DC Residents Disillusioned by Obama’s Silence on Their Rights

April 18, 2011  |  

(Washington Post) — President Obama’s arrival in the White House two years ago inspired unabashed optimism among civic leaders in the District, who had long yearned for an ally to trumpet their quest for statehood and voting rights in Congress.  As the country’s first black president, Obama’s words and biography suggested an innate appreciation for political disenfranchisement. If anyone could understand the plight of a second-class citizenry, it had to be a former community organizer on Chicago’s South Side.

That Obama has not met those expectations is disappointing enough for those who view the District’s status as nothing less than the deprivation of a basic civil right. But their frustration is magnified by who Obama is and what they wanted from an African American president residing in the nation’s most prominent and predominant black city. “The expectations were very high that, since he had made human rights an important part of his platform, he would speak out for D.C.,” said Philip Pannell, a former member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and longtime advocate for statehood. “It seems that President Obama’s heart and his conscience are missing in action.”

Obama is no different than his predecessors. No president has rushed to invest political capital in a city that Republicans have mocked as a symbol of urban dysfunction. What benefit could there be in championing the rights of 600,000 residents of a city with a sordid history of crime and political corruption?  Yet what distinguished Obama from his predecessors was the anticipation his arrival generated. In the past week, the same people who saw hope in Obama’s jaunts across the city just before his inauguration — remember that half-smoke he ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl? — have excoriated him for relegating the District to the status of bargaining chip in a broader budget game with House leaders.

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