Statehood Advocacy Group Celebrates 20 Years

Anise Jenkins and Frank Smith share a moment during the Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Founders' Day event on Aug. 3. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)
Anise Jenkins and Frank Smith share a moment during the Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Founders' Day event on Aug. 3. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)

Dorie Ladner risked her life for civil rights once, and now she is not sure she will see the end of another battle in her lifetime.

The 75-year-old civil rights trailblazer began her activist work as a college student in her native Mississippi serving on the front lines of the civil rights movement, work that proved to be dangerous — and sometimes fatal — for those involved.

Today, her fight continues with the D.C. statehood movement, a long-fought battle with no foreseeable end.

“In Mississippi … we faced death and other kinds of atrocities before we got the right to vote,” Ladner said Thursday, Aug. 3 during a celebration for the 20th anniversary of the D.C. statehood advocacy organization Stand Up! for Democracy (Free D.C.). “Here in the nation’s capital, those kinds of things haven’t occurred, but there is still oppression of the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

Dorie Ladner, former 1960s student activist in Mississippi, speaks during the Standup! for Democracy in DC founder's day event Aug 3. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)
Dorie Ladner, former 1960s student activist in Mississippi, speaks during the Standup! for Democracy in DC founder’s day event Aug 3. (Lateef Mangum/The Washington Informer)

Attended by a number of civil rights-era crusaders, Free D.C.’s anniversary party at the flagship Busboys and Poets on 14th Street Northwest commenced with chatter and a celebratory champagne toast.

Ladner, who has limited mobility due to injuries suffered in a car accident, has a storied history of activism, having worked with the Freedom Riders, participated in the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins, lectured at churches and universities to fundraise, organized outreach and civil disobedience demonstrations. She never missed a march from 1963 to 1968, including the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March.

“As we get older, we cannot get out there and do the things that we used to do,” she said to her cohorts. “But whatever I can do to help, I am going to do.”

The aging of longtime members of the organization has forced Free D.C. to shift its tactics, moving away from its rabble-rousing demonstrations on Capitol Hill toward public education through lectures and digital media and lobbying Congress to support D.C. statehood.

Today, about a dozen active members attend the organization’s regular meetings and about 40 show up to special events, but members said the strides they have made and the revitalization in the statehood movement keeps them celebrating.

“We are celebrating because we are still on the battlefield,” said Free D.C. Executive Director Anise Jenkins, also known as “the face of D.C. Statehood” and “Ms. Free D.C.” “[In 1997], we were beginning a coalition that included young people, we were diverse, we were ready for business and we’re still ready.”

Jenkins said the movement is seeing a revival as the District’s elected officials ramp up measures to advance statehood for D.C. She also noted a transformation in the areas of focus when she joined the movement from “interim steps” such as voting rights and exclusive budget autonomy to pushing for full statehood.

“It is hard to be steadfast for a goal like statehood for 20 years,” D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said during the event. “To fall behind is the way most people do it because it’s not around the corner.”

Norton announced record-breaking cosponsorship in the House and Senate for D.C. statehood with 136 and 20, respectively.

“Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” D.C. shadow Sen. Mike Brown said, citing a Chinese proverb. “We should celebrate every step along the way.”

But Jenkins does not want to wait much longer for statehood.

“I’m hopeful that it will not be another 20 years,” she said.

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About Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 98 Articles
Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.

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