Our Ethics Problem

Our councilmembers are doing us no favors right now in our push for statehood. We are denied basic civil rights and have been for 200 years and our opponents will use any and every excuse they can to keep us from having statehood. For most of our past they have used their indifference, our indifference, and the indifferenc of the American people toward our plight as reason enough to deny us statehood. In times of awakening in the District where citizens have stood up and spoken out Congress has turned to the Constitution as their default answer against statehood followed quickly by some paternalistic statement about what a mess DC is.

Look, we have our problems and quite frankly it looks like we elected a pretty sour bunch to the city council but just do a quick Google search of “legislators indicted” and you’ll get stories from New York, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Alabama. There are crummy and corrupt legislators and executives in almost every state but no one says “let’s take away their national representation because they elected folks with questionable ethical behaviors.” But still, members of Congress and folks across American in the public perception game will say “isn’t DC the place where Marion Barry (folks love pulling the Marion Barry card which I hate) was elected and don’t they have all sorts of investigations going on?” It’s not right that this argument is used in an effort to prevent us from achieving statehood but we’d be naive to pretend that this type of prejudice is not out there. It exists and it is real and it is an impediment to statehood.

Our council members look like a reckless and corrupt crew of money and power hungry officials right now. They are doing us no favors and they are hurting the perception battle which we also need to win in order to achieve statehood. Our cause is about justice and equality but its a cause that must weave its way through a political process and the political process is unfortunately not just about right vs. wrong, justice vs. injustice it’s about framing the argument and making people understand the issues in order to support your efforts.

I wish the American people would see our cause as right vs. wrong but they don’t. I wish the American people would see our lack of statehood as a fundamental violation of our basic rights as citizens but they don’t. When I think about the bad image our elected officials are giving us and why its important I think about the images of the civil rights movement where men and women went to protests in jackets and ties and nice dresses respectively because they wanted to use their image to touch something in the hearts and minds of those watching from afar. Those civil rights workers’ cause was right and just but they realized the importance of their image to help influence those on the sidelines who slowly moved to also see their cause as right and just. Imagery can move people and the civil rights workers understood that.

Our council has past 16 consecutive balanced budgets something that Congress hasn’t done in a long time yet our council’s ethical behavior has given its members and the District a bad image. We need to continue to push and strive toward statehood despite our blemishes but as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill always said “all politics is local.” We need to get a hold and a handle on our city council. They need to exemplify model democratic leadership most importantly because it’s the right thing to do but also because we need their positive image side by side with us in the struggle for statehood.

The council needs to act right and we need to hold them accountable for acting right. We have 600,000 good citizens in this city and only 13 councilmembers. So it seems to me like it should be pretty easy to find 13 new ethical people to represent us and lead us if needed. We have a ethics and an image problem both of which are solvable, but most importantly we have a cause that is just and right and we must continue to push forward.

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