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Building A Movement To Fight Political Disenfranchisement In DC

Drew Franklin is an activist and a 28-year resident of the District of Columbia. He is running as an independent At-Large candidate for the D.C. City Council.

His candidacy is a direct challenge to the gentrification, displacement, and development of D.C. at the expense of poor and working class Americans, who often are from predominantly black or brown communities. These communities often lose homes, jobs, and schools, as the city clears land for shopping centers, parks, and other structures to supposedly spur growth.

Franklin was a part of Occupy Wall Street. He has been labeled the “Bernie Sanders of D.C.” He embraces that label, as he supports the opening for social justice movements which has been created by the grassroots mobilization around the Sanders campaign.

On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast this week, Franklin joins the show as our guest. Franklin is also a writer and journalist, whose work has appeared at Orchestrated Pulse and AlterNet.

Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola talk to Franklin about his candidacy for the D.C. City Council, D.C. statehood and how the issue is intertwined with numerous issues, Deray McKesson’s campaign for Baltimore mayor and Teach for America, which Franklin has written about, and why he chose to run as an independent instead of a Democrat.

In a separately posted Part II of the episode, Khalek and Gosztola address how a black student group at York University in Toronto attempted to have Khalek’s speaking event canceled because they claimed she was “anti-black.” Khalek provides an update on some Israel and Palestine news, and Gosztola provides a report from Chicago on the Chicago Teachers Union strike on April 1.

The podcast episode is available for download on iTunes. For a link to the interview with Drew Franklin (and also to download the episode as well), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the podcast. The file will automatically start playing so you can listen to the episode.

For a link to the discussion portion of the episode with Khalek and Gosztola, go here. Also, below are embedded players for listening to both parts of the podcast episode. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the players.

Part 1

Part 2

Below is a partial transcript of the interview with Drew Franklin.

KHALEK: Let’s start off by talking about who you are, what your platform is, and why you have been called the “Bernie Sanders of D.C.”

FRANKLIN: I have been an activist or an organizer, I prefer to say, in various contexts for all of my adult life. That includes labor and organizing in solidarity with Palestine. I actually spent three months in the West Bank with the international solidarity movement. And my decision to run for D.C. City Council is really a continuation of that.

The press here likes to play up the fact or act incredulous that I’m running to the left of the incumbent, who has a reputation as a progressive. That’s David Grosso, the independent At-Large council member. Really just for that reason I’ve been anointed the Bernie Sanders of D.C. I think I’m arguably to the left of Bernie Sanders himself even, but I’ll happily associate myself with him in that regard just because I do think there is an opportunity here, kind of an opening, to bring leftist politics back into the mainstream. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to achieve with this campaign is to make leftist politics relevant in D.C. government.

KHALEK: What are some of the things in your platform? I know D.C. statehood is one of them. You can explain to listeners what that means, but what about the stuff? And how does that fit into leftist politics?

FRANKLIN: Our platform, we’re calling the Drew for D.C. Bill of Rights, and it’s a set of five resolutions that we are using as a framework to not only build out our own platform but create a model that other people can independently adopt and work toward because the attention here is really on movement building. It’s on being a part of something broader and inclusive and not just one individual’s political ambitions or ambitions to get into government.

So, the Drew for D.C. Bill of Rights first of all says that all residents have a right to affordable housing. All students have the right to free and equitable public education. Etc. You can actually check it out at our website, DrewforDC.com.

The reason that statehood is relevant to all this: A lot of your listeners might not know that D.C. is in a very unique situation compared to the rest of the country in that our six hundred thousand-plus residents don’t have voting representation in Congress. We actually only just recently were given back our budget autonomy, control over our own local finances, which previously were basically under the control of Congress.

And there’s a whole history there of this political disenfranchisement, which has a race element to it because we actually didn’t get these rights until 1973. That’s when we got our home rule charter from Congress as a result of organizing, movement building here locally in order to put pressure on the federal government.

KHALEK: …And back then, D.C. was still majority black. It may have been one of the highest proportions of black people in any city in the country, if I’m not mistaken.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, at the time, it was 70 percent black. Prior to it, you know, this was coming right on the heels on the end of Jim Crow, end of segregation. What’s interesting about D.C.—and that still I think still affects us today, this was a city with a large black population that was ruled by a segregationist Congress, which included people who openly spoke of their desire to get rid of the black population in D.C. That was part of the struggle to get statehood was that racist element there. It wasn’t just about suffrage.

One thing people don’t know is when integration took place in D.C. and segregation ended, the means by which it took place was actually harmful to the poorer black residents because, although the institutions that we had at the time were segregated, they were there. They provided things that people needed, but then they were just razed. Segregation was used as an excuse to tear down whole neighborhoods and public amenities that people depended upon.

KHALEK: I didn’t know that.

FRANKLIN: A lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people who live in D.C. don’t know that, and something I think that is crucial is that we are finding ourselves in kind of a similar situation today with this rampant hyper-development that has been really actively driven by policy that has displaced black residents, particularly poor black residents in a similar manner.

KHALEK: Since 2000, there’s like 45,000 black people, who have left D.C. because of that development. They’ve been priced out. They’ve been pushed out. Various public housing complexes have been razed, as you say. And so, the demographic makeup of the city is much, much different even than it was 15 years ago.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, and I’ve seen all this happen myself, and that really is what’s influenced my politics. First of all, growing up in what was then known as Chocolate City. You know, being in the public school system that was regarded as the worst in the country and that was also majority black. And then seeing the transformation, this really aggressive development that has priced people out, come at great costs, and also learning how deliberate policy interventions are part of that.

We have something called the New Communities Initiative, which was first implemented in 2006 by our then-mayor Anthony Williams, who prior to being mayor was in charge of the financial control board that Congress had imposed on the city during Marion Berry’s last term. So, this New Communities Initiative calls for the demolition of public housing around the city, and they’ve been carrying that over the last ten years. So, it’s not just an accident of economics, but there are actual intentional decisions that policymakers and developers who finance them have made. That’s why I think it’s important for us to get involved in the political process locally to resist that.

Statehood comes into all of this because Congress maintains the right to intervene in our local affairs, and it’s something that they do. For example, by referendum, by vote, we legalized marijuana in D.C. But we haven’t been able to fully implement that legalization because a congressman from Maryland, Andy Harris, who is completely unaccountable to D.C. voters, he just added a budget rider that prohibits us from using federal funds to implement this law. And, of course, D.C. receives a lot of federal funds because we have a congressional ban on a commuter tax and things like that, which makes us dependent on them for finances.

Another example is women on Medicaid can’t get abortions in D.C. Again, this is because of congressional intervention. Statehood is not a single issue. It’s not just the principle of representation in itself, which of course is important, but it has all these other effects, which condition housing struggles and education and women’s rights and all of that.

For the rest of the interview, listen here.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."