Friday, 21 September 2018 22:13

Push for DC statehood reaches European Parliament

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By Kalina Newman, The DC Line, September 21, 2018

At opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean last week, both the European Parliament and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation discussed DC statehood.

In Strasbourg, France, Alex Mayer, a member of the European Parliament for the East of England area, spoke at a Sept. 12 plenary session of the legislative body that governs the European Union. Mayer used her allotted minute of speaking time to advocate on behalf of DC shadow Sen. Paul Strauss and his constituents in DC.

“Frankly, when I heard that 700,000 U.S. citizens in Washington don’t have the right to elect congressmen or women, who actually get to vote on laws, I was baffled,” Mayer said in her speech. “That’s more people than who live in Luxembourg or Malta combined — disenfranchised.”

Strauss thanked Mayer in a tweet that includes a video of her statement.

Strauss had teamed up with Mayer, a Labour Party member, earlier this summer when he asked to speak to the European Parliament for an “exchange of views.” Since then, Mayer has become determined to spread support for DC statehood around the world.

“Very many people in the world don’t know about this situation, and it’s very strange from a foreign perspective,” Mayer said in a phone interview with The DC Line.

On June 27, Strauss addressed members of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the United States, arguing on behalf of DC statehood. Strauss — part of the District’s elected statehood delegation to Congress since 1996 — also serves as DC’s advocacy officer for the Underrepresented Nations & People’s Organization, a democratic membership organization.

“The E.U. Parliament is a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world — a phrase often linked to my home nation, but it’s ironic that here I am today bringing the cause of the people who are denied basic democracy,” Strauss said in his speech that day.

Because DC is not a U.S. state, its 690,000-plus residents do not have voting representation in Congress. They also lack full control of local governmental affairs, with Congress having the authority to overturn laws passed by the DC Council and signed by the mayor.

Paul Strauss, shadow U.S. senator, participated in an exchange of views with Alex Mayer at the European Union Parliament (photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert © European Union 2018)

“The reality is DC is under the absolute jurisdiction of Congress. And while it would be politically permissible for Congress to give DC equal rights, there’s nothing in the Constitution that actually requires them to do so,” Strauss said in his speech.

Strauss argues that the federal government is currently in violation of the Copenhagen Document that the United States and more than 30 other nations signed in 1990 as participants at the second Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit. The group now comprises 57 countries spanning North America, Europe and Asia.

That international agreement stipulates that “every citizen should have the right and opportunity to vote and be elected to genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage,” Strauss said in his speech.

In a phone interview, Strauss acknowledged that DC statehood might seem a minute issue when compared with other issues the European Union has on its plate.

Still, he said, “the idea that we’re calling out the United States like we call out other countries for their human rights violations is important. We hope that Parliament will continue to put pressure on the United States just how it pushes other countries.”

Meanwhile, on the same day as the European session last week, DC statehood advocacy groups back home — including Stand Up! For Democracy in DC (Free DC) and DC Vote — worked the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference.

Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives — Maryland’s Jamie Raskin, who has a vote, and DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who doesn’t have a vote except in committee but can speak on the floor — joined with DC Vote executive director Bo Shuff and the American University Group for DC Statehood to host an open forum on DC statehood.

I am a parent and a grandparent, and I would like to see the District of Columbia see that all students in DC public schools hear about statehood,” Joyce Robin Paul, Stand Up! ambassador, said during the Sept. 12 forum. “A lot of the children are leaving their schools not knowing what statehood is. This isn’t how it should be, and … what I would like to see is that our children graduate high school having taken a class on statehood.”

Paul proposed that Del. Norton visit DC public schools to talk to students directly about the issue.

“I cannot sit here and tell you that [DC teachers] tell [the children] anything about statehood, but I’ll tell you one thing — that I’m going to go find out,” Norton said.

Anise Jenkins, executive director of Stand Up! DC, stressed how long and how hard everyone has been working at the issue.

We’ve been at this for more than 21 years now,” she said of her group. “These are human and civil rights fights, and these are not easy fights.”

This post has been updated to correct the date of DC shadow Sen. Paul Strauss’ speech to members of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the United States.

Read this article online at The DC Line.

Read 1510 times Last modified on Tuesday, 13 November 2018 21:00

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