Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Free Speech: Posted and Spoken

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The Cuban revolutionary icon Che Guevara adorns a sign taped to the light pole on southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Saturday, March 25. The poster announced a meeting for a group called the “A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition” (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). It apparently was unrelated to the amplified fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) assembled on the same spot. The intersection is a busy bus transfer point, and draws many postings of commercial and political content. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Free speech is cool. Free speech with a beret is fashionable. Blasting residential homes with hours of amplified free speech is harassment.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

ISUPK Says Noise Could Be Worse

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) During a sidewalk conversation Saturday, Yahanna (right) and one of the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) joke that my photographs will intentionally make Yahanna appear not so handsome. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Of the 12 Saturdays so far in 2006, the fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) were absent from the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on only two occasions—Feb. 6 and 13. Beyond those two snowy days, the group was loud and proud.

Yahanna is the name of the fellow with whom I’ve managed to have cordial conversations in the past. Whether he is the group’s official leader, I’m unsure. But his presence seems to instill some manners to the rest of the fellows. In a good-natured way, he accuses me of using “Quest for Quiet” to slander his group.

A neighbor on Friday, March 24, witnessed the ISUPK group’s usual Friday rant and rave at the at the Metro Center Station entrance on the corner of 12th and G Streets NW. They were not using the amplifier, and I asked Yahanna about this during our sidewalk conversation

He replied that they do use it there, but not all the time. He added that the ISUPK doesn’t always use it at H and 8th Streets NE either. Yahanna is technically correct, but the last time this occurred was on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2005.

So, how do they decide on those few times to not use the amplifier?

Yahanna said it simply was an internal decision between the guys in the group. He didn’t elaborate further, but I offered to quote him verbatim:

“When you move into D.C., everyone has to expect some protest at some time, within certain reasonable hours and limits. I don’t believe David and his cohorts would be attacking us for so many reasons other than the sound device. Now the Big Guys have joined in because they want to see H Street changed.”

I pointed out that the neighbors in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE support the ISUPK’s right to assemble and speak on the corner—we only desire they stop using the loud amplifier for hours and hours every Saturday.

But who are these so-called “Big Guys” that have joined in support of the neighborhood?

Yahanna said he couldn’t recall the Big Guys’ name, but was sure it wasn’t the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (6A and 6C). From my experience, I’m certain he’s not talking about the D.C. City Council.

Yahanna reminded me that the amplified noise could be much worse.

He said his group could choose to use much larger loudspeakers that would really blow out the entire neighborhood. However, he said, the group chooses to use the smaller, 13-pound amplifier—as if he was doing the community a favor.

I agreed that there was a loophole in the law allowing hours of amplified speech (with no apparent decibel limit) anywhere in the District of Columbia. For the sake of quiet, the statute needs fixing.

As we spoke, I pointed to a yellow plastic bag, which covered the operational amplifier. Yahanna shrugged and said he did not know why it was covered this week—but kiddingly suggested it was to reduce the noise.

Funny guy, that Yahanna.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Yahanna embraces a man who identified himself as Cuzzo (right). He apparently was moved by the ISUPK’s words on Saturday. Note that the blaring amplifier was shrouded in a yellow plastic bag for unexplained reasons. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

ISUPK’s Greatest Hits?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) This Feb. 25 photograph shows that, in addition to leaflets, the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge provides free compact discs to some passersby, while others are refused. I’m not sure the nature of the discs’ content—perhaps recordings of the group’s amplified speeches? (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Leaflets Are Quiet, But Not for All

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A woman shopping on H Street NE receives a flyer from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) on Saturday, March 11. Though stingy with their flyers—they refuse some people—the fellows don’t discriminate when it comes to who must bear their hours-long amplified bellowing. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Forget the Atlas; H Street Already Entertains

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) In an amazing display of street theatrics, Yahanna, of the troupe “Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge” (ISUPK), shouts into the microphone and hurls a plastic Madonna to the sidewalk. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

H Street NE urban planners’ vision for an arts and entertainment district near the Atlas Performing Arts Center in the 1300 block overlooked the hustle and flow happening at the intersection of H and 8th Streets.

As hard-hatted workers toil to restore the storied Atlas performance space five blocks east, one troupe every Saturday efficiently assembles its stage and sound amplification system to transform the shabby corner into a theatre-lover’s paradise.

