I started my summer in jail. My crime was "unlawful entry" into a public park. It was only 8:30 Monday morning, but a developer was preparing to build a road to his new building and I was in the way. My arrest was by choice.
At issue is whether the northern entrance to Glover Archbold Park, near Wisconsin Avenue and Van Ness Street, should be left as public park or paved for a public street.
I am an elected official. By law, the views of my neighborhood are to be given "great weight" by the mayor and his administration. I have watched, however, for a year and a half as our views -- shared by almost every resident of Ward 3 -- have been ignored by Marion Barry.
I am sworn to uphold the laws of the District of Columbia. But I have watched as the city has willfully ignored the comprehensive plan for land use.
For 18 months, the genteel residents of Ward 3 have tried to prevail through normal governmental processes. We enlisted the support of D.C. Council members, filed comments with executive agencies and even went to court.
By last Monday, all we had left were our bodies. I took mine to the park and wouldn't leave.
The comprehensive plan adopted in 1984 specifically states that the northern entrance to Glover Archbold Park should be treated as a park. "Move the northern boundary of Glover Park to Van Ness Street NW" is the language in the legislative report.
In 1987, the mayor's planning director testified in court that the executive branch didn't know what this meant. Besides, he said, it is only a guide and the need for streets is more important.
The developer used the street permits -- issued without public notice -- to obtain a building permit for his project at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. Although the street permits were eventually suspended to allow public comment, they were quickly reissued. Our comments were totally in vain.
When we went to court, we learned that the city had altered an official street map drawn more than 20 years ago illustrating the transfer of the site to the National Park Service -- a transfer of land intended to prevent the construction of a Glover Archbold parkway. This map had been altered to exclude the northernmost segment, today's construction site.
Two weeks ago, we tried to meet with the mayor. He went out of town. His aides promised, though, that the city would not argue against our request to preserve the park while the judicial process is pending. We were double-crossed. On Monday, the bulldozers came.
We can accept this, or protest it. I have come to believe that there is much more to be lost by acquiesence than by protest.
As I took my first ride in a paddy wagon last week, my fellow protesters and I recalled the famous exchange between Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau had been jailed for civil disobedience and his friend had asked, "What are you doing in there?"
Thoreau replied, "What are you doing out there?" -- Phil Mendelson is an elected member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3-C.