WASHINGTON–D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray compared the District of Columbia’s lack of autonomy and voting rights to the struggles Nelson Mandela endured, explaining Friday that residents connect so much with the South African leader because “we have not achieved full equality in this city.”
“When we can’t have the authority to be able to spend our own money, and all our local laws need to go to the national legislative body in order to be approved, when we experience taxation without representation every day, when we don’t have a voting member of the national legislative body, I think the people can relate first hand to Nelson Mandela, the leadership he provided and the experience in South Africa because there are so many similarities to the experiences right here in this that we continue to endure,” Gray said at a press conference at the South African Embassy.
Gray noted that people all over the country feel a deep connection with Mandela, despite most never laying their eyes on him in person, because “in this country we went through our own form of apartheid, the segregation, the racial segregation that we experienced in this nation that we endured.”
Gray, who announced this week he will seek another term, called Mandela “absolutely an inspiration” to him and said Mandela’s death “is truly a profound loss for our city and for the world.”
“Again as I look at the circumstances that we have to endure in this city every day, this is a man who spent many years in jail, this is a man who was sentenced to life in prison and he was able to overcome those circumstances and lead South Africa,” Gray said.
Gray added that he will launch a new effort in the Washington, D.C., public schools to include more education around the “life and work of Nelson Mandela and the parallels to our own life here in this country and in this city and how we can use his principals and the way he lived his life to continue to work on the injustices that we have in this city.”
Since Washington lacks the rights of a state, it does not have full control over their local affairs nor do they have a voting member in Congress.
The press conference this afternoon was called to announce that D.C. will be the site for the official U.S. celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela and the mayor said they “will do the best job we can leading the way as the whole country from the Atlantic to the Pacific celebrates this man and works to preserve his legacy.”
On Wednesday, December 11at 11 a.m., a national memorial service will be held at the National Cathedral. Gray said they are expecting people from all over the nation to attend the service and he hopes those attending represent a “microcosm of this country.”
In addition to the service, there will be books of condolences at both the John A. Wilson Building and the South African embassy for mourners to sign. The embassy will also hold prayer vigils in the evenings around the Mandela statue that graces the front of the building.
South Africa’s ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool thanked the country for their outpouring of grief and support since Mandela’s death was announced Thursday.
“This has been a traumatic 24 hours for South Africans and as we have discovered for people across the world, and so within that there has also been a sense that even though we anticipated that Nelson Mandela will not be with us forever, we cannot help, but be shocked at his passing,” said Rasool.