D.C. Bill Would Create a More Perfect Union

Posted July 17, 2009 at 1:21pm

I’m not like most Americans.

Most Americans enjoy representation as a benefit of taxation — the result of a hard-fought war from centuries past. They pay their dues every April 15 and on election days cast their ballots for Members of Congress who in turn cast their votes on critical issues. They are able to weigh in on the great debates of the day, sharing with their voting Representatives their thoughts on war, health care, the economy and education. Most Americans enjoy all the freedoms afforded by American democracy.

I don’t share the same freedoms, but thankfully it’s not solely because of the color of my skin. There was a time in American history when the injustices I grappled with were racial inequalities, and I dedicated much of my life to fighting back, helping to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960 and to lead demonstrations throughout the decade. Our struggle for civil rights was a battle against a racially biased inequity. We fought the good fight, not just to be recognized as Americans with equal rights, but to be recognized as equal Americans, period.

Today, 45 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 44 years since the signing of the Voting Rights Act, I am denied democracy because of the place I call home. I’ve dedicated years of my life in the fight for civil rights and now, because I live in Washington, D.C., I am denied a vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, although I pay full federal taxes and fulfill all other duties of citizenship. My fellow Washingtonians and I pay the second highest per capita federal income taxes yet our sons, daughters and friends are sent to war without a voting Member in Congress to represent them. Our veterans return home only to be denied the same freedoms they are fighting to secure for the Afghan and Iraqi people.

The irony of living in the nation’s capital and being denied a vote in Congress is difficult to stomach. We residents of Washington are not full citizens of the nation of which we are the capital. We live in the center of what is arguably the greatest democracy in the world, but are denied a voice in the governing body that makes the most critical decisions. We can elect a Delegate, currently the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), but she cannot cast a vote for us.

We are unrepresented in the forum where all other Americans have the right to help make laws and set policy.

And so our fight to secure equal representation for all Americans continues. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is proud to be an active member of the coalition led by DC Vote that is tirelessly working to end this injustice. The coalition coordinates grass-roots efforts, develops advocacy campaigns, raises awareness online and knocks on doors on Capitol Hill. We’ve put in countless hours in the fight for equal rights, and we have focused much of our efforts on a piece of legislation, the DC House Voting Rights Act, that would give D.C. citizens a vote in the House of Representatives. Passage of this bill will be a monumental step toward the realization of full democracy for D.C. residents.

Unfortunately, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has poisoned the bill with an amendment that would strip the District of its gun laws and remove the city’s authority to enact gun legislation in the future. A legislator from Nevada is asking my neighbors and me to choose between democracy and safety. He should worry about his own affairs. I did not elect him to represent me in Congress, and I expect him and his colleagues to grant the District — and the more than half a million tax-paying Americans who call it home — the same respect they would give any other locality in America.

The continued interference from people like Ensign and his colleagues in the House and Senate shows that we still have a long way to go and more battles ahead of us. There will still be roadblocks on our path to full democracy for Washington. But I have no intention of backing down from the good fight. And I know I am not alone.

As Americans, we honor the history and ideals of our great country. But we are also reminded that we are still not a perfect union. One battle we have yet to win is equality for me and my fellow citizens of the nation’s capital.

Julian Bond is chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.