April 16, 2005 Rosalie Simmonds-Ballentine was re-elected to a two year term as president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands on Saturday at its annual meeting. Ballentine was elected on a block slate, along with other officers and board members.
Barbara Petersen was elected vice president, replacing Clovis Emanuel, who stepped down from that position, but retained her seat on the board.
After hearing the group's discussion of its strengths and weaknesses earlier in the day, guest speaker Malik Sekou had some advice: "Don't be too hard on yourselves. You are the best-organized, politically prepared group on the island."
These were encouraging words for the group of 35 or so gathered at Pilgrims Terrace to elect officers, set strategies for the upcoming year, and discuss long-range visions. A new membership drive had been considered in the morning session.
Ballentine said the organization needs "an infusion of younger members with new energies and new ideas." And she despaired the lack of St. Croix members at the meeting.
She noted the league is now taking part in TV station WTJX's program "I'll take the Meeting" the first Tuesday of the month, where community issues are discussed.
"There are so many issues needing the reasoned voice of an organization like the league to speak out," Ballentine said, giving a call to members for "active participation to make your voice heard."
Gwen Moolenaar, University of the Virgin Islands senior vice president and provost, said, "We need to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Some people think we're a bunch of crotchety women who are angry about a bunch of stuff."
Past two-term president Erva Denham said, "Sometimes we are." On that same note, she said later, "We don't open our mouths until we've done the research, and we are not going to stop doing that as long as I'm here."
Norma Levin noted that the organization's bylaws state the league's purpose "to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation of citizens in government and to act on selected government issues." Actually, LWV membership is not limited to women; men have been admitted for years.
Sekou, UVI political science professor and community activist, addressed the proposed 2006 Constitutional Convention. If successful, it would create a document to replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954.
Legislation signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull calls for a March 2006 convention to meet on St. Thomas. It calls for 30 delegates who would be chosen in a February 2006 special election. The delegates would be required to produce and adopt a draft of the constitution by July 27, 2006.
At its completion, the constitution would be forwarded for approval to the governor, the president of the United States and Congress. If approved on all levels, it would be put to the voters in November 2006.
That timetable, said Sekou, "is humanly impossible. It cannot be done in three months." He cited the territory's past conventions. For a complete rundown of convention history, See Constitutional Conventions: What's Gone Before.
The past four attempts to create a constitution in 1965, 1972, 1978 and 1980 have failed, and with more time than three months. However, Sekou pointed out one of the "failures" was a success: In 1964, out of eight proposals, six became law (including one that resulted in having an elected governor).
After a thumbnail background of how the V.I. has evolved politically, Sekou got to work. He was explicit about the need to take action. "We have been in hibernation since 1983," he said.
Sekou said some have criticized the Revised Organic Act for being a "colonial document." "That is stupid, ignorant," he said. "It's insulting to Rothschild Francis." (Francis has been called "Father of the Organic Act" because his 1921 plan was perceived as the forerunner of the 1936 Organic Act.)
Sekou said, "It doesn't matter to me which proposal you want." The idea, he said, is to take some positive action. He explained that adopting the Organic Act as a constitution, as has been suggested by Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen and others, would still allow for amendments. It would go to Congress, just like a constitution, and when approved by Congress, it would be returned to the territory to be ratified. After that, amendments could be made, and it would go to the voters in a referendum.
"It would be a template, a basic document to work from," he said. "We must not let the defects of the process stop us from doing anything at all. You cannot outsmart the process."
Then Sekou got to the heart of the matter, and he was passionate. "We need a sense of identity. We need a collective sense of our collective home. We suffer from major xenophobia."
He outlined years of dissension over "who bahn here," which has cut into the heart of the community. "You can't have a race-based society. It won't work. White people have been here from the beginning."
He said the divisions run deep. "St. Croix has a deep-seated resentment of outsiders. That includes St. Thomas," he said. "Look what they are doing now they want to secede from the territory. They would burn their island down if they have to."
"We can't continue as we are," Sekou said. "We have to have a greater sense of community. People say the V. I. has too much diversity. Look at New York! They have total diversity, but they stick together. They have a New York mentality."
With a slight laugh, Sekou pointed out a story in last Wednesday's Avis newspaper. "The story says a study shows Puerto Ricans ranked highest in the world for being satisfied with their lives," he said. He noted that Puerto Ricans fight amongst themselves all the time, but "they have a strong sense of identity. They're all proud to be Puerto Ricans. They belong.
"We have no sense of belonging," Sekou said, adding that Virgin Islanders have to change the way they feel about one another if they are going to flourish. "We have to have a greater sense of community. We can't continue with the status quo."
Sekou's passionate views were well received. The proposed convention will be addressed actively by the League, Ballentine said.
Denham simply said, "He was wonderful. I have known him since he was 20 years old, and watched how he has matured."
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