D.C. residents demand representation

Thousands of residents of our nation’s capital marched April 16 for something most Americans take for granted — representation in Congress.

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and nonvoting D.C. House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton led a spirited protest to demand passage of the DC Voting Rights Act. According to organizers at DC Vote, the protest was the largest gathering ever on this issue.

The DC Voting Rights Act would increase the House of Representatives by two seats — one for Washington, D.C., a Democratic stronghold, and one for the heavily Republican state of Utah, which was slated for an additional seat after the last Census in 2000.

The bill was pulled from the House floor last month after Republican legislators tried to attach a provision that would strip the district of its strict gun laws. (The irony of this in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, in the state next door, was not missed by many.)

More than half a million Americans pay taxes yet are denied representation in Congress simply because they live in D.C., march organizer Ilir Zherka said.

“Approximately 80 percent of Americans are unaware that the nearly 600,000 citizens of Washington, D.C., are denied voting representation in Congress. District residents pay federal income taxes, serve on juries and die in wars to defend American democracy. However, our elected federal officials are only delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives or shadow Senators without rights to vote on legislation once it reaches the floor of the House or the Senate.”

The march was held on DC Emancipation Day, a holiday celebrated in the district to commemorate the 1862 act signed by Abraham Lincoln to end slavery there. The lead banner read: “First freed, then taxed. Still no vote.”

“We march to tell the Congress of the United States and the president of the United States that it is 206 years late but we’ll take it anyway,” said Holmes Norton, who stands to become the city’s first voting member of the House.

The House was expected to take up the bill this week. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she expected the measure to pass.

“For more than 200 years, the people of the District of Columbia have been denied full voting representation,” Pelosi said in a statement. The bipartisan DC Vote legislation “corrects a serious flaw in our democracy,” she said.

“America is at its best — and honors the cause of freedom and justice — when all voices are fully represented. That must include the people of the District of Columbia,” Pelosi declared.

She pledged to overcome the “efforts to politicize this issue” and to pass this legislation.

talbano @pww.org