Latest Posts

WRITTEN Testimony: Public Hearing: Bill 17-177, the “Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 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 also represent the memberships of Empower DC, the Washington Peace Center and the DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency (GPI).  GPI is a network of artists who share common values including, freedom of speech and art as a vehicle for the expression of all citizens.  Empower DC strives to provide advocacy skills to low and moderate income residents to assist them in preserving affordable housing, childcare and public buildings for public use.  The Washington Peace Center is a 44 year-old progressive, anti-racist, anti-authoritarian nonprofit organization committed to peace and social justice through education and nonviolent action.

As the capitol of the United States of America it is imperative that we not restrict free speech.  We fear that the enforcement of Bill 17-177 could limit legitimate protests and demonstrations.   GPI, the Washington Peace Center and Empower DC believe the restriction of amplified free speech could have a chilling effect that may keep some citizens, who either don't know how or simply don't want to bother with the permit process, from expressing themselves.

We are aware of the particular situation on H and 8 Street NE that appears to be driving the introduction of this amendment.  While we sympathize with this community's concerns, we believe this legislative "fix" would have unintended consequences on the freedom of speech.  According to the Quest for Quiet website, many interventions have been attempted but failed, thus some residents feel this amendment is the only way to solve their dilemma.  While that may be true, a 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.

Even to the extent that this bill doesn't limit free speech in 2007, what about 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 sought to protect.  It is a dangerous precedent to limit free speech in the interest of specific community problems.

On Sunday, June 24, 2007, GPI encountered Quest for Quiet at 18th and Belmont St., NW.  Their point was well demonstrated as they used amplified sound to annoy people. Members of the GPI took issue with this one-sided view of how amplified sound could be used.  We set up a second sound system near their position using songs, poetry and drumming to raise awareness to the dangerous free speech issues Bill 17-177 could jeopardize.  We were approached by many residents who vocalized their support for unfettered free speech.  While many may have been annoyed by the Quest for Quiet action, GPI is committed to the principle that all US citizens have a right to be heard, even when other citizens do not agree.  As frustrating as uninvited sound may be to some, it is critical to a strong democracy and we believe this right should be preserved – especially in the Nation's Capital where residents are denied participation in the formal channels of national government.

In addition to the free speech issues, as street artists and supporters of street artists, we recognize the need for vibrant street culture to bring local communities together.  We work to encourage more celebrations, festivals and music in the streets, as well as using 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.  The District of Columbia should be encouraging more artistic expression and alternatives to mainstream entertainment.  Street musicians and artisans give communities their character and provide a place for commentary on issues of public interest, including the simple beautification of ones surroundings.  We fear this bill could dampen the efforts of people trying to make a difference in their communities whether that be through the creation of music or organizing community marches.  The Love and Unity in the Community March in Ward One in August of 2006 employed amplified sound to spread their message of love and unity.  We believe the neighborhoods touched by this activity were richer for it, as it brought out individuals across color, generational and class divides.

Further, we are sensitive to the cultural and demographic issues that could be fueling this particular conflict.  This city is experiencing immense growing pains due to the changing demographics of many of the cities neighborhoods.   We believe that prohibiting unpermited, amplified street performances has implications for diverse communities, many of which have cultural norms that encourage public art.   This proposed amendment would make DC even more hostile to communities of color, which is especially problematic in light of the housing crisis and ongoing gentrification.  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.

We support the unequivocal right to freedom of speech in our nation's Capital.  The DC Guerrilla Poetry Insurgency, Empower DC and the Washington Peace Center believe that restricting amplification through Bill 17-177 would chill the exercise of free speech.  Socially conscious public art is what we hope to inspire and this bill puts the lifeblood of our communities at risk.  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."

Thank you.


If you are interested in this issue here are some links that may be of interest:


1 Comment »

  1. Hell Yeah! Speech that is limited is, by definition NOT free. Regulating the volume is the first step to regulating the content – one could call that the grease for the slippery slope.

    This bill will make Guerrilla Poets truly Guerrillas in every sense of the word. Well – whatever the outcome, I’m always impressed with the flowers that will crack the sidewalk to have their beauty be seen.

    Comment by josh — July 11, 2007 @ 8:56 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

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

Contact Us

For more info or to inquire about availability to perform:

(800) 886-6157

Sign up for annoucements by visiting: DC-GPI Announce

Join Us