Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Neighbors Eye Amps, Weigh Wattage

Annoyed at being on an amplifier’s receiving end for hours every Saturday afternoon, the neighbors who live in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE are learning what it takes to be on the sending side of amplified speech. We’ve been shopping for our very own amplifier.

I don’t think any of the neighbors would say the endeavor has been fun. But we realize the community’s quality of life is at stake. So we scraped together a meager budget to broadcast our troubles.

Amplifiers have specific purposes, we’ve learned. Our criteria: It must be battery powered and it must project the human voice loudly.

With so many makes and models from which to choose, we nearly opted for a guitar amplifier with mega-wattage. “Nay,” said the rep, “It won’t project a voice very far.”

So he steered us to the LIB6000 Liberty MAS Sound System. It will suit all our needs for the June 11 Amplified Free Speech Day. And we were able to simply rent it for a price that was within our budget. With 50 watts, the spec sheet promises 117 decibels at the “speech projection in mode,” whatever that means. “It means loud,” said the rep.

We’ll take it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Georgetown Primed for Amplified Free Speech Day

If this story in the May 25 Washington Post is any indication, Georgetown will be an interesting spot to practice non-commercial amplified free speech as part of Citywide Amplified Free Speech Day on June 11.

Apparently a man who lives near a Georgetown teahouse got fed up with the establishment's patio music. He marched over in his bathrobe and used his cane to bash-in the speakers, according to the report. That fellow is welcome to the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE any Saturday afternoon for tea.

In the meantime, friends and neighbors who live in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE—and endure one group's hours of amplified speech every Saturday afternoon—plan to use an amplifier at the corner of Wisconsin and N St NW to illustrate the absurdity of the city's broken noise statute.

If you can't join in the June 11 fun, please ask members of the D.C. city council to fix the law.

No Noise Break During Memorial Weekend

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Looking east along H Street NE, fellows from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) shout to sparse crowds during the Memorial Day weekend Saturday at the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE. Despite fewer than usual passersby, the group—as typical—cranked up the amplifier so that residents living well beyond the intersection were forced to hear hours and hours of amplified speech. With the D.C. law providing no decibel limits on non-commercial amplified speech, the noise especially is bothersome, irritating and stressful for those living within close proximity. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Newspaper Supports ‘Amplified Speech Day’

Capitol Hill’s very own Voice of the Hill (VOH) newspaper examines--and supports in an editorial--efforts by neighbors living in and around the 700 block of 8th St NE to focus attention on a festering noise issue. Here’s an excerpt from the May 25th story, Hill Residents To Protest Noise Ordinance in Georgetown:
Fed up with the blaring amplifiers in their front yards on Saturday afternoons, some residents on the 700 block of Eighth Street, NE, are going to give the folks of Georgetown a sample of what they live with every weekend.
What’s more, a separate VOH editorial supports the 8th Street neighbors’ action, and provides a glimpse and what may be stalling any fix to the broken statute. An excerpt:
We usually do not use these editorial pages to encourage civil disobedience, but this time we cannot resist…
…Councilman Jim Graham, who held hearings on the noise issue, has said his hands are tied because it’s a free speech issue. But what the good councilman is really saying is that unions have leaned on him because they want the ability to picket with amplifiers outside hotels, which are sometimes across from residential neighborhoods. We support the residents who have tried every means to solve the situation civilly. Let’s just hope their amplified protest will not fall on deaf ears.
The complete editorial can be viewed by downloading a PDF version of VOH.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

If You Can’t Be Amplified on June 11, Write Now

Unregulated, unabated amplified speech impacts people in different ways. Among the many messages sent to Regulatory and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Graham and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose was this one from a neighbor on 10th Street NE:
Dear Councilmembers Graham and Ambrose,

Since we are unable to join our fellow H Street community members for Citywide Amplified Free Speech Day this coming June 11, we are writing to offer our support for their effort to have the city address its broken noise ordinance.

As I'm sure you are well aware, several individuals from a group known as the Israeli/Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) spew hateful racist speech with the aid of an amplifier nearly every weekend at the corner of 8th Street and H Street NE. The ISUPK's use of an amplifier severely impacts nearly every neighbor's quiet enjoyment of their property in a roughly two to three block radius from that intersection. We can even hear the ISUPK's hateful rants over two blocks away at our house on 10th Street NE. This must be put to an end.

Please act now to do something about this broken law. There's absolutely no reason why we should have to hear people screaming obscenities and hateful words about Islam, Christianity, homosexuals, whites, etc. while trying to enjoy a peaceful weekend afternoon in our home.


XXX 10th Street NE

If you can’t join the neighbors from the 700 block of 8th St NE who will be amplified in Georgetown on June 11, you can still make a difference by writing now to Graham and Ambrose:
1. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee Chair Jim Graham:
2. Your councilmember.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

No Amplifiers Used in Busy Downtown D.C.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Banks uses his natural voice to lead a group of about 20 people protesting on behalf of a carpenters’ union. The protesters marched in a short, circular pattern between orange safety cones on the sidewalk at 7th and E Streets NW in downtown Washington, D.C. No amplifier was present during the May 17 protest. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

After departing the dependable X2 Metro bus one morning last week, I walked the remaining six blocks to work. On my way, I encountered a cluster of protesters carrying signs and walking in a very orderly, semi-circular pattern on the sidewalk.

The group was protesting what they called one association’s use of non-union carpenters to hang drywall. “Non-union companies pay sub-standard wages,” explained the hoisted signs.

The protesters were led in chant by a man who shouted to them from one end of the circle. And despite being in the middle of a business district in downtown Washington--with tall buildings and traffic all around--nobody used an amplifier.

In my opinion, the chorus of voices was loud, but not piercing--a decibel meter would have been the final judge. Union representative Mike Zaner approached and asked why I was photographing his group.

I explained our neighborhood’s saga in dealing with one group’s abuse of a city noise law, which allows for unrestricted use of an amplifier to blast non-commercial speech anywhere in the city from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. I provided him with a copy of the D.C. Attorney General’s ruling.

Mike said his group needed no type of permit as long as his protesters stayed within one block. “Otherwise, we’d need a parade permit,” he said.

But why not use an amplifier?

Mike said he’s never felt a need. The group usually protests for two hours each day while the non-union work is being done. “That usually lasts four to six weeks; then we go someplace else,” he said.

Police usually check on his group, which he always limits to no more than 50. “The police always depart without incident,” said Mike. “We’ve never had to call a lawyer.”

I thanked Mike, and headed off to work.

Even though Mike and his group could have used 20 amplifiers and megaphones to blast the entire commercial area, they chose not to.

Meanwhile, the amplified group at H and 8th NE--mere feet from residential homes and apartments--continues to maliciously crank up the amplified volume every Saturday. Simply put, the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge is taking complete advantage of the law.

The city council has a duty not only to protect free speech, but also to protect citizens from brazen harassment and abuse of ill-enacted legislation.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Free Speech Should Not Mean Forced to Listen

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man recoils from the touch of a stick-carrying member of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) who attempted to move the man away from the stage assembled on the public sidewalk. Yahanna, in the bright red garments, eventually persuaded the man to move back. The exchange happened Saturday at the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Above the typical city cacophony of buses, trucks and sirens blared the jarring amplified noise. It blasted residential homes and apartments in and along the 700 block of 8th Street NE yesterday. The amplified speech wailed from about 3 p.m. until after 8 p.m.

With no apparent municipal limit on decibel levels of amplified non-commercial speech, the sound reverberated throughout the residential neighborhood. The noise jumped fences, poured through open windows and peppered people and pets alike.

Free speech is woven into the very fabric of our country. The neighbors whole-heartedly embrace the First Amendment. But just because a person has a right to say something should not mean another must be forced to hear it.

"The unwilling listener is not like the passer-by who may be offered a pamphlet in the street but cannot be made to take it. In his home or on the street he is practically helpless to escape this interference with his privacy by loud speakers except through the protection of the municipality," wrote the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1949 decision KOVACS v. Cooper.

The municipality of Washington, D.C., must step up and be that protector.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

June 11 Declared ‘Citywide Amplified Free Speech Day’

Grab an amplifier and head to your favorite District of Columbia street corner to make some noise! It’s the first “Citywide Amplified Free Speech Day” in the District of Columbia. Anyone can participate!

You can help broadcast the message that the residents of the District of Columbia demand the city balance free speech with the right to peace and quiet. Urge the D.C. City Council to act now and fix the broken noise law.

On Sunday, June 11, a small contingent of neighbors from the 700 block of 8th Street NE will gather at a corner in Georgetown NW to exercise the right to free speech and the right to make all the noise we desire using a very loud, battery-powered amplifier. Our group will be blasting amplified free speech near a residential area at the corner of Wisconsin and N Streets NW from 3-5:00 p.m.

This unrestricted noise activity apparently is permissible by the District of Columbia law, according to a December ruling by the D.C. Office of Attorney General. We want to illustrate the absurdity of the broken D.C. noise statute.

