"Democracy in the District of Columbia(?)"November/December 2003 issue of Poverty & Race
The lead article in the July/Aug. 2001 P&R, “Voteless in DC: Government Without Consent of the Governed,” described the irony and injustice of the nation’s capital, a “majority minority” city, not having full voting representation in Congress – no Senators, just a Congressional Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who can vote only in committee — and otherwise still victim of the legacy of Congressional interference in true home rule, whose modern origin (beyond what the Constitution stipulates) lies in the racist views of the Southern (and other) Congressmen. We then updated that report with items in the Sept./Oct. 2001 and July/Aug. 2002 issues of P&R (send us a SASE for copies of these articles). While there has been progress, there still are enormous areas of injustice. You can help even if you live elsewhere – get your city council to pass a resolution supporting democracy in DC – check out the DC Vote website to see what other groups and individuals have done. We asked Kevin Kiger, Communications Director for DC Vote, the principal pro-democracy organization on this issue, to update P&R readers on where things stand on the state of democracy in the non-state called the District of Columbia. For further information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 202/462-6000, x2.
DC Voting Rights Day – April 15, 2003
This year, DC Vote took a different approach to one of their most well-known annual activities, the Tax Day Protest. Both the DC City Council and the Executive Office of the Mayor proclaimed April 15, 2003 as “DC Voting Rights Day.” DC Vote organized a rally on Freedom Plaza across from the District’s Wilson Building. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Anthony Williams, City Council Chairman Linda Cropp, and 8 other Council members joined the District’s Shadow Delegation to Congress and over a dozen democracy organizations in rallying for full Congressional voting rights for District residents. The Rally featured the signing of a very important piece of District legislation by Mayor Williams, moving DC’s presidential primary to January 13, 2004 – first in the nation.
First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary
Having the presidential primaries in DC first is an opportunity to raise public awareness about the disenfranchisement of the nearly 600,000 residents of the nation’s capital. This is an opportunity for DC’s voters to let the political parties and the nation know that we will no longer sit at the back of the primary bus and watch democracy go by! For more information about the primaries, visit DC Vote’s website (www.dcvote.org) or the Let’s Free DC website (www. letsfreedc.org).
A Battle Flag for Our Struggle
Adding “Taxation Without Representation” to our license plates was a great first step. (There are now over 130,000 of the plates driving around the region and the country raising awareness about DC.) But “Taxation Without Representation” is a simple statement of fact. The phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” is a statement of purpose. By temporarily adding it to DC’s flag, we will be raising awareness across the nation, as DC’s battle flag is presented to elected officials, legislators, opinion leaders, and others wherever the District’s flag is flown. The actual design – done by a special Flag Redesign Commission and the subject of public meetings — is still before the City Council, with approval likely very soon.
Coalition for DC Representation in Congress
DC Vote has been working with other advocacy organizations, both local and national, to let legislators all around the country know of the need to bring full Congressional voting representation to the residents of Washington. This summer a letter sent by the Coalition was instrumental in having the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on the District of Columbia approve legislation allowing the mayor and Council to enact the locally-funded portion of the District’s budget (as opposed to the federal financial contribution to the District, compensating for the vast amount of non-taxable federal property in the city) without Congressional action; the measure still must pass the full Congress. But Congress still would retain power over the rest of the city’s budget, as well as its power (exercised periodically) to veto locally-enacted legislation. Federal law also forbids the District from enacting a commuter tax of the type many cities use to cover the considerable costs of servicing those – in DC, some 500,000 in number, 70% of the city’s workforce — who work in the city but live in the ‘burbs. (A lawsuit challenging this ban, in which the City Council is co-plaintiff, is currently pending.) Beyond that, the Congress can impose unwanted programs on the District – the latest being the Republican Congress’ school voucher program.
DC Vote’s new, user-friendly website (www.dcvote.org) was launched in June 2003, regularly adding a range of materials dealing with the disenfranchisement of District residents.
DC Vote’s Membership and “Adopt-a-Member-of Congress” Programs
In June 2003, DC Vote launched a membership program, especially encouraging others around the country who believe that the promise of American democracy should be fulfilled for the people living in our nation’s capital. Among the activities will be contacting their members of Congress to let them know that the denial of democracy and equal rights to DC residents can no longer be tolerated. Among the more effective arguments is that DC residents pay more in federal taxes than residents of several states, and that in wartime DC residents in the armed forces suffer far more deaths and injuries than citizens of many other states.
DC Vote’s 2003 Champions of Democracy Awards
On October 14, DC Vote held its Third Annual Champions of Democracy Awards Reception at the City Museum of Washington. This year’s Honorees included: Walter E. Washington, Washington’s first appointed and elected mayor and the first African-American mayor of any major American city (who passed away on Oct. 27 at age 88); Phil & Jan Fenty, local community activists who have been lifelong supporters of equal rights for DC; and Jack H. Olender, Esq., Washington philanthropist and major advocate for full Congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia.
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