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ORAL Testimony: Public Hearing: Bill 17-177, the “Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007”

Delivered Monday, July 9, 2007

Thank you for holding this public hearing on Bill 17-177. We appreciate the opportunity to participate and have our views heard by the DC Council. My name is Laurelle Blair. My comments reflect not only my personal beliefs but represent the memberships of Empower DC, the Washington Peace Center and the DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency.

As DC residents we are denied participation in the formal channels of national government, thus we feel the protection free speech is especially imperative in our Nation’s Capital. We fear that the enforcement of Bill 17-177 could limit legitimate protests and demonstrations and have a chilling effect that may prevent some citizens from expressing themselves.

We are aware of the situation on H and 8 Street NE. While we sympathize with this community's concerns, we believe this legislative "fix" could have unintended consequences. This proposed legislative solution would limit the freedom of speech for DC residents and tens of thousands of Americans who enter DC streets with the express purpose of making their voices heard by employing bullhorns, drums and sound systems. Amplified sound insures one is heard and is a vital part of our community’s civic participation.

To the extent that this bill may not limit free speech in 2007, I must ask the Council to consider 2030, 2050 and beyond. Changing political conditions could result in this law being used to limit the rights of the very people whose privacy it is now seeking to protect. It is a dangerous precedent to limit free speech in the interest of specific community problems. As frustrating as uninvited sound may be, freedom of speech is critical to a strong democracy and we believe this right should be preserved at all costs.

In addition to the free speech issues, as street artists and supporters of street artists, we work to encourage the use of public art as a vehicle for raising awareness on important social justice issues. Art and music are tools that bring communities together, open dialogues and provide common ground from which to have discussion. We fear this bill could dampen the efforts of people trying to make a difference in their communities through art and organizing.

Further, we are sensitive to the possible cultural and demographic issues fueling this particular conflict. This city is experiencing immense growing pains due to the changing demographics of its neighborhoods. We believe that prohibiting unpermited amplified street performances has implications for diverse communities, many of which have cultural norms that encourage public art. Our community has great concerns regarding how the policies of growth have resulted in the large-scale displacement of DC Residents. This Bill is yet another example of a development-oriented policy proposed with little thought to the consequences for communities of color.

As artists, as citizens, as residents of the District of Columbia, we are asking you, the council, to protect free speech and vote no on the "Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007."

I would like to submit expanded written testimony for the record.

Thank You.

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The DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency (GPI) is an anti-authoritarian, collaborative, pro-humanity artists' collective incorporating music, rhythm, spoken word, community and resistance.

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