Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tonight March 10th, CPR Secret History Project at Don Juan's!

Tonight, May 10th from 6:30-8:30, at Don Juan’s, 1660 Lamont Street, Radio CPR and
Steps at Centro d'Arte late 1980s.
the Mount Pleasant Temporium present Mount Pleasant’s Untold Stories Part II. The evening will feature stories about a range of movements and organizations that have taken root in the neighborhood over the last few decades.
Olivia Cadaval will be talking about Escuella de Rumba and Centro d’Arte, cultural organizations on 15th and Irving that used music and culture to build a strong Latino Identity and sense of community. Dora Johnson will be talking about the Community of Christ, a lay congregation that came to Mount Pleasant in the 1960s, bought La Casa on Mount Pleasant Street and have played a huge, and unsung role, in nurturing many neighborhood based organizations and projects in their space. From craft fairs, to ANC meetings, to programs for developmentally disabled people to punk shows, La Casa is a neighborhood institution made possible by a group of people who have living their values in Mount Pleasant for four decades. Learn about the community institution that made this possible. Pedro Aviles, who grew up in neighboring Adams Morgan, will be talking about the community organizing that emerged in the aftermath of the Mount Pleasant disturbances in 1991, when local immigrant activists turned their attention from the wars in Central America to civil rights in the neighborhood. Learn from Judy Byron about the Blue Skies Collective, a group of artists on Park Road. Also hear from Najiya Shanaa, the director of Neighbors Consejo from the late 1990s to mid 2000s. Neighbors Consejo was started in response to the problem of public drinking on Mount Pleasant’s commercial corridor. Under Najiya’s leadership it tripled its outreach staff and grew from a staff of three to forty. Mount Pleasant saw a dramatic decline in public drinking from 2000-2004, primarily due to the hard work of Neighbors Consejo outreach workers and tratment providers who worked tirelessly to help people suffering from addiction get into recovery. DJ Wanako and DJ Maude Ontario will be talking about Radio CPR, a neighborhood institution since the late 1990s that brings together a diverse range of music, voices and people to create radical radio with deep ties to an array of communities.
This project is part of Radio CPRs Mount Pleasant Secret History project. We have always been about creating a space for voices excluded from (or the drowned out by) prevailing narratives. With this project we hope to document some of the stories about the people behind the organizations and movements that have shaped life in the neighborhood for a great many people you seldom hear about.

Hope you can make it tonight!!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A new era for Mount Pleasant?

A Cabaret at don jaime's
In February 2011, DC’s ABC Board terminated the so called “Voluntary Agreement” between Don Jaime’s and Haydees Restaurant and the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA). You can read the decisions here and here.
This news of the terminations came within days of the opening of the Mount Pleasant Temporium, a “pop up shop” featuring local artisans and performers.  Initiated by Mount Pleasant Mainstreet, this project brought together SpeakeasyDC, Hello Craft, Radio CPR, Partners for Livable Communities, the DC Office of Planning, and several neighborhood-based community groups to build a venue for arts, culture and successful retail in the neighborhood.
It's fitting that the events coincided. The energy and community organizing behind the Mount Pleasant Temporium’s approach to the neighborhood embodies the exact opposite approach taken by the MPNA, who’ve spent years trying to keep Mount Pleasant’s restaurants from being venues for music and culture through the liquor licensing protest process. MPNA’s main argument has been that late night music and dancing is not “appropriate” in the neighborhood and up until recently the city’s ABC Board allowed them, on that basis, to impose restrictions on all Mount Pleasant Street’s licensees. Not only did MPNA’s VAs restrict live music and dancing, they dictate where many restaurants can seat patrons based on whether they order food or not.
That’s why, in addition to the terminations, the last month of energy behind the Mount Pleasant Temporium has been such a breath of fresh air, representing just the kind of approach our community needs to take on the road to recovery. Instead of a small group of people standing up and saying “this is what we don’t want and damn the rest of you if you disagree with us,” the organizers behind the Temporium stood up and said “this is what we do want, and can have, so let’s just get together and make it happen.”
And this time, instead of the city stepping in to encode the fears of a small group of activists into the law, they provided the funding to bring the hopes of an energetic group of community builders to fruition. The result, supported by a grant from DC’s Office of Planning,  has been an exciting and dynamic month long project that demonstrates what’s possible on one of the city’s most unique commercial strips when artists, residents and small business owners work together. They’ve shown just how powerful organizing around a vision fueled by hopes of what a neighborhood can be compared to what’s dominated the neighborhood for way too long: activism fueled by the fears of a few over what it could become - ie “Another Adams Morgan,” a phrase that alternately makes me yawn and makes me want to scream)
Standing at the Mount Pleasant Temporium on opening night, I remembered my inauguration into the neighborhood’s liquor license wars when Marx Café first opened on Mount Pleasant Street eleven years ago. The owners knew of the MPNA’s anti live music stance and tried to find some middle ground. Believing that going before the public at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting to demonstrate their willingness to compromise would enable them to offer at least some entertainment, Marx Café signed a VA that would have allowed them to host live music events that would end by 11PM twelve nights a year. They agreed to give surrounding neighbors written notice two weeks before each monthly event and keep musicians from performing “above conversational level.” Even though many in the community thought these restrictions a bit much, many believed that supporting the ANC VA would finally allow some live music, albeit limited, back into the neighborhood’s restaurants.
They were wrong. Even twelve nights a year of live music that had to stop by 11PM, played no louder than conversational level, was too much for the MPNA.  They vowed to fight Marx Café’s license application until they agreed not to offer any live music at all. The owners caved.
In the aftermath I wrote on a listserve to myself as much as anyone:
It is important for those of us saddened by this latest chapter not to play the MPNA’s game, finding ourselves so overwhelmed by what we are against that we lose sight of what we support. There are hundreds of neighbors working to create spaces for culture and music – opening up their homes and church halls to bring people, ideas and communities together in new and exciting ways. We should keep building on these efforts and let the MPNA seethe away in the bitter little box it has built for itself.
I hope that the success of the Temporium and the termination of the MPNA’s VAs means the end of one era in Mount Pleasant and the beginning of a new one, where the focus is on community building rather than fear mongering and the “youre either with us or against us” activism that’s been so destructive to this great neighborhood.  The Mount Pleasant Temporium is ending next week, and a new shop, Nana, owned by a local family, will open in the space it has occupied. Hopefully, the excitement generated by the Mount Pleasant Temporium, the capacity built and the networks strengthened by it, will spawn more investment and community involvement in the neighborhood’s revitalization.
And at the risk of getting overwhelmed by what I am against - the city's broken liquor licensing process - I still strongly believe the City Council needs to reform the current liquor licensing process. Yes we need strong laws, robust enforcement and proactive programs to manage and minimize the impact of nightlife and hospitality businesses on residents living in mixed use neighborhoods. But deputizing private citizens to make laws on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis is terrible policy and bad urban planning. It has not only harmed economic development and discouraged investment,  it’s absorbed communities in counter productive battles that get stakeholders no closer to actually solving problems and resolving real issues. Worse it draws time, energy and political will away from the kind of community capacity building leadership that our neighborhoods really need if we are to weather the city’s current financial and political crises.
So here’s to a new era in Mount Pleasant! I can’t wait to shop at Nana and I can’t wait for the next open mic night at Haydees.  I’m so glad to have been part of the Mount Pleasant Temporium and looking forward to rolling up my sleeves to work on more such efforts. It’s time to do some healing. But its also time for the CIty Council to take some action on the broken liquor licensing process and grapple with the real harm it does to community economic development in our neighborhoods. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sesame Street Mount Pleasant Street Redux

