On behalf of the half million permanent residents of the nation's capitol, 20 activists have brought to the highest court in the land a case that has the chance to finally right the unresolved issue of the representation and local control in the District of Columbia.
The purpose of the 20-Citizens Lawsuit is to change the unjust arrangement that has left those living in the shadows of the buildings that both house and represent the democratic process without the same system for their governance. D.C. is the only city in the United States denied voting representation in Congress: It is unrepresented in the Senate, and in the House it is granted one delegate who cannot vote. The District also denied the right to local control of its coffers. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams must submit the City Council's budget to Congress for approval.
"Any member of Congress can add an amendment to the D.C. Appropriations Bill, dictating how D.C.' citizens can spend locally-raised tax dollars," explained democracy activist Wayne Turner. "And they do."
Furthermore, Congress can add "social riders" which have no bearing on the budget itself. Recent riders have included actions prohibiting D.C.'s domestic partners law and blocking access to abortion services to poor women. The system ahs put a stranglehold on this city struggling to reverse its problems of high crime rates, high infant mortality, poverty and racial tensions. The District needs autonomy to initiate programs and experiment with methods that can help improve life for its residents. It does not need interference from Congressional members who fail to grasp the city's needs and simply seek to advance their own agenda.
Faced with the lack of real democracy in their city, it is little wonder that many D.C. residents clearly have given up on the political process. D.C.'s last election brought a meager voter turnout of 11.6 percent.
Yet, democracy for D.C. is not just a local issue; it is nationally relevant for people who work to make this country a more just and peaceful place. AFSC staff and supporters across the country are urged to become allies of this struggle. The nation's capitol should be the showcase of democracy in action, not just in its hallowed halls of Congress, but on the streets where the freedom was won.
In the months ahead, as the lawsuit comes to the Supreme Court, this issue of self-rule and representation should become a national agenda item. It is worthy of as much discussion and debate as any item likely to be included on the political platforms of major and minor parties. The citizens of our nation's capitol deserve a local democratic government.