This is not a formally organized event, so no permits are required. “Quest for Quiet” is not dispensing legal advice, so participate at your own risk. But if the city’s reaction to one group's Saturday routine of unabated amplified speech is any indication, there should be no problem whatsoever.

Our group will follow the example of the regular activities employed at the southeast corner of H and 8th Street NE by the fellows from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). The city allows them to operate a battery-powered amplifier for hours unhindered. The amplifier blasts residential homes within yards of the assembled speakers.

So, whatever methods the ISUPK employ on H Street NE also must be acceptable for anyone else in the District of Columbia--including Georgetown.

Keep in mind that a D.C. noise inspector cited the ISUPK three times for exceeding acceptable decibel levels. The citations were thrown out when the D.C. Office of Attorney General ruled there was nothing the city could do to stop the hours and hours of amplified noise.

To see what activity the D.C. government tolerates, use these photos from the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE for guidance.

Fender Amp Can (ISUPK amplifier of choice)
Collection of handheld eletric megaphones
Crate TX50DBE Limo Battery Powered Amp
Crate TX15 Battery Powered Amp

We must balance free speech with the right to peace and quiet. The District of Columbia City Council must act now to fix the broken noise law.

Dec. 13, 2005 letter from D.C. Office of Attorney General

1. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee Chair Jim Graham:
2. Your councilmember.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Neighbors Forced to Learn New Variations of the Word ‘Faggot’

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A stick-carrying man from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (left) rushes to defend his fellow screamers from a furious man who charged the stage after the UPKers used their extremely loud amplifier to call him a "faggot" and every vulgar variation thereof. The words echoed throughout the residential homes and apartments in the 700 block of 8th Street NE. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

After a week’s hiatus, the fellows from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) on Saturday resumed their usual amplified rant and rave at the southeast corner of H and 8th Street NE.

The amplifier was blaring as loud as ever. This means the neighbors living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE cannot escape hearing the words broadcast from it. Whether the speech touts hate or love doesn't matter—the neighborhood doesn't want to hear it.

In Saturday's episode, the UPKers’ broadcast caught the attention of a man in a colorful shirt waiting for the northbound 90 Metro bus.

The man apparently became incensed after the UPKers uttered comments about homosexuality and that God was going to kill all the “faggots.” He began screaming back at UPKers. Immediately he was in their crosshairs.

They used the amplifier to call him a “faggot” and every vulgar variation of the word.

The man became furious and charged up to the stage. Suddenly, the UPKers bunched up, sticks at hand, to defend themselves against whatever potential physical harm might come their way. The man restrained himself, but the UPKers didn’t miss a beat with their verbal tirade.

Our neighborhood supports free speech, but does that mean using an amplifier to call people vulgarities is protected? Even if it is, Saturday's scene was not a fair fight. It reminded me of bullies on a playground—five against one. And the five had an amplifier.

“What are you?” one of the UPKers bellowed through the amplifier, which by this time was so loud, my ears were beginning to ring. The man paused, removed his hat. The UPKers shut up for a moment to listen for the answer. Then the man shouted at the top of his lungs, “I am an American!”

Unsatisfied, the UPKers immediately resumed their harassment of him, spewing “faggot” in every other word, bashing him for what they said was “sucking another man’s tool.” The fellow had little chance to defend himself publicly because his unaided voice was smothered by the abusive amplifier.

The man was so upset by this verbal barrage, that he actually missed his bus. This elicited laughter from the UPKers and several people assembled on the corner.

Keep in mind that all of these words echo down the block and into the residential homes—the hateful words looming as if they were one big billboard from which there is no escape.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The amplifier volume cranked up to "9." (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Noisemakers 'Just Took a Break'

I was puzzled about the noisemaking Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge's (ISUPK) absence from our Northeast neighborhood on Saturday, May 6. The weather was beautiful—perfect conditions for their amplified shout-fest. I discovered the official reason yesterday while riding the elevator at work.

As I've written before, one of the ISUPK men exchanges his Saturday urban camouflage ensemble for a weekday uniform of dress slacks, shirt and necktie. I know this because we both work in the same building in downtown Washington, D.C. We've shared many an awkward elevator ride to our day jobs—his on the fifth floor and mine on the sixth.

We're cordial. We say hello, but that's about it. I usually ask him if he's going to show up Saturday in my neighborhood and he always says "yeah." I ask him if his group will have the amplifier and he always says "yeah." Yesterday morning, I spotted him striding from the opposite direction toward our building's entrance. I knew what I wanted to ask him.