Gorgeous costumes of urban camouflage, tassels and berets provide practical protection against the elements. Carefully placed and not-so-subtly-used props are the envy of any Shakespearean actor.

But don’t take my word for the group’s success: ISUPK’s long-running string of Saturday shows rival many of Broadway’s smash hits.

There is a lesson here for the leaders of the Atlas Performing Art Center, and careful attention should be paid to the ISUPK troupe’s formula for success: Open-air performances. That’s right. Remove the walls and roof from the Atlas. Turn the sound amplifiers to the sun and stars and crank-up the volume! The lucky neighbors can enjoy endless hours of free theatre—whether they want to or not!

Unfortunately for the ISUPK troupe, cold, windy conditions during Saturday’s (March 18) performance lowered audience numbers. The weather also reduced the show’s impact on the residents in and around the 700 block of 8th Street—too chilly to open windows or be outside for long periods of time. Plus, fewer audience members meant fewer amplified outbursts radiating from the corner.

But the neighbors agree it still was an amazing show—they have season tickets to hear it every Saturday.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Helping Hand on H Street

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A woman inserts folded bills into the donation jug of the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) at the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Saturday, March 11. There is no indication about how the group uses the donations, however, one can conclude it may have funded the amplifier. No need to buy batteries—it is powered by a rechargeable battery. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

ANC: Council Should Take Action on Noise by March 31

Echoing January action by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C (ANC6C), a second ANC has asked the District of Columbia City Council to fix its apparently flawed noise statute.

During its monthly meeting on March 9, ANC6A unanimously voted to formally request that the District of Columbia City Council consider amending the “Georgetown Project and Noise Control Amendment Act of 2004” in order to modify an exception currently contained in the noise ordinance that permits amplified free speech on the city’s public streets.

In a letter to Councilmember Jim Graham, chair of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, ANC6A said that a December 2005 opinion letter from the Office of the Attorney General clearly states that the now amended Noise Control Act of 1977 exempts the following: “A sound shall not be considered a noise disturbance if made during noncommercial public speaking during the daytime.”

“This allows the use of an amplifier on any residential street in our city,” said the ANC to Graham, whose committee has jurisdiction over the noise issue.

The ANC letter was distributed to Councilmember Chair Linda Cropp; Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose; Councilmember Jack Evans--who sponsored the 2004 Georgetown noise amendment--and three members of Graham’s committee: Councilmembers Kwame R. Brown, David Catania, and Adrian Fenty. Deputy Attorney General David M. Rubenstein also received a copy.

The ANC6A letter states:

Currently, members of the Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ, Inc. gather on Saturdays at the corner of Eighth and H Streets, NE to exercise their right of free speech. This group often uses an amplifier to deliver their religious message. The use of the amplifier projects the sound to the surrounding streets in all directions disturbing the peace, order and quiet of our neighborhood. Please see attached article that recently appeared in the Voice of the Hill newspaper.

We have no objection to the group or their religious speech. Our objection is the use of the powered amplifier. Over the last year, we have been working with the residents, Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General to try to resolve this issue. We appear to be at a bureaucratic / legislative stand-off--the agencies state they can not act due to the law and the Council has yet to consider modifying the noise ordinance. In the meantime, the residents continue to suffer.

In close, we are appealing to the Council sense of propriety to adopt an amendment by March 31, 2006, to solve this problem. The continued silence of Council perpetuates the bureaucratic vacuum of indecision that denies residents the peace and quiet they are entitled to in a residential community.

Let’s hope the City Council can provide our neighborhood some relief--while ensuring protection from this type of behavior for other residential communities in the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Piercing Pink Protester

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) An infuriated woman leans into her scream back at the scoffing fellows with an amplifier—they represent the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). The heated exchange about God and women happened at the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Saturday, March 11 at about 6:15 p.m. When arguments such as this one break out at the intersection, the volume level at the corner jumps, further disturbing the residential neighborhood to the south. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A City Without A Clue

A story posted yesterday on the Voice of the Hill website finds continued finger pointing and bumbling between District of Columbia agencies and the city council about what the D.C. noise statute really means.

The story, Evans Says AG’s Interpretation of Noise Law is Wrong (March 13), reports Council Member Jack Evans—the D.C. Council member who authored a 2004 amendment to the city’s noise control ordinance—said the law was only written for the Georgetown area, despite an interpretation by the attorney general’s office that says the amendment provides a legal loophole for a church group to use an amplifier and preach on a street corner in Northeast.

