Residents of the nation's capital vote for a president today, knowing that neither major candidate intends to do a thing to correct an egregious wrong that excludes half a million Americans from a full role in this democracy. That job is left to a relative handful of local heroes who know they will one day prevail.
Rebecca Kingsley was never one of the young activists for D.C. voting rights who chant on the sidewalks, barge into hearing rooms or confront the powerful. Kingsley came to the quest for a voice in Congress through her work as a sound editor for legendary Washington documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim.
One day, a woman who had had to halt work on a film about black churches in the District came by to see if anyone wanted her interviews on the subject. Kingsley looked at the material and what jumped out at her from the voices of politicians, clergy and longtime residents was their hunger for the chance to rule themselves.
Kingsley, who grew up in small-town Wisconsin, had paid little attention to local issues since moving here in 1990, but, "I knew immediately that this was the story I wanted to tell."
Over the past five years, she has conducted 200 interviews and collected hundreds of hours of stories. In the coming months, she hopes to complete a 90-minute version of "The Last Colony," a movie designed as a gateway into the puzzling, painful tale of the biggest gap in American democracy. The full film, an eight-episode epic, is a year from completion.
The more Kingsley got into the topic, the deeper she found herself in the story of America's ambivalence toward its capital city, from Colonial origins through slavery and the Civil War, and on to the various powers that have controlled Washington -- southern congressmen, rich businessmen and the one president who avidly pushed for the city's right to govern itself, Lyndon Johnson.
The story of Washington's disenfranchisement is also the story of race, of whites and blacks coming together to fight for what was right, and of the resentments and suspicions that resurfaced to divide those who had once fought hand in hand.
Kingsley has spoken to mayors Marion Barry and Walter Washington, to Johnson and Richard M. Nixon aides, and to Washingtonians who confronted the powers that be -- people who fought against freeways that were proposed to crisscross the city in the 1960s, people who brought the black power movement to the city's streets.
She has won $100,000 in grants, but she's racked up nearly that much in debt on seven credit cards, and still she's scraping for money to finish.
It's a hard sell, but in a time when Michael Moore's propaganda flick successfully masquerades as documentary, Kingsley offers a quieter, far more effective approach: She combines riveting archival film and interviews with those who were there, telling a story that has a compelling core, and no easy end.
"This is advocacy, but not in the Michael Moore-ish way," Kingsley says. "You don't need to beat people over the head with this. Just hearing the story, people will get the sheer hypocrisy of the situation."
Will they? It's hard in the long aftermath of the Barry years to find a consensus in favor of District voting rights -- even though no other city has to prove itself worthy of basic rights by producing a model government.
It's difficult now to believe that as recently as 1978, Congress passed a constitutional amendment granting representation to the District (the effort died when only 16 states ratified the amendment).
And though Kingsley has grown only more certain of her cause, she is less optimistic that change will come. Always, she notes, it is the newcomers who seem to renew the District's fight. "If this is the environment you grew up in, you don't know what to ask for," she says. "You just don't have any other perspective."
Kingsley is determined to see her perspective on the big screen (www.thelastcolony.org), even if she has had to take side jobs as a census taker and dog walker to get there. "There's a general apathy," she says, "a general ignorance about this history, and if people can just hear the story, they'll see what's wrong."
Join me tonight and at 1 p.m. tomorrow for special election editions of Potomac Confidential at