The third party that became the second one

Sam Smith – Just read in a Facebook note by David Schwartzman that the DC Statehood Green Party had come in second again this year. He wrote: “We won 2 out of 3 head to head races. Our total votes for all offices was 73,629 (6 races), while the Republican’s total vote was 55,676 (also 6 races). Our total vote for head to head races was 43,880, while the Republicans got 36,957. Scott McLarty added: “The total number of votes received by Statehood Green candidates has been more than the total number of votes received by Repubs in most DC elections of the past two decades.”

I mention this not just to brag as one of the party’s founders but to recognize that even today some things can still work well. The DC Statehood (later Statehood Green) Party was a residue of hope for folks like me living in a cruel and ineffectual capital and is a useful example to today’s young and others that even the worst of times you don’t have to give up hope.

Here’s from a piece I wrote a while back:

Sam Smith, 2015 – In the fall of 1970 I was invited to a meeting to discuss the candidacy of Julius Hobson for non-voting delegate to Congress, one of the tokens that the federal government had thrown our way to help calm the city down after the riots.
We met in a barren church basement hall on East Capitol Street. Just a few of us, our chairs pulled in a small circle. After a while, Julius asked on what platform we thought he should run. Someone in the room mentioned an article I had written four months earlier calling for DC statehood and explaining for the first time how it might achieved without a constitutional amendment. It was only the second time I had heard anyone mention the article. One reader had sent me five dollars, asking that it be contributed to the cause if it ever got going.

The statehood idea was not new. A year earlier, a group of black activists had held a news conference calling for DC statehood. It had, however, been one of those 12-hour revolutions — running from the 11 am news conference to the 11 pm news broadcast.
Also, Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin had run for New York mayor and city council president on a platform that included statehood for the Big Apple.

In fact, the malapportionment of the Senate was perhaps the most important, undiscussed issue in the country at the turn of the century for there was hardly a matter of political importance that would not be affected if that body were to reflect 21st century rather than 19th century demographics. As I noted, if the Senate were a public school it would be under court ordered bussing. If it were a corporation it couldn’t get any federal contracts. And if it were a private club you want to resign from it before running for public office.
After discussing the concept for a few minutes, Julius announced that he liked it and was going to run on it. Thus the DC statehood movement was born in the perversely serendipitous ways of history.

Politicians would get up and demand “full self-government” for the city but lose interest when you suggested how it might be most directly attained.

Blacks elsewhere in the country seemed surprisingly indifferent to the colonial status of a half million of their racial compatriots in the nation’s capital.

Labor and other progressive groups, which would gain politically from more liberal representation in Congress, couldn’t be bothered.

The New York Times had Tom Wicker write a series on Puerto Rico’s status anomaly but ignored the status of the people right under the noses of their Washington staff.

Like other good ideas, however, the idea of statehood refused to die. In many places, in small ways, its logic and its need was reinforced. While statehood remained antithetical to the strategy and sensibilities of the political and media elite, it caught on elsewhere.

Neighborhood groups, activist organizations, and college students had, unlike the press and politicians, little difficulty grasping the significance and sense of the idea.
In some important ways, the Statehood Party itself was also an extension of the remarkably comfortable biracial politics that had grown during the anti-freeway fight. The party emphasized the pragmatic over the ideological and appealed to both blacks and whites.

In 1972 I wrote a draft of the Statehood Constitution which declared:

“This is our task: not simply to condemn the errors of the past and present, but to construct a new community based on cooperation before profit, liberty before sterile order, and justice before efficiency. We seek a democratic, free, just and cooperative city, whose benefits touch those in every living room on every block in every neighborhood. We are the people’s party. Guiding us is but one master: the people.”

To reach this goal we presented perhaps the most eclectic, radical and prescient collection of policies one could have found anywhere in the early 1970s.

And for 25 years the party would hold a seat on the city council and/or the school board.