To the D.C. delegation that attended the just-ended 2012 Democratic National Convention, the event was more of a pilgrimage than a party gathering.
Those who traveled to the Democratic party confab in Charlotte, N.C. on behalf of the 600,000-plus residents of the nation’s capital, most of them Democrats, came with a clear mission.
“We want to convey that the people of the District of Columbia deserve the same rights as all other Americans,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray when interviewed during a rally of delegates in the Charlotte convention center that sits, appropriately enough, on Martin Luther King Blvd.
Battling against “taxation without representation is one of the principles upon which this nation is founded and it’s ironic we pay the same taxes in the District of Columbia yet [are] denied the same rights,” he said.
The District is a territory, unlike the 50 states of the union. As such, it has no representatives in the U.S. Senate and only a delegate with limited voting rights in the U.S. House. Moreover, it is the only U.S. territory that is obligated to pay taxes to the federal government.
"We need to bring democracy to America,” he said noting the local party’s endorsement of President Obama’s re-election despite the absence of a statehood plank in the party’s current platform.
Still, the platform “does mention legislative autonomy and voting rights,” Gray said and noted that the Republican Party’s platform would hurt the city politically by limiting city power over gun laws and barring city funding of reproductive health programs for women.
“We want statehood and I would love for the Democratic Platform to take that up and I look forward to working with my Democratic brethren” to include statehood in future platforms, Gray said
Gray's approach drew a warm reception from other convention delegates including mayors of other cities, even at a time when some in the District have treated the mayor and his administration somewhat coldly.
The mayor believes his credibility with other convention attendees springs from what he calls an appreciation of the challenges the District has faced and its ability to, nonetheless, achieve successes under his watch.
Gray pointed out D.C.’s record-low homicide rate, its progress in education, and a $200 million budget surplus in the District as some of his achievements.
Gray’s call for statehood was echoed by others who attended the convention.
Nationally syndicated writer and Bennett College President Emeritus Julianne Malveux was among the other dignitaries in attendance for the Democratic Convention.
Malveux, who was a longtime D.C. resident said, “This convention is exciting…as a Democrat I could not be more proud. However, I must say that I’ve been disappointed that the District of Columbia has not been treated fairly. We belong on the platform…The District is one of the most reliable Democratic votes and we deserve to be on the platform.”
According to Malveux, who has gone to the polls as a D.C. resident, said, “I feel disenfranchised every time I go to vote.”
Malveux’s comments came on the heels of what many called an “electrifying” speech by Michelle Obama during the first night of the Democratic festivities in Charlotte. “Women, particularly women of color were completely uplifted by the speech,” noted Malveux. “What would Fannie Lou Mamer have thought,” asked Malveux, reflecting upon the legendary civil rights era leader who protested at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention in order for African American delegates from Mississippi to merely have the right to be seated. “She,” Malveux said of Mrs. Obama “is such a role model for our young women…intelligent, a mother, a wife, a help mate for her husband.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1984 and 1988, said D.C. statehood is part of the party’s unfinished agenda. “We are facing amazing levels of poverty and violence,” noted Jackson. To tackle these problems, Jackson, called on his party to develop a program to focus on “violence, poverty, and urban reconstruction.” As the former shadow senator of the District of Columbia, Jackson lamented that the District, even four years the election of an African American president, still lacks statehood and even a statehood plank in the Democratic platform.
Jackson, taking a note from his days of community organizing and mobilizing, advised Mayor Gray to “continue to protest…Keep the issue visible.”
The writer is a lawyer and talk-show host in the District of Columbia and can be reached at Talib@talibkarim.com.