Later this week, Iraqi citizens will have the opportunity to place their vote for representatives in the government’s recently fashioned parliament. In doing this, they will join citizens across the globe in sharing the ability to exercise a fundamental democratic right: choosing elected government representatives. Yet, in the shadow of the White House, District of Columbia residents are denied full voting rights and representation in Congress. The people of Washington are citizens of a nation that claims to be the standard bearer of democracy; however, they are denied the rights our Founding Fathers promised all Americans.
The University hosts a large number of students who hail from Washington. Growing up and living in the District, we are constantly reminded of the city’s lack of representation. Whether it is learned in our classes, from our parents or by looking at the words “Taxation without Representation” imprinted on Washington’s license plates, this political injustice is inescapable. Arriving at the University, we were shocked to discover that much of the student body is largely uniformed about the political inequalities faced by Washington residents. Many hold misconceptions about Washington, imagining it as a city simply composed of government buildings — not a vibrant, metropolitan area that is home to more than 500,000 residents. Washington residents hold the same responsibilities as residents of the state of Michigan or any other state, paying the second highest income tax in the nation, as well as the second highest federal tax per capita. Washington has a larger population than both Alaska and Wyoming. Unlike Washington, these states (and every other state in the country) have two senators and at least one representative in the U.S. House. Washington, for its part, is represented by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who lacks full voting privileges. She is able to vote in committee but not on final legislation that reaches the floor of the House.
As highlighted by Eleanor Holmes Norton and three Washington veterans of the Iraq war in a recent public appeal to the House of Representatives, more than 198 Washington residents are among the thousands of U.S soldiers fighting to establish democratic freedom in Iraq. Ironically enough, upon their return home, Washington soldiers are unable to enjoy these very same freedoms. They are called upon to perform the highest form of civic duty, risking their lives to give Iraqi citizens a voice in government, while their own voices remain silenced on the floor of the U.S. Congress.
As the United States seeks to promote democracy around the world, we must recognize and rectify the inequalities here at home. Moreover, we cannot boast of the strength of our own democracy while so many U.S. citizens remain disenfranchised. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Ignoring the inequity in our nation’s capital city ultimately undermines the democratic nature and image of the United States. This injustice should be a call to action to all Americans. Speak out against this discrimination. Urge your voting representative to support full representation for Washington, because unlike D.C. residents, you can.
Levine is a LSA sophomore and McCarthy is a LSA junior.