We nodded to each other as we entered the building, and walked in silence toward the elevators, he a few steps ahead of me. We stopped, he pushed the button and we waited.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Fine," he said.

The bell dings and the elevator doors open. We entered the car, along with two others on their way to desk jobs. It was silent.

"So, the weather was beautiful Saturday," I said. "I was surprised to not see you on the corner. Where were you fellows?"

"Just taking a break," he replied.

"You sure everything's OK; nothing of concern?" I asked.

"No. Everything's fine. We were just taking a break," he said.

"What'd you do on your break?" I asked. "Did you watch sports? Drink a few beers? Go out on a date?"

"No. Just took a break," he answered again.

The bell dinged, announcing our arrival at the fifth floor and the door opened.

"Take it easy," I said.

"You too," he replied as he walked off down the hallway. The elevators doors closed.

The other two passengers looked at me puzzled. "Long story," I said as the elevator reached the sixth floor and I exited. "A long, loud story."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Confusion Lingers Over D.C. Permit Rules

I received this email today from an alert reader of "Quest for Quiet," who experienced an amplified preacher in the vicinity of 13th and F Streets NW in downtown D.C. Wednesday afternoon. Apparently the issue remains cloudy about who needs a permit and whether it applies to amplified free speech.

Throughout the H and 8th Street NE saga, the city has maintained that the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) do not have a permit from the city to assemble and blast their amplifier every Saturday. The residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE, via several city agencies and the Office of Attorney General, have been led to believe that the permits were not necessary for this type of activity. Today's event brings into question, again, the proper D.C. regulation.

Either the city agencies are not on the same page about the permits or they lack the will to enforce them.

And now, our dutiful correspondent in downtown Washington:

Hi Klav,

We have a preacher over here by our office building at 13th and F NW with an amplifier (bullhorn) reading out of the bible. He is very loud and I can hear him half a block away on the 9th floor of my building. His name is Harold Green and he’s from the Greater Morning Star Pentecostal Church at 4417 Dix Street, NE, DC.

I approached him and he said, "I can’t talk, my permit will only let me out here for 45 minutes." I got a copy of his permit and it’s something that he printed on line, filled out himself and signed himself. He told me the police would shut him down without that permit so I needed to hurry back.

I took the permit, made a copy and got his info. I told him he didn’t need a permit and could come to this corner whenever he wanted to.

On the way back to return his permit, I met a guy named Marc Tucker at the preacher corner. Mr. Tucker runs his organization out of the building where the preacher is blasting; he was staring at the preachers as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

I told Mr. Tucker that the preacher could do this legally all day, seven days a week if he desired and the police would have no authority to shut him down. I briefed him on the 8th/H spot. Mr. Tucker was outraged so I gave him your blog address.

Hopefully the preacher spends more time here so more people become aware of what the law actually is. I’m tempted to call the preacher and ask him to spend as much time over here as possible! I’d like to see how all the business owners would react. Would the city’s response be different since this is only one guy and a different part of town?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A copy of the "permit" displayed by the amplified Harold Green May 10 near the corner of 13th and F Streets NW. Actually, this is an application for a permit, which must be submitted to the Special Operations Division of the Metropolitan Police Dept. (MPD). It can be downloaded from the MPD website. (Contributed image)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Surprisingly Quiet Day for Friends and Neighbors

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Among the typical city neighborhood’s buzz and hum was a delightfully serene sidewalk, void of the dreaded amplifier and its withering hours-long diatribes. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

A rare gem of a Saturday—beautiful weather and relatively noise-free for the residents living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE. The neighborhood was pleasantly surprised by the absence of the usual blaring amplifier on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE.

And for whatever reason, the fellows responsible for the amplifier—the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK)—did not appear. This never happens unless the weather is foul. It was the group’s fifth Saturday absence in 2006.

As a reminder, the neighborhood would be just as happy if the ISUPK assembled, but simply stopped using the amplifier.

The only wrinkle in the day was the use of an extremely loud amplifier by an H Street business called the Downtown Locker Room located on the corner of H and 9th Street. The hip and trendy clothing store was having a store promotion. The loudspeakers were pointed toward H Street, apparently sparing the residences on 9th Street.

I’m unsure what the city’s decibel cap is for such amplification in commercial zones, but it sounded much louder to me than the giant video screen broadcasts outside the Verizon Center on 7th Street NW. Those speakers point downward to pour sound on passersby. I’d be interested to know if those speakers affect the residential units tucked aloft in the buildings along the bustling street in Chinatown.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Swiping Quiet, but Never My Photographs

I posted this note and a similar one to the blogs called Furious Zion and Lord’s Chosen. The blogs are authored by two fellows from the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, who blast the neighborhood around H and 8th Street NE each Saturday with a powered amplifier.

