From Keri Douglas. She is a writer, photographer and communications consultant who lives in Logan Circle.
What does an American Freedom Fighter look like in 2011? Meet Martin Moulton: a tall, handsome man sporting a sky blue bike shirt, and donning a Tiffany-like black choker strand with a thick red charm fitted front and center, marked #39.
Moulton, a Shaw resident and entrepreneur, when asked what it felt like to be arrested on Monday, April 11, 2011, smiled and responded instinctively while holding the police issue #39 tag, “Fun.”
It began as an impromptu street protest of Congress for imposing its will on D.C. residents regarding spending restrictions and obligations. City leaders finally had enough and decided to stage a sit-in. Provoking arrest, detention and risking a police record for a lifetime, Moulton, too, sat down. The location as the middle of Constitution Avenue at 1st Street NE. According to dcist, they were chanting, “don’t tread on D.C., we demand democracy.”
Along with 40 other leaders of Washington, D.C. — including Mayor Vincent Gray, Council Chair Kwame Brown and several members of the D.C. Council — Moulton, president of the Convention Center Community Association (CCCA), was arrested.
Cuffed with plastic restraints, Moulton joined City Council Members Tommy Wells and Sikkou Biddle in the police wagon to the Southwest Detention Center for processing. Held for almost 10 hours, Moulton and the others were denied food and only offered water. By 4:30 a.m., Moulton, like 26 others, paid a $50 fine and was released.
Though a Republican, Moulton says Democratic Mayor Gray is “standing up to Congress, standing up for voters rights!” “It was a good thing!” exclaims Moulton. “City leaders were finally doing something. I was doing this for myself and for fellow citizens of D.C.”
“It is frustrating when President Barack Obama has the world stage and says nothing,” Moulton continues, “Why can’t he criticize and just ask, what about D.C. citizens?” Even non-voting Delegate to the Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton, Moulton explains, was out there the weeks preceding. Moulton suggests the “message needs to get out there, spark a more serious dialogue. This is totally within our grasp.”
Moulton calculates that “if only 2,000 out of the 600,000 people would show up” the District would be successful in at least reaching the minimal goal of full representation with two Senators and one Representative, if not full statehood. When asked when full statehood could happen, Moulton quickly responds with “this year!”
“We must take the lessons learned from gay activists who brought same sex marriage to the national agenda.” Moulton, named after Martin Luther King, Jr., offers as a potential strategy to successfully reach the goal of full statehood.
The three riders put into the bill that instigated the act of civil disobedience included: removing federal funding for abortion for low income women; adding federal funding for school vouchers for parochial schools; and removing federal funding for needle exchanges. “Change can happen,” he explains further, “they put back the needle exchange.”
Moulton, a native of Berkley, California, is surprised Senator Barbara Boxer “caved” and women activists around the country didn’t aggressively fight back. “If only Boxer had been as aggressive as she was with Condoleezza Rice during the hearings.” Moulton says, “We need to set up the game and make this a national level issue.”
Unfortunately, Moulton explains, D.C. is plagued with consistent leadership challenges of corruption, cronyism and perception of a city poorly run. In addition, Moulton explains, “people are not engaged and instead are into their iPods, gadgets and lattes. People are complacent.”
Moulton insists that the arrests of the 41 should have been on the front page of The Washington Post, Washington Times and Washington Examiner, “they should be ashamed of themselves. Now there is silence. Who will cover the upcoming 15 trials?”
Moulton sees opportunities for change in the city indicated by the opening of the African American History Museum this fall, and the steady increase of residents to the District. People have choices and so many free resources available like no other city, Moulton insists, all within their reach. “Think of the world you want to live in, with equal rights. Young Americans deserve that!”
Moulton’s parents were “thrilled” to learn that he chose to stand up for the rights of D.C. citizens. His father, originally from Costa Rica and a former classmate of the legendary Civil Rights leader and now Congressman John Lewis, had to watch from the sidelines in 1961 as Lewis participated in sit-ins and led the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South.
Exactly 50 years later after the Civil Rights movement, civil disobedience continues for what is right. In fact, April 16 marked the 149 anniversary of the D.C. Emancipation Act, which freed the first slaves in the nation — those who lived in Washington, D.C.; it is 236 years after both free and enslaved blacks fought in the American Revolution against the British for taxation without representation.
Moulton says, “Make people feel empowered. Stand up and grab what you need, it is like fruit on a tree.”
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