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Shameful Period Will Come to an End With Passage of D.C. Bill

It occurred to me as I watched the Senate debate the D.C. voting rights bill that it is high time I speak out on this issue, one so close to my heart. In short, I urge Members of the House to support H.R. 157, which would provide full House voting rights to the long-suffering residents of the nation’s capital.

[IMGCAP(1)]I’d write a letter to my Congresswoman and Senator, urging them to vote for it, but — as a D.C. resident — what would be the point?

Back in my youth, I participated in many marches and events for D.C. statehood. While marching, we would chant: “How long? Not long!— Well, not long turned into decades. Tomorrow has finally come. Or has it? On Wednesday, the House can end this injustice by giving D.C. citizens the same right every other U.S. citizen enjoys: voting representation in Congress.

Exactly how long have District residents endured this injustice? Two years shy of two centuries and one decade. It’s taken 208 years for the Congress of the United States to truly understand that “taxation without representation— is downright un-American.

The long-suffering tax-paying citizens of the District of Columbia will soon not only enjoy a voice on Capitol Hill but may also get a vote on matters that affect their lives, including locally passed laws and a locally raised budget — both of which Congress now controls.

It’s called freedom, Congress. It’s called democracy. And we in the District have been allowed to enjoy neither. When Congress ratified the Constitution in 1789, it decreed that the right to vote would be enjoyed “by people of the several states.— This right was conferred at a time when all U.S. citizens lived in a state and the District did not exist. Though the District of Columbia was created out of lands ceded by Maryland and Virginia pursuant to a statute adopted in 1791, it was not until 1801 that its citizens were stripped of their ability to have voting representation.

Somewhere it was decided that the principle that every American citizen has the inalienable right to shape the laws under which they live, a cornerstone of our democracy, did not apply to D.C. residents. Those of us who call the District home have no voting rights simply because we live within the boundaries of a district Congress created. What a shame! What hypocrisy!

Soon after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-D.C.) election in 1991, I found myself by her side during her wait long past midnight to officially share her thoughts on the most important decision any Member of Congress will ever make: whether to send America’s youth to war. (Like any newly elected Member, Norton had to wait her turn to speak.) Finally, knowing this would be the only way to demonstrate how she would vote on the first Gulf War, Norton, a brilliant civil rights and constitutional lawyer and law professor, spoke eloquently on behalf of her constituents — mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Then, as her colleagues cast their votes, Norton, who had no vote, retreated to her office.

As her chief of staff from day one, I watched over the years as Norton left the office to attend the funerals of District men and women in uniform who died in a war she could vote neither for nor against. I heard over the years as she argued, over and over, that the residents of the District of Columbia — who pay the second-highest per-capita federal income taxes in the nation and who have sent nearly 200,000 of their sons and daughters to war — have no say on war, military spending, federal tax legislation or any other matter before Congress.

Why, she asked her esteemed colleagues, is our nation’s capital the only one in any democracy in the world without full voting rights?

It is an abomination that citizens of the District of Columbia have been denied a full vote in Congress. It is shameful that they have been disenfranchised and disrespected, treated as second-class citizens. There is no reason to believe that the framers of the Constitution intended for District residents to be deprived of full voting rights. There is no rational or legitimate reason.

This will change after Wednesday’s vote. This must change. This cannot stand.

The legislation to be considered will finally enable residents of the District of Columbia to enjoy the same full voting rights in the House of Representatives currently enjoyed by other Americans. It will make obsolete the humiliation embossed on our license plates: “Taxation without representation,— though we will still lack any representation in the Senate.

It’s time Congress says “Aye!— to freedom. It’s time Congress says “Aye!— to voting rights for all Americans. It’s time the torch of freedom is passed on to residents of the nation’s capital in the form of voting rights. It’s time to give these residents their own reason to cry out: “Yes we can!—

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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