Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's Not Just a Good Idea... It's Our Right

It’s been a tough week for us here in the District of Columbia. At the beginning of the week, it appeared that after two centuries of apathy, the United States of America was finally ready to grant the citizens of it’s capital city the right to have representation in Congress. While most people you pass here on the street have a driver's license from another part of the country, those of us legal residents of the city felt as if the recognition we deserved as full citizens of our country was within our grasp. Yet, almost overnight, the attempt by Democratic legislators in the House to push for representation in our Congress for DC was derailed by adept political maneuvering. By Friday, the mood here was low and once again we return to our status of lesser worth within our own country. What has surprised me this week is the vehemence behind some of the arguments made by other Americans against our right to representation in our government.

As a resident of the District of Columbia, I feel very a passionately that we, as equal citizens of the United States, deserve representation in our federal government equal to that of states. The driving force behind my belief in this is the same as the men who stormed Boston Harbor in on December 16, 1776 - that it is morally unconscionable to impose taxes on a group of citizens without them being represented in the government requiring those taxes. As I began to write about this issue after the events of the past week, I began to realize how large of an issue this really is, and that it is logical to address these issues in segments. Therefore, the next few installments in Major Marty Stroodler's adventures will be devoted to this issue's many facets. First, some history...

How could this ever have happened? Hypocrisy and irony litter our national history, so really it comes as no surprise that the nation that has championed democratic principles throughout the world for so many years itself created a significant population that has no significant say in its federal system of government. Really, though, I can understand what our founding fathers were thinking. Right around 1800, our nation was a raging toddler. We had a central government, but the first few states still had very different ideas about what the Unites States of America should eventually be.

To rise above all of the debates and discord occurring, a sanctuary was created – our District of Columbia - DC as we lovingly call it today. They carved it out of a swamp that no one really cared about (except Virginia - they wanted Alexandria back so they could import slaves more easily), put it under federal jurisdiction, and put the seat of our government there to avoid stalling the development of our new nation by the crippling issues of the day – slavery, tariffs, etc. Great idea, right? Let the states have their squabbling but all the while our federal system grows and matures. The District would be a haven free of any constitutional conflicts between the federal and state systems, and there would be no state government to impede the development of the federal infrastructure here. We have a lot of really neat government buildings now as a result. Part of that logic included restricting DC citizens’ elections and representation in Congress. See, how can you have conflict between the citizens and a government when those citizens have no representation? Besides, who would want to live in the District anyway? It’s just a wretched swamp with hot summers, cold winters, and no representation. NO one is going to want to move to DC, right?

Fast forward to 1950. Over 800,000 people called DC home. The federal government had grown by leaps and bounds and in the span of less than 100 years. After a Civil War, Spanish War, and two World Wars, our government needed employees - lots of employees. So they came in droves with their families and settled in this town. Major universities were founded here (Georgetown University, George Washington University, American University), and along with them came faculties, staff, and students. Yet still, DC had no voting members in Congress. I’m not clear why this was considered acceptable for so long, but it probably had a lot to do with the fact that in the years between 1950 and 1990, DC’s population suffered a severe decline.

With a mass exodus of people (middle class white people, mostly), and a slight influx of other people (poor black people from the South, mostly), no one seemed to care that DC had no votes in Congress. In the years that followed, our city slipped into a decline – not because of the changing demographic, but because our nation lost interest in it’s capital. Urban areas, in general, suffered declines, but it was worse here because DC became a punching bag for anyone with a beef with the federal government. Not a single campaign goes by when a candidate rejects the “Washington Culture”. The Midwest hates us for our liberalism. The East and West Coasts hate us because we’re not quite liberal enough. What’s a District to do?

So today it’s 2007. DC is in the plateau of a period of renewal. Property values began to skyrocket in the late 1990s, and middle-class and wealthy people began to move back to DC as the nation saw a bit of a return to urban areas of citizens bored with the suburbs. Democrats, out of power for 12 years, returned as the majority in both houses of Congress. And we still have no votes in either house. Our president initiated and is maintaining a war he insists is being fought to bring democracy and stability to Iraq and the whole Middle East, yet stability and democracy are crippled here in DC. As citizens of DC, we are required to pay full federal income taxes like our fellow citizens in California, Ohio, Wyoming, Florida, and the rest of the 50 states, yet we are not represented in any way in the branch of government responsible for voting on tax rates and government spending. What would John Hancock and Samuel Adams say about this?

So I have three broad proposals. Our nation recognizes DC's right to the "Blessings of Liberty" and provide us votes in both the House and Senate, exempt us from federal income tax, or kick out all the residents. Personally I'd like to see us exempt from income taxes, but congressional representation seems the best solution for everyone involved. The last option would be the hardest to implement. You'd have to relocate over 500,000 people (this worked really well in New Orleans) and still maintain a viable federal workforce in the city. Good luck running the executive branch, suckas.

The next installment - The arguments against DC's right to representation in Congress, and why all these arguments are un-American and wrong.