Barry Finds Home Rule a Frustrating Battle
By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 25, 1966; Page B1
Marion Barry, leader of the local Student Non-Violent Committee, was sounding like a caged Panther as he talked of his long fight for home rule here.
"I'll be glad when Congress goes home so I can get off it (the home rule issue)," said the 28-year-old former teacher. "But I've gotten so involved in it that it's going to be hard to get off it."
Barry, who doubles as the leader of the Free D.C. Movement, still hopes for passage of home rule this session of Congress. In fact, he's looking forward to the chance ot "organize politically for the election."
But sitting in his rundown row house headquarters at 107 Rhode Island ave. nw., the Rhode Island boss is beginning to chafe a bit in his home rule strait jacket.
The reason is fairly obvious.
As an issue around which to build a local "black power" force in the national SNCC image, the self-government goal has its drawbacks.
For one thing, many of the city's poor persons find it a complex, remote problem, in contrast with their more immediate needs in housing, welfare and jobs.
And Barry concedes that the hard-hitting SNCC tactics that have been so successful in the South often are stymied here.
"All these Federal workers are scared to death," he says. "Most Negroes come here from North or South Carolina and psychologically they think they're in freedom land. They're making two or three times as much money as they did back there. What's more, they weren't used to participating in political activity in their home states, anyway, so lack of politics here is nothing new to them."
Barry's home rule sponsorship here also has forced him onto a delicate balance between the militant SNCCers and Washington's moderate white and Negro leadership.
Though he says he has had no quarrels with national SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael, he concedes that some members of the organization have accused him of playing footsie with the moderates in the home rule councils.
They've objected to his participation in the Coalition of Conscience (a federation of the major civil rights groups) and to his use of white volunteers.
"I can't always differentiate between my friends and my enemies," he says.
The Free D.C. movement also has had trouble using home rule to force showdown that has produced SNCC victories elsewhere. When Barry and his followers blamed the Board of Trade for blocking home rule and picketed F. Elwood Davis, Davis simply ignored the group.
"It's hard to get a confrontation in Washington," says Barry. "And that's what builds movements - confrontation."
Meanwhile, SNCC's home front campaign has converted the local office from a money-raising operation for the organization's southern campaigns, to a red ink operation, a turn the national fund raisers are not overly happy about.
"We haven't sent any money south in six weeks," says Barry. But he adds that as much cash is being raised locally as ever before. He now hopes to get back in the black by selling dollar memberships and by starting a "century club" of big donors.
These frustrations, coupled with Carmichael's national goal of broader-based SNCC capable of delivering black power, are leading the local operation down new paths.
Three weeks ago, Barry held his first neighborhood block party. Now they're being held weekly, and a boat ride is planned.
"We've got into the block parties by accident," he says, "I saw some young girls on a corner one day and asked them what they liked to do. They said they liked to dance, so I asked them what they thought about having a block party."
The parties have given SNCC its deepest pipeline into the Negro community. Almost everybody agrees they've been a success - both for Barry and for the people participation. On each occasion, he and his followers have distributed Free D.C. buttons and held bull-horn sessions on neighborhood problems.
"We've been relating lack of recreation to lack of a right to vote," he says, adding:
"We could go out and knock on doors - that's the best way. But I don't think we've got time. There are 900,000 people in this city and we only have a small staff. We can't compete with hundreds of poverty program people making $8000 a year."
Meanwhile, Barry isn't letting money problems, moderates, extremists or even the home rule fight let him down.
"I'm very happy with the way things are going. We're in a very good position," he says.
Out in the main office, the SNCC teletype linkup had chattered out a message from "SNCC LA.": "Glen Gurley has arrived here to mobilize support for the Free D.C. Movement. He is not on the staff list. Can you advise us as to his status."
"The organization needs some tightening up," said Barry.
© 1966 The Washington Post Company