Will the Pope Advocate a Vote for the People of DC, or Sidestep the Teachings of the Church on Democracy?

Original photos: "Pope Francis at Vargihna" by Tânia Rêgo/ABr - Agência Brasil. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 br via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_at_Vargihna.jpg#/media/File:Pope_Francis_at_Vargihna.jpgWhen Pope Francis arrives in the District of Columbia next week, he will associate with nearly a million Americans governed in a manner that falls far short of what the Catholic Church professes to believe about democracy.

 In addition to visiting local Catholic institutions in the District of Columbia, the Pope will address our national legislature  which holds ultimate authority and power over us as DC residents. He has a lot on his agenda, but his advisors would be wise to examine what the church has said about democratic government, and compare that to the way the United States government treats the people of the District of Columbia.  

 In 1991, Pope John Paul II spelled out the Church’s views on democratic government in an encyclical letter, Centesimus Annus.

 “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends.” (Paragraph 46)

 John Paul II – who was widely credited with ridding of totalitarian rule in his native Poland, penned this encyclical two years after the Soviet system in Eastern Europe collapsed. Yet today, the system of governance imposed upon DC residents by Congress stands directly at odds with each point of the 1991 democracy encyclical.     

Let’s break down the church statement phrase by phrase and relate it to the status of the District of Columbia:

First, we are American citizens residing in the nation’s capital and are denied participation in our national legislature. We have no voting representation in either chamber of the US Congress. We do not elect -- nor do we have the ability to hold accountable – political leaders who have ultimate governing authority over us.

At the same time, we make the same sacrifices as all other Americans do. We pay federal taxes, but have no say in how they are spent. We send family members to fight and die in military conflicts, yet when votes pertaining to war and peace occur, we have no way to register our opposition or support. We have no say in our federal political system.

Unfortunately, this undemocratic arrangement invites power-hungry politicians, elected elsewhere, to exploit the authority of the federal government and arbitrarily impose their ideological policies – another real-world injustice that cuts against Church teaching. Certain members of Congress have repeatedly been allowed to block our local government from using locally-raised tax dollars for critical life-saving health programs like syringe exchange and women’s reproductive health. And, they’ve even overturned local ballot initiatives and local laws passed by the DC Council and signed by the Mayor.  

These actions and the officially-sanctioned denial of the “values of the democratic system” as outlined by Pope John Paul II, should give Pope Francis pause when he stands in the U.S. Capitol to deliver his speech to a joint session of Congress. He might consider following the lead of international bodies like the Organization of American States and the United Nations Human Rights Committee which have publicly stated that the denial of basic principles of political rights to the people of the District of Columbia can and should be corrected by the U.S. Congress.  

No doubt the Pope has a lot of ground to cover during his U.S. visit.  But part of that ground is the District of Columbia, a place I call home, and a place where the United States has fallen short of the teaching of the Church regarding democracy.    

Voting Rights

Where Do the Current Presidential Candidates Stand on DC Equality?

Presidential CandidatesWe've spent the last few months documenting each Presidential candidate's remarks and positions on democratic equality for the District of Columbia.
 
As the field narrows, we've reached out to each of the presidential candidates - from both major parties - inquiring about how they will go about granting equal rights to the people of the District should they be elected to serve in the White House. Click on the candidates name below to see the letter DC Vote sent to the candidate's campaign on March 15, 2016. Also, see below, the remarks, actions or positions of each candidate as it relates to democratic equality for the residents of Washington, DC.

Democrat:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

"Giving the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia their fair representation in Congress is long overdue. It is why I applaud the House of Representatives for finally passing the DC Voting Rights Act today. Our nation was born out of a struggle against taxation without representation. And yet, even as we endeavor to promote democracy around the world, it is shameful that we deny our own American citizens who live in the District the right to voting representation in Congress. This injustice tarnishes our democracy as a whole. The right to be represented in the national legislature is fundamental to our core American values. I hope the Senate will act swiftly to pass the DC Voting Rights Act and that the President will not delay in signing this long overdue legislation into law." –Then Senator Clinton’s Statement about the 2007 DC Voting Rights Act (2007)

In 2015, when asked about her support of DC by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Clinton told her, “I have always been with you, Eleanor. Of course I support D.C. statehood.”

Lacking representatives with voting power, the District of Columbia is often neglected when it comes to federal appropriations. Many of the District’s decisions are also at the mercy of right-wing ideologues in Congress, and as you can imagine, they don’t show very much of it. Everything from commonsense gun laws to providing women’s health care and efforts to cut down on drug abuse has been halted by Republicans, who claim the District is an exception to their long-held notion that communities ought to be able to govern themselves.  Solidarity is no longer enough. We need a solution.

That’s why, as president, I will be a vocal champion for D.C. statehood. Washingtonians are Americans, too, and it’s time they had a say in their own status. “  -- Hillary Clinton

Read More from Secretary of State Clinton

Republican:

Donald Trump

“I would like to do whatever is good for the District of Columbia because I love the people. You know, it's funny. I've really gotten to know the people, the representatives, and the mayor, and everybody. They're really special people. They're great. And they have a great feeling. So I would say whatever's best for them I'm for.” – Trump being interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet The Press (2015).

While speaking to the Washington Post Editorial Board on March 21, 2016 Trump said about DC Statehood "I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C. I think it’s a tough thing. I don’t have a position on it yet. I would form a position. But I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C." and "I don’t see statehood for D.C." When asked about granting DC residents about a vote in the House of Representatives he responsed "I think that’s something that would be okay. Having representation would be okay."

____________

Communications intern Benjamin Freundlich contributed to this post.

Voting Rights

The Heritage Foundation’s Baffling Hypocrisy Regarding DC Reaches New Heights

Heritage Foundation nonsenseNever a stickler for facts or honoring its own mission statement, the Heritage Foundation is back yet again urging Congress to abuse their authority and interfere with the District of Columbia's locally-passed laws.

In its newly released Blueprint for Balance – which ironically calls on Congress to “eliminate budget gimmicks” – the Heritage Foundation pleads with Congress to resort to its favorite gimmick and use the appropriations process to block DC from using local funds to enforce both the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) and the Human Rights Amendment Act (HRAA).

Since being enacted last year, both RHNDA and HRAA have been lighting rods for members of Congress attempting to gain national attention without fear of repercussion through disapproval resolutions and appropriations riders. Luckily, through the tenacity of supporters of DC Equality and our allies in Congress, these attempts all failed. Now the Heritage Foundation is back trying to yet again compromise basic human rights.

In their plea, The Heritage Foundation claims "Congress has a special responsibility to protect the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia." If Heritage really cared about freedom they would not be using their influence over federal legislators to try to block a local law. It's probably time for Heritage to re-evaluate and decide if they'd rather promote freedom or resemble a hate group championing Federal dominance over local jurisdictions.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

DC's Lack of Voting Rights Featured on HBO's Last Week Tonight

HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver brought national attention to the injustice facing the residents of the District of Columbia highlighting our lack of full representation and Congressional interference in the city's local laws. We're extremely grateful to the Last Week Tonight team for highlighting this issue, and appreciated consulting with the writers as they tried to tackle this complex topic.

Let's keep this momentum going and continue to fight for full democratic equality for the people of DC. Support equality for your fellow American citizens living in our Nation's capital by signing our petition and donating to DC Vote today!

Voting Rights

Looking Back at 2015

With 2015 behind us, let's celebrate the great progress we've made in our fight for democratic equality. From record-setting polling to HBO programming, this year's success is proof that if we band together and stand strong there's nothing we can't do.

SUPPORT FOR DC STATEHOOD AT A RECORD HIGH

DC Flag Equality Logo copy

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 67 percent of DC residents support Statehood as a solution to achieve equal rights, and more than 7 in 10 residents agree that Congress has too much control over the District's local affairs. It's empowering to have such strong support behind us here at home. And, in 2016 we'll build this level of support nationwide!

DC'S LACK OF VOTING RIGHTS FEATURED ON HBO

LastWT2Over the summer, HBO's  Last Week Tonight with John Oliver brought national attention to the injustice facing the residents of the District of Columbia highlighting our lack of full representation and the outrageous congressional interference in the city's local laws. We're extremely grateful to the  Last Week Tonight team for featuring our cause. It was an honor to consult with the writers as they tried to tackle the absurdity of this complex topic.

FIGHTING BACK CONGRESSIONAL INTERFERENCE

dont tread

For the first time in over 20 years members of Congress sought to use the disapproval resolution process to overturn a local DC law. 

