Written by Patrick Glastonbury
“The playbook is almost endless when it comes to non-violent protests,” said Trig Bundgaard, the leader of the Coalition for Compassion and Action, a group spearheading protests against the Pedestrian Access Act.
The act, which was passed Feb. 9, went into effect on April 9, the same day the Coalition for Compassion and Action organized a sit-in at Acacia Park.
During the sit-in, police issued citations to the protesters for their violation of the contested act. May 3 is the date of the first arraignment of violators of the Pedestrian Access Act, and Bundgaard has promised five protests if the City Council fails to meet the protesters demands by then.
Bundgaard said the goal of the protests is “to end the criminalization of homelessness.” He said that the challenge to the City Council’s decision will take place on several levels. The first and most immediate will be the legal battle over the citations on May 3. Here, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will intervene on behalf of protesters who were issued citations.
If the city moves forward in prosecuting violators of the Pedestrian Access Act, those convicted could face a fine of up to $500, or up to 90 days in jail. Any sitting, lying, or kneeling on the sidewalks of downtown Colorado Springs and Old Colorado City is considered a violation of the act.
Critics of the act have argued that the law unfairly targets the homeless and poor. Those in favor have argued that it promotes public safety, though critics respond that there is no evidence to support that conclusion.
The noticeable visibility of the homeless in Colorado Springs makes the problem more pronounced here than elsewhere. Bundgaard explains that the homeless population here in town is so noticeable “because of a lack of homelessness programs” that are available in other cities. The visibility of homeless populations is about to increase significantly in the coming days, as the only cold-weather shelters for the homeless close by this Friday.
The details of the five protests promised by Bundgaard if the city fails to meet the protesters demands remain under wraps to prevent any pre-emptive measures on the part of city authorities. Despite the lack of detail, he did promise more sit-ins and a potential march through downtown.
Though Bundgaard believes protest is a fundamental part of the political process, the real impetus lies with the people of Colorado Springs. “Getting the populous of Colorado Springs to understand homelessness is key,” he said, and further noted that real change will only come with the engagement of the broader citizenry.
Bundgaard said a central part of this effort will be the release of documentary-style productions by the Coalition for Compassion and Action. “You can’t take someone by the hand to under a bridge to meet these people,” he said. Bundgaard hopes to find other ways to inspire empathy for the homeless in the people of Colorado Springs.
Despite the efforts of groups like the Coalition for Compassion and Action, laws like the Pedestrian Access Act are being passed across the country. Though Bundgaard remains hopeful in his advocacy for the homeless, Colorado Springs authorities continue to stand by the measure and show no sign of compromising.