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Senator Sarauw: “The citizens of the territories need your help”

Imagine as a child running to the flag pole as the bell rang to sing the National Anthem, then to place your hand on your chest and say out loud, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” This is the routine for children living in the United States Virgin Islands. 

Students are mandated to repeat those words daily, but what does it really mean for them? What is liberty and justice for all? As you are aware, America has five oversees possessions — American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We were each acquired at different points in our nation’s history for different reasons, but we share one thing in common; we are all colonies of the United States that are treated as second class citizens.

Every citizen at the age of 18 is urged to serve on behalf of their country but denied the right to vote for their Commander in Chief. The five colonies can elect representatives to Congress, yet they remain non-voting members. In terms of healthcare, the Affordable Care Act did not extend to the territories and the Insular Cases that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court further dealt a daggering blow to those of us who occupy these areas.

There is scant attention to the Territories; Territories that are vital to America’s national interests and foreign policy. We are deserving of far more attention than we receive. In academia, the possessions are barely mentioned in U.S. history and political science books.

On the national level, many do not know much about the Territories. It is not a known fact that French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro was born and raised on St. Thomas and founding father, Alexander Hamilton, was born on Nevis but spent a great part of his childhood on St. Croix before migrating to New York in 1772.

These are all pieces of the larger American story; pieces of the nation’s complex cultural identity. Each possession has a distinct culture, but our concerns remain consistent. They are concerns rooted in history and colonialism; lack of voting rights, financial woes, government mismanagement and heavy federal oversight that comes at a hefty cost to the local governments (territories are plagued with monitors and costly consent decrees) I return to my initial question; what does liberty and justice for all mean? 

What do the words in the Preamble of our Constitution truly mean? What does it mean for the nearly 5 million people who reside within the U.S. empire but outside of the 50 states? Decades after decolonization and the civil rights era, millions in the territories are still denied full democratic rights? The time has come for us to receive the full benefits that citizens of the fifty states are afforded.

As Dr. King wrote in his Letter from his Birmingham cell, “For years now I have heard the word, “wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” How much longer will justice be denied?

The time is long overdue for America to acknowledge the gravity of these horrifying colonial relationships and to truly adopt the belief that “all men are created equal.” Then and only then can a more perfect union be attained. The citizens of the territories need your help.

Sincerely,

Senator Janelle K. Sarauw

Submitted August 27th, 2019: by Senator Janelle K. Sarauw a two-term senator in the 33rd Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands.