Sherwood's Notebook: The Fourth, Not Fully Celebrated... | NBC4 Washington
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Sherwood's Notebook: The Fourth, Not Fully Celebrated...

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    The rain-challenged Fourth of July is behind us. Its spirited exaltations of freedom and democracy give way again to our dispirited presidential campaign. And here in little ol' D.C., the hollowness of American citizenship remains as we continue to be second-class Americans.

    Mayor Muriel Bowser is living up to a 2014 campaign promise to reinvigorate the city's desire for statehood for our 670,000 residents. She has pressed ahead with a quick, simple proposed state constitution she hopes to have voters approve this fall so it can be submitted to Congress early next year (especially if the Democrats retain the White House and, maybe, regain the U.S. Senate).

    It is the latest in a long line of failed efforts to achieve this goal. As we have said, hopes for D.C. statehood have risen and fallen more times than the curtains at the Kennedy Center.

    And strong winds are blowing against this renewed effort.

    "Talk about rights all you want," former Northern Virginia Congressman Tom Davis said last week. "The more you whoop it up ... the more the backlash."

    Davis, a moderate-conservative Republican, spoke last Thursday at a D.C. Bar forum on "D.C. Statehood: Why It Matters." He bluntly told the panel and audience that there is little to no support on Capitol Hill. That's especially true among Republicans, who would not want to dilute their clout on the Hill by surely allowing the election of two Democratic senators from D.C.

    In a recent appearance on WAMU 88.5 FM, George Derek Musgrove, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, reiterated this reality. In an interview with WAMU's Jacob Fenton, Musgrove said, "Politics is about power ... reward your friends, punish your enemies." He said the District has no real political power -- a PAC, paid city lobbyists or others who can get the attention of Congress. "You cannot assume even your [Capitol Hill] friends, over whom you have no sway ... will do what's in your interest and not theirs."

    The comments of Davis and Musgrove burst like fireworks over the cheerleading that accompanies this latest statehood effort.

    Every member of the D.C. Bar panel recognized this reality. The city will have to spend time, money and resources to lobby Congress. But before you can do that, they all agreed there has to be a plan to gear up and aggressively follow.

    The panelists and speakers were D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Arent Fox lawyer Jon Boucher, veteran lawyer Fred Cooke (who served from 1987 to 1990 as D.C. corporation counsel, the prior equivalent of D.C. attorney general), senior Bowser adviser Beverly Perry and Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis. Your Notebook was the moderator.

    Perry noted the Bowser administration has geared up quickly to get a proposed constitution in place before the Board of Elections this week so it can be on the November ballot. There has been an outcry that the basic governing document was too rushed, with too little community input, despite three public hearings. Perry said getting a clear, non-controversial constitution to Congress would improve statehood's chances.

    Both Perry and the mayor, who arrived to wrap up the session, said city leaders are determined to put on a professional lobbying effort. Perry noted that former Mayor Anthony Williams has agreed to lead an "Advocacy Committee."

    Bowser's actions so far have raised expectations. But the fate of the presidential race and Senate are out of the city's control.

    In this turbulent political year, we'll see how it all plays out.

    ■ Douglass nailed it. American icon Frederick Douglass masterfully attacked slavery in 1852 when he gave his "July 5" address on an American independence that didn't include slaves. Although our second-class citizenship in no way approaches the ugly history of slavery, our lack of voting rights and self-determination makes the nation's capital the most un-American place in America. Some of Douglass' words speak to us and should speak to the nation about our modern condition.

    "It is the birthday of your National Independence," Douglass said back then, "and of your political freedom."

    And while he especially noted, "Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic... I do not despair of this country," Douglass exposed the hollow ring of July 4: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages."

    ■ A semifinal word. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson has announced she'll leave her post Sept. 30. She is leaving a bit earlier than she said in her public declaration to NBC4 that she would leave in 2017. But her accomplishments are many in a struggling school system that has turned many corners but has more to go. There is time to assess her role as the city looks to the future.

    Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.