Who says you can't fight city hall? In the District of Columbia, you can -- and we have.
We have the advisory neighborhood commissions -- grass-roots democracy at its best. Each ANC commissioner (there are 323 of them) is elected. Each serves a two-year term. A commissioner represents about 2,000 residents in his particular single-member district.
But I think it's high time the political "know-it-alls" stopped diminishing the significance of these elected neighborhood officials.
The ANCs were established to give average residents a say in what happens to their neighborhoods. Our ANC, which includes the areas of Glover Park, Burleith, Colony Hill and Foxhall Village, has monthly meetings, and the agenda is always eclectic.
Here's a brief sample of the topics covered over the last two years: the crosstown water main project; bus shelters; water billing problems; the comprehensive plan for the city; Canal Road entrance; National Airport late- night flights; C&P Telephone rate increases; Whitehurst Freeway; Metro bus schedules; liquor-license applications, and zoning cases.
By law, the recommendations of the ANCs are to be given "great weight" by the numerous boards and agencies of the District government. Sometimes they are, and sometimes they are not. But in a world that constantly asks, "Whom do you represent?" the ANC members can rightly and proudly answer, "The people who elected me."
The most valuable contribution of this form of local government is that of an institutional convener and conciliator. Every issue, large or small, is open to discussion. If a developer wants to build a massive project that will alter the face of the neighborhood, he has to come before the ANC and hear the people who are going to live near that development. The plans must be shown; the suggestions, complaints and grievances will have to be taken into account.
There can be lively exchange. After all sides are heard, a vote is taken and the ANC adopts an official position that is sent to the appropriate agency.
So there is no reason for people to feel that they are powerless. If you have a "beef," you can just show up at meeting. You will be heard.
In a city where far too often neighbors don't know each other and do not feel close in any real way, the ANC is the link. An ANC, if it is doing its job, will mobilize the neighborhood, and city hall will be forced to listen.
In the brief history of ANCs, some have demonstrated considerable muscle. You need a stop sign built at a dangerous corner? You want a liquor license held up for review? You want that illegal construction stopped? The ANC is there.
Now, all ANCs are not created equal. And all ANC commissioners are not perfect. We are not paid for our efforts. We are volunteers. This fact should not make us defensive or weak in will or action.
Some D.C. Council members do not treat us with the respect we deserve. Some boards and commissions don't listen to our recommendations. This should not deter us.
All ANC members should make it their business to speak up loudly and clearly for the people they represent. We weren't appointed by any political official in return for loyalty, obedience and silence. We were elected.
We have clout. Let's never forget to use it.