As someone who has advocated for statehood for the District of Columbia since I first learned about this civil rights issue, I cannot help but look to past examples of how others struggled for the same equality. The other day I began reading about how Alaska became the 49th state in America and realized how many of their struggles are similar to the ones faced today by the people of the District of Columbia.
Below is a speech by Ernest Gruening, the former Territorial Governor of Alaska (who eventually became the first Alaskan senator 1958-1968), which was delivered to the Delegates of the Alaska Constitutional Convention on November 9, 1955. I find the speech quite interesting because there are so many parallels to the plight of the District residents. It should be noted, somewhat sadly, that the 1960 census showed there were less than 300,000 people in both Alaska and Nevada, compared to 762,000 residents living in the District of Columbia at the time.
We meet to validate the most basic of American principles, the principle of “government by consent of the governed.”
We take this historic step because the people of Alaska who elected you, have come to see that their long standing and unceasing protests against the restrictions, discriminations and exclusions to which we are subject have been unheeded by the colonialism that has ruled Alaska for 88 years. The people of Alaska have never ceased to object to these impositions even though they may not have realized that such were part and parcel of their colonial status. Indeed the full realization that Alaska is a colony may not yet have come to many Alaskans, nor may it be even faintly appreciated by those in power who perpetuate our colonial servitude.
Half a century ago, a governor of Alaska, John Green-Brady, contemplating the vain efforts of Alaskans for nearly forty years to secure even a modicum of workable self-government, declared: