WASHINGTON – Mayor Muriel Bowser came to St. Elizabeth’s East Campus for a celebration to heighten construction of a new facility that city officials say will aid impoverished Southeast Washington, but her media event was disrupted by protesters who claimed instead of helping the community, the project is pushing people out.
“This project is displacement!” shouted Schyla Pondexter-Moore, one of the two members of Empower DC who picketed the event on a biting cold Thursday. “You need to wake up!”
The two women, carrying a large sign that read “Stop Displacement, Don’t Move!!”, attempted to disrupt the mayor’s event by placing themselves behind her podium and shouting during her presentation
The mayor was there for a demolition event that served as the symbolic start of construction of a $55 million sports complex for the Washington Wizards and the Washington Mystics. City officials say the construction and operation of the complex will bring new jobs and spur development.
Pondexter-Moore said her organization wants the mayor to invest in public housing instead of the sports facility.
“It doesn’t help public housing from being torn down,” she said. “It doesn’t stop displacement and it doesn’t stop gentrification. We’re being pushed out of the city.
Robin Fields, the other protester, said the mayor is only focusing on one set of constituents.
“She’s appealing to rich white people,” Fields said. “She’s appealing to all these people, but not looking at us.”
Bowser stood by the 5,000-seat entertainment venue, hailing it as a significant economic development boost for southeast Washington.
“Over 380,000 people will visit the complex each and every year, driving private investment dollars to St. Elizabeth East, spurring retail and affordable housing opportunities right here near our Congress Heights Metro,” Bowser said during her speech before the demolition.
“Some may scream, some may shout, but I’ll be back,” Bowser said. “I’m going to invest. I’m going to keep our promises and it won’t just be today. It will be everyday.”
After the demolition, Bowser spoke on the protests, which stole some of her spotlight from television and other media crews.
“Nobody lives here, so nobody is being displaced,” she said.
Councilmember LaRuby May, Ward 8’s councilmember, who supports the project, also spoke on the protests.
“I know Schyla and I really appreciate her passion,” May said. “We may disagree on how to actualize that passion, but I really appreciate her passion for low income and affordable housing residents. I’m grateful to have residents who are dedicated to those issues.”