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Lankford (R-OK) filed resolutions of disapproval attempting to overturn the DC Council's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA).

Thanks to the dedication of our coalition members and supporters, not only did this disapproval resolution fail to pass the Senate, but attempts to sneak the legislation through as a rider in the appropriations process were also blocked.

MANY THANKS FOR MAKING OUR NON-GALA A SUCCESS


non-galaThis year we decide to bypass event costs and host an online fundraiser. That way, we could direct 100% of the funds to our upcoming national campaign. And, with your help and support...we did it!Many thanks also go out to the Cafritz Foundation for matching gifts and contributions up to $15,000. The Non-Gala has truly been an amazing effort by our team to give our supporters a break from having to attend one more event, and instead just make an important contribution to a cause they care deeply about. 

Here's to 2016!

Voting Rights

Carson Reasoning For Puerto Rican Statehood Runs Counter to His Stance on DC

It seems our blog last week outlining the statements of the 2016 Presidential candidates as it relates to autonomy and equal voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia needs updating when it comes to Dr. Ben Carson.

Over the weekend, Carson proclaimed support for making Puerto Rico our 51st state. His argument for Puerto Rican statehood are sound. He noted that Puerto Ricans have fought and died in American wars, and that the island has a long relationship with the United States. 

By that measuring stick, there would be absolutely no reason why Carson should not support statehood as a means to guarantee the rights of citizens that live in the current District of Columbia. Carson may not be aware of the DC resident-backed New Columbia Admission Act. The bill has a slew of cosponsors in both the House and the Senate, and proposes a constitutional solution to equal rights - that Congress shrink the size of the current federal district and form a new state with the rest of the land that makes up DC's 120 culturally-rich neighborhoods. 

At a campaign stop in San Juan, Carson told Puerto Ricans they should be a state because "you know you have already paid your dues," when it came to serving the United States in times of war. He also suggested that Puerto Rico's long history as part of the United States is a factor that compels him to support making the island the 51st state. 

Sadly, the District of Columbia was paying our dues in battle more than a century before Puerto Rico became a U.S. possession. The unfortunate truth is District residents have fought and died in every war since the War for Independence. During the Vietnam War, D.C. had more casualties than ten states, and more killed per capita than 47 states. Those that returned from every war, lived -- and continue to live -- without representation in our national legislature. 

If statehood is derived as Carson believes in the case of Puerto Rico, from a commitment to military service and from the length of time a group of Americans have been without full democratic rights, than he needs to take another look at the citizens who live in the District of ColumbiaIf he does, logical consistency dictates that Carson switch his current position of the District voting with Maryland, and instead embrace the New Columbia Admission Act to guarantee equal rights for American citizens.

Veterans · Voting Rights

Boehner Demands Education be "The Civil Right of the 21st Century," Ignores DC's Lack of Civil Rights

In what may be his final weekly republican address Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) made a plea for support of his DC Opportunity Scholarship Program which the House of Represenatives voted to re-authorize last week.

With absolutely no sense of irony, the outgoing speaker asked Americans to make school choice "the civil right of the 21st century" and to urge Congress to force his will on American Citizens WHO ARE DENIED BASIC DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS! 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember the original civil rights movement being predicated on oppressing other American citizens.

Voting Rights

Christie’s Opposition to D.C. Statehood is Irresponsible and Poorly Reasoned

New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie went on record against D.C. statehood Monday. He stated that democratic equality for DC residents is not an issue he thinks about much, but if he thought about it more he’d oppose it.

Governor Christie’s reasons for opposing statehood were filled with misconceptions about the District of Columbia. 

Christie first defended his position by asserting that America has the only capital that was created just to be a seat of government. People living in capitals like Canberra, Brasilia, and Buenos Aires – all of which coincidentally have full rights and representation – may disagree with his claim. 

Governor Christie went further, explaining that he believes another person in Congress “won’t help.” This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the issue. Congressional representation for DC is not about increasing the size of Congress to make it more effective. It’s about equality for the people of the District and ensuring that our founding principle of “No Taxation without Representation” is upheld everywhere.

As a New Jersey native attending college in the District I’ve had a front row seat to the inequalities faced here. I’m very disappointed that my Governor openly accepts denying the democracy I enjoy as a New Jersey resident to 660,000 Americans who pay taxes and fight and die for our country in conflict. 

