One of the things I love about my neighborhood is all of the random artwork that decorates buildings around here. This lovely mural recently appeared on the side of a building down an alley off 18th St. The picture is a poor substitute as the colors are breathtakingly vivid in real life. The writing, which is also a bit difficult to read from the picture, says, “If you lived here you’d be home now. But you still could not vote.”
I only officially became a DC resident about a year ago. Although I’ve always been into politics, DC’s lack of representation in Congress is kind of difficult to care about when one doesn’t actually live in the city. In theory, of course, it always seemed unfair, but if you aren’t one of the 600,000 or so residents of this lovely city it’s hard to really internalize what it means in a practical sense to not be represented in Congress. I mean, come on, by and large the residents of this city are the ones who make the federal government run and we don’t have a vote in it? It’s beyond absurd.
I’m very pleased that the DC voting rights bill is making its way through Congress and seems to have a better chance than ever at actually passing. Although it only half fixes the issue by making our House member a voting one, it’s better than nothing. Or is it? That’s the thing which vexes me about this whole discussion. There’s a general sense that this is a good first step and that compromises like also creating another seat in a Republican district to diffuse the partisanship of it or tacking on an amendment giving the federal government more say in DC gun control laws (as happened in Senate debate on the bill) is just the price of doing business and getting something passed. That’s just how politics works.
I think this mindset frames the issue entirely incorrectly. It isn’t like Congress is debating “giving” the city a bridge, or an extended Metro line, or money to fix potholes. They are “giving” us the right to elect voting members of our federal legislative body, which, quite honestly, isn’t theirs to “give” in the first place. The constitution already gives it to us in spirit as citizens. What is the foundation of democracy if not the right to elect our representatives? That this right is bandied about like a political football is a little demeaning to all of us who are treated the same as residents of the 50 states in every other respect.
In speaking the language of compromise, it’s vital we keep in mind why any compromise is ultimately untenable. If this bill passes, I will be celebrating along with eveyone else. However, what would make me even happier would be the immediate emergence of a renewed discussion about representation in the Senate and the appropriate role for the federal government to play in local issues.