Okay, I'm going to try this again, this blogging thing. Just so I can stop myself from procrastinating on this endeavor I've dug up another little ode to Mount Pleasant that I wrote awhile ago. I'm in love with Mount Pleasant again because getting involved in the Mount Pleasant Temporium got me re-involved with my beloved Radio CPR crew. The other very exciting thing which I will write something new about is that after nearly seven years of hellacious struggle, DC's ABC Board agreed to terminate Haydees Voluntary Agreement with the MPNA. Here's the ruling. Stay tuned....
Thanks to all of you who've encouraged me to blog and especially to the group of ladies who made this mutual pact: This February, do something that really really scares you.

Okay so here's my piece about two streets I love: Sesame Street Mount Pleasant Street...

I used to take my kids to Heller's and then we’d sit in Lamont Park and watch the pigeons fly in formation from one building to another. Then the kids would finish their cookies and start running around on the stage and I’d think about why I love Mount Pleasant street so much.

A lot of people are irked by the moniker “a Village in the City” but I really get it. I love the way the main street is situated not as a pass-through from one place to another, but as a destination for people to go about the business of life. “I’m going to the high street,” my husband says on Sunday mornings. I love how people live out their daily lives and ordinary routines on the street. They go get their hair cut. They go to the dentist. They do their laundry and grocery shopping. They wire money and ship packages home. They buy cakes and balloons for their celebrations. They sit on stoops. They run into their friends, their teachers, kids they taught in elementary school. Oh and now they can go to open mic nights and see their friends bands play at Haydees! It’s like an edgy version of Mayberry – or better yet, Sesame Street – the 1970s pre-Elmo Sesame Street.

My favorite scenes in Sesame Street were the ones on the street – Mr. Hooper’s store, Oscar grousing, kids sitting on the stoop with Gordon. I was entranced by this world – the world of “the street” constructed as a safe and accepting place. I could tell that a lot of the kids depicted on the show had less stuff then me, that their homes were smaller, that their streets were dirtier and that their days were populated by odd and sometimes rather unpleasant characters. But there was a sense of acceptance and ease totally absent in my world, on my tree lined street, in my tiny private school. And unlike me, none of these kids seemed afraid. They were allowed to walk their urban streets, to sit on stoops, to go to Mr. Hooper’s store alone.

This image of being a liberated kid in the city lodged into my consciousness and counteracted all the other 1970s media imagery bombarding me that constructed urban life as something fearful and violent and uncaring.

And now, raising my own children here, I try not to get too nostalgic for my own idealized longings or too overtaken by urban platitudes about street smart kids. I love that they want to walk to the corner store by themselves but I walk behind them at a distance, let them feel that sense of liberation I so longed for but with me close behind. "Pretend not to know me," I say and they race off ahead of me laughing and proud to a store where the shopkeeper knows them.