It’s clear from his comments: Chris Christie needs to spend more time studying the issue of D.C. representation if he wants to be President. A presidential candidate cannot willfully ignore and continue to voice misconceptions about an issue deeply related to our founding principles that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans. Especially considering that unlike Congress the President can be held accountable by DC residents.

Benjamin Freundlich is a sophmore at American University currently serving as DC Vote's Communications Intern.

Voting Rights

DC Schools Aren't Congress' Toy

As Congress struggles to reach a compromise to prevent a government shut-down in December and the Republican party scrambles to find a worthy conservative to be the next Speaker of the House, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found time to address… the District of Columbia’s public schools.

Let’s start with a basic fact: DC public schools are evolving. There is and should be continued debate on the best way to improve education for students in the District. However, the debate is the District’s to have. Congress should NOT be stepping in to force their opinions on DC residents.

Some might argue that HR 10 the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act is a sincere attempt to improve schools in the District by providing federal funds to low-income students to allow them to go attend private schools – even longtime DC Equality supporter Cory Booker got sucked in – but DC residents and local elected leaders have made it clear that we do not want this program. Additionally, research shows the program is ineffectual and potentially harmful to students.

John Boehner (R-OH) has tried to define his time as Speaker of the House with this legislation, so we can expect members to support it and undermine DC democracy as a farewell gift. Look no further than today’s mark-up to see clearly that this is  political grandstanding with no regard for DC residents.

If these members truly cared about improving DC public schools they would respect DC Home Rule and grant us full democratic equality and the authority to manage our local laws and budget without their constant delays and interference.

Luckily, there are still some members of Congress who respect the rights of DC residents, so a huge thanks to Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) for speaking out against this un-democratic legislation. 

Voting Rights

DC Vote to Partner with the United Nations on Sustainable Development Goal 16

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of representing DC Vote at a series of meetings and events of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon led the launch of the much anticipated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aspire to eradicate poverty and create a just and equitable world.

The Sustainable Development Goals are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of 2015. Like the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals establish a set of universal goals and targets designed to frame policy making in UN member nations. The SDGs expand beyond eradicating poverty, and include wider objectives such as climate change and protecting environmental resources for economic and social development. But, as the Secretary General so wisely reminded us, the UN cannot do it alone. The UN seeks partners with which they can implement and make progress on this bold agenda.

It was a huge honor for DC Vote to be present and, to be candid, a critical time for DC Vote as an institution to play a role in these new and evolved set of international goals.

I was often asked what relevance DC Vote had to the international community and particularly to the SDGs. Again and again I noted that:

  • Washington, DC is the only capital city in the world that disenfranchises its citizens from the national legislature.
  • The denial of equal congressional voting rights to the citizens of Washington, DC is a serious human rights violation. It places the United States in violation of numerous international human rights treaties and agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Here’s an example of the typical response of shock when global citizens become aware of DC’s lack of rights. This is a recent blog post by a young Pakistani leader beginning a fellowship here in the United States: From a Weak Democracy in Islamabad, to the Denial of Democracy in Washington, DC. “I know firsthand what a weak democracy looks like,” writes Farhad Ahmed Jarral. “Pakistanis have been ruled by four dictatorships and still rely on the army to play a major role in the setup and ongoing operation of our government. Despite this, Pakistanis have elected representatives from all the cities and constituencies of Pakistan, including the capital city. Unlike residents of DC, the people of Islamabad have the right to hold their representatives accountable and advocate for their basic needs to be met.”

Back to the UN meetings: One of the new Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 16, is particularly relevant to DC’s lack of democratic equality. SDG 16 makes clear the critical need to build participatory institutions and policymaking as the basis of a sustainable global society.

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. More specifically, the references to participation can be found as:

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

There should be no reason for the United States, often referred to as a beacon of democracy to the world, to isolate and unjustly ignore the voice and vote of the citizens of its nation’s capitol.

Through DC Vote’s national advocacy and national education campaigns to build public support at all levels of American society, we are pledging to coordinate with the United Nations, its agencies, and others in the international community to fully enfranchise the people of Washington, DC toward the goal of more inclusive and participatory decision making at all levels in the United States.

Together, we can work toward fulfilling the goal of SDG 16 and ensure a peaceful, inclusive, and just society in the United States and the rest of the world.

Voting Rights

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