I started going to my local Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting for two main reasons. One is because I recently bought a house and wanted to get more involved in my new community. The other is because my particular ANC has long been an infamous, drama-filled shitshow and seems to be trying to turn things around.
But now that I’ve been attending off and on for several months and drawing it for my Instagram, I’ve come to really appreciate these meetings. Let me take you on an tour with illustrations I drew live at this month’s meeting!
If they’re cops, they have tell you
Each meeting, police officers from the local precinct give a report and take questions. It’s a great opportunity to hear about the crime that’s actually happening near your home, see how your neighbors feel, and ask questions. Here’s an example: in March, Black Youth Project 100 activists presented on decriminalizing sex work. The next month, cops announced a big prostitution sweep and residents asserted their preference for clients to be punished and not sex workers. The law is the law, but cops and prosecutors have wide latitude, so local feedback can be meaningful.
Girl you better step it up!
Different kinds of people make presentations to the ANC. Some issues are evergreen, like trash. But you never know when you might hear from a truly inspiring speaker! Cotey Wynn is a violence interrupter in the Cure the Streets pilot program. His job is preventing people from dying in Trinidad. It’s a new program, but it’s fantastic to be able to hear him describe his work in person.
Some taxation, some representation
If you’ve ever voted in DC, you know how abstract-seeming and confusing it can be to figure out who to choose. I find it helpful to think of ANC commissioners as (non)state legislators. You can use the ANC to keep in touch with your representatives, including staff members from the Mayor’s office and your ward’s councilmember. And it’s a two way street — they’re there to hear your concerns and interests.
It’s like the West Wing, but for your neighborhood
Interested in all that fascinating policy stuff you learned about from reading 730DC? See it in action in the slow-grinding gears of bureaucracy! Have questions about the newly free Circulator bus? Curious about local zoning rules? It’s all on display at the ANC. See where the process breaks down, and where it succeeds. You can watch developers come back, again and again, until they’ve satisfied community demands for more family-sized apartments in their plans.
The more you learn
ANCs are also a venue for advocates spreading the word about their services. Learn about what scams are going around and the programs you can use to save money. There’s a plethora of information available — especially for homeowners — on everything from solar installation to raccoon deterrence. Despite what you may read on local forums and comment sections, there are many city employees who actually want to help you. A lot them come to ANC meetings.
Break out the maypole
Finally, a lot of people promote local events you might otherwise miss. In some cases, hearing the organizer explain why they’re planning something can feel like a friend telling you about it. Besides, you’re more likely to volunteer, learn, dance or feast at an event if you can walk to it. It’s your neighborhood, make the most of it!