- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Rebecca Kingsley’s “The Last Colony,” a detailed history of the city’s struggle for self-determination, and “Un-Natural State” by Kirk Mangels and Brad Mendelsohn.

Mr. Brown, chairman of the council’s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, convened the hearing on May 13. The testimony began with the city’s origins in the 1700s, weaved its way through the decades leading to the heady days of the 1960s and home rule, and ended with a D.C. student voicing concern that D.C. isn’t part of “the Union.”

Professors and former elected officials were invited to give historical information about the different forms of city governance as part of a series of public hearings and roundtables leading up to a larger town hall-type meeting in the fall, said Linda Wharton-Boyd, spokeswoman for Mr. Brown. The next hearing, on Monday, will focus on the constitutionality of statehood for the District.

“As we talk about statehood, not enough people know the city’s history,” Ms. Wharton-Boyd said.

Kenneth R. Bowling, an adjunct associate professor of history at George Washington University, reported on the early history of the national capital (1779-1801) and the constitutional power of Congress to create the District of Columbia and control it legislatively as well as congressional passage of the Organic Act of 1801, which a lame-duck Federalist Congress passed in an effort to assert total federal control over the seat of the government before Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican party took power.

It was not the intent of the Revolutionary generation to deny D.C. residents voting rights in Congress, Mr. Bowling said. When the U.S. has had a strong president who was interested in the District, Congress has given its residents some rights. He said the time to take action is now, and suggested the city seek the repeal of the Organic Act of 1801 and the creation of a territory.

Smithsonian Institution scholar C.R. Gibbs, who also is founder of the African History and Culture Lecture Series, discussed several aspects of D.C. governance: the mayoral period (1802-1871), in which there were varying forms of local suffrage within the different jurisdictions of the federal district; the retrocession of the Virginia portion of the District to the commonwealth of Virginia; the combination of the remaining separate jurisdictions in the Maryland portion of the District into one governmental unit; the creation of a partially popularly elected territorial government and the election of a nonvoting delegate to Congress (1871-1874); and the replacement of the territorial government with three presidentially appointed commissioners (1874-1963). He noted that Emancipation Day, when the slaves in the District were freed in April 16, 1862, was seen at the time as a transformative event that would lead to the end of slavery in the United States.

Former D.C. Statehood Party Chairman Samuel Jordan, who is a human rights lawyer, discussed the civil rights era (1961-1973) and highlighted the role that race has played in the city’s history, including the 23rd Amendment, which granted D.C. residents a vote in the Electoral College for president.

He also discussed the major nonviolent demonstrations that set the stage for Congress’ limited delegation of home-rule authority in the 1970s. These included the 1963 March on Washington and the 1966 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee boycott of D.C. transit, led by Marion Barry and the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis’ fight against freeways in 1967, which helped unify D.C. and metropolitan activists and led to the establishment of the D.C. Statehood Party.

The assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968 was quickly followed by the election of the District’s first school board, a nonvoting delegate and mayor, a D.C. Council and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in 1973. Critical to these events was the work of D.C. residents to oust Southern control of Congress, in particular then-Rep. John McMillan of South Carolina, the longtime chairman of the House D.C. Committee.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, who was originally hired by the D.C. Financial Control Board, discussed the control period (1995-2001) and its effect on the city’s financial situation. He noted that under federal law, the control board is only dormant and can be resurrected if certain financial situations occur. He said that the District completely recovered from its financial problems more quickly than other major cities that have gone through a similar situation and that the city has had 12 consecutive balanced budgets.

Michael Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and a nephew of former D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, discussed the limited form of home rule (1973-present). The defeat of Mr. McMillan, a Democrat, helped open the way to congressional approval of the D.C. home-rule bill.

The hearing included the issue of the city’s constitutional convention. Architect and civil rights activist Charles Cassell, who served on the first school board and chaired the D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention, discussed the initiative to hold a constitutional convention, the election of 45 delegates to the convention, the drafting of a constitution in three months, its approval by the voters in November 1982, and the constitution’s submission to Congress with a petition for statehood in September 1983. Stating that “D.C. is colony without the right to elect its own government, free of control by those we cannot elect,” he added that the United States is “the only nation in the Western world of democracies that finds a pretext for denying the citizens in its national capital the right to voting representation in its national legislature.”

The statehood movement has been “too polite and patient,” Mr. Cassell said, and “that’s not the way Dr. Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall functioned. … I will be angry until I get my rights back.”

He suggested that the District complain to the United Nations about being the only capital in the world whose people are denied representation in their national legislature. “We have to engender some basic anger at our rights being stolen from us,” Mr. Cassell said.

Statehood Sen. Michael D. Brown discussed the history of the use of “shadow senators.” The first shadow congressional delegation was elected in 1796 to lobby Congress to admit Tennessee as a state. There have been a number of famous shadow senators over the years, including John C. Fremont from California. The only D.C. offices created by a D.C. voter mandate are those of the shadow delegation. The 1982 statehood convention authorized those positions, but no elections were held until 1991, when Jesse Jackson and Florence Pendleton were elected as the first shadow senators and Charles Moreland was elected as the first shadow U.S. representative.

Th hearing concluded with testimony from five young students at D.C. high schools. They were Lisa Femia, a junior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School; Priscilla Lyle, a senior at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School; Hayley Miles McLean and Miya Brown, seniors at the School Without Walls; and Jameelah Morris, a senior at Banneker High School.

Miss Miles McLean strongly supported D.C. becoming a state.

Miss Lyle said it makes her angry that Congress does not give D.C. residents the same rights and respect enjoyed by all other American citizens.

Miss Morris found it constitutionally unethical to limit the democratic rights of D.C. residents when the city has more people than Wyoming. “It is time to end this virtual representation and make D.C. an official state of the United States of America,” she said.

Miss Brown called D.C. statehood an equality issue. “We’re drafted, taxed without our consent, can’t make our own laws or spend our own money without congressional action.”

Miss Femia concluded the hearing by noting, “Yet, as I got older, I began to realize that Washington, D.C., isn’t really a part of the Union, just owned by it. In this city, we are surrounded by symbols of the democracy that we are only partially offered. I have learned one thing from the addition of the gun amendment to this D.C. voting rights legislation: You don’t really have any rights until you have all your rights.

“Until then,” she said, “all you get are favors. What they give, they can take away.”

c Ann Loikow, a citizen activist, is a coordinator for D.C. Statehood Yes We Can!

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