All of the furor over the D.C. Statehood Convention because it included a few unorthodox provisions in its constitution that the delegates are finishing today shows how resistant we are when people try to look at problems in a new way.
When the framers of the United States Constitution dared to be different, we called them "Founding Fathers with foresight." When the delegates from the communities of this city clash and wrestle with a constitution, we call them "rowdy." When the delegates wanted all citizens of the new state guaranteed jobs, many people called it a joke. When they approved expropriation by the state of private utilities, half the town cracked its sides.
But we forget that the statehood delegates are hometown people addressing hometown problems. From their point of view, they're responding to the problems they see in their neighborhoods, where people are worrying about losing their jobs and schools that aren't preparing kids for the Technological Era and medical care and a decent roof over their heads.
And what's being overlooked is that these are the same problems people are going to be seeing in other cities soon because Washington today is a glimpse into the future of many other American towns.
When this community clocks up a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, gathers long lines for cheese, cripples its population with government reductions-in-force and endures high interest rates that force some to lose their homes and others to lose their mobility, Washington today becomes a microcosmic American town of tomorrow.
When we struggle with a rising crime rate and schools that produce children weak in science, when we see the overnight disappearance of small businesses and the basic timidity that is setting in as the rampaging economy makes people fear losing their jobs and homes--Washington today is what Middletown, USA, will be tomorrow.
That's because many American cities have been regressing in the same way as Washington. The keys to the gains Americans made in the 1970s were employment and the economic mainstreaming of minorities and women. Under the New Right and the conservatives, those gains are rapidly eroding for all.
We know that the country faces real problems. The federal budget is too large; the bureaucracy has taken on a life of its own. But we know, too, that Reaganomics is not the answer. Federal tax cuts, supply-side economics, increased defense spending, decreased nondefense spending, restrictive monetary policy and New Federalism just take from the rest of us and give to the wealthy minority.
So we need some original thinking, some new ways of looking at old problems. Chronicling, watching and trying new solutions is mandatory--if any new solutions are available.
The Last Colony could be the laboratory for new solutions. Let somebody beside the Sheik of Araby come in with a plan to aid the majority of the people who live in this town. Where is the private sector in Washington when it comes to needs that don't have the sex appeal of Wolf Trap?
It's really not enough to leave it up to the local government alone. We must create a new voice and new solutions. At a time when we should be testing new solutions and moving beyond narrow interests, most community groups seem afraid to deal with anything more daring than the expansion of the Safeway.
Why can't the churches, for example, organize community forums and stimulate the dialogue so people can identify the needs and tell the politicians? Why can't some of Washington's educated elite get a dialogue going between the isolated children in far Northeast and the children on the Gold Coast around their common needs for positive identity?
It is easy at a time like this to give in to frustration over the way things are going and to declare an inability to do anything.
That's why I think the Statehood Delegates deserve applause for their determination to be futuristic. The voters, of course, will debate--and finally decide--the value and validity of the constitution in November. But in giving us some fresh and original thinking, our hometown friends have done no trifling thing.