THE BLOG

President Obama Should Help D.C. Achieve Democracy

02/07/2013 06:48 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013

Since 1801, for the privilege of residing in the capital of the free world, people living in the capital city have had to remain silent. In 1791 the City of Washington was founded to serve as the national capital, and with the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, the city officially came under the control of the U.S. Congress that year. For being part of the federal city, and not of a state, former Maryland and Virginia state residents gave up their congressional representation, among other benefits afforded to state residents. Shortly after Congress' takeover, in 1802, the city was granted a municipal government with a mayor appointed by the president. Years later, with the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, the head of the city government was changed to a four-year term governor, appointed by the president. This last format lasted a very short time, and from 1874 to 1975 the city was administered by a three-member Board of Commissioners, also appointed by the President of the United States.

It took a Constitutional amendment to allow citizens of Washington to vote in presidential elections. With the ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, on March 29, 1961, Washington, D.C. citizens, for the first time, participated in the presidential election of 1964.

In its present day, the enactment of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, on December 24, 1973, allows D.C. citizens to elect a city mayor and a 13-member City Council.

Today, the people who choose to make the nation's capital their abode must still pay a price for the privilege of residing in the national capital. Residents of the nation's capital are subject to all the obligations of state residency, like paying federal taxes and serving in the military, but don't enjoy the privileges of being a state, like congressional representation.

The fight to make the national capital a more sovereign state has been long, and residents of the capital have tried different means to achieve this goal, including the creation of a party, the DC Statehood Green Party. And some progress has been made. In 1978, Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, which would have given the District of Columbia full voting rights in the lower house of Congress. The proposed amendment to the constitution failed to garner the ratification by 38 states it needed before it expired on August 22, 1985.

And so Washingtonians today find themselves at the same perils they were more than 200 years ago. The only congressional representation Washington has is a non-voting delegate to the House, elected every two years, in the Congressional tradition, by the people. Laws and the budged passed by its City Council are subject to congressional approval, and the residents of the city must pay federal taxes, like the residents of any state.

While the executive branch of government doesn't have the direct power to give D.C. residents the representation in the national legislation it has sought for centuries, the president can join other voices championing the call for Congressional representation. Recently, President Obama has shown he empathizes with the plight of D.C. residents by agreeing to place the city's license plates that read "Taxation Without Representation" on the presidential limousine. This, many hope, is only the start, and they hope the president will remind the American public of D.C.'s disenfranchisement during his State of the Union address to the nation.

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