“DC Street Vendors Win Support of Chairman Mendelson after Years of Organizing”

From Vendors United & The Beloved Community Incubator:

“DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has co-introduced a bill with Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, combining Bill 24-49, the “Street Vending Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2021” and Bill 24-50, the “Sidewalk Vending Zones Amendment Act of 2021.” “It is not the right public policy to have regulations so onerous and burdensome that ordinary people – many of whom are immigrants and people of color – cannot enter this line of work and make a living,” said Mendelson. The bill is a first but important step to reform DC’s street vending licensing regime and decriminalize vending. 

Street vendors like “Colochita” (Maria) Guevarra and “Queeny” (Hilary) Belfon share over 60 years between them on the streets of Ward 1’s Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods, selling food and clothing from their respective homelands of El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. Throughout the years, both community elders suffered through harsh weather, the ebbs and flows of customers, and the indignities of police harassment and assault. Now, they are elated. 

While other street vendors are newer to the work, there is a palpable sense of relief and joy among all the members of this unique sector of DC’s informal economy workers. “This is the big change we’ve been waiting for! I went to see Señor Mendelson in his office in December. I’m so proud of my community and grateful he is taking real action,” says Eloisa Diaz, an Afro-Latina street vendor from Venezuela.

Sunni Stewart, a mother of four and a newcomer to DC’s vending scene, breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of a cheaper and easier path to getting a street vending license. “It’s not that we don’t want to be licensed, it’s just so expensive, difficult, and tedious … that and I’m always looking over my shoulder, wondering if the police are going to come for me today.” Licensed vendors, such as Kahssay Ghebrebrhan, an Ethiopian hotdog and half-smoke vendor who raised three nieces on his vending income, are welcoming the needed reforms to a regulatory regime that has frequently left them feeling demoralized and beaten down. “I call DCRA (currently DLCP, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection), they tell me to call the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR). I call OTR, they tell me to call DCRA. I go into OTR and they laugh in my face. No one seems to care about the humble guy, the little guy.” 

But now, after hundreds of hours of story-sharing and advocacy from street vendors across the city, it seems like someone does. 

“Street vendors contribute to the vibrant atmosphere of Columbia Heights, to the local economy, and to supporting themselves and their families,” says Ward 1 Councilmember Nadeau, longtime supporter of Vendedores Unidos // Vendors United. “We’re removing barriers to licensed street vending. I’m thrilled that we now have the support of the Council Chairman to move this forward and finally allow people to operate without barriers and without fear.” 

Says Madhvi Bahl, an organizer with Sanctuary DMV, “the Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act will finally release vendors from the trap created by an inaccessible licensing process and brutal police enforcement of vending laws. Street vendors are an integral part of our community. Last year, when Abbott started busing migrants to DC from Texas and the Mayor did nothing, it was vendors who stepped up to cook for our new neighbors so they would feel supported. Now it is time for DC to support vendors by passing this bill and taking this important first step towards restoring DC’s historic, vibrant, and inclusive street vending community.” 

“The Street Vendor Advancement Amendment Act is the result of years of tireless organizing. It is an important first step towards repairing the harm caused by police brutality and systemic oppression plaguing our community. After the passage of the Local Residents Voting Rights Amendment Act, many vendors, alongside a new voting bloc of over 50,000 non-citizens, will continue to grow political power and a DC where all can thrive. As a customer, fellow organizer, and friend, I’m overjoyed to see their hard work pay off and can’t wait to see what’s next,” adds Kush Kharod, an organizer with Sunrise DC.

Additional supporting organizations include the ACLU of DC, the DC Justice Lab, Tzedek, the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and others.”

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