Chicago Street Performer Law -
Proposed Changes and why they are Bad



RE:  02017-217  Changes to Street Performer law
IMPORTANT -- SCHEDULED FOR COUNCIL VOTE FEB. 22, 2017 10 AM

Alderman Reilly of Chicago has proposed a major amendment to the Street Performer Law.  This amendment would make it illegal for street performers on Michigan Avenue or State Street to make any sound that can he heard at 20 feet.  This, in essence, makes all or most music illegal on these two streets, since all or most music from any instrument can be heard at 20 feet.

WE ARE ASKING THAT THE VOTE BE DELAYED, AND THAT ALL HOLDERS OF STREET PERFORMER LICENSES BE CONTACTED BY THE CITY USING THE CONTACT INFORMATION THEY GAVE WHEN THEY PURCHASED THEIR LICENSES, AND INVITED TO SPEAK AT A PUBLIC HEARING.  Also, all constituents must be informed, including music organizations, tourist organizations, etc.

Please keep in mind that street performers and potential street performers are often NOT represented by any Alderman, since they may reside outside the City.  Also, many or most audience members for street performers are not represented by any Alderman as many are visitors to Chicago.


We all oppose the amendments to this law for the following reasons:

1. There has been no notice to the Street Performers and no opportunity to be heard. When selling the licenses, the City requires contact information of the licensees, including address, phone, and email.  Yet, the holders of Street Performers Licenses were not contacted by phone, mail, or email by the City about this proposed change to the law.   There was no public hearing about which they were personally notified and to which they were invited. It is absolutely illegal and outlandish that a business license would be so drastically changed as to become meaningless and no notice has been given.  This makes this process unconstitutional.

2. Street Performer Licenses are two year licenses, and so a minimum of 2 years should be the waiting period before such changes to the law can take effect. Otherwise, the licenses have been sold under false pretexts. The change to the law is to take effect immediately upon passage.  This makes the new law unconstitutional.

3. Treating those with Street Performer Licenses in this way is unconstitutional because it treats them in a way unlike the holders of other business licenses, as if they can be disregarded and maltreated.  

4. The change to the law is irrational, which makes it unconstitutional.  There is no rational basis for thinking "20 feet" is some magical number.  Almost any sort of music can be heard at over 20 feet by a person with normal hearing.  In effect, this law makes all music illegal on Michigan Avenue and State Street.  In many spots, the sidewalk itself is 20 feet wide.  What is "20 feet" based on?

5. The change to the law is irrational, which makes it unconstitutional.  There is no rational basis for thinking that removing music from Michigan Avenue and State Street will mean that the complainers will no longer hear music -- since the musicians will simply be able to go around the corner, for example, onto Randolph, and make the sound, which will still be heard by the complainers.

6. The law is unconstitutional because it is irrational, because if the complainers on Michigan Avenue and State Street "need" protection from music, don't the people on all the other streets also "need" to be protected from music?

7.  The law is unconstitutional because it is racist, because it will mainly or disproportionately in practice affect young Black male bucket drummers.  These young men should be encouraged to feel they are part of the City and that they are welcomed on the streets.  This is their chance to make the City their own, to feel pride in showcasing their talents.  They are greatly beloved by tourists and other visitors to the downtown areas.  Many depend on the money they make by street performing.  Under the proposed law, all this is lost.

8. The City of Chicago is already unconstitutionally barring street performers from all places in Millennium Park at all times.  This has been shown in litigation in other cities to be unconstitutional.  Barring a street performer's right to make music in a city's showcase park has been shown to be an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment rights, not only of the Street Performer, but of the potential audience and the City dwellers.  There is a constitutional right to hear these messages as much as there is a right to give these messages.

9. Just as street performers have a constitutional right to perform in a city's showcase parks, they also have a constitutional right to perform on a city's showcase streets, including Michigan Avenue and State Street. And just as the buskers have the right to perform, the intended audience, the public, has the right to hear the messages/ music.  And restricting music that can be heard at 20 feet is essentially removing all music from the streets.

10. The City of Chicago Street Performers License Law is probably illegal in itself, in requiring licensing and payment from people to exercise their First Amendment rights on public streets.

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