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Thousands Rally to Preserve Go-Go Culture as Gentrification Debate Continues in DC

Organizers said more than 3,000 people gathered at the intersection of 14th and U streets in Shaw to celebrate DC's historic culture

It was like a scene from Coachella: thousands of people singing in unison as the beat of drums and clash of cymbals carried over an entire cityscape.

But Tuesday's Moechella demonstration at the intersection of 14th and U streets in Northwest was more than a celebration of song and dance. It sent a message of unity and identity, as thousands of native Washingtonians celebrated the spirit of go-go music and peacefully protested the effects of gentrification on historically black neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.

"These are the longtime residents of D.C.," Karen Brown, a resident who attended the demonstration, told News4's Shomari Stone. "And I think it's important to have a culture here in D.C. I've been here all my life and I'm 67 years old."

Another attendee described it as "peaceful and harmonious."

Organizers said more than 3,000 Washingtonians attended the demonstration, and the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed to News4 that no arrests were made. D.C. Police did not give an estimate of attendance and referred News4 to organizer statistics.

But the gathering did bring D.C. residents together around the "Don't Mute D.C." slogan once again, as D.C. residents confront the threat of gentrification after two recent controversies highlighted the disconnects between the city's recent newcomers and historic residents.

For example, black Washingtonians rallied in protest in early April after a Metro PCS store in Shaw was asked to silence the go-go it had been playing from speakers at the corner of 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW for nearly 25 years after new neighbors complained about the noise.

A swift response by locals prompted the company's CEO to intervene, saying that "the music should not stop in D.C." and asking the dealer that operated the Shaw Metro PCS to work with neighbors to compromise on the volume of the music.

Photos: Moechella Demonstration Against Gentrification Gathers 3,000 Washingtonians, Organizers Say

The go-go music was a staple of the neighborhood, especially as the music genre was born in the District, and the hashtag #DontMuteDC spread quickly, prompting a massive rally of protesters at the intersection of 14th and U streets on April 9.

And later in April, anger boiled over again on social media after media reported on students at Howard University who were angry over the way new neighbors were using The Yard, a historic quad on the campus of the historically black college, to walk their dogs. The report included a comment from a neighbor who suggested Howard move their campus if they didn't want to accommodate new neighbors.

The three recent protests speak to larger tension over gentrification and the influx of new, whiter D.C. residents, especially as some warn that the District is experiencing intense displacement of black residents.

Two of the organizers behind Tuesday's demonstration, Dominique Wells and Justin Johnson, said Moechella was a way to show the cultural significance of go-go and to call attention to the effects of gentrification.

"The importance of this is to really show the community around that we still care about these issues and that people are willing to show up," Wells, known as DJ Domo, told News4.

Wells was the DJ at Tuesday's demonstration, and she said that Tuesday's event is the start of a larger, organized movement to reinforce go-go culture and celebrate D.C. native culture.

"Don't Mute D.C. is turning into a much larger movement," Wells said. "Don't Mute D.C. started as a hashtag and it garnered a lot of traction."

Wells also said this larger movement is working with community leaders and grassroots initiatives to gather their work on a united front.

The new District Culture Sustainability Initiative combines the efforts of multiple grassroots organizations, including Johnson's own Long Live Go-Go movement and the newly energized Don't Mute D.C.

Johnson said that the new initiative aims to to secure arts and culture infrastructure and city assurances that it will preserve native culture, in addition to other policies to remedy the effects of gentrification.

"It kind of all goes and meshes like that. Long Live Go-Go is definitely the overlying thing, but these peaceful rallies ... are using go-go as an attraction," Johnson told News4. "Go-go should be looked at as more than a genre of music and as a way to explain D.C. culture peacefully."

And the peaceful demonstration in D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood comes as Mayor Muriel Bowser highlights additional efforts to combat gentrification and its negative effects on local communities.

Speaking to residents of Southeast D.C. on Wednesday, Bowser made the case for her budget's proposal for "family success centers" in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and introduced her Families First DC agenda to facilitate residents access to city services in Wards 7 and 8.

Bowser also highlighted her efforts to secure more guarantees from the business and development community to fund affordable housing, workforce education and job training programs, but she did not comment on the Moechella demonstration.

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