by Nat Stein
The mass sit-in that took over Acacia Park Saturday morning was months in the making. Almost immediately after council members Keith King and Tom Strand (at the request of Mayor John Suthers, at the request of some downtown business owners) first proposed the ordinance back in August, backlash began coalescing, then in the form of visible and vocal dissent at a series of city council meetings.
Those efforts did result in some watering down: fines attached to violations were reduced from $2,500 to $500 and jail times from six months to ninety days. Planters were removed from the ordinance’s scope.
But preemptive resistance failed and the so-called sit-lie ordinance passed 6-3 in February. As of April 9, when enforcement of the Pedestrian Access Act went into full effect, it is illegal to sit, kneel, recline or lie on sidewalks and other rights-of-way during certain hours in a designated area of downtown and Old Colorado City.
Trig Bungaard, a local father, businessman and churchgoer, was outraged when he first heard.
“I literally just sat down at my computer, mad as hell, vomited out all the emotion into a Facebook event and here we are,” Bungaard told the Independent during the nascent stages of organizing Saturday’s protest. That was his first time publicly opposing the Pedestrian Access Act, though he quickly found himself at the center of a whirlwind of community activism.
The group Bungaard had a hand in forming, The Coalition for Compassion and Action, devised a plan for the sit-in. The process was messy, at times personal, though ultimately fruitful.
Nearly 200 people sat around the perimeter of Acacia Park Saturday morning, creating a vibrant corridor of community conversations. Protesters ranged from children to the elderly, from seasoned activists to fresh-faced first-timers, from human to canine. There were social workers, nonprofit leaders, church ministers, students, families, pacifists, artists, veterans and all sorts of other Springs residents in attendance. Most of the crowd had homes to return to, though not all.
Handmade signs carried personalized messages relating to the criminalization of homelessness. Passing cars gave occasional honks of approval.
Event organizers all but ordered participants to remain non-violent and non-confrontational. The few arrests that ultimately went down were all pre-arranged with the cops well ahead of the action. Trygve Bundgaard, Alan Pitts, Mark Chamberlain and Cayla Renea Tierce went through the motions of civil disobedience — refusing to follow CSPD Lt. Jeff Jensen’s order to stand after he informed them of their violation, giving brief declarations of defiance then peacefully cooperating with arresting officers. Those four were all cited under the Pedestrian Access Act and will appear in Municipal Court on May 3 on misdemeanor charges. If convicted, they could be fined up to $500.
Occupier Eric Verlo, who criticized the group’s arrangement with the cops in an incendiary blog post, kept a low profile Saturday. Holding sign that read simply “give a sit,” Verlo said that although he felt their greatest asset — surprise — had been compromised, he was happy just to see something happen. “Colluding with police? I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he told the Independent. “It betrays privilege. But if that’s what it takes to get people out, then fine.”
Council member Bill Murray — who voted for the ordinance though pushed for some changes to it — was there to listen to constituents and answer questions. Multiple times he declined to sit himself, saying that wouldn’t do anything to solve the issues at hand.