Caught up in democracy-spreading adventures abroad, Congress continues to ignore residents who are clamoring for democracy in its own backyard.
The 560,000 citizens of Washington DC--the only geographic region in the country without representation in Congress--are tired of having no voice. "When this country committed troops to Iraq, I had no vote," US House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC's non-voting representative, told the Washington Post, "...the taxes paid to this war, I had no vote."
So last week, Norton and scores of DC voting rights activists came up with a clever solution to get the attention of Congress: they drummed up the support of the international community. As delegates of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) converged on Washington for their annual meeting, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/01/AR2005070101959.html">hundreds of protestors urged them to "Free DC."
And on July 5, the final day of the meeting, OSCE delegates from 51 countries overwhelmingly voted on a measure calling for congressional representation in DC. Call it the new "coalition of the willing."
Although the declaration does not carry the weight of the law, voting rights activists believe that the OSCE--an organization that emerged in the Cold War era to pressure communist nations into respecting human rights--could embarrass Congress into action.
"Civil rights activists in the US have often turned to world opinion to highlight domestic injustice when social movements hit a brick wall at home," says Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University. "With conservative Republicans controlling the House, the Senate, the White House and the federal judiciary…shifting the level of discussion to the global context is a shrewd move."
Several options for DC representation have been considered in Congress. One is to allow Washingtonians to vote in Maryland's congressional races; another would give DC its own member of Congress but also add a congressman in Utah (among reddest of all states). Neither of these plans are ideal, and even with the pressure from the OSCE, Raskin notes that "it's critical that the excellent DC Vote [an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to securing full voting representation in Congress for District residents] keep pushing for real equality."
DC resident or not, if you care about delivering democracy at home, check out DC Vote to see how you can get involved.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.