The two blogs are using without permission several photographs featured in the pages of “Quest for Quiet.”
May 4, 2006

Dear Furious Zion:

I hope this note finds you well and that you are enjoying a quiet and peaceful week.

While I don’t mean to be a bother, I think it’s important you be made aware of certain U.S. copyright laws related to photographs.

It has been brought to my attention that your blog website called “Furious Zion,” hosted on Yahoo 360 Pages, displays without permission numerous copyrighted photographs originally published on the “Quest for Quiet” website [ ].

It is apparent that this activity infringes upon my copyrights as the author of the photographs, and I ask that you please immediately remove them from your website.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright an infringer of the copyright or right of the author. Generally, under the law, one who engages in any of these activities without obtaining the copyright owner's permission may be liable for infringement.”

Furthermore, your postings of the “Quest for Quiet” photographs on the Flickr website at erroneously indicate that you are the copyright holder.

For complete details, including penalties, please refer to the U.S. Copyright Office website at

I appreciate your prompt cooperation, Furious. In the meantime, have a great week and maybe we’ll see you for what the neighbors hope would be a non-amplified Saturday.


Quest for Quiet

And I received an almost immediate response from Lord's Chosen, who was reading my post to Furious Zion's blog:
To Klav,

Are you going to sue him for pictures of himself you bastard? He never gave you permission to post his pictures all over the internet. Walk carefully in your persuits, we've been doing this for years in many cities through the Spirit of The Most High and Yahawashi.
Bastard? Wasn't I polite enough?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Step Away from the Amplified Dude

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man gestures for two young girls to move away from the ear-splitting amplifier located on the sidewalk in front of them. Or maybe he was telling them to stay away from the fellows on stage, who belong to the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). The scene happened on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on April 15, 2006. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Interest grows in our northeast Washington neighborhood’s weekly assault by one group’s use of an amplified loudspeaker. The Washington Post’s new online Express features Quest for Quiet and several of the ISUPK blogs. Check it out here

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Graham Says Still No Fix to Broken Noise Law, Wants ‘Any Ideas’

D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Graham yesterday sent a response to a D.C. resident concerned about the citywide ramifications of a broken noise statute.

Graham wrote in response to a letter Lonnie Bruner sent several weeks ago. The letter urged Graham’s committee to take action to fix the law to provide immediate relief to the northeast area residents, and to prevent hours of unabated amplified speech from blaring in residential areas anywhere in the District of Columbia.

Bruner does not live in the noise zone at H and 8th Streets NE, but resides in Graham’s Ward 1. Bruner has toured the H Street intersection to see for himself the noise harassment which could potentially erupt in his own neighborhood. Graham wrote:
Please excuse the delay in responding. I had hoped to have more specific information for you as a result of our legislative research and consideration. But we still don't have a solution. Barry [Weise] is hard at work. But we run into all manner of problems with other interests that would, unwittingly, be impacted. Any ideas you have [would] be appreciated. Bests Jim

Chairman Graham’s efforts are appreciated, but it sounds like the city council needs more help from the community. Lonnie offered some suggestions, which he dispatched to Graham yesterday:

Hello Mr. Graham,

Thank you for responding.

Would it be possible for you and/or Mr. Weise to take a fact-finding junket to the intersection of H and 8th Street NE at around 4 p.m. on any beautiful Saturday afternoon? My friend David has even begun a website (!) documenting his ongoing struggle to get the preachers to cease using the amplifier. Have you seen it? It's here: Just amazing. David clearly states throughout his website that his aim is not to stifle free speech; just to have them stop using amplifiers.

It's strange, because other municipalities have found good practices in balancing free speech and noise regulations. Why can't DC?

Have you or Mr. Weise seen the 1949 U.S. Supreme Court Case Kovacs v. Cooper, which ruled that cities can regulate amplified speech? It's here:

Another thing to consider is that most people do not have amplifiers at the ready, so when he or she tries to debate with the fellows on the sidewalk at H & 8th, their voices are snuffed out by the blaring amplifier. In other words, the amplifier actually infringes on free speech.

Thanks for anything you can do. I'm wondering if this would be dealt with differently if it took place in front of my apartment, considering that I live in a richer part of the city ... Sorry to be cynical, but such is the point we've come to.

Thank you.

Chairman Graham’s email address is Mr. Barry Weise’s email is