square attending a concert or watching an outdoor play. Sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee and watching the world go by. Sitting with a friend and passing the time. Sitting to eat a reindeer dog with a group of visitors at lunch time in the summer. Sitting next to my bike waiting for friends during Art-Bike-Friday.

    These are all ways that I have sat downtown previously, and these modes are all part of community. Sitting in public spaces slows pace and invites interaction. Downtown Anchorage just lost of a chunk of its charm for me.

    Nice chair, by the way. :-}

  3. So, re: Iaato's comment, made me wonder -- is this the anti-parade watching law? Nice PR for the City Mr. Sullivan.


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