Bring Democracy Home
Religious & Civil Liberties, Election Reform, Voting Rights
May 9th, 2006

By Marian Patten, River Road Unitarian Church

The people who inhabit the nation's capital, Washington, DC, are the only American citizens who are subject to the draft, who pay their full measure of federal taxes, and who are subject to federal controls to which no other city is subjected, who also have no voting representation in the United States Congress. To be clear, more than half a million American citizens of the District of Columbia have no senator and no representative with a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although the city received a home rule government with our own Mayor and City Council in 1974, the Congress retains ultimate authority over the District’s local government and repeatedly legislates local matters for the people of Washington. Members of Congress intervene, often contrary to the expressed will of the citizens, in order to attract votes back in their home states and to win campaign contributions from special interests.

Historically, the District of Columbia was created as a seat of governance out of a fear that, if located within the boundaries of a state, the federal government could be held captive to the interests of that state. Since writing a constitution occupied our forefathers, the question of how citizens of a federal capital district would have a say in the federal government was postponed for future generations. Currently, the worldwide count of capitals with legislative representation that is equal to representation outside the capital is 153; capitals without equal representation is 1. It is time to bring democracy home to our capital.

District self-rule is denied to DC citizens at the doors of the U.S. Capitol Building. The District’s elected government must submit the city budget, which includes funds raised through local income taxes, for review and modification annually by the nine members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on DC in Congress, the full 65-member House Committee on Appropriations, the 435-member House of Representatives, the seven-member Senate Subcommittee on DC, the 29-member Senate Committee on Appropriations, and the 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Every budget year, during the review period, members of Congress attempt to place as many as 70 riders on local District funds and add new legislation to override local government decisions. The only means residents and city officials have to overcome this interference is though media action or the persuasive power of our non-voting representative, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Below are a few examples of congressional actions.

Gun Safety: Annually, legislation or riders to the DC budget are proposed in the Senate and House that would ban the city from enforcing its own gun safety laws. The National Rifle Association has targeted DC gun safety laws.

HIV/AIDS Prevention: Washington, DC, has the highest AIDS incidence rate of any major city in the U.S. Although effective in reducing HIV transmission among injection drug users, Congress prohibits the District of Columbia from using locally raised funds for syringe exchange programs.

Contraception Equity and Women’s and Reproductive Health: Congress continues to restrict the way DC uses its own local funds for issues affecting women’s and reproductive health.

Health Care Benefits Expansion: Congress bars the use local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act to administer the purchase of health insurance by those living together: domestic partners, disabled people and their health care providers, widows or widowers, a grandmother and mother or other relatives jointly raising children.

Civil Rights: There is a clear lack of equality of representation and self-rule in a city with a predominantly minority population.

After 200 years, the District citizens recognized the futility of demonstrating inside the District for representation. DC license tags now read “Taxation without Representation” to bring awareness of the injustice to the rest of the nation where ever DC resident travel with their cars, when ever visitors come to the city. But the injustices continue.

As this article is written, senators are threatening to advance their national flat-tax agenda by forcing Washingtonians to test it out! This is without regard for potential economic impact on low-income families and without consulting with DC’s elected leaders.

On a daily basis, DC Unitarians and Washington citizens suffer “growing flashes of rage tempered by a resignation about (our) powerlessness” in the face a tyranny that denies self-rule.

Having our own representative with an equal vote is a step to true self-rule. A letter to your U.S. House Representative member asking him or her to co-sponsor the DC Fairness in Representation Act (H.R. 2043) sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), currently in Government Reform Committee, will have influence that DC citizens do not have. A sample letter can be found at DC Vote, the website of the leading organization fighting this injustice.

For more information, contact Marian Patten, River Road Unitarian Church, at mspatten [at] gmail [dot] com.