Washington D.C. 𑁋 In wide corridors, amidst historic arches, the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center was filled with Black and brown faces in damp sweaters and trench coats. The temperature in the nation’s capital was temperate with light rain showers throughout the day. Black leaders, many who arrived from all corners of the United States flooded the nation’s capital. The National Black Summit, hosted by members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited hundreds of national leaders, people of color, allies, and Congressional representatives to speak candidly about policies and precedents set by the Trump Administration.
President Trump was set to deliver his third State of the Union Address before members of Congress, his cabinet, and honored guests later that day. This year’s SOTU address, according to Democratic opponents and news anchors around the nation was unlike any other.
Senator Marvin Blyden and Senator Myron D. Jackson both attended. In a brief chat before the CBC summit began, Blyden spoke about his concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections as well as the integrity of local elections in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In a session that he attended on Day One of the summit, just one day before day two convened, Blyden expressed shock at how Russia was able to impersonate Black Americans in 2016 by pushing posts that encouraged those voters to stay home or to vote for a candidate that was less likely to be elected. There is currently no substantial evidence that Russian backed social media pages influenced any local elections in U.S. Virgin Islands dating back to 2016, although the U.S. Presidential election became a target.
He said that he was alarmed at how effective Russia had become in creating false narratives for Americans and feared that President Vladimir Putin and his proxies could easily execute a similar disinformation campaign in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Blyden did not disclose any actions or legislation that could potentially be sponsored by his colleagues but did note that voters and local officials should remain vigilant during the 2020 Primary Election in the territory — all electable seats in the territory are up for grabs in November with the exception of gubernatorial seats.
Registered voters as of January 27, 2020:
- St. Croix: 25,344
- St. John: 2,183
- St. Thomas: 25,273
- Total Voters: 52,800
At Tuesday’s ‘emergency convening’ in the Capitol Building, the Congressional Black Caucus called for Trump’s defeat and for Americans to push back on the president policies that the caucus’ members said harmed Black Americans. An invite to the event from the Office of Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett addressed to State of the Territory News read, “for the last three years, the Black community has had to endure one of the most hostile administrations in a generation.”
The convening of nationwide leaders also focused on immigration policy. A new field office was opened in 2019 to support the operations of field agents working for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The new headquarters controlled by the Department of Homeland Security is located at 6783 Estate Smith Bay, St Thomas, VI 00802 near Eastern Cemetary. The expanded facility is accessible to people with disabilities and includes free parking at the office.
The new facility also enforces immigration policies and precedents set by the Trump administration in the St. Thomas – St. John district.
Speakers addressed attendees for several hours, also focusing heavily on voter suppression in various states, the rollback of regulatory restrictions on corporations, the president’s attack on climate change, including climate scientists and the administration’s stance on criminal justice reform. Days before the leadership summit took place, the tone of the event had begun to take shape as members of Congress reacted to developing news in Washington as well as Trump’s impeachment trial — Senators voted 48-52 on abuse of power and 47-53 on obstruction of justice and ultimately acquitted the president after a months-long investigation. Trump was acquitted of all charges one day after his State of the Union Address.
Senator Jackson, who was also present added a layer of historical and architectural context to the visit. Guests were invited to Plaskett’s office in the House of Representatives. The delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands greeted guests to her D.C. office, which was donned with madras fabrics, draped Virgin Islands flags, and welcoming Virgin Islands accents. On the way to Plaskett’s office, Jackson pointed out mahogany wood in an elevator design that guests and Plaskett aides used and discussed art and architecture with fellow guests. One staffer who flew in from her Virgin Islands office agreed that Jackson was correct.
Along with the two members of the 33rd Legislature, St. Thomas Recovery Team executive director, Imani Daniel was also present at the leadership summit. Near the end of the summit, Daniel joined a question and answer session to remind members of the Congressional Black Caucus about the ongoing hurricane recovery in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and also shared regret that the summit failed to be inclusive of U.S. territories, where over 4 million Americans are barred from participating in Presidential elections.
The organization that Daniel heads — also known as STRT — focuses on fixing roofs and homes that did not qualify for FEMA assistance and has been in operation since hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in the territory. The organization is a long-term recovery group and is a collaborative effort of dozens of local, national, and international partners around the globe designed to assist the territory for future disasters in areas where federal disaster aid falls short.
Daniel also featured in a currently unaired episode of the Washington Report, a collaborative series aired by the Public Broadcasting Service and by extension, WTJX, to highlight the movements of Plaskett in the nation’s capital. In a congressional recording studio, both Plaskett and Daniel spoke about the disaster recovery and federal disaster aid appropriated for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, including delays and roadblocks impacting the recovery process. Both women shared different aspects of disaster recovery, in which the congresswoman detailed working with federal agencies on bills and policies that could assist each territory’s recovery and Daniel spoke about how that aid is disbursed to the most vulnerable populations.
Plaskett sits with special guests in each episode. The first episode of the series was aired in 2017, just days before Hurricane Irma made landfall in the territory. In the first episode, the congresswoman spoke candidly with Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Jenniffer Aydin González Colón about status and representation
The bi-monthly, half-hour cable show created to educate and inform Plaskett’s congressional district on current issues that directly affect their communities. The show’s guests range from political leaders to community activists. The program also features in-depth examinations of facts behind political and general news stories that affect the Virgin Islands and has several episodes under its belt. You can view the most recent episodes of the Washington Report here.