Friday, June 08, 2007

Are You Being Served?

Those of us who live within the East Central Civic Association's (ECCA) amorphous boundaries (see below) may legitimately wonder what purpose is served by that organization, other than being something that Leroy Thorpe could claim to be president of after his defeat for ANC commission last November. (For an account of how he hijacked the ECCA, see here.)

The ECCA was founded in 1947 in then-segregated Washington, and it was once an important voice for the black community in this part of the city, who were excluded from the political power structure of the city. Recently, however, the ECCA has done little but hold monthly meetings, which generally have been attended by no more than 15-20 people. Even though I live in its area, I have never seen a meeting announcement flyer on my block. The organization has no web site (I naively offered to help set one up last year, but got the brush-off) and no e-mail address, even though it has supposedly received computers as largesse from the ANC and private donors for the express purpose of communicating with the public and the police. Unlike the activist Mt. Vernon Square Neighborhood Association which organizes neighborhood projects and engages constructively with city agencies, the ECCA basically does nothing.

So what area does the ECCA cover? Well, that depends on who you ask. Former President Betty Newell defined it as being bounded by NJ Avenue on the east, RI Avenue on the north, 7th St. on the west and O Street on the south. Now, according to a notice in Jack Evans's latest newsletter, "it serves the area bounded by 3rd Street, NE on the east, Pennsylvania Avenue, on the south, 7th Street, NW on the west and Florida Avenue on the north." So all you folks in Mt. Vernon Square, Gallery Place, Penn Quarter, Truxton Circle, NoMA, and a little piece of Capitol Hill: you should know that Leroy Thorpe claims to speak for you.

In my opinion, the ECCA doesn't actually serve anyone (except perhaps its "president"). So is it time to create something else that would? A couple of other people have raised that idea as well.

Does it even matter? Sadly, I think it does. Despite improvements in responsiveness under Tony Williams, this city still operates under a system of patronage politics with a lethargic bureaucracy that often won't move unless prodded from above. It really shouldn't take two years and intervention by the mayor's ombudsman Joe Martin (who is doing a fantastic job, by the way) to get lights in the NJ&O park, but it does. Organizations carry more clout with the city government than individuals do. They get recognized and listened to at neighborhood events. Visibility counts.

One possibility would be to organize a new neighborhood association that would basically cover the part of Shaw that lies outside of Mt. Vernon Square's area. Given ECCA's exaggerated territorial claims which encompass a number of existing neighborhood or civic associations (e.g., MVSNA, Downtown, Bates Area, and probably some others I don't know about) there shouldn't be any problem about having another independent organization operating within its purported boundaries. But starting something like that is a major commitment and should not be undertaken lightly.

Another less ambitious option would be to organize around a specific issue or two that is of concern to the community--derelict properties, for example. As glad as I am to see the spotlight shining on Shiloh's egregious offenses, that's just the tip of the iceberg, and most of the derelict properties in the neighborhood are in private hands. MVSNA has done a great job at getting an inventory made of such properties in its area and engaging city agencies, but there is no similar effort for the rest of Shaw. Face it: ECCA will never do anything of the sort, and the ANC won't either because it remains deadlocked. But there's no reason residents couldn't form an association to attack such problems, and maybe eventually it could evolve into something else.

The important thing is to be inclusive and genuinely open to anyone who wants to be involved--something that the ECCA unfortunately is not.

I hope this post will stimulate a dialogue which I'd be happy to continue here and in other forums.


At 6/08/2007 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a culture where personalities rule over talent, skill, and sometimes intelligence, who do you think should run for the leadership positions of such an organization? Nothing is going to happen if no one steps up to try and organize and lead. But anyone who does will face the constant attack of Mr Thorpe and his coven at every turn.


At 6/09/2007 6:41 AM, Blogger IMGoph said...

all the way to 3rd NE??? you must be kidding me. the ECCA speaks for people who live behind the capitol? this is just incredulous.

At 6/09/2007 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why not increase the scope of mt. vernon association....maybe "Mount Venrnon Square & Shaw" association?

At 6/10/2007 8:03 AM, Anonymous rr446 said...

i use to belong to The Shaw Coalition. we were a very active and fun group and we got alot done plus we gave jack evans heartburn too!
LOL. just ask him!

At 6/10/2007 9:04 AM, Blogger DaddyFiveOh said...

Paola: I'd love it if MVSNA would adopt us orphans, though I'm not sure if they want us. They just expanded their boundaries to the south. I think one constraint was the desire not to poach on ECCA's territory. However, given that ECCA is now claiming all of theirs, maybe this doesn't matter any more.

Richard: I'd like to hear more about the Shaw Coalition. What happened to it? Does it still exist?

At 6/10/2007 12:08 PM, Anonymous rr 446 said...

the shaw coalition included activists from almost every ward. our individuality respected, we came from foggy bottom, upper ward 3, anacostia, ward 7 and shaw. perhaps our biggest achievement was getting the convetion center redesigned to open L and M Sts to traffic and the height limited. we also questioned the public finance of the center, challanged the authority of the control board, said no to pandering politicians and the chamber of commerce. currently, the Shaw Coalition is taking a nap and can be reactivated at a moments notice. one of our assocates is now the mayor of DC. we supported dems, repulicans and statehood/greens. if you google Shaw Coalition you can find us. the establishment politicians could get nothing from us.

At 6/14/2007 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the the Shaw Coalition also the East Shaw Coalition? I was not aware of these websites until rr446 suggested the Google query:


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