Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Must My Vote Be Worthless?

As a resident of the District of Columbia, my vote doesn't mean jack sh*t, but I still have to pay federal taxes, even though I get no representation in Congress. This seriously pisses me and everyone else who lives here off. We have 600,000+ U.S. citizens who live here - more than Wyoming, which for some reason gets to be called a state and have 1 Representative and 2 Senators in Congress, but not us.

However, with the new Congress, we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of finally being liberated from our disenfranchisement - the Republicans have already stripped our delegate of the purely symbolic vote she had, so I guess we just have to shove it and get used to God-only-knows-how-more-years of taxation without representation.

I'd like to think that it's not about race, but I can't help but think that race plays a non-trivial part in this - if D.C. became a state, it would be far and away the blackest state in the Union as a percentage of the population, as well as one of the most Democratic. It's probably not coincidence that the deal that D.C. was trying to cut in the last Congress was to get a Representative if Utah, one of the whitest and most Republican states in the Union, got an extra Representative, so that the "balance of power" would not be tipped in favor of the Democrats. But why should our right to political representation be held hostage by some artificial "balance of power" in Congress?

Displaying the Republicans' usual moral purpose and clarity of thought when it comes to disenfranchising their fellow U.S. citizens, Keith Fimian, two-time Republican challenger to Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), outlined why I should be taxed without representation:
The Founders were pretty bright people. They chose, for reasons that they had, to not have voting rights in Washington, D.C. The folks who live there know that. They can live there or they can not, and it's their choice to live there. I'm not in favor of tampering with the Constitution unless it absolutely must be done. It's unfortunate that they don't have the right to vote. ... The fact is that the part of Washington, D.C. that is in Virginia is now part of Virginia. Why don't we make the part of Washington, D.C. that's in Maryland part of Maryland?
You can watch the whole disgusting bit here, with Connolly's excellent rebuttal:



Martin Austermuhle over at DCist dissects Fimian's nonsense brilliantly, so I'll quote him wholesale:
Fimian's response just about sums up the worst of the arguments on why District residents remain second-class citizens. First off, it's not "unfortunate" that D.C. residents don't have voting rights -- it's unjust. Unfortunate is when it rains on a day you wanted to have a picnic, or when your morning English muffin has mold on it.
Second, relocating isn't an adequate solution to an ongoing injustice. By that logic, instead of passing historic civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Congress should have rented some U-Haul trucks and helped African Americans in the South move to Canada. "That's ridiculous," you might say. Yes, it is. And so is Fimian's assertion that 600,000 people should start looking for housing in Arlington, Bethesda or Bowie if they want democratic rights.
Third, Fimian hides behind the Founders' intent, while ignoring any of the reasoning that motivated that intent. The District was created after Congress was chased out of Philadelphia by soldiers demanding back pay the best way they knew how -- as a torch-wielding mob. The theory was that since basically no one lived where the District is now located, Congress could legislate without having to worry about a similar mob of locals trying to sway their votes. Times have clearly changed -- and last I checked, District residents weren't lighting torches and marching on the Hill to demand, well, anything. (Then again, if we did, would Congress move to Kansas?)
Then there's the Maryland part. Sure, giving what's left of the District back to Maryland sounds easy and all, but Maryland hasn't indicated that it wants us, much less are many District residents jumping at the chance to become Maryland residents.
On this and other points, Connolly nails it. "They don't want a vote in Maryland," he said in his response. "They're a unique identity. Go there. It's not Maryland, and they're entitled to their own District seat."
Connolly also points out that the former representative whose seat he now occupies was himself a champion of D.C. voting rights: "Well, again, if you'd been paying attention you'd know that the bill to provide the District with a vote and Utah with a matching vote was introduced by my Republican predecessor ... Tom Davis." Exactly. Whether a Republican or a Democrat, you'd imagine that someone seeking to represent a district just down the road from the District would be a little more sympathetic to the plight of its residents. Davis certainly was.
Internal mechanics aside, Connolly just gets it. "Giving D.C. voting rights is the right thing to do. In the 21st century, 600,000 fellow residents have no voting representation in the Congress. They don't want to vote in Maryland. ... It is scandalous that the United States does not allow the District of Columbia to have a voting representation in the Congress, and it doesn't matter what party they are. It doesn't matter. We don't make decisions based on who gets a vote based on what party they might vote for. It's the right thing to do. It's a matter of simple justice and equity, and it's an embarrassment all over the world that the capital of the free world has no voting representation in the House of Representatives."
Damn straight. If you don't want to let me vote, then screw you. If you want to disenfranchise 600,000+ of your fellow citizens and hide behind the Constitution while doing it, then YOU don't deserve to have the right to vote.

For everyone else, if you live anywhere in the U.S. other than in D.C. (they obviously don't give a sh*t about what I have to say), please call your Congressional representatives and tell them to stop disenfranchising D.C. residents.

What's a liberty- and democracy-loving DC-dweller to do .... Reasonable compromise has failed us, it seems, so perhaps it's time to bring out the (slightly) crazy .... Lydia DePillis over at the Washington City Paper has some fun ideas:
  1. Affix "Abandon your vote, all ye who enter here!" to the signs at the edges of the city welcoming people to the District.
  2. Paint "Paid for by the disenfranchised" on prominent streets around the Capitol.
  3. Commission sculptures prominently featuring shackled D.C. residents for placement on District-owned land downtown.
  4. Hang District flags from bridges at rush hour. Maybe even burning. Or create a "Gates"-style installation of D.C. flags in the Arboretum.
  5. During tax season, print D.C. income tax bills with the message, "Hate paying federal income taxes too? At least you can vote on how these are used."
  6. On directional signs downtown that tell people where things are, include an arrow pointing to "Federal Oppressors" at the Capitol building.
  7. Do flower plantings that spell out "Flowers are Beautiful. So is Democracy."

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