In November 1980, on their own initiative, D.C. citizens voted by a substantial majority to start the process leading to statehood. The following November, they chose 45 delegates to perform one of the tasks necessary, the writing of a constitution.
That has now been done. It was a seemingly insurmountable task.
Never in the history of this nation has a territory been faced, as we were, with producing a state constitution in the ridiculously short period of 90 days with an impossible budget of a mere $150,000. Constitutional conventions usually have one or more years to establish themselves, conduct research and produce the document. They also have annual budgets of millions of dollars.
The Constitution for the State of New Columbia is already being hailed as the most progressive official state document produced in the history of this nation. We take special pride in the fact that out of the many long evenings of convention deliberation came a clear consensus regarding the kinds of constitutional guarantees that are desired and necessary for New Columbia. The consensus also reflected an awareness of what issues should be addressed in 1982, based on our experience of 182 years as a colonial city.
The local daily press, through its running deprecation of the convention, had implied that sustained, heated debate, which is normal for other government bodies, was in this case reprehensible. But when we met the impossible deadline, the public witnessed, on television newscasts, an extremely joyous delegation, tearfully celebrating the adoption of the historic document it had labored over, often working 18 hours a day, six days a week. The contrast between the image of recriminatory disorder projected by a segment of the media and the actual spirit of camaraderie was both revealing and positive.
It is well to remember that the writing of a constitution is only an implementing procedure and that becoming a state is the primary issue before us this year.
Now, some say there is little likelihood of approval by the U.S. Congress. The evidence cited for this contention is that there has been no expressed congressional enthusiasm for our becoming a state. On the other hand, there has been very little expressed opposition in Congress.
To be frank about it, who can remember congressional enthusiasm about any impending change in the status quo, be it economic, political, social or educational? Yet, over the years, stark changes in societal patterns have been brought about through congressional legislation. Witness the reversal of strongly imbedded practices regarding workmen's compensation, Social Security, securities and exchange, civil rights, voting rights and so on.
During those periods of change, members of Congress were motivated, as they are now, not so much by personal disposition, as by pragmatic sensitivity to the mood, desires and insistence of an aroused public. And can there be any doubt that such arousal has been demonstrated at the polls by the D.C. citizens twice--the approval of the statehood initiative and the election of the delegates who have written the Constitution? Will they not be even more determined when they have validated the movement for a third time by voting approval of the Constitution? How would they feel if this process were interrrupted by a Congress for whom they cannot vote? How would such disrespect for the "will of the people" in the nation's capital be viewed by the rest of the world?
This community does not intend to see its intense efforts toward political equality with the rest of the nation flounder. Nor will it much longer tolerate second-class citizenship through the non-representative government we now have. We do not intend to endure much longer the spectacle of our elected mayor submitting our budget for approval to a body that does not represent us. Neither will we forever suffer the embarrassment of having our city council submit all of its legislative decisions to Congress for approval or rejection.
The momentum toward freedom and political equality for these 700,000 American citizens is on. Their desire for ending their exclusion from the federation of states cannot be ignored. I cannot accept the characterization of the majority of the U.S. Congress as essentially prejudiced persons with narrow self-interests, influenced by undemocratic special interests and indifferent to our plea for release from an outmoded, outdated, unacceptable form of government.
I prefer to think that that august body, accustomed to constituent requests, will respond to a well-organized, citywide movement toward statehood on the merits of the issue. The merits have been highly persuasive to the voters and those who seek their support. With these positive indices abroad in our community, can congressional approval be far behind?