Americans nationwide came to Washington DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Mayor Vincent Gray, greeted everyone in attendance. He also reminded us that Dr. King believed in freedom and democracy for Americans who live in the nation’s capital.
There was one place that Dr. King didn’t mention in that speech, but about which he later spoke out forcefully, and that was the District of Columbia. That’s because full freedom and democracy were and are still denied to the people who quite literally live within the sight of the Capitol dome. Our city is home to more residents than the states of Vermont and Wyoming, but we have no voting representative in our own Congress. We pay more than $3.5 billion dollars in federal taxes, but don’t even get the final say in how we spend our own locally raised money. And we send our sons and our daughters to fight for democracy overseas, but don’t get to practice it fully here at home. So today, as we remember those who gave so much half a century ago to extend the blessings of liberty to all Americans, I ask, I implore, I hope that all of you will stand with me when I say that we must let freedom ring from Mount St. Alban, from where rises the majestic National Cathedral. We must let freedom ring from the ridges of Anacostia, where Frederick Douglass made his home. And most of all, we must let freedom ring from Capitol Hill itself until all of the residents of the very seat of our great democracy are truly free. Again, let me welcome you to our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. Please join hands with us and make every American free, especially those who live in the District of Columbia.
The freedom that Martin Luther King espoused and envisioned remains elusive to Americans who call DC home because we don’t have voting representation in the House of Representatives and we have zero representation in the Senate. Congress also controls our city council.
Our delegate, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, was an organizer for the March on Washington and she continues to fight full citizenship for Americans who live in the Nation’s capital. She can make speeches, and try to persuade the Representatives from other states to listen to her ideas. She can vote on procedural matters and in committees. However, she cannot represent the people of DC on laws that affect us just as much as they affect other Americans. It’s galling when the same people who whine about their state’s “right” to violate the constitution with voter suppression laws impose their ideological policies on reproductive rights, guns and anything else they can get away with under the limited version of Home Rule that exists in D.C.
It’s out right humiliating when our rights as citizens are reduced to a bargaining chip as occurred during budget talks in 2011. Republicans pushed to deny DC women our reproductive rights in exchange for a budget deal, and the fact is the President folded. I understand why he did it, but that doesn’t mean I was happy with it.
It’s even more galling when the same Republican lawmakers continue to oppose statehood for DC, while supporting statehood for Puerto Rico.
In June, Senate Leader Harry Reid endorsed DC statehood. “Washington, D.C. residents fight in wars. Washington D.C. residents deserve self-government and congressional representation and D.C. deserves statehood.” While the statement is much appreciated, it only means something when it is translated into action.
During his speech on Wednesday, former president Jimmy Carter made the following observation about Dr. King’s dream and DC’s place in it:
King would have reacted for people of District of Columbia still not having full citizenship rights.
American citizens and taxpayers in the District remain hopeful that someday freedom as envisioned by Dr. King will ring across the country – and that freedom will come to the people of DC.