Civic Duty

Over the last two weeks I had been handing off work assignments to prepare myself and my work colleagues for my five week absence to serve D.C. Grand Jury duty. I showed up at the courthouse on-time and was filed into the room where they checked in all Grand Jurors. Initially, they asked for anyone with a letter stating why they could not serve to present the letter to the clerk, then they asked for other reasons why people could not serving starting with the other side of the room from me.

As I sat and waited for them to get to my side of the room I wondered whether I’d go up and state my case as to why I don’t think I should serve nor should anyone in the District. Over the last 6 years I’ve been called for jury duty both for D.C. Superior Court and Federal Court and each time in the voir dire phase I’ve had the chance to speak to a judge directly to state my case that while I had nothing against the judges I did not respect their authority. Both Federal & D.C. Superior Court justices are appointed by the President and then confirmed by the Senate where we in the District have no representation. I do not think I should have to serve before a judge confirmed by a body where I/we have no representation. Our government is based on checks and balances and we are denied a full and meaningful check over the District’s judicial system.

Two years ago when I stated my case to a judge in D.C. Superior Court he looked at me and said “so you’re making an argument about your disenfranchisement.” I responded that was exactly the case and then asked “but can you still ably serve on a jury?” “I can because I also fundamentally believe in the concept of a trial in front of a jury of your peers.” The judge winked at me, smiled, and I served on that jury but I was able to voice my objections to the system while still respecting the concept of trial by jury.

So as I sat waiting in the Grand Jury room I wondered if I’d state my case to the clerk doing the roll because my beef was not with her rather it was with the judges and U.S. Attorney’s Office all of whom oversee the District’s judicial system without any oversight by the people of the District. When the roll call got to my side of the room I figured I might as well take the opportunity to express my discontent with the system we are forced to live under.

I walked up the bench and said I don’t believe it’s right or just that I and the people of D.C. have federal prosecutors prosecuting local cases. We should have our local prosecutors doing that before judges appointed and approved by elected officials in the District of Columbia not the U.S. Senate where we have no representation. As I made my pitch the clerk had her head down and just said “uh-huh, uh-huh, ok, got it. Burch, right? Before I left the bench I said “I have no logistical reasons as to why I do not think I should serve just philosophical objections to the system we live under.” And then I went back to my seat.

After another 30 minutes of talking to other Grand Jurors, dismissing several of them, and then taking a 15 minute break we were called back into the courtroom. I was immediately called to the bench and was given a dismissal paper and told to go back to the petit jury office to check-in. I was stunned. I only raised philosophical and political objections and twice before those objections alone did not relieve me from jury duty but for some reason today that was different.

I do not object to jury duty as I believe it is a cornerstone to our judicial system that though imperfect makes our system better than most around the world. I do, however, object to the system we live under here in the District. We don’t control or pay for our courts, prisons, and prosecutorial services. Yes, we should serve on juries but we also need to speak up and speak out against an unjust system those juries must operate within.

I can’t figure out why they let me out of Grand Jury Duty today. Was it my principled stand? I don’t know for sure but I gave them no other reason to let me go.

We in the District need to figure out how to take back control of our court and prison system and that starts with developing a plan to transition it over to the District (costs & logistics) but along the way we need to keep speaking out against a system that is contrary to our democratic principles.
We need to plan, work, speak out, and resist. Every day we can and should do something to push the statehood cause forward and if you get called for jury duty don’t forget to question authority.

Josh Burch
Brookland, DC

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2016 Hoodie Awards

i_am_essentialred_hoodieYes, your favorite on-line and purely subjective awards for achievement in the push for D.C. Statehood are back. 2016 was filled with highs, lows, twists, and turns as it relates to D.C. Statehood. Progress was made in some areas and we had a few setbacks in others but most importantly the work goes on and the cause endures! Without further adieu let’s get to our 2016 Hoodie Award Winners:

Hoodies for Good Deeds:

Hoodie for Clear Collective Voice: D.C. Voters

On November 8, 2016, over 244,000 District voters, 86% of those who voted on the referendum, voted in support of D.C. Statehood. Let there be no mistake that the people of D.C. spoke with a clear and collective voice telling our friends, families, and neighbors in the 50 states (and their elected representatives in Congress) that we have chosen statehood as our democratic destiny. The people of D.C. want equal treatment nothing more nothing less.

Hoodie for Vision: Mayor Muriel Bowser, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Sens. Michael Brown & Paul Strauss, and Rep. Franklin Garcia – Statehood Initiative

Though an imperfect process (see below) the Statehood Commission statehood initiative in 2016 deserves praise. The District’s statehood initiative put a renewed and substantive focus on many of the steps we need to take to become a state and culminated with a clear and overwhelming vote for D.C. statehood. The vote in November is now something that statehood advocates can point to as the first vote for statehood and by an overwhelming margin by District voters in over 30 years.

Hoodie for Outreach Strategy: D.C. League of Women Voters

In 2016, after several years of hard behind the scenes work the D.C. League of Women Voters got the National League of Women Voters to adopt a resolution in support of D.C. Statehood putting this national civil rights group on record in support of statehood. Then, with support of a grant from the District Government, the D.C. League went to 5 states to meet with local League chapters to educate their members on the statehood cause in an effort to enlist them as our state-level advocates for statehood. This is a model that should be replicated with Unions, Civil Rights & Voting Rights Groups, Religious Groups, and other groups to build a real national movement for statehood.

Hoodie for Trusting the People: David Grosso, Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Charles Allen, Kenyan McDuffie, Brianne Nadeau, Yvette Alexander, and Laruby May.

During the Council’s review of the statehood constitution approved at the “Constitutional Convention” the aforementioned Councilmembers voted to ensure that post-statehood there would be a real and more democratic constitutional convention made up of delegates elected by the people and that the subsequent constitution would go directly to the people for a vote. These Councilmembers stood tall by working to ensure a more democratic constitutional convention takes place so that the people of D.C., for the first time ever, can truly have final say over the structure of our own government. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Hoodie for Best Behind the Scenes Work: DC Council Staff 

You know who you are but there were staff from half a dozen Council staff fully engaged on trying to understand the rushed constitution, listening to citizens concerns about the constitution, and then working with their bosses to amend the constitution to make it better. Council staff deserve a lot of praise for their hard and thoughtful work to make the constitution approved on November 8th a more democratic document. Well done, y’all!!!

Hoodie for Best Business: The Pug

Businesses across the District support statehood but The Pug and its owner, Tony Tomelden, took an extra step in standing up for the District. Congressman Rod Blum (R-IA) said that D.C. deserved a recession. Wishing economic ill on the people of D.C. was too much for the Pug so they organized a fundraiser for his opponent. He ended up winning re-election against Monica Vernon but the Pug’s action should be precedent setting. When members of Congress threaten the well being of the District we should stand up against them not just by blocking traffic but by threatening their jobs. We hope that more District citizens and businesses talk with their checkbooks in future elections so that we support those who support us and go after those who oppose us.

Hoodie for the 4th Estate: Tom Sherwood

As the Dean of the D.C. Press Corps Mr. Sherwood’s sharp wit and biting questions help cut through B.S. and to the heart of the issue at hand. Mr. Sherwood keeps us all honest by asking tough question and holding a mirror to us all. Tough, hard, and thoughtful questions don’t just help keep the public informed on what’s going on but the serve as a challenge to activists and politicians to do better. He also deserves an award for two phrases he’s coined and made popular: 1) The District of Columbia is the most un-American place in American and 2) Local Washington is only as good as the people active in it. Thanks for being who you are, Mr. Sherwood.

 

Hoodies for Not So Good Deeds:

Hoodie for Worst Constitutional Convention: Statehood Commission

Is there a crystal clear structure that all constitutional conventions should follow? Nope, however, the process for developing a constitution in 2016 led by the Statehood Commission veered far from the spirit of most constitutional conventions. While the constitutional convention did provide numerous venues for public input on the constitution it proved no opportunities for public empowerment on the development of the constitution. Five elected officials made up the Statehood Commission and only they could offer amendments and vote on them to the constitution despite the fact that none of them were elected on the premise that they’d be empowered to draft a constitution on behalf of the voters. We should expect better, we should have done better, and we will do better.

Hoodie for Worst Election Result: November 8, 2016

President Elect Trump does not have a clear policy position on D.C. statehood (Secretary Clinton, Gov. Gary Johnson, and Dr. Jill Stein all were in favor and lost). So while our president elect is still a statehood wild card Republicans in House & Senate, many of whom are both anti-statehood and anti-Home Rule, now control both bodies and that really sucks for the District. With the GOP controlling both Houses of Congress ideologues and shameless hypocrites like Reps. Mark Meadows, Jason Chaffetz, and Andy Harris along with their Senatorial hypocritical brethren like Sen. Rand Paul and Mark Lee now have open legislative paths to repeal the District’s gun, abortion, and anti-discrimination laws as well as a the potential to repeal budget autonomy itself. Does it seem like repealing DC laws is the top of PEOTUS’ agenda? No. Does it seem likely that the shameless congressional hypocrites will push their anti-DC agenda? Yes. Does it seem likely that PEOTUS would veto anti-DC laws? No. In other words, the election on November 8, 2016 seems like a big-time threat for autonomy in the District of Columbia but only time will tell.

