Barras: Empty gestures doom D.C. statehood push

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

They have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress. They have erected in front of the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue a God-awful electronic sign, which regularly displays the amount of money District residents have paid in federal taxes (with no mention of the money that city residents receive from federal taxpayers.)

This week, they fought each other publicly over whether the D.C. Council's proposed amendment to the city's Home Rule Charter giving officials the right to spend local tax revenues without Congress' approval could appear on the ballot for the April 2013 special election. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said the measure was illegal. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the legislature had the right to place the issue before voters. The Board of Elections agreed.

Then, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced -- and the council unanimously approved -- an emergency nonbinding resolution urging President Obama to append the District's license plate emblazoned with the slogan "Taxation Without Representation" to his limousine, particularly during inaugural festivities. Not unlike his immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, Obama has resisted making his ride a moving billboard for the city's statehood effort.

"A simple thing like a license plate should be done immediately," said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, adding that perhaps council members might consider "marching to the White House and throwing license plates over the fence -- with screwdrivers."

Get a grip.

For decades, District elected officials and a band of activists have deployed meaningless rhetoric, symbolism and anemic protests, hoping to win independence and be declared the country's 51st state or, at the very least, gain voting representation in Congress -- the House and the Senate. Obama is merely the latest in a long line of uncooperative politicians to be assaulted in absentia.

But local leaders and statehood advocates mostly have themselves to blame for the impotency of their tactics. They have not consistently mobilized even 5 percent of the city's 620,000 residents in service to the cause.

Imagine what would have happened if the folks in Montgomery, Ala., back in the 1950s had decided the best method to register their anger over a discriminatory transportation system was to plaster bus transfers on cars throughout the city. Does anyone believe there would have been a 1964 Civil Rights Act if all the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did was deliver fiery speeches and lament the deplorable treatment of African-Americans? The Arab Spring may have been aided by social media, but a whole bunch of folks actually showed up for weeks in Tahrir Square to effect political change.

Ironically, in pushing her resolution, Cheh recalled America's Colonial leaders, who, upset over being taxed without representation, fought a monster war with their mother country, England. We all know how that ended.

Instead of pontificating about license plates, District legislators and statehood advocates may want to take a page from history and get busy starting a real revolution.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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