- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Marching Knights of Ballou High School in Southeast did the District of Columbia mighty proud yesterday.

Devette Phillips, Anna Myers and Nikia Garner were among the 80-member marching band chosen to participate in the Inauguration Day parade after receiving high honors in a national competition for which they raised $70,000.

The students played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a tribute to American troops in Iraq.

Hey, I’m an original party girl, but it is hard to party when U.S. soldiers are battling a determined enemy and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dying.

We would do well to remember the troops, who are fighting for liberty and freedom worldwide, as President Bush said in his inaugural address yesterday, while some of our countrymen are fortunate enough to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to party hardy with a second-term president.

The 55th Presidential Inaugural festivities were not exactly what you call a come-one-come-all, jammin’ people’s party.

It is hard to party when our nation remains so bitterly divided.

It is hard to party when many of those Ballou students, braving the cold yesterday to demonstrate their pride, live in homes and communities that easily can qualify for what Mr. Bush lamented in his speech as “the darkest corners of our world.” Only a few miles from where he took his oath of office, far too many children go to bed hungry every night.

I hate to rain on the president’s party and parade, but his heartfelt words fell on many deaf ears in the District.

At every presidential inauguration, I cannot help but think of this one inescapable fact — as each man is sworn in on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, he lavishly espouses the principles of democracy, liberty and justice for all.

But against that marbled backdrop, nearly 600,000 U.S. citizens are denied the most basic democratic freedoms — a vote in their national legislature. Earlier this month, a trio of D.C. soldiers were not even granted an audience by the speaker of the House “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees.

At the 55th Presidential Inaugural, insult was added to injury.

For the first time, disenfranchised D.C. residents, 90 percent of whom are Democrats who voted against Mr. Bush, must pay more than $12 million for excessive security measures for the $40 million festivities this week.

Hypocrisy is the only word that suffices here.

For once, I agree with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams that city taxpayers should be reimbursed by the federal government for the expenses. With the District as ground zero, funds earmarked for local security and disaster projects should not be taken from the District’s homeland security allocation “when we really don’t have an emergency.” Why couldn’t the well-heeled Presidential Inaugural Committee — which sold 40,000 parade tickets — hit up a few more donors to dig deeper for the cost of deploying the entire Metropolitan Police Department and thousands of officers from as far away as Seattle? Or, perhaps Congress should allocate a larger sum to the nation’s capital for homeland security, parties, and public and personal protests because its residents, businesses and workers are frequently subject to all manner of emergencies.

Not only were D.C. residents not invited to the party they helped pay for, but also those who live and work here were inconvenienced all week with major roadblocks because of yesterday’s ceremony and parade. (One hundred downtown blocks were cordoned off at one point.) City public works and public safety services had been stretched thin already when Mother Nature threw in some unexpected snow Wednesday afternoon.

The District now has the eerie feel of Moscow on the Potomac.Riot-suited police officers aside, the lockdown kept out not only insurgent Americans trying to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceable assembly, but also supporters and spectators who wanted to sneak a peek at the pomp and circumstance.

While Mr. Bush implores Americans to “seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture,” he should act first to fix this breach of liberty and justice in the disenfranchised District of Columbia.

Yes, I’m well-aware that some want us to set aside our differences in the name of national unity on Inauguration Day so we might celebrate our country’s undeniable good fortune. Our ability to peaceably change leadership despite embarrassing and contentious election campaigns is no small feat, given the worldwide evidence to the contrary.

With all its visible warts, I love my country. But I know we can and must do better by those who suffer injustice, racism, sexism and poverty within our borders.

While it does a heart good to watch the Marching Knights of Ballou High School high-steppin’ down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade, we must remember that within 18 months, these students witnessed a shooting death in the hallway of their school, the firing of their popular principal, and the theft of mercury from a science lab that forced them to attend classes in the old, cold concrete convention center.

When full freedom rings from every corner of this land, including the nation’s capital, and when the immediate needs of the vulnerable children from this “dark corner of the world” are met, and when the brave men and women who are fighting for liberty all over the world return to these shores, I’ll be the first to throw one jammin’ people’s party.

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