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Maybe it’s because I’m new to the D.C. area, but I can’t seem to figure out the purpose of attending ANC meetings.

I thought ANC meetings were created to form active communication between political bigwigs—they are bigwigs, right?—with everyday D.C. residents. But after attending my fifth (and maybe last) meeting last night, all I’ve noticed are older community members complaining about loud music and speeding cars.

Last night I attended the Petworth community’s ANC 4D meeting at MPD’s 4th District. In a rather small corner room, about 20 community members gathered for more than an hour discussing ways to improve their neighborhood dog park.

The meeting sparked up when one resident asked the commission board if her petition for new speed bumps was reviewed since the last meeting. When she realized no one had a clue what she was talking about, another 15 minutes were spent with the crowd discussing the inefficiency of the ANC and why nothing ever gets done.

I heard several soft mumbles from a few residents—“this meeting is pointless”—and from others slight snoring sounds.

At another meeting I attended last month, I noticed a mass of empty chairs as community members discussed corner store closings and trash on the sidewalks.

I asked 4D-03 Commissioner Robert Whiddon what he thought the overall problem with ANC meetings is:

“The D.C. government preys on empathy,” he says. “Nothing is going to change because the people in the community are OK with being docile citizens. The mayor comes to the meetings and gives out his personal cell phone number telling people to call with concerns, but he is not going to call these people back. There are simply too many people with small issues that matter to them.”

“But 20 people coming to a neighborhood meeting is sad. In an area of over 1,000 residents, our meetings should be packed. It’s just pathetic. We need to get people out to these meetings by buying food, giving away prizes, or awarding raffles.”

Another problem he says is the overwhelming number of ANCs in the district. There are currently 37 ANC commissions and more than 250 representatives in all eight wards. Whiddon says that with 37 geographic clusters complaining about traffic lights, reckless teenagers, or the need for speed bumps, there is no way that the D.C. government is going to take anyone seriously.
People give up, he says, when it takes almost two years to get a rotting tree taken out or stop sign put in.

But guess what? It’s still true that you can’t fix something if you don’t do anything about it. ANC elections are coming up in November; petitions to be a political bigwig can be picked up in early August.