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WASA and Verse

Last night's WASA Board of Director's hearing concerning the authority's lead service replacement program -- a $93 million effort so far to produce minimal success in reducing lead levels in water--garnered the routine round of witnesses. Some activists and residents complained about the agency's leadership and a lack of understanding for the city's poorer residents, while others accused WASA of being secretive about its test results.

Clean Water Action policy coordinator and Ward 4 resident Paul Schwartz brought a new medium to testify at a hearing: Performance Art poetry.

Schwartz laid out a nearly five minute Beat-generation inspired verse, complete with the right inflections, to express the "heart and soul" of one homeowner's exasperation with the process.

The work, entitled "The Dielectric Dialectic," criticized WASA for covering up thousands of lead-infested taps in 2004, the utility's public relations campaign in response to the crisis and the

scientific opinions and data provided to the public explaining progress on the problem.

He didn't deliver his verse in a black-jeans-wearing, goateed-Beatnik getup, but rather a veteran- lobbyist-type in a business suit. Schwartz said in an interview that he just wanted to get his point across to panel members.

The poem ended with Schwartz challenging the WASA board to "embrace the people" and join those "who will for the love of their baby girls and boys; Never, ever give up the fight; So WASA Board what you gonna do 'bout it? What you gonna do 'bout it?

The poem was met with surprise, and little emotion from Johnson and WASA officials, but the nine-member panel slowly gave way to muffled grins.

The poem goes on for at least four pages, but here's another brief sampling of Schwartz's work:

2004, January 31st
Washington Post reveals the worst
We can quote them chapter and verse
WASA covered up 4000
Taps (or more)
Flowing with Poison
Damaging our baby girls and sons
DC's next generation

"No" said WASA's Chairman Johnson
It's not our problem
Lead is in the home you see
The problem belongs to you and you, not me
Said the WASA Chairman
Thanks for nothing, Jerry...

Clarence Williams

By Marcia Davis  |  May 2, 2008; 11:26 AM ET
Categories:  City Life  
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