Dear Editor,

As my father used to say: “When you are in a hole, stop digging.”

The proposed 6th Constitutional Convention is a waste of time and taxpayer money. American Samoa and Puerto Rico have constitutions, yet the Supreme Court of the United States has already held that these constitutions have NO effect.

Adding more “hot air” to paper will do nothing. Like Puerto Rico and American Samoa, we might finally create a Virgin Islands Constitution, then spend 50 years litigating with the federal government over what that constitution means. Let’s take action where we know there is tangible effect: in voting rights.

Fund the Board of Elections so that in 2022, the Virgin Islands can elect two U.S. senators and a representative instead of a “delegate.” (Also, the Virgin Islands should start to tally votes for president of the United States). These changes are easy, and will require much less funding than the daily stipend and expenses of the 6th Constitutional Convention and the elections of dozens of constitutional delegates.

I have already written a proposed bill to change the V.I. Code to accommodate. It’s just a matter of that bill being set for a committee hearing. And I would challenge anyone to join me in testifying on the pros and cons of taking such action to secure what are and should be fundamental rights to all American citizens.

When our three federal officials are elected — our two U.S. senators and a U.S. representative — we send them to Washington, D.C. We charter a 737 plane and fill it with our military veterans. Each veteran will hold a picture of another Virgin Island veteran who was killed or wounded in action in a foreign war. Essentially, those Virgin Islanders bravely and proudly served in the U.S. military fighting for freedom abroad only to be denied voting rights when they return home.

Many Virgin Islanders shed blood in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Vietnam, in Europe, the Pacific, back to World War I. Yet, that bloodshed has not brought back to the Virgin Islands the fulfillment of American democracy: the ability to vote for every person that governs you. When our three federal representatives land in Washington, D.C., they and our military veterans march to the Capitol and demand: “Where is our seat in democracy?”

The whole promise and ideal of American democracy is you as the voter have a vote for every elected official at every level of government that governs you. Whether it is city, county, state/territory or federal. (This was the classic refrain of Americans before the 1776 American Revolution, as Americans had no vote and representation in the English Parliament. It’s an embarrassment and great long-lasting hypocrisy that Virgin Islanders are American citizens who have no vote in how we are governed by the federal government.)

More heartbreaking is that our men and women have volunteered or were drafted to fight in foreign wars for freedom and democracy in other countries, yet return to the United States and have democracy denied to them.

It’s time to stop being passive. The Virgin Islands has tried the Constitutional convention five times before. I’m sure before Fireburn that the laborers tried talking and many negotiations; lots of papers and promises. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It’s time for our elected leaders to stand up for the people of the Virgin Islands; they are the mouth-pieces and megaphones to speak for all Virgin Islanders. They must take bold, definite and different action.

Below is a proposed bill that accomplishes changing the local voting laws. Grow a backbone. Stand up for the V.I. and our future generations. Pass the law. It’s been 103 years since the territory was bought in 1917. Then after 2022, we will have elected two senators and one House representative. Even if our group of three elected representatives (surrounded by hundreds of our finest veterans) fail initially to get seats in Congress, it will start a “Fireburn” of national interest.

The spotlight will finally be on the disenfranchised territories, second-class citizens, the denial of the American ideal and American democracy. A national discussion can start. This discussion will bring the unequal treatment of American citizens to middle America. Martin Luther King Jr. did not succeed by doing one march. He worked tirelessly for decades.

We are at a new starting place. The finish line may be years away, but we should not stop, never, until the goal of enfranchisement and equal rights is achieved.

— Russell Pate, St. Croix.