IASC Update October 2000

Making Skateboarding Legal

“Legalize skateboarding!” is the cry. “Skateboarding is not a crime” has been our traditional motto, and the new stance declares boldly, “Arrest me–I’m a skateboarder!” The message has always seemed to be the same: We aren’t criminals, and what we choose to do isn’t bad. But now we’re going to do something about it–the skateboard industry is taking steps to actually legalize skateboarding.

IASC, skateboarding’s nonprofit trade association, hereby announces its intent to make the sport legal. The decriminalization of skateboarders is officially underway.

The challenge of legalizing skateboarding will call upon everyone involved in our sport. This will be no simple task, especially with the confusion already surrounding the project. “I thought it was legal,” said pro skater Max Schaaf when I asked him to sign one of the petitions we were circulating at the recent X-Games. “Isn’t that what you did before?” he asked.

Thank you, Max, for your signature, but no, that’s not what we did before. What we (skateboarders, IASC) did before was to change California’s liability laws–which in turn has affected nearly every state across the country. The change in the liability law provided California cities the protection they needed to be able to construct public skateboarding areas. The significance of this accomplishment has led to the development of public skateparks around the country, which has been acknowledged here before. But in many cities, in California and around the country, skateboarding is often still against the law–skateboarding continues to be a crime!

Thus, for Max and the rest of us, here’s the deal: We’re going to legalize skateboarding. Skateboarding will not be a crime, and skateboarders will have the same rights as those participating in other forms of recreation: bicycle riders, runners, joggers, walkers. Those who recreate in the outdoors (country or urban versions) will not be distinguishable from skateboarders. They’re not criminals, and neither are we.

How do we do it? Legal counsel, attorneys, administrative staff–none of these things is required. All we need is you, and maybe a stamp, because we have sought legal counsel, and our IASC interns have begun the process of researching our options–the most obvious is the ballot initiative.

Ballot initiatives are the process by which citizens, or citizen groups, create laws to be placed on ballots for approval or rejection by the voters. California is one of the states that adopted (in 1911) the initiative process, and it gives Californians the tool to adopt laws and constitutional amendments without the support of the governor or the legislature–it’s how citizens create their own laws (Does your state allow for ballot initiatives?). State laws tend to override local restrictions, so there is great likelihood that by changing state laws to guarantee skateboarders the same rights as other recreational participants, then cities’ restrictions could no longer be enforceable (you wouldn’t get a ticket for skating to or from your local skatepark).

The way a ballot initiative works isn’t too complicated. The language of the new law must be determined, and the Attorney General’s office will actually help, as will the Secretary of State–they work for us, after all. Once the language of the law is determined, the petition process begins–in California we would have 150 days to collect 461,000 signatures (the actual number is based upon a percentage of the total votes of the last general election).

How many people do you know? Of course, these aren’t just people we know, nor the people those people know. These 461,000 signatures have to be from bona-fide registered voters, which is why you see those bleary-eyed people circulating clipboards around grocery stores asking, “Are you a registered voter?” Pause. “Will you sign our petition to ban the recycling of waste water into streams alongside public parks?”

It may seem too daunting to collect 461,000 signatures from registered voters. Right? It’s too much, at this time, to even begin to think we have the focus to achieve a successful initiative. The ballot initiative might work once we get our political machine geared and cast, but for now we’re choosing a simpler version–we create our own petitions, circulate them, get signatures of support from registered and nonregistered voters, and deliver those to select legislators we feel might be responsive to taking on the drafting of our new law. When we show up with 100,000 signatures of support, someone will listen.

How do we get 100,000 signatures? Easy. In one week we already have more than 1,000. It actually only took four days. We can do it–we can do it before New Year’s 2001. We can. Every California retailer posts a petition, every product includes a shrink-wrapped petition, every skate company begins circulating blank petitions, and perhaps most importantly, we link our Web sites to petition-signing sites like petitionpetition.com, which already has ours. Anyone logging on can seek the IASC Legalize Skateboarding petition and sign it, or just go to IASC’s site at skateboardiasc.org, and click to the petition from there. Petitionpetition.com collects the signatures and e-mails them directly to IASC. Skate companies and retailers can link to the petition or to skateboardiasc.org for the same result.

Those of you familiar with our efforts to pass AB1296 might recall legislators declaring that they consider an issue important when they receive ten to twenty letters of support or complaint. You might also recall that we delivered more than 70,000 letters of support to the California legislature’s judiciary committee–they were overwhelmed by the impact. They had no idea. Nor will they again.

Imagine this scenario: Skater comes into a shop, doesn’t even necessarily have to buy anything, but the shop guys pass along the message, “Hey, did you sign the petition yet?”

“Huh, what petition?”

“The one to legalize skateboarding–here, just sign here.”

“Uh, I’m not a registered voter or anything … “

“That’s okay, we’re just collecting signatures to show legislators how many people think skateboarding should be legal.” As the skater leaves the shop he hears, “Hey, why don’t you take a blank petition and get your friends and family to sign it, too? Do you want to take more than one?”

Consider another scenario: At all skate distributors, the shippers are packing orders before the arrival of the big brown trucks. As they get ready to seal up the box they drop another handful of petitions into each box. Hundreds go out into the skate community each day.

Retailers will be key. Distributors will be key. Manufacturers will be key. The key, then, is providing the opportunity and then creating the understanding and trust. Trust is necessary for people to sign the petition because, well, it’s weird what happens when you ask someone to sign a petition. There’s a certain hesitancy, especially with older people. It’s as if they’re signing to join the communist party, or that through some circuitous route they’ll be aligned with some leftist terrorist group.

Part of that understanding, of that trust, is going outside skateboarding–asking nonskateboarders for their signature. That will be the stretch. That will be the difficult signature, but the number of moms and dads willing to sign is truly amazing. They are fed up with their kids getting tickets for skateboarding. Teachers, too. Police are questionable. The four San Francisco cops I asked were very polite, but explained that as much as they agreed personally with the petition, they couldn’t sign it because they were in uniform. When I asked them if they’d take a blank petition to post in the station house I realized I was pushing beyond their envelope. The issue here is that there is no obligation. There’s no way to trace
them, and they won’t be hunted by J. Edgar Hoover’s boys.

Look for the petitions in your next shipment, use them, circulate them, and return them. Working together we can legalize skateboarding. We can change the world.

Jim Fitzpatrick is executive director of the International Association Of Skateboard Companies, skateboarding’s nonprofit trade group. IASC can be reached at (805) 683-5676, skateboardiasc.org, IASCsk8@aol.com.