Dance report

Seattle City Council Rally Report: Monday, April 9, 2002

LAST SATURDAY, I went down to the Theater Off Jackson in the International District to see a favorite local band, Teen Ctchulhu, play an early all-ages show at the Vera Project. While there, I picked up a flyer for a Monday afternoon rally to oppose the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) in Seattle City Council chambers.

The city is under a serious threat of having its ass handed to it by a federal judge over the TDO. That's because the Joint Artists and Musicians Promotions Action Committee (JAMPAC) is suing to overturn the law on the grounds it is unconstitutional. Judge Robert Lasnik has given the city and JAMPAC until April 29th to work out a compromise. If they don't, Lasnik will rule and may toss the law entirely. Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council should act now to repeal the TDO and approve the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO), a far more intelligent and community-supported law that was sponsored by City Council member Richard Conlin. (The former mayor, Paul Schell, vetoed the bill in August 2000 after the City Council passed it.)

I decided I ought to attend this hastily scheduled rally, you know—maybe I'd hear what sort of reasonable (or entirely lame-ass) explanation the council would have for not acting. Generally, council meetings are about as fascinating as watching paint dry on a wall. But it was more than a council meeting. I came upon something far more interesting: Kids straight up bum-rushed the show. Today, bureaucracy put on its dancing shoes.

At 1:30 p.m., I dropped four quarters into the parking meter on 4th and James, feeling like I was about to be bored to death with a lot of roll-call hoo-hah and refined political discourse. If need be, I was more than willing to ask a few questions myself. Little did I know that for those same four quarters, I was about to attend a concert of sorts. I arrived on the 11th floor to witness a surreal display of near-Dadaist performance art: About 20 youths and adults politely danced and clapped their way into the council chambers head office, while Sean Nelson and Ken Stringfellow charmed everyone in sight with a lovely rendition of the Who's "The Kids Are Alright." As TV cameras rolled, The Stranger's Dan Savage gently led stunned City Council member Heidi Wills (smile hard for the cameras!) in a bit of close-quarters ballroom dancing as he engaged her with pointed questions regarding the council's tardiness on repealing the TDO. She muttered a few incoherent words; still, her radiant smile lit up the room and made everyone feel good about how things were moving along. That moment alone was worth the price of admission.

The rally then quickly carried itself to council chambers, where in front of the entire City Council the song and dance routine was struck up once again to the delight and embarrassment of all, including Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel (who, by the way, was instrumental in helping to write the proposed AADO). The Dance-Alert seemed to achieve its desired effect.

When composed enough to speak his mind, City Council President Peter Steinbrueck (dressed very nicely in a casual business suit and, from afar, looking handsomely like actor Peter Fonda) stammered, "You have a lot of support on the council." He then went on to blame the court system for the holdups on implementing the AADO.

But these additional words, I am sad to report, were wrong. As in bullshit. Because as everyone paying attention to this issue knows, it was just last week that Judge Lasnik told JAMPAC attorney David Osgood and the city attorney's office that this issue seemed to him like something that could easily be decided legislatively, as opposed to by judicial means. Thus, effectively, the judge kicked it back to City Hall.

Having grown into adulthood with the TDO around this city's neck, I've never seen it as an "us (kids)" against "them (adults)" issue. I've simply acknowledged it for what it is—a poorly written law that hurts the community. Being 17 shouldn't mean you're invisible and have nowhere to see or do the things you enjoy, like live music. Being over 21 doesn't mean the plight facing kids doesn't affect your life in socially, economically, and ethically significant ways. Thousands of people, minors and adults alike, are terribly too familiar with the price the TDO has exacted. It's damaged this city's ability to nurture music, arts, and responsible community involvement across generations. The TDO has helped to create a city where people of different age groups ignore and fear one another simply because they aren't familiar with one another's interests, subcultures, and fashions. Kids and adults have little appreciation for one another's art and music because so few are able to routinely engage in these activities in the same place at the same time.

The TDO's crippling legal and financial hassles have seen to that. Community is built on a multifaceted exchange of fluid ideas, new information, and shared, though ever-evolving, standards. Under the TDO as it exists right now, we have very few shared experiences, save for sports events and Bumbershoot. But not everyone can afford season tickets to Safeco Field or day passes to Bumbershoot. Not everyone has the same taste in arts and entertainment. These limited options do not support or define "community" in all its myriad forms. At its core, this issue isn't about kids needing places to dance and see live music. Truly, this is about community.

The TDO has served to stifle what should be normal, informal, and informative community interactions. Watching a live band should be as commonplace in a minor's development as seeing the Mariners lose in the eleventh hour, surrounded by drunken adult fans swilling King beers and swearing their asses off. C'mon! Enough already. Young and old alike, people in this city want to enjoy art—and they want to do it as a city comprised of people of all ages. We want the TDO repealed because we understand how art helps shape a community. Art is supposed to be something that brings people together. During its reign, the TDO has only created divisions while not substantially improving the lives of young people or the city's overall quality of life. It hasn't made the city safer for our kids; rather it's merely made our kids more aimless. It simply doesn't work. The AADO is a viable alternative to the TDO. The language of the AADO has been roundly researched, debated, and ultimately recommended by members of city government (cops, Fire Department, and City Council) and a broad cross section of music advocates, parents, and kids within our community. What more prompting do the mayor and the City Council need?

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