how to: effect change #2

Some efforts in our neighborhood have been officially sponsored by our civic association, while others have been done quietly. What I mean here is that, in order to get things done, you have to learn discretion. Each situation calls for a different tactic, and, if it isn’t working, change your tactic.

2. Acquire political capital
There are situations where a sensitive issue requires popular opinion, and you need the right political capital to create change.
Example: Our Civic Association became a political force after we were able to shut down a nightclub. But, this was a very difficult endeavor that took eight months. Those eight months, I might add, brought a number of us to consider abandoning the neighborhood. A night club opened, without warning, and chaos descended upon our neighborhood every weekend (crowds, fights, gunfire, 15+ police vehicles for crowd control alone).

Stage 1: we went through the proper channels.
A number of residents went to the city’s zoning and codes enforcement, Fire department, and the state ABC board. The city forced the business owner to size the events down to the maximum occupancy, but, due to a loophole in the city’s land use ordinance, the nightclub was allowed to exist (the loophole, which was due to a “restaurant” being undefined was fixed a year later when other nightclubs became a problem). We contested the pending ABC license and won. The business owner had a number of violations from his previous ventures. We also sent out a letter to the church that owned the property, informing them of the issues that the club was creating for neighbors.

Stage 2: we tried reaching out to find a middle ground with the owner.
Once the ABC license was denied, the nightclub became a teen nightclub. Mass fights and shootouts spilled onto neighborhood streets. We called upon our City Councilperson and our police. But, the business owner declared that we were trying to shut him down because of race. In a city and area with less than stellar racial history, we found ourselves without any help from the city. We had stumbled onto an untouchable issue. We scheduled a meeting with the business owner to attempt a mediation for how he could run his business without negatively impacting the neighborhood. The meeting ended without any resolution.

Stage 3. we found an unlikely ally and garnered the much needed political capital.
There was so much outcry that the city could no longer ignore the issue (7 months in). The business owner scheduled a community meeting in association with police. During the meeting, the official RPD story was that the nightclub did not cause any issues in their policing activity. Now, on most nights, RPD has 2 – 4 patrol units per sector. Every Friday or Saturday, there was a minimum of 15 patrol units at this club. Every street officer I spoke with informed me that this was a huge issue, that officers were working overtime to monitor the weekly crowds and that patrols were pulled out of the other sectors. The community meeting also ended without any progress. But, someone sent a tip to the local newspaper, and a reporter covered a night at the club. Then, we hit the jackpot – the newspaper ran an editorial from a respected black editor, who lambasted the club for its exploitation of black teens. He noted that the club only added to the troubles faced by underprivileged black youth, instead of providing a positive entertainment venue. Within a month, the city shut down the club due to unpaid taxes.

Now, four years after this happened, I recognize that a lot of people worked behind the scenes at the city, so that when the neighborhood had the popular opinion, the club could be closed immediately. If a similar situation were to arise, I would find that political capital earlier in the process. However, this incident gave our civic association power: we have had better cooperation from the city in other efforts. We also have never had to worry about that property: we were told that the city planning department wouldn’t allow a similar use on that site again. And, four years later, the building was demo’d and a store built, with official approval and conditions from the civic association.

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