ST. THOMAS, USVI--US Virgin Islanders are ready for their next act, according to those who took to the podium last week Thursday night at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Administration Building to debate whether the territory should ratify a constitution before defining its relationship with the United States.
The Elections System of the Virgin Islands hosted the “Great Debate” as one of several events being held to celebrate the system’s 60th anniversary.
Elections Board member Michael Joseph, an attorney and former federal public defender, and Alex Joseph, a Navy veteran and self-described amateur historian, argued in favour of ratifying a constitution. Attorney Devin Carrington, former Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, and Beryl Todman, the Labor Department’s director of Planning, Research and Monitoring, opposed. Before opening statements, moderator and former Senator Janette Millin Young reminded the audience that the points raised might not reflect the opinions of the debaters or the Elections System.
Michael Joseph kicked things off with a brief history of the territory’s previous five attempts at ratification – and why they failed.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Joseph said, adding that the United States took 164 years to create its own constitution.
“So we still years ahead of that, of that long travel, and so we should not feel – in any way –that we are different than the United States in that journey of development.”
In his opening statement, Carrington offered an opposing view by delineating between the concepts of self-governance and self-determination. Carrington described the former as a grant given by a former power and the latter as an inherent human right.
“So the question is, what are we looking for? Free choice – our own compulsion without outside interference – or we simply want to ratify a document with prescribed parameters and limitations?” he asked. “I see ratification of a constitution as simply a perfunctory act by which we say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a document that is given to us with limitations and a set of predefined parameters.”
Alex Joseph offered a rebuttal for the side of ratification and Todman reaffirmed her side’s support for choosing its own destiny. Before each side presented their closing arguments, judges asked the debate teams why they felt the people of the Virgin Islands were ready to take these steps.
Michael Joseph pointed to the overwhelming support for a constitutional convention on the 2020 election ballot, when 72% of voters approved of adopting the Revised Organic Act as the constitution of the land.
“The people have always been told that they were never ready, from 1917, 1927, 1931, that the people were never ready,” he said. “When are we going to be ready?”
Though adamant that Virgin Islanders should first define its relationship with the United States before adopting a constitution, Carrington agreed that the territory was prepared for its next steps.
“There’s no test for readiness of nationhood. It’s about heart, and we’ve never been given the opportunity to show that we’re ready,” he said. “Self-determination is a human right that nobody grants to us. We have the right to exercise that. We are ready, as anybody else was ready.”
After weighing the responses and tabulating the scores, judges Lisa Harris-Moorehead, Jeannine Francis-Brown and Gaylin Vogel declared opponents Carrington and Todman the winners of the night.
Before the debate, Young said 77.8% of audience members approved of ratification. When the dust settled, the audience was split 50-50. ~ The Virgin Islands Daily News ~