The authors of the United States Adjustment and Recovery Act for the District of Columbia wrote the would-be ballot measure as a means of providing 250 years of tax abatements and payments of lost wages and damages to D.C. residents who descended from U.S. enslavement.
These funds, not to be doled out by taxpayers, would instead come from the financial and industrial institutions, religious organizations, and foreign countries that profited from chattel slavery.
Much to the chagrin of those who call themselves recovery advocates, such provisions wouldn’t suffice for the D.C. Board of Elections (BOE), which recently declined to include the freestanding bill for consideration on the general election ballot.
During a special emergency teleconference on May 28, board members cited the BOE’s general counsel’s interpretation that the U.S. Adjustment and Recovery Act violated the D.C. Home Rule Act and U.S. Constitution, a point that attendees immediately countered.
“When you have over 200,000 people that this recovery bill would directly help, I see nothing wrong with it,” John Cheeks, proposer of the bill and president of the United States Citizens Recovery Initiative Alliance (USCRIA), told BOE Chairman D. Michael Bennett and board members Michael D. Gill and Karyn Greenfield.
“A lot of our people of Afro descent have been enslaved,” Cheeks said. “I want you to have a principled measure, not a legal measure to further stop the rights of Afro Americans. My committee and I are going to file an appeal on this decision. It’s absolutely degrading and embarrassing for you all to decide that descendants of enslaved people don’t have rights.”
In addition to an appeal, USCRIA members have launched a write-in campaign that would encourage voters to scribble “recovery” as their choice for U.S. president in November. These plans have gelled together in the days leading up to, and during, mass protests in the District and across the world in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed during an encounter with a police officer in Minneapolis.
For many who took to the streets last weekend, the pandemonium surrounding Floyd’s death represented the apex of frustration about the conditions Black people in the United States had endured long before the coronavirus exacerbated health and economic inequities in majority-Black communities.
Supporters of the United States Adjustment and Recovery Act argue that the spirit of that movement speaks to what they’re attempting to achieve for African Americans who’ve suffered institutional racism.
Other aspects of the freestanding bill, drafted over the course of three years and submitted to the BOE twice within that time span, include the removal of public statues and fixtures, African-American homeownership, business aid, identify repair, and judicial adjustments and protections.
Among the criteria for eligibility are birth in the United States and the DNA proof of 40 percent ancestry.
In iterating their endorsement of the bill, some people such as Dr. Roussan Etienne Jr. have presented it not as reparations but as a means of recovery designed to hold the proper parties accountable for what has been documented in the legislation as 190 wrongs committed against African Americans.
“Some of our leaders don’t have any solutions,” said Etienne, co-proposer of the ballot measure and a key figure in USCRIA. “We have to take this to paper and pen. We need to go after their pockets and strategically present this bill. It’s not just injuries, but lost wages. This benefits everyone, and we’re going to do whatever we’re going to have to do to get it passed as a write-in.”