Washington, D.C. -- About fifty people gathered outside of the District of Columbia Superior Court at 8 am on the chilly morning of Tuesday, February 22, to rally in support of two D.C. democracy activists as they went to trial on "Disruption of Congress" charges. Anise Jenkins, of the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, and Karen Szulgit, of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, face a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine if convicted of the charge, which resulted from their arrest on July 29, 1999 in the House of Representatives after speaking out against the passage of the "Barr Amendment." This amendment to the D.C. FY2000 budget, introduced by Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), prohibits the implementation of D.C.'s local Initiative 59 ("Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative of 1998"), which passed with 69% of the vote.
As the group of supporters marched in front of the courthouse, they chanted "No Democracy, No Peace!," "The Capital of Our Nation is the Last Plantation!," and "Free D.C.!" Members of the group also passed out leaflets proclaiming "Democracy on Trial!," and some carried signs decrying the lack of local autonomy and democratic representation for D.C.'s 600,000 residents.
Unlike the rest of American citizens, D.C. residents have no voting representative in Congress, yet must submit their annual budget and locally approved legislation to Congress for review and final approval or rejection. Initiative 59, which was designed to protect seriously ill AIDS and cancer patients from criminal prosecution when being treated with medicinal marijuana under a doctor's supervision, became a target of congressmembers who regularly intervene in local D.C. affairs in ways that the Constitution prohibits with regard to the 50 states.
Speakers at the rally included Senator Florence Pendleton (D-DC), one of the District's two elected "Shadow" Senators who are disallowed from voting or sponsoring legislation within the Senate. Senator Pendleton praised the courage of the two defendants in speaking out, and encouraged more protests for full citizenship rights for D.C. residents.
Former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, a veteran of the civil rights movement, reminded the crowd that "all revolutions begin with only a handful of people."
Loree Murray, long-time D.C. democracy activist and member of the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, recalled how the D.C. Statehood movement has always had a long tradition of civil disobedience arrests, and said she continues to hope that Statehood will be realized "in my lifetime."
Martin Thomas of the D.C. Statehood Green Party half-jokingly called for organizing "Democracy Tours" of the U.S. Congress, wherein citizens from all over the country would learn first-hand about the limits to democracy by exercising their right of free speech in the Capitol Building, then observing the consequences as they are provided chauffeur service to a nearby holding cell "courtesy of the U.S. Capitol Police."
Additional speakers included Lawrence Guyot, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Earl Simmons of Blacks in Government (BIG), Jonathan Hutto of the American Civil Liberties Union/National Capital Area, Sam Jordan of Amnesty International, and Harold Hunter, Jr. of the Umoja Party.
Ben Armfield, who was acquitted in January of a "Disruption of Congress" charge stemming from his own verbal protest in the House of Representatives, warned Congress that "they've got a fight on their hands. Some day soon, they will no longer be able to drag our Constitution through the mud with impunity."
After the rally, a number of supporters followed the defendants into the
courthouse at 9 am to observe the trial proceedings. The trial will resume
at 11 am on February 23 and continue throughout the week in courtroom
JM14 of D.C. Superior Court (500 Indiana Avenue, NW); scheduled
witnesses for the defense include non-voting Delegate to Congress
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), "Shadow" Senator Paul Strauss (D-DC),
and Wayne Turner of ACT UP/D.C., sponsor of Initiative 59.
WHO: Democracy Activists: Anise Jenkins of the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C. Coalition Karen Szulgit of the D.C. Statehood Green Party charged with "Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct on United States Capitol Grounds" for speaking out for D.C. democracy
WHERE: D.C. Superior Court (Moultrie Courthouse), 500 Indiana Avenue, NW
WHEN: Tuesday, February 22nd, 2000:
8 to 9 am - Rally outside of courthouse
9 am - Trial begins in Courtroom JM 14
Washington, D.C. -- A Rally for D.C. Democracy will be held outside D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday, February 22nd, from 8 to 9 am, just before two District of Columbia residents resume their trial on a "Disruption of Congress" charge. A rally on the morning of January 14, when the trial began, drew nearly 100 demonstrators calling for full citizenship rights for D.C. residents.
The defendants were arrested in the House of Representives on July 29, 1999 during the debate and passage -- by a voice vote -- of an anti-democratic amendment attached to the D.C. FY00 budget. The Barr Amendment, sponsored by Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), prohibits D.C. local Initiative 59 ("I-59"), passed by D.C. voters in 1998, from becoming law. The defendants
face a $500 fine and/or six-month jail sentence if convicted of the charge.