What started out as a press conference to announce a small-scale protest against Washington, D.C.’s “colonial status” gradually evolved into a larger discussion of grass-roots tactics to achieve broader rights for the District of Columbia.
And with one-time Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader at the helm of the proceedings, the event was a departure from the typical press avails typically hosted by more measured and mainstream local players.
Before a small group of activists and news reporters this morning, Nader laid out a plan for a “limited general strike” in support of D.C. statehood. More specifically, members of roughly a half-dozen participating organizations have pledged to postpone their arrival at work by 15 minutes on July 9, by 30 minutes on Aug. 1, by 45 minutes on Sept. 10 and by one hour on Oct. 1.
“[We will] use that time and other time to expand our circle of solidarity on statehood for the District of Columbia among our friends, relatives and co-workers,” Nader explained.
He acknowledged that the strike might seem “excessively modest,” but argued that it would start conversations within participating groups that don’t normally focus on D.C. rights issues, such as the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, US PIRG and FairVote.
Nader also described the tactic as useful because it is achievable, and suggested it could inspire similar actions in other sectors.
“Low barriers to entry for civic and political movements are as important as weighty strategies pursued by fuller-time activists who deserve to look behind them and see a rising tide streaming in many creative directions and touch points,” he said.
Representatives from more narrowly focused organizations such as DC Vote, DC Statehood Green Party and the Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. Coalition also spoke about the strike plans and the strides that still need to be made within the larger movement.
A question-and-answer session presented an opportunity for Nader and others to flex more radical muscles and engage in broader discussions about how to leverage support for expanded rights for D.C. citizens — and what self-proclaimed allies need to do differently.
The conversation at one point turned to President Barack Obama.
Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) tend to be careful not to criticize Obama in public statements for not doing enough, ultimately calling him an ally for their cause.
But Nader, Lino Stracuzzi of the D.C. Statehood Green Party and Anise Jenkins of Stand Up! were not reluctant to challenge Obama.
“I asked him, face to face, did he support statehood, and he gave me his assurances he did,” Jenkins said of a conversation she had with the future president at American University during the 2008 campaign. “We shouldn’t have to beg or plead.”
Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, agreed that Obama has not done all he could, citing as an example when the president “threw D.C. under the bus” by including a ban on local funding for abortion as a bargaining chip to pass a spending bill in 2011.
But Zherka suggested that what he perceived as Obama’s willingness to give in to pressure could be an asset at some point, and using tactics that include civil disobedience, tongue-in-cheek protests and phone drives could bring results.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.