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Local Activism Works: How Washington Area Musicians Cut Through The Noise
"What happened in D.C. this week is a perfect example of what local music advocacy looks like. When the music community comes together, people listen." — Conversations In Advocacy #26
For some musicians, making changes to legislation affecting their livelihood can seem like a daunting task. It begs the question; how can we get involved when proposed laws threaten to encroach on our creative rights? A quick look at a recent local issue with the Washington, D.C. City Council, regarding an emergency noise ordinance serves as a good example of how local activism not only works, but can make all the difference in the lives of musicians.
Case and point: Last month, D.C. council members proposed an emergency bill to crack down on amplified sound in public places. The Amplified Noise Amendment Act Of 2018 targeted street performers by enacting overly punitive penalties, especially given the racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity of D.C. street performers. The hasty bill threated to harm the overall fabric of the city that includes a long history of street performers.
The Recording Academy's Washington D.C. Chapter helped rally members of the local music community to raise their voices on the issue. While supporters of the bill argued it would protect their right to peace and quiet, the creative community saw it for what it was, a clear violation of free speech and an unfair criminalization of street performances.
Furthermore, there is no data or testing to support the need for new noise restrictions. And, enforcement requires a decibel reader, which could be better implemented by the city to uphold the current standards without this proposed legislation before penalties are made more severe.
Still, as a safeguard, the Recording Academy provided testimony requesting the removal of jail time as a penalty for infraction, which council members agreed to do prior to considering the bill., But the main focus remained on striking down the harmful bill before it could be enacted.
The resistance was not futile. At the July D.C. council meeting, Chairman Phil Mendelson withdrew the Amplified Noise Amendment Act, effectively tabling the bill for now. The music community generated what one outlet called "a drumbeat of opposition" to the bill, conveying the importance of fair and carefully considered legislation regarding musicians and their livelihoods.
The Council now goes on recess until September. At that point, they could reconsider the measure as drafted or as a modified bill. The council has noted an outpouring of opposition from some D.C. residents in recent days, and in a statement, Chairman Mendelson pledged to hold a new hearing that is more inclusive of the full community. The battle is not yet won, and the Recording Academy’s D.C. Chapter will work to ensure that the voice of local musicians is reflected in any future discussions.
This example from Washington, D.C,. illustrates the power of the music community when it unites in defense of its rights to make a living. While this story isn't over, it serves as a reminder whether we act nationally or locally, there is no limit to the difference we can make.