Legislation designating go-go as the official music of the District has the full support of the D.C. Council and, as shown in a recent hearing, that of the go-go community. If approved and signed into law, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) will have to create programming that supports, preserves and archives go-go music and its storied history.
The public testimonies of more than 40 go-go industry titans, public figures and government officials last Wednesday represented a turning point in a movement birthed out of a fight to keep go-go music blaring from outdoor speakers on 7th Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest. Since April, Don’t Mute DC, LongLiveGoGo and go-go industry leaders have attracted generations of fans to live events at the Reeves Center, United Medical Center, the Washington Monument and other D.C. landmarks.
Concurrently and outside of the confines of the go-go community, several youths have embraced gun violence, while schools east of the Anacostia River faced budget cuts and residents reeled from the effects of hospital closures. Throughout the spring and summer, even as some citizens bemoaned the growing focus on go-go, popular bands used their platforms to organize fans around their political causes.
This small, but significant, apprehension about go-go’s legislative embrace takes attention away from the political and economic forces that have relegated working-class District Black families to pockets of the city and suburbs, threatened their power of cultural expression and created conditions that induce violence. Instead of demanding that our city leadership create all that comes with the ideal life in the District — including safe streets and the respect for go-go culture — we clamor for attention due to what we erroneously believe to be a dearth of resources.
During last week’s hearing, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), the key champion of the Go-Go Official Music of the District of Columbia Designation Act, alluded to a concern that its preservation could become lost within the sea of issues currently on the District government’s plate, including affordable housing, public safety and workforce development.
McDuffie concluded that the District government can “walk and chew gum.”
Whether that has been the case depends on who you ask. Artists who sent letters to several D.C. officials would argue that the city hasn’t made adequate use of vacant spaces east of the Anacostia River for local creatives. More recently, rent control advocates, in the throes of a battle to extend protections, said legislation under consideration doesn’t close loopholes routinely exploited by landlords and developers.
Ironically, while a throng of native Washingtonians and D.C. transplants filled the streets to celebrate the victory of their Washington Nationals in the World Series, many, following the festivities, returned to communities not of their own choosing — victims in the city’s ongoing gentrification onslaught that disproportionately impacts Blacks. Thus, when the inevitable occurs and McDuffie’s go-go bill becomes part of the District’s legislation, it will emerge and impact a city where the neighborhoods that go-go bands once affirmed and celebrated no longer exist and where Blacks, whether go-go aficionados or not, no longer represent the majority in a place once proudly and accurately known as Chocolate City.
Sam P.K. Collins is a grassroots journalist and educator. In addition to writing for The Washington Informer, he hosts The AllEyesOnDC Show at Sankofa Video Books & Café every third Friday night of the month.