August 1, 2004 – St. Croix native Edward Browne will begin a protest he hopes will bring renewed attention to Virgin Islanders and other U.S. citizens living in unincorporated territories who don't have the right to vote for president of the United States. In a letter to the Source on Sunday, Browne, 29, said he would go on a hunger strike beginning Monday in hopes of making a difference.
"People may find this extreme," said Browne, "but sometimes you have to believe in something greater than yourself."
Browne contends, if we are citizens of the United States and are able to serve in the armed forces, we should have all the rights and privileges entitled to all citizens. "The constitution gives us these rights," said Browne, citing the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments. "These amendments govern the rights of citizens and state, "'no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,'" Browne quoted.
Browne is not alone in his belief that Virgin Islanders should be able to cast a vote in presidential elections. Both Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and Delegate Donna Christensen, in their remarks at the Democratic Convention, called for Virgin Islanders to be given that right. (See Democrats Cheer Christensen's Convention Speech
There is, however, a contrary view.
According to a Web site published by Dan MacMeekin, a private practice lawyer in Washington, DC, who specializes in federal law as it relates to territories; "full participation in the National Government of the United States depends not only on U.S. citizenship, but also on residence within one of the 50 States of the United States. None of the territories and commonwealths is within a State of the United States, so no U.S. citizen residing in a territory or commonwealth may fully participate in the National Government."
MacMeekin writes further, "The fundamental document defining the powers of the National and State Governments is the Constitution of the United States, adopted in 1789. Under the Constitution, as amended over the years, three central premises help to define representative democracy in the United States. Only a U.S. citizen residing in a State is entitled to vote for the President of the United States, the head of the executive branch of the National Government, Senators or Representatives in the House of Representatives. So, to vote for the President or for Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress, one must be a resident of one of the States. U.S. citizenship alone is not enough."
Browne, who holds a master's degree in physiology and owns his own business, said Sunday, changes in the world globally are dictating that the time has come for Virgin Islanders to fully participate in the political process.
"Our government is engaging in war to protect the rights of foreign people to vote," he said. "Many people point to the fact that we don't pay federal taxes, and that we are an unincorporated territory but that doesn't make it right. There was a time when women were denied the vote, when people had to sit at the back of the bus because of their skin color this is fundamentally wrong."
In his letter, Browne stated, "I have two dreams 1) That President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry meet individually with several parents and family members of soldiers from the territories who were either killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. 2) The President asks Congress to undertake serious Congressional hearings to address the rights of the people of the U. S. territories to vote for the President."
"If the government can conduct hearings on the 911 incident they can convene hearings to discuss the rights of over 4 million citizens who are denied the right to vote."
On Monday, Browne will be delivering three letters, which he hopes will find their way to President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry. "I am taking a letter to Delegate Donna Christensen, Jim Oliver, state chairman of the Republican Party and Holland Redfield, a Republican party activist. "I hope that Delegate Christensen can get this letter to her good friend John Kerry and that Mr. Oliver and Mr. Redfield can get the other one to President Bush."
Browne made note of the recent election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. "His election is opening other debates," Browne said. "People are debating whether a foreign born citizen can run for president, and here in the territory we cannot even vote for the Commander in Chief."
Browne knows the choice he's made is not going to be easy. And he knows he can exercise the option of ending his protest at any time.
"I am not courageous, I am just trying to made a difference. Those three soldiers from the Virgin Islands who lost their lives overseas were courageous. They went to Iraq with the knowledge that they could lose their lives. I can choose to end this at any time, but I am committed. I can endure this. I am in my right mind. I have been preparing my mind and body for this for several weeks. Am I scared? Hell yes, but I am more scared of not having a voice."
Browne cautioned anyone from trying to join the fast. "You have to be prepared, a short time without eating can do serious harm to your mind and body."
In his letter, Browne drew from the life experiences of South African activist, Nelson Mandela. He quoted a statement Mandela made on April 20, 1964. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Browne continued, "My hunger strike will begin on Monday, Aug. 2, 2004, and last until I get a public negative or positive response from both Sen. Kerry and President Bush."
Browne asked for the prayers and support of Virgin Islanders. "Just think about how far we are willing to go to make the ultimate sacrifice, he said. "I know how far I am willing to go."
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