Meanwhile, the story reports that Council Members Jim Graham and Sharon Ambrose have yet to take action on fixing the law.

Is this noise problem really so controversial that nobody on the city council wants to address it? Otherwise it’s beginning to seem like a severe case of ineptitude.

Again, I emphasize our neighborhood is focused simply on stopping the use of the amplifier: We support free speech, assembly and religion, however we also believe in our right to peace and quiet in our residential community.

Meanwhile, I’ve sent these questions to both the offices of Graham and Ambrose, as well as the D.C. Office of Attorney General. The residents in and around the 700 block of 8th St NE deserve a clear answer:

In light of this article, what's the next step?
Why is the City Council stalled on this issue?
Will the Office of Attorney General take another look at the law?
Does the city need to clarify the statute?
If the law is unclear, can an injunction be issued to stop the use of the amplifier until the issue is resolved?

Are the residents not being heard? Apparently members of the D.C. city council—or attorneys with the Office of Attorney General—would benefit from having these questions blared from an amplified loudspeaker for six or more hours in their neighborhood during a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Flowers Bloom, Amplifiers Boom

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man named Steve is dismayed Saturday evening after being ridiculed at the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE by the extremely loud amplified fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK). Steve was at a disadvantage in defending his views—his unaided voice was drowned out by the powered amplifier. His right to freedom of speech was trampled by the preachers’ ability to buy and use an amplifier. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Warm spring weather is a mixed blessing to the friends and neighbors in and around the700 block of 8th Street NE. The residents ventured outside and opened windows, only to be pummeled by six hours of amplified preaching punctuated by heated arguments between passersby and the fellows from the ISUPK. There was little wind on Saturday, which meant the soundwaves were a continuous drone throughout the residential neighborhood.

Lovely weather also brings more people outside to the shops and bus stops at the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE. This results in more disagreements and yelling on the sidewalk by both preacher and passerby. At one point, Yohanna—the apparent ISUPK leader from Philadelphia—stooped down from the stage made of milk crates and boards to turn up the volume of the amplifier.

The amplifier was so loud, in fact, that after photographing in front of the stage for nearly an hour, my ears were ringing. I could still hear them clearly from the doorway of my home until the ISUPK boys called it quits, sometime well after dark.

Saturday, March 11 was just a peek at the noisy weekends to come for the community. This harassment is apparently allowed by a loophole in the city law, which allows amplified, non-commercial free speech in the District of Columbia between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

This means anyone can come in from out of town—like the ISUPK gang—set up on any corner sidewalk in the city and scream through an amplifier. The residents are powerless to stop it. It’s not a fun way to spend a Saturday.

It’s time for the city council to take action to give all residents relief.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A man named Charlie attempts to console Steve (left) as the ISUPK fellows use the amplifier to yell and laugh at Steve’s views. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Good or Bad, There's No Need for Noise

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Apparently inspired by the preachers on Saturday, March 4, a man addicted to drugs weeps as he shed his coat to display his arms and legs. They were swollen and covered in scabs. Despite the close proximity of the men, the amplifier still was employed. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Amplifier aside, the message spouted by fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) every Saturday at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE is polarizing. I’ve seen people respond to the preachers angrily and defiantly. I’ve also observed people shout words of support, bump fists, and drop money in the donation container. And some people are moved beyond words.

It was cold and windy Saturday (March 4), and few people milled about at the four bus stops posted at the busy intersection. In between the preachers' flinging insults at me and other passersby, I noticed two fellows who appeared mesmerized by the ISUPK’s dramatic street theatrics.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The man who would eventually remove his coat (left) and Tony weep as they listen within feet of the amplified preachers. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Soon, both men began to weep and openly reflect on the condition of their lives, mainly derailed by the use of drugs. Then, in an apparent public confession, one of the men shed his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves and pant legs to reveal limbs, swollen and covered in scabs.

The preacher dubbed “The Hurler,” who earlier had been heaving not-so-kind words my way, advised the man all was not lost: He could kick the drug habit by starting small. He advised the coat-less man to stop eating pork first, then move onto bigger challenges, gaining strength to beat the drugs.

After an exchange of hugs between both men and the preachers, they helped the man back into his coat.

Meanwhile, I spoke with the other man, who told me his name was Tony. Tony lived north of East Capitol Street. He’d been seeking treatment for his habit—he didn’t tell me the nature—but that he’d not always had success. He told me that the preachers were “right on.” Then he hugged me.

I’m not aware of what other help or advice ISUPK offered to the men. I’m certainly not equipped to deal with these issues—beyond listening and a hug, I wasn’t much of a boost.

No matter how one feels about the ISUPK’s message—or whether the group’s presence helps or hinders the community—it is clear to me that these issues would still remain if the group stopped using the amplifier. These exchanges all happen on the sidewalk within 10-feet of the ISUPK’s assembled stage, showing no clear need for the neighborhood to be blasted all afternoon by an electrified loudspeaker.

Let’s solve this noise issue so we can work together to help people like Tony and the man who shed his coat.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Tony (left) talks to one of the ISUPK fellows a few feet from the amplifier in front of the Sports Zone at the corner of H and 8th Streets NE. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Amplified Agitation

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) The amplified fellows from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) seemed especially defensive Saturday, March 4, about my photographing them. At one point, the ISUPK yellers became so agitated that one of the camouflage-clad dudes carrying a big stick walked over and stood between me and the fellow I dubbed “The Hurler.” (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Windy, cold days result in two factors that reduce the amplified noise impact for those living in and around the 700 block of 8th Street NE:

1. Depending on the wind direction, sound waves are blown and scattered, and
2. Fewer people congregate on the corner and at the bus stop, which means fewer screaming matches occur between passersby and the amplified preachers.

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Saturday’s wind blew posters and upended the 13 pound amplifier—also used as a paperweight—several times. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

The blustery weather also apparently put the amplified fellows of the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) in a foul mood, because they were overly agitated about my photographing them yesterday. Or maybe these fellows simply lacked adult supervision—their apparent leader, Yohanna, with whom I’ve had on occasion somewhat cordial conversations—was nowhere to be seen.

Besides the usual spoonfuls of rhetoric flung at people walking past or waiting for the bus, the ISUPK fellows were extraordinarily generous in their flailing of insults my way—the usual “cracker,” “faggot,” and “white devil.” I would be remiss if I did not report a new, devious word bestowed upon me by one of the yellers: “Blogger” for their apparent displeasure about their amplified noise being the focus of “Quest for Quiet.”

But I certainly am not the only person subject to their diatribes.

One young girl reading a book near the bus stop became a target of the verbal abuse after she apparently looked up at the word “lesbian.” Instantly, she was the center of his amplified rant.

He asked if she was a lesbian. She didn’t answer immediately. And then he went into a barrage of words about how all the “faggots” and “lesbians” would be killed—by God, of course. He told her she could still change. She finally yelled at him to “fuck off!”

And they seemed especially defensive about my photographing them. At one point, the ISUPK yellers became so agitated that one of the camouflage-clad dudes carrying a big stick walked over and stood between me and the fellow I dubbed “The Hurler.” (“Hurler” represents the fellow’s extreme talent for hurling extreme words via the amplifier at passersby and, of course, yours truly.)

After they were finished preaching, around 6:30 p.m., Hurler said I was too close with my camera making photographs. He said I was rude, lacked manners and was invading his personal space. Wow—that’s coming from a fellow whose group routinely uses an amplifier every Saturday without regard to disrupt the neighborhood’s peace and quiet.

It’s also ironic coming from a group which every Saturday assembles a stage and amplifier on a public sidewalk to yell insults and slander people walking past on the sidewalk or waiting for the bus.

I replied to him that the neighbors feel the same way about the ISUPK’s use of the amplifier. I told him I would make a deal: I would stop photographing them so close if they would stop using the amplifier. He said no and that they would continue to use the amplifier.

See you next Saturday, I replied.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE) After the ISUPK’s amplified yelling session Saturday, a discussion about manners. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Friday, March 03, 2006


(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A passerby pauses in front of the amplified preachers assembled on the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE on Saturday, Feb. 25. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In the Noise Zone

As the District of Columbia Council wrangles with noise statute, I am somewhat bewildered how the laws and regulations are applied to city zoning in relation to noise. This map--based on documents from the D.C. Office of Zoning--is of the area around H and 8th Streets NE. (CLICK TO ENLARGE DIAGRAM)

The red asterisk signifies the location in the area zoned C-2-B where the preachers assemble nearly every Saturday. The red arrow shows that the amplifier is aimed south toward the residential homes in the area zoned R-4.

Check out the satellite view (image made before Foot Locker structure was built).