Sincerely, America cited by Evanston police for painting Sheridan sidewalk

Meghan Morris

Two members of the political student group Sincerely, America received citations from Evanston police officers Tuesday night as they painted a half-mile long orange stripe on the sidewalk along the east side of Sheridan Road.

SESP senior Alessio Manti and Weinberg sophomore Andrew Walker, two of the co-founders of Sincerely, America, began painting a line down the center of the Sheridan Road east sidewalk Tuesday night as a form of political expression and in order to promote the group’s website.

Sincerely, America, which held its first event in October, is collecting online signatures to petition for an end to the so-called “Brothel Law,” the Evanston zoning ordinance that prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together.

Volunteers from the group wrote “Save the Brothels,” “Get engaged” and the site’s name in purple. Both the orange and purple paints are water-soluble, Manti said.

“Just as the line runs down the middle (of the sidewalk), our organization is in the middle: We don’t represent either political party,” said group member Alicia White, a Weinberg junior. “There are few student organizations that are nonpartisan or multi-partisan, no forums for students of all political backgrounds.”

The group aims to have at least a quarter of the student body sign the petition before the members send it to University administration and Ald. Judy Fiske (1st).

“The Brothel Law is our first test,” said Manti, Sincerely, America’s chief of staff. “We want to make noise but then focus it, hone it and put it toward something good and concrete.”

Manti said as a result of the advertising on Sheridan Road, about 10 percent of the student body visited in two days.

But the marketing was not without a downside: on Tuesday night, Manti and Walker were approached by University Police, who questioned the students before calling the Evanston Police Department.

Manti said three Evanston police cars then came to the scene, and he and Walker were detained in the back of a police car. After 45 minutes, the students were released with a citation for defacement of city property and a court date for Jan. 24.

“We plan to fight it,” Manti said. “Rain and/or snow will wash away the paint, so nothing’s permanent.”

Not all students recognized the paint as a marketing campaign.

“I thought it was some kid making a statement about walking on the correct side of the sidewalk,” Communication sophomore Rachel Marchant said. “But I think the Brothel Law is stupid.”

The group will try other forms of marketing in the future, Manti said. Each of the 17 members of the organization participated in an “Internet bomb” on Facebook on Sunday by posting two statuses and writing something about either the group or general politics to 20 friends’ walls.

He said the group plans to expand and solidify its presence at Northwestern for the next two months before adding about 10 chapters at other schools in the spring and then significantly expanding in the fall. Sincerely, America aims to use the national election in the fall of 2012 as an anchor for its expansion.

Manti said he looks back at the election of 2008 and the youth-driven election of President Barack Obama as a starting point for this generation’s political involvement but said young adults must not rally around one individual.

“We saw in 2008 that our generation has the capacity to care a great deal,” he said. “Unfortunately, what was inspiring that was one man. It came from outside us. We want to make that happen again in 2012, but with the inspiration coming from ourselves.”

Sincerely, America seeks to be a bipartisan organization that engages students in multiple ways, from petitions to end the Brothel Law to registering voters, he said.

“We’re building the organization for the long haul,” Manti said. “Sincerely, America is there to tap into (students’) energy and help bring it out.”

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