NEWS

The militants that punish illegal parking

The orange stickers placed on the windscreens of cars illegally parked on sidewalks by the Streetpanthers read «I’m a donkey! I park where I like.» Their site, www.streetpanthers.gr, explains, «We are a group of friends from Thessaloniki who decided to go illegal at the end of 2006, when the life of pedestrians became unbearable.» In the first month no less than 20,000 stickers were snapped up. In the first four months of their operation they received more than 500 e-mails. When do the Streetpanthers act? When they see a car or motorbike parked on a ramp or crossing, when parked vehicles leave very little space on sidewalks for pedestrians to pass, when cars park in front of bus stops and on tactile markings intended for people with impaired vision. «We are not an organized team, but units with a social conscience who have resorted to a form of self-justice because we want the areas stolen from the pedestrians to be returned,» said the organization’s founder. The aim is not to penalize but to raise awareness and provide a stimulus for both drivers and pedestrians. «We are people who have completed a cycle in our lives: We have studied, have a point of view and are active in our respective professions.» He himself has studied abroad and works in management. He is settled in his job and can afford to take up this activity. «I spend more time than I should. Like an alert businessman who collects information in order to expand his business.» Is a business mind required then? «Mainly a social conscience.» On their site they stress the importance of responsible car-sticking and the need to curb excessive zeal. How can they ensure this? «We cannot control it. We give instructions on the back of the sticker and check distribution. Anyone who wants stickers writes in their details and sends an address. It’s a form of screening.» Can somebody be refused stickers? «It has happened. Somebody wrote: ‘Why set limits? Send them now and we’ll start sticking, you’re too conservative for me.’ We replied that he would be a danger to us.» Have there been any complications with offenders? «Usually the drivers are ashamed and change direction, or they tear off the sticker and throw it on the ground.» Have drivers regretted their action when caught red-handed and asked for stickers? «No, at that particular moment there is tension. But we have received e-mails from offenders who have regretted their action.» As parking facilities are inadequate, are drivers being punished unfairly? «Of course the state shares a large part of the blame. But our mentality also counts. We don’t have to park exactly outside the coffee shop; it’s no big deal if we find a space five minutes’ walk away. The municipal car parks in Thessaloniki are only 60 percent full at peak times and they are not all expensive.» A message for pedestrians? «React. Show that you won’t put up with it and you don’t like it. Don’t be afraid to call 100.» What about drivers? «Think as if you were pedestrians.» What is the secret of the Streetpanthers’ success? «Their unbeatable directness. I hope in the future we will not need the stickers and that other bodies will become aware so that the government can take up the cause. Self-administered justice is characteristic of a society where democracy is ailing.» One of the militants recounted an incident she saw in Thessaloniki: «I saw a person in a wheelchair trying to cross Tsimiski Street. He couldn’t get down from the sidewalk and had to go round in circles. When he got to the other side he couldn’t get up onto the sidewalk. In desperation he started banging his wheelchair against the parked cars.» Another militant added, «You don’t see people in wheelchairs in Athens because it’s impossible for them to get around.» Himself a resident in the city center, he says that on Friday and Saturday nights there are stickers galore. Despite their busy work schedules they find time for Panther activity. «Infringing on pedestrian rights is something that concerns us all. We will have kids in prams at some point or we will become grandfathers.» Innocent or guilty? «You’re not democratic! Let the state punish me.» protest some of the drivers. «The term ‘donkey’ might be provocative as an expression of protest, but according to the instructions on the website and on the back of the stickers this is not an action that trespasses on property. The images on the website show that this form of protest is not staged with malice,» explained lawyer Anthi Yiakoumaki. Could it be regarded as an insult? «An injustice like an insult must be personalized, there must be a specific offender. This action could be considered as defense on behalf of a third person at a time of need. Perhaps as defense of pedestrians.» What would happen if a case went to court? «The free movement of pedestrians is a delicate issue, a right which is constantly violated and might raise awareness in court. The court would probably veer toward those being protected rather than those being insulted,» added Yiakoumaki. (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s color supplement, K, on April 29, 2007.