Ever wonder why Seattle seems so colorful while our State Capitol appears drab? Seattle has a goodly supply of street performers while Olympia does not. Why? Because it violates a city ordinance.
On Tuesday, September 6th, Citizens in Violation of Illegal Laws [CIVIL] sponsored a Free Concert/Busker Parade to protest the city’s criminalization of homelessness in general and the anti-busking laws in particular. This came upon the heels of CIVIL’s highly popular ‘Busk-In’ that was held in front of the City Hall on June 21 when over 40 buskers ‘illegally’ performed in front of City Hall during a City Council meeting. An informal survey indicated most Olympia residents are completely unaware such laws even exist and are almost unanimously outraged upon learning of them.
Busking Protest- Olympia City Council’s Reaction (9-6-11)
Do street performers add colour to our dreary streets, or are they a loud nuisance best left out of our public spaces?
Listen to: Is Busking a Crime?
CIVIL seeks to publicize and raise public awareness of the existence of these laws. To that end, CIVIL issued a call to musicians, magicians, mimes, poets, clowns, jugglers, and many others. The free concert began at 2 pm on September 6 and the Busker Parade departed from the ‘designated busking zone’ at Sylvester Park at 4 pm. After departing Sylvester Park, the parade was technically in violation of the anti-busking law.
Buskers try to persuade city council to respect the Constitution/Civil Rights
Brittney Jones Busking Interview (City Council Protest 9-6-11)
Brittney Jones Busking Interview:
“Interviewer: Can we see the posters… come here darling… let me take your picture with the posters… ok darling, what are you all about…
Brittney Jones: I want everywhere to be a busking zone… and i don’t think that it should be sitting on one corner or a star on a map… I think it should be everywhere… we have freedom of speech and… i don’t know why they would make laws like this…
*Well, it’s mainly about taking us out of the general public and put us in spots where they don’t have to look at us… like we’re so scary… we’re not terrible people… We’re humans just like everyone else… We need to rescind these stupid laws today…*
Interviewer: Where else have you busked other than Olympia?
Brittney: I busk in Seattle.
Interviewer: Do you make good money there?
Interviewer: Do you think because the cops here don’t let you busk, you make less money here?
Brittney: I don’t really busk to make money… but the cops are harassing people, giving people tickets… some are getting ticket after ticket after ticket…
Interviewer: What were their tickets for? Disorderly Conduct?
Brittney: No… it’s Pedestrian Interference… and they were doing this whole pedestrian interference, they were giving them to anyone sitting on the sidewalk… or sitting down on the ground, because that’s illegal now…
Interviewer: It’s illegal to sit on the ground?
Brittney: Yeah, even though these are our streets, it’s illegal to sit on the ground…
The parade toured the four designated ‘busking zones’ in order to emphasize the extreme undesirability of their locations before marching-busking-dancing to the City Hall to greet the public and the city council-members as they arrived for the scheduled City Council meeting and entertained them with some ‘illegal’ music. Several members of the public then commented upon the busking laws during the public comment period of the council meeting.
The following excerpts came from an article published in The Olympian on 9-12-11 by Matt Batcheldor:
OLYMPIA – The Olympia City Council has agreed to review the city’s guidelines on busking, otherwise known as street performing, after a group of performers showed up at the council’s Sept. 6 meeting to protest.
Dozens of buskers first held a protest in front of City Hall, then a number of them testified at the council meeting against the rules.
“Our purpose was to educate people about the (busking) law and try to get it rescinded,” said Dana Walker of the group Citizens in Violation of Illegal Laws. She helped organize the protest.
“We kind of see ourselves as the last resort when all other measures fail.”
Councilwoman Rhenda Strub referred the busking rules to the council’s land-use committee, which can review them and recommend changes to the full council.
“I’m just not convinced we need to have any restrictions,” she said. “I don’t know why this one activity was singled out.”
The council passed an ordinance in 2007 restricting busking, following earlier restrictions on sitting and lying on sidewalks. The goal was to prevent people from blocking pedestrians.
It defines busking as “to act, sing, play a musical instrument, recite poetry, pantomime, mime, perform magic tricks, or dance for the purpose of or while immediately receiving contributions, alms, charity, or of gifts of items of value for oneself or another person.”
Under the ordinance, busking is only allowed in a designated zone or if it is adjacent to a business that has obtained a busking license. And the busker must get permission from the business owner.
Scott River, the city’s recreation manager, said the city had issued just three busking permits – in front of Olympia Dye Works, Last Word Books and Seifert Law Offices. He said no applications have been turned down. Walker said the ordinance is being selectively enforced, part of a larger campaign to rid Olympia of homeless people.
“I found out hardly anybody knew such a law existed,” he said.
Violators can be fined $50 for the first offense, $125 for the second and $250 for the third.
In an interview, City Manager Hall said the city has given “very few” tickets for busking in the past five years – 12. He said five of those were given this year, three in one day.
Hall told the council the regulations ensure that pedestrians and business entrances aren’t blocked and said buskers can perform to their heart’s content in a zone.
“I’ll say right now, there are probably too few of those,” he said, adding that the city is working on a brochure to publicize the busking zones and rules.
Walker said three of the four designated zones are no good because there’s not enough foot traffic. Only one of the zones is on Fourth Avenue, where there is sufficient traffic.
Hall said one additional busking area could be in front of the artesian well. But he said eliminating the busking rules would be a mistake.
“I think we need some rules,” he said.
River said the ordinance “could stand to be cleaned up” and modified.
“It’s a challenging ordinance, for staff even, to interpret,” he said. “There’s a lot of vagueness to it.”
A look at the Hamilton, Ontario, busking scene
Strub said the city has received a number of complaints about downtown, but not buskers. Other council members said they like the street performances.
“We all love music,” Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said. “I think it’s great.”
Councilman Steve Langer said: “Frankly, I like busking. I don’t have any beef with busking.”
Olympia Busker brightens city streets
Ibid: Alex from Georgia and his dog, Zither, brighten the streets of Olympia while busking on one of the few designated spots under the City’s anti-busking ordinance. Alex revealed he made more money when panhandling ($50-$60/day) but prefers performing though it typically only brings in around $16/day for him.
Carol Thorns performs ‘Closer To the Sun’ at the Atlantis Dunes near Cape Town. Song by Helmut Meijer and footage by Dawie Verwey