On Wednesday evening, I made it out to a lot at 7th and R St., where affiliates of the group ONE DC had set up a make-shift camp with tents and basic kitchen supplies. The goal of the members of TENT CITY DC has been to protest Mayor Fenty’s broken promise on affordable housing. Given that I worked for the Fenty Administration as an intern from 2008-2009, I thought it was only fair to first research what the mayor had in fact promised and what he has actually done. Apparently in the past 3.5 years, he had placed an emphasis on maintaining and restoring previously-existing affordable housing units such as Jubilee Housing and designated low-income buildings on Euclid Street, Georgia Avenue, Wheeler Road, and on Mississippi Avenue. It appears that his administration claims to have put up “6,000” other units around the city, but the members of TENT CITY DC and researchers at the Washington Post both seem unable to locate these supposed 6,000 units.
I was happy to have sat in on the team-building and action planning meeting that happened on Wednesday evening. It was a group of about 20 people of different ages and each seemed to have a different reason to be at the meeting. Nonetheless, everyone was there to help in some way and educate themselves on the nature of the issue. Among these, I saw Courtney Dowe in the circle, a singer/songwriter and apparently DC activist that I had seen performing with Sitali at Bossa just three nights earlier. Everyone in DC lives a double-life.
I had been invited to the event just two days earlier by my friend Sarah DH, who we now call Sarah Solidarity, to actually come and contribute some drumming to the event. There we met up with other Georgetown grads Claire, Julie and Cat. Little did I know that I would end up opening my eyes to a very serious problem in DC.
Like any political action group, there were internal struggles. Some would talk over others, some would challenge another’s ideas while others would roll their eyes. Everyone was engaged, however, and determined to keep figuring out the best way of having their voices heard by the media and keeping the group safe while the protest/camping would happen over the course of the next week. It was so awesome to see how passionate the group was and to see that mothers, for example, working two jobs with kids, were willing to somehow contribute time to the camp ground for how many ever hours they could spare, or those who were currently living comfortably were also still willing to sleep on the street for a few nights to live in solidarity with those for whom housing was still a daily struggle. I was further impressed that the group was not discouraged by bad press, unfavorable bloggers and heavy rain that had muddied the camp just a few days earlier.
It is unfortunate to me that these individuals want Fenty out. I know a lot of people do, but I don’t think another mayor, especially Vincent Gray whom I saw working closely with Fenty in 2008-2009 (as though they were best friends!), will necessarily solve the problem. I know it’s tough to get through to a knuckleheaded administration like Fenty’s but I think that angling their campaign towards taking him out of the running may not yield the success that they hope it does. I think a stronger approach may have been to pinpoint ways in which the Fenty Administration has demonstrated improvements in affordable housing, and then attempt to work along those lines to expand those projects and multiply them.
When I worked for Fenty last year, I noticed that one of his biggest setbacks is that he makes grandiose promises, finds it too difficult to follow through completely on them, and then ends up distracting from the good that he has actually done. I remember when hundreds of DC residents would organize rallies protesting the closing of the Franklin Shelter, the internal word was simply that residents do not understand the full scope of the problem, and that Fenty is trying to close dilapidated shelters and replace them with places that have better quality living standards. Of course, most claim that he was just selling the land to big corporations and trying to make a profit off of them. Maybe it’s true. But if he was in fact closing it for a reason, the reason must get out to citizens in a proactive manner. Citizens must be warned and informed, otherwise his actions are going to constantly be misunderstood and blown up into a campaign against the administration.
I imagine that ONE DC might have less to say if Fenty set realistic goals for setting up long-term affordable housing units, or if he had made efforts to perhaps created tiered-level housing out of the units that already did exist before taking on later projects.
After the meeting ended, I linked up with Courtney and we jammed on a few songs that I heard her play at Bossa that previous Sunday. My little brother, Kabir, and my mom were both at the show and loved her voice. Kabir downloaded some of her music that night, he was so into it. I was happy to be playing with her.
Some kids who had been living with their parents in the lot had drum sticks — they passed them on to me and I was jamming with them on buckets, chairs and other objects around the camp. It solidified my belief that with music, you don’t have to ask questions, wonder where people are from, why they are there etc. It just happens. Others contribute, by playing or enjoying or both. I felt privileged to be creating to the summer vibes in DC, which always end up being political, diverse, miscellaneous, adventurous.
I encourage you to hop on the green/yellow line, get off at Shaw, walk 2 blocks from the metro, and talk to some of the activists at 7th and R St while they are still there in the next week.