On a chilly night with temperatures in the mid-40s, nearly 200 Mt Pleasant residents gathered in Lamont Park to show their support for the immigrant-owned businesses that line our main street. The apple cider was being consumed by the cupful (I had two, don't tell) and many business owners like Haydee of, well, Haydee's, were standing with a good cross section of our neighborhoods other residents. The group gathered in Lamont Park and made a powerfully silent march over to the Mount Peasant Branch Library.
A little background may be in order here. The demonstration was organized for this night because the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Adrian Fenty, was meeting with the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance. The meeting was taking place at the Mount Pleasant Branch Library. The MPNA is one of several groups and organizations that operate as a voice for some residents in the neighborhood. There are others, like the ANC and Hear Mt Pleasant. That's by no means an exhaustive list. They are essentially interest groups that exist to project the voice of the people to a place where it can be heard by the decision-makers: in this case, the mayor and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
At issue is whether or not the MPNA should act as the official voice of the neighborhood for city-legislated and regulated issues with binding implications for businesses and residents. On the official MPNA flier for tonight's meeting, there is a call for contributions "to our legal fees to help fight those who want to terminate our Voluntary Agreements." That's in reference to the Voluntary Agreement, a quasi-legal agreement between a business and some form of resident group (or individual residents) that determines whether or not the resident group will protest or support the business' Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration standing. In short, the decision of the neighborhood group to oppose or endorse a business' ABRA licensure is essentially a decision to make or break the business. The businesses agree to certain terms, like operating hours, conditions of operation, and so on and the resident group agrees to support the business at its ABRA hearing.
One of the conditions for all taverns, bars and restaurants on Mt Pleasant Street is that there be allowed no live music in the establishments. Some even interpret this to mean no karaoke as well. To understand Mt Pleasant is to understand that it is a neighborhood with a rich, long, and nuacned history weaving together cultures form all over the U.S. and all over the world. It is very diverse. The Latino community is one of the many that make up the backbone of the neighborhood, literally populating our main street with service and financial institutions, shops, restaurants and salons. Years ago, mariachi bands roamed the streets and haunted the establishments filling the air with an ambiance of Mexico City or San Salvador. That's now illegal under the Voluntary Agreements in place at most of our establishments. Some groups are using the Voluntary Agreements, ABRA licensure, and other regulatory matters to intimidate and harass businesses into certain behaviors.
The demonstration tonight was help to reiterate, through turnout, dialogue and petition, that the MPNA does not necessarily speak for each and every one in Mt Peasant. If there are do-or-die decisions to be made which will affect businesses and livelihoods of people living and working in this neighborhood, ALL voices need to be considered, especially those of the residents with the most on the line. Ward One Council Member Jim Graham made an appaearce at the demonstration, and later at the Library. Mayor Fenty stopped on the way into the Library and talked individualy to some of the residents and addressed the group several times as well. After about 10 minutes he dissapeared into the Library to meet with MPNA. Too be continued...