Vote Sekou for Statehood

Photo by Judith Beermann
Sekou Biddle at a meet-and-greet at the home of filmmaker Aviva Kempner
Sekou Biddle at a meet-and-greet at the home of filmmaker Aviva Kempner

Usually, I know exactly which candidate I will cast my ballot for well in advance of any given election.  But not this time; for once my vote was truly up for grabs.  In order to further acquaint myself with the candidates for at-large councilmember in D.C.’s Special Election on Tuesday, April 26th, I had to do some research.

I ventured out to no fewer than three candidate debates – including The Georgetown Dish’s Social Safeway Forum.  From the website Four26, devoted to the Special Election, I made the rounds on all the candidates’ websites.

The issue I used to measure all nine candidates, I found under the heading “Local and National Equality” on Sekou Biddle’s site.  Although I am an environmentalist and a health care advocate, the bullet point – “Push for the District of Columbia’s statehood” – spoke volumes to me.

On April 8th, the contentious budget negotiations in Congress threatened to shut down the federal government and much of the District’s business.  Because D.C. is treated as a federal agency, even city services such as garbage collection and recycling would have been curtailed by a government shut-down.

The following Monday, hundreds of D.C. residents gathered at a rally on Capitol Hill to protest the fact that the District was essentially used as a bargaining chip in the budget negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama. 

At the rally, dozens of people standing in the middle of Constitution Avenue NE were handcuffed and detained by the U.S. Capitol Police.  In all, 41 people – including Mayor Vincent Gray, Council Chairman Kwame Brown, Councilmembers Yvette Alexander, Sekou Biddle, Muriel Bowser, Michael A. Brown, and Tommy Wells, U.S. (Statehood) Representative Mike Panetta, and 33 courageous citizen activists – were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly. 

From the sidewalk, I beamed with pride watching the peaceful, nonviolent acts of civil disobedience committed by the “DC 41.”  I was especially proud of our elected officials.  I was also supremely confident about the decision I had made earlier that very day – to vote for Sekou Biddle. 

I became committed to statehood when I gathered thousands of signatures of D.C. registered voters for the medical marijuana ballot Initiative #59 in 1998.  I then watched one congressman from Georgia undo two years’ of grassroots democracy in just two minutes.  In addition to being traumatized by watching the decline and eventual death of the original sponsor of the initiative, AIDS activist Steve Michael, I learned first-hand that being a D.C. resident meant that I was also a second-class citizen in the U.S. 

Unknowingly, I forfeited my democratic rights in 1988 when I moved from New York State to the District.  Unbeknownst to me, the U.S. Congress had ultimate control over D.C.’s budget, courts, and laws.  Not to mention the fact that D.C. residents do not have two senators and a voting representative looking out for our interests in national debates on the Hill (i.e., decisions to go to war and impeachment proceedings).

Karen Szulgit (Photo by: Halima A. Roebuck) Karen Szulgit

There is not another jurisdiction in the U.S. ruled by 435 representatives and 100 senators elected in states near and far.  No other city has to submit its budget in advance, and then await congressional approval on how it spends its own local tax dollars.  The slow pace of the DC Appropriations process can adversely affect funding for local programs for needy residents.

Recently, social riders added to D.C.’s Appropriations Bill forbid local funds to be spent on needle exchange programs to help stop the spread of HIV and abortions for low-income women.  In the past, Congress prevented the District from even counting the votes for the medical marijuana ballot initiative and legislated such miniscule issues such as the hours of operation for the swimming pool at Wilson High School.

Members of Congress are also fond of imposing their values and pet issues – such as repealing the District’s gun control laws and reinstating the school voucher program – upon D.C. residents.  The District had a prohibition on implementing its domestic partnership law, and Congress introduced measures to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law – and will likely make further attempts to do so.

It is not much of a stretch to say that D.C. is the last colony under congressional rule.  Nationally-elected congressional Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all participate in this hypocrisy in our democracy.  And until our democratic rights are constitutionally protected, self-determination for D.C. will remain my primary focus.

In the meantime, I will be voting Sekou Biddle for at-large councilmember for three reasons:  He shared his commitment to fight for D.C. statehood at candidate forums; He spelled out his ideals of autonomy and fairness on his campaign website; and He upheld his democratic principles when he protested our colonial status in relation to Congress.  Sekou Biddle stood up for me when he was arrested, and I will be standing up for him on Special Election Day.  FREE D.C. ~ Statehood Now!

0 Comments For This Article

DC isn't ready to be a state

I understand many living in Washington, D.C. want to see this jurisdiction become a state. I also see how badly mismanaged the city government. To me, it is no wonder Congress and even this White House is reluctant to grant statehood to this city. The city is soporrly managed, it simply has not commanded that level of respect.