How is it possible for Republican leaders to take on the issues of gay marriage, crucial AIDS prevention programs and medical marijuana in a single day? By throwing their weight around in the District of Columbia.
It begins on the first day of the new Congress. We expect the new Republican majority to strip the District of Columbia of the little power its citizens have, as they did in 1995, by revoking DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's vote in the Committee of the Whole House.
This seemingly small rules change by the Speaker of the House impacts over 500,000 Americans who live in Washington, DC. With the slap of a gavel, their voice on national and local issues is muffled to silence. Some conservative Republicans will then attempt to eliminate or restrict a whole range of progressive DC laws as a way of placating the religious and social right wing of their party. If the left -- from advocacy organizations to pundits and funders - is serious about fighting back, they will start by helping defend the taxpaying citizens in the District of Columbia.
Because DC does not have voting representation in either the House or the Senate and does not have full control over its local budget and laws, some conservatives have previously prevented DC from funding programs to stop the spread of AIDS and to provide medical marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions. Members of Congress are likely to try reinstating these restrictions, in addition to overturning DC's marriage equality law and firearm regulations.
In the past, national conservative organizations and their allies in Congress have attacked DC while many national progressives sat out the fight, concluding that DC's government and residents can stand up for themselves. But Washingtonians do not have enough power alone to win. When Congress bullies the District of Columbia with little or no reaction nationally, it serves as an invitation to use DC as a political testing ground for conservative issues large and small.
The ultimate goal of the DC Voting Rights Coalition, which DC Vote has lead for more than a decade, is equality for Washingtonians. A number of Republicans on and off the Hill are part of that Coalition, and we are grateful for their support. We all believe that DC residents and their elected leaders should decide local issues. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in Congress does not share that view.
With headlines popping up like "Congress Prepared to Pounce on D.C." and "Congressional Republicans Should Stay Out of D.C.'s Affairs", DC is bracing for the worst.
National progressives have an additional incentive: preventing Congress from overturning some of the most progressive laws in America. The first opportunity for progressives to demonstrate their resolve is just months away, when the House tries to strip Delegate Norton of her vote. Will progressives sit out that fight?
Don't meet Rep. John Boehner's insult to the District with silence. Add your voice and your resources to this fight. Make defending DC's progressive laws your cause.
Ilir Zherka is the Executive Director of DC Vote.
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