This qualifies as breaking news to the 82 percent of Americans who are unaware that this situation exists and is not new, and therefore is not generally considered news. Maybe the big voting rights march in Atlanta this Saturday will manage to point a little attention to the lack of representation in D.C. Or maybe the endless drivel about democracy in the Middle East that keeps seeping out of the White House and the Pentagon will cause the national press corps to notice the lack of democracy in occupied D.C. Or maybe, at least, these passing references to "news" topics will help get this column published, despite the reference to emanations from the White House as "drivel".
In fact, there is something new here, namely a proposal I want to make that could possibly help solve this problem. And I mean the problem of no representation, plus the problem of Congressional control over DC government. That's right, the one part of the country that has no vote in Congress is controlled by Congress and used as a testing ground for its right-wing theories when no states with voting representation will stand for it and no Native American reservation will suit the purpose. Want to pour public dollars into private schools, but your constituents would raise hell? No problem, impose your scheme on DC and let kids whose parents don't elect anyone suffer! Want to legalize all kinds of guns and see if this really helps everyone protect themselves through preemptive strikes? Would your constituents be inclined to lock you up? Don't sweat it; try it out on D.C.
Clearly one part of the solution is letting people know that the problem exists. When asked the following question, which informs them of the problem, 82 percent of Americans say that, yes, Washington, D.C., should have voting rights in the House and Senate:
"Nearly six hundred thousand U.S. citizens live in Washington, DC. They pay full federal taxes and fight in every war. But, unlike citizens who live in the 50 states, they do not have voting representation in Congress --neither in the House of Representatives nor in the Senate. In your opinion, should DC citizens have equal voting rights in the House and the Senate, or not?"
Now, we could fantasize about creating a democratic media system that would inform Americans of this situation, but what guarantee would we have that mere majority opinion would move Congress to make a change? If that were how things worked, the minimum wage would stop being lowered, we'd have single-payer health care, the new energy bill would have focused on renewable energies, something less than two-thirds of our tax dollars would go to the military and considerably more than at present would go to education, the Social Security system would be left the heck alone thank you, CAFTA would have gone down to dramatic defeat, and Gore would be in his second term or would have been replaced by a real populist.
Now, it's possible that we can work around the media through netroots communications, but to do so requires not just a story (and one which isn't even new!). It requires activism. People need to be given something useful to do. And, in fact, getting Congress Members to care about an opinion, majority or otherwise, requires either lots of money or some serious activism.
So, here's my proposal. This was put into my head last night by a friend of mine named Bayard Brewin, speaking at a Democracy for America Meetup in D.C. I don't know if the following is what he had in mind in the very brief comment he made, but it's what he made me think of.
When the citizens of some distant state have an issue that they want to take up with Congress (say, residents of Utah who aren't fond of the idea of dumping the nation's nuclear waste on them, or residents of Alaska who have an opinion on destroying their wilderness for oil) there are a number of ways in which residents of Washington, D.C., can be helpful. DC activists, in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the represented parts of the country, could:
Hold banners in front of the White House, Capitol, or Supreme Court.
Stage a march through D.C.
Talk to the national media.
Hand-deliver flyers to every Congress Member and Senator.
Meet with and lobby the Congress Members and Senators of the state involved.
Conduct lobbying prep sessions and serve as tour guides for allies visiting D.C. even put them up for the night
Handle logistics of press conferences and events for visitors lobbying in D.C.
Turn out a crowd for a rally in D.C. held by supportive Congress Members or Senators.
In doing each of these things on behalf of, say, the citizens of South Carolina, residents of DC could explain that they will not deprive themselves of the right to speak to Congress just because Congress has deprived them of voting members of their own.
In exchange for this work, activists back in South Carolina could do a great deal to help the residents of DC, including:
Publishing op-eds and letters about DC voting rights in local newspapers.
Speaking on local radio shows.
Organizing constituents to phone, Email, fax, and meet locally with their representatives to demand voting representation for Washington, D.C., or to demand an end to the latest abuse proposed in Congress for DC residents.
Who will handle this exchange of citizen-work?
Well, it might be that DC Vote or DC for Democracy or DC Progressive Democrats of America or some other group will want to set up a major clearing house for this kind of exchange. But that wouldn't stop other groups from doing the same, including groups of various political persuasions.
I certainly think it will be most effective for people to only lobby for causes they honestly support, even though they're giving their time in exchange for lobbying done elsewhere in the country. Let rightwing groups in DC exchange work with rightwing groups outside of it, while leftist groups do the same.
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