Hoodie for Trusting Voters to Elect You But Not Trusting Voters to Elect Others: Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, and Phil Mendelson

These three Councilmembers led the failed effort to have the Council (Legislative Assembly) post-statehood have the final editing rights on any constitution drafted by elected delegates at a constitutional convention. There were/are a couple of troubling facets to this line of thinking: First, they are more than happy to trust the voters to elect them to make laws but they don’t trust the voters to elect others to draft a constitution. And second, there’s an inherent conflict where the constitutional convention could change the powers of the legislature then the legislature itself changes that (probably to protect their powers) before voters can vote on it. At that point why even have a constitutional convention since the legislature would have the final say anyhow?

Hoodie for Worst Fucking Congressman: Mark Meadows (R-NC)

This is by far the most competitive category as many members of Congress go out of their way to grandstand at the expense of the people of the District. Given Representative Meadows’ role as head of the District’s Oversight Sub-Committee he gets the award for his “ALLOW Act.” The ALLOW Act would not only wipe away some licensing requirements required of small businesses in the District but the bill would REQUIRE the creation of a committee or subcommittee within the Council to deal with occupational licensing issues. Yes, this ‘local control over local affairs’ hypocrite wants to not just change D.C. laws but he wants to force the creation of a new committee or subcommittee within the Council to deal with these issues.

 

That’s it for the 2016 Hoodies now lets all aim to get Hoodies for Good Deeds in 2017!!!

Josh Burch

Brookland, DC

 

 

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Make America Great, Make D.C. A State!

Just a thought on how we could link our message with that of our new President’s…

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Where Do We Go From Here?

Neighbors United for DC Statehood

Voters in the District overwhelmingly passed a referendum in support of statehood with over 227,000 votes in favor of statehood (86% of those who voted on Referendum B). A complete statehood package was rushed through by District leaders with the hopes of a Democratic wave election. What we got out of it was a complete statehood package and a national election that brought about no short-term prospects for statehood. In reality, a Democratic wave election was always electoral fantasyland given how gerrymandered House districts are. Additionally, in the Senate statehood prospects would have been slim given the number of Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2018 from rural/conservative states.

What we have before us now with a new president and new Congress is the short-term dream of statehood officially dead but the long-term prospects alive and well. Our biggest hurdles aren’t Democrats or Republicans, they are ignorance and apathy. With…

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Strength From My Grandmother

sweet-kissesI’m on my way to Chicago today on behalf of the DC League of Women Voters to start building national support for D.C. statehood by meeting with LWV-Illinois board members. I thought I’d be going there under very different circumstances. I thought I’d be meeting with women celebrating the election of a daughter of Illinois as president who happened to also support D.C. statehood.

I am torn. In my head this is the right thing to do, we need to spend time building a national network of supporters to make this a reality. My heart aches however and I am gutted. My faith in America & Americans is shaky. We just elected a bigoted misogynist who very well could be a threat to civil rights and civil liberties to all Americans. How can I stay positive? How?

Last night I realized that I need to draw on my past and our nation’s collective past to get through this trip. In the 1950s my grandmother moved the Lexington, Virginia from New York City. At the time Virginia had a poll tax and was an entrenched Jim Crow state. State repression of black Americans wasn’t just talked about it was the law of the land.

My grandmother joined the League of Women Voters and worked to help end the poll tax in Virginia. She believed the right to vote was sacred and an attack on it anywhere was a threat to all of us everywhere.

I never got to talk with her in details about D.C. statehood but I have a feeling were she still alive today she’d be gutted too by this election but proud of what I’m doing. I became involved as a statehood activist so that my children would have equal democratic rights but I realize today that I’m also doing for people like my grandmother, Mary Capito, who worked against a violent oppressive system so that her friends and neighbors had equal rights and a guaranteed right to vote.

I can do this. If they could stand up to and organize against an oppressive state enforced injustice so can we, so can I.

My heart was not in this journey until I thought about what my grandmother and others worked for. They succeeded and so will we.

Josh Burch

Brookland

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