By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
With COVID-19 still ravaging the world, the District of Columbia Council has been working to safely convene, legislate and advocate for the nation’s capital and its residents, by meeting virtually. However for the Council’s official swearing in on Jan. 2, which was also virtually streamed, Council members safely met masked on the steps of their chambers at the John A. Wilson Building- a pandemic safe decision that was a nod to D.C.’s past.
“This occasion is a little different than our usual swearing in. It’s a little “Back to the Future,” if you will, of Council inaugurations in the early years of Home Rule, when the swearing in was always conducted on the steps of the Wilson Building,” Council Chair Phil Mendelson said to begin the ceremony. On January 2, 1975, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall swore in Walter Washington as D.C. first Home Rule Mayor and Sterling Tucker as the city’s first Home Rule Council Chair.
However, 46 years to the day, the 2021 outdoor swearing in had less to do with an homage to D.C. history and more to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re going to do this differently because of the pandemic and requirements of social distancing,” Mendelson explained.
In a ceremony that began a little late and lasted about an hour, current and new members were sworn into Council leadership. Members spoke to their constituents, thanking them for their support and laying out plans and hopes for the future.
“Thank you to the voters for your confidence and the support you’ve given me over the last four years as I’ve worked to lift your voice and make government a tool for social justice,” At-Large Council Member Robert White said. “I wish my girls were here, because the point of my work is envisioning a city that I want to see for them and other young people,” the father of two young daughters, 4 and 1, added.
Newcomers, such as Christina Henderson (I- At Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D- Ward 4) shared their humble honor in being elected to the Council, before also sharing their plans for a stronger, safer and more equitable D.C.
“I decided to seek public office because I was frustrated with the status quo, and felt we needed more leaders to focus on making what appears to be impossible, possible- to push policies, to make D.C. more equitable and sustainable for us all, and to make a reality the belief that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success,” Henderson said.
“I will work hard every day to honor your decision to send me here to fight for your families, for your jobs, for your small businesses, for your faith communities and I will carry the countless stories of struggle and resilience as I work on your behalf,” George said. “I have friends, neighbors, whose lives were claimed by gun violence. I have met with families separated from incarceration and deportation. I have seen neighbors denied basic services in a prosperous city. The communities disrupted by displacement in the last decade included my own,” the new Ward 4 Council Member said.
A proud native Washingtonian, George emphasized that addressing the District’s challenges comes with a strong understanding and love for the city and its people.
“To know D.C. is to recognize its injustices. But to love D.C. like I do- it’s music, it’s food, our culture, our people. From GoGo to Mambo Sauce. To love this city like I do, is to confront these injustices with courage and conviction,” George said passionately before offering a call to action. “Together we can repair and create social housing, prevent evictions and make housing truly affordable. We can build strong neighborhood schools who do right by our children and honor our educators. We can ensure that every D.C. family has access to quality healthcare, childcare, a just transit system, a strong union job and a government that responds to our needs. United we can bring peace to our communities, by treating gun violence as the public health crisis that it is and showing not only with our words, but with our actions, policies and our budget that Black Lives Matter.”