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A disgrace to our nation
(Published May 7, 2001)

More than 25 Metropolitan Police vehicles filled the 900 block of G Street NW in downtown Washington at 3:30 p.m. April 30, and 31 police officers wearing blue fatigues and combat boots lined the curb. Twenty-three non-violent citizens chanted in protest outside the library’s entrance, some holding red-and-white "Save D.C. General" placards. One sign, hand-scrawled on the back of a printed placard, said "Welcome to the police state."

The street scene – and what immediately preceded it – was surreal in the capital of the Free World. All that was missing were the jackboots and machine guns that have accompanied such a scene in so many foreign nations whose anti-democratic policies our national government leaders always quickly decry.

A ring of MPD Emergency Response Team officers had, moments before, escorted the four visibly shaken members of the D.C. financial control board out of the library.

The congressionally created, presidentially appointed panel had just completed a "public" meeting – from which the public was barred by uniformed police and locked doors – that was held to overrule a unanimous, democratically elected D.C. City Council and impose an unpopular, secretive $500 million contract on D.C. taxpayers to privatize the city’s public health care system. (The contract specifically prohibits the contractor from discussing details of the agreement with the taxpayers who are footing the bill.)

The meeting was so "public" that The Common Denominator’s reporter was forced to show a press card in order to regain entry after demanding, along with other journalists, a way out of the locked basement meeting room to check out the loud commotion upstairs.

The citizens who showed up at the library were a remnant of the demographically diverse hundreds who packed into the meeting room at One Judiciary Square for the control board’s announced 2 p.m. public meeting. The well-behaved crowd grew impatient at 2:05 p.m. when control board members had not yet arrived. First, they expectantly clapped to beckon the board to check a clock. Then, they began chanting. At 2:15 p.m., control board Chairman Alice Rivlin finally attempted to call the meeting to order.

It was a half-hearted attempt. As might be expected, given the widespread public opposition to privatizing the city’s only public hospital, protesters demanded to be heard by the control board and linked arms across the front of the room, inviting arrest.

Instead, the control board left the room. The public and press later learned that vehicles were waiting to transport the control board and selected other individuals eight blocks away to MLK library, where the "public" meeting reconvened minutes after representatives of The Common Denominator and The Washington Post arrived simultaneously to find the control board along with a handful of government employees and contractors’ representatives already seated.

Contrary to the Post’s assertion the next day that news media were "tipped off" to the control board’s change of plans, The Common Denominator’s representative had to force her way into the control board’s office at One Judiciary Square to demand to be told where the board moved its meeting. Most other news media arrived at the meeting after the control board had already unanimously passed its resolutions to repeal D.C. law and impose its own will on the public.

It was hardly a shining example of American government "of, for and by the people." It should give members of Congress great pause.

On the same day, the General Accounting Office – an investigative arm of Congress – reported that six years of control board governance, imposed by Congress in 1995, has failed miserably to fix what ails the local D.C. government’s financial and management systems. Recently, some members of Congress claimed they couldn’t get involved in the D.C. General issue because it is a local concern. But it is the misguided, undemocratic mandates of Congress in trying to control the local government that created a crisis in the District’s public health care system.

The failure of Congress to recognize its own hypocrisy toward resident citizens of the District continues to be a national disgrace.



Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator