District residents must rebuild grass-roots community groups that were instrumental in gaining home rule a decade ago if they are to achieve statehood, D.C. Statehood Party Chairwoman Josephine Butler said yesterday at a symposium on home rule.
Butler was one of several speakers during the second day of the symposium, held at the University of the District of Columbia, to mark the 10th anniversary of home rule for the city.
"The city government can't hand down and they ain't going to hand down everything, but we must take firm hold on developing our communities, especially the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions," Butler said.
"If we don't take control, then D.C. is not going to be the kind of state we want it to be," said Butler, who recently ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the City Council.
Other speakers, including Judith Rogers, associate judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, gave historical views on home rule and recommended ways the city can gain self-governing powers.
One exception was Sam Smith, publisher of the D.C. Gazette. Smith surprised many in the audience of about 100 with his sharp critique of elected District leaders who got their start as community activists.
Smith, a District native known for his irreverent critiques on local issues, said, "By the time we approached having an elected government, it was assumed by most that what we were seeking was a government that imitated, in all virtues and faults, other city governments.
"The established home rule advocates at no time raised the question of who should govern under home rule. The question was considered moot. It was assumed that they would," he said.
Smith's remarks elicited strong applause and praise from City Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), school board member Robert Boyd and civic leaders in the audience.
Butler dedicated her speech to Julius Hobson, the Statehood Party founder, who she said understood "the political and economic" elements of statehood.
"Our responsibility as citizens is to see that the economic side of this effort moves right along with the political side. We must take firm hold on developing our communities to accomplish that goal ," Butler said.
She said the District has "29,000 adult males unemployed and 16,000 adult females unemployed."
Jerome Paige, project director for the UDC symposium, echoed Butler's remarks, saying that "political power without economic power is really only half a loaf."
"We need to struggle to bring those two things together. We need to act . . . to begin to shape our lives under statehood ," Paige said.
Ronald Walters, a political science professor at Howard University, said the civil rights movement helped set the stage for home rule in D.C.
Scholar Steven Diner, director of the Center for Applied Research and Urban Policy at UDC, which sponsored the symposium, said in an interview that the local home rule effort was "infused in the national black movement and became a micro version of blacks' desire for political power and equality."
"As the civil rights and voting rights movements took off," Diner said, "the home rule movement became energized."