Why I Haven’t Called My Member of Congress

If you’re hoping for 10,000 words on the futility of politics or the impossibility of righteousness, I am sorry to disappoint you. The reason I haven’t called my member of Congress is very simple: Like all other residents of the District of Columbia, I don’t have one.

This outrage has persisted for so long that it is now basically accepted as a feature of American politics. DC was originally put under federal control out of fear that the federal government could not rely on a separate, state government for the protection of federal buildings. Therefore DC is a district, not a state, and Congress exerts some control over local government.

This leaves DC residents without any federal representation. DC residents could not even vote in presidential elections until 1964. DC still has no representatives and no senators. I’ve seen news items recently about DC residents “making their voice heard” by giving money to faraway campaigns, or hand-delivering letters to Congress. Which are good things to do. But not everyone in DC has the free cash or the free time to influence other people’s representatives. And every other American has members of Congress that’s supposed to represent them.

The reason DC doesn’t have representation is clear enough: the district is overwhelmingly Democratic. If that weren’t reason enough, the district also has a large (a majority until a few years ago) black population, a group that the Republican Party is actively trying to disenfranchise all over the country. Thus it’s hard to get Republicans to agree to give DC residents more political power.

Republicans typically use newly gained political power to insure future political power — through restrictive voting measures and gerrymandering. Of course, Democrats also have a partisan interest in these matters. Democrats gerrymander too. And maybe Democratic interest in increasing ballot access is purely selfish. But it’s also the right thing to do.

Democrats are generating a lot of energy and ideas around protecting and expanding voting rights, as they should. But gaining voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia should be high on the list. Gaining two senators and a representative would be a huge victory. Right now Republicans have 52 senators, meaning that they can lose at most two Republicans votes if they want to win a vote. If DC had two senators (who would surely be Democratic), that number would be down to one. And it’s not unreasonable for DC to have its own senators, given that it has a higher population than Wyoming and Vermont. But I would settle for re-incorporating DC into Maryland. This would add a representative to Maryland’s total, and tilt voting for Senators and governors more Democratic (Maryland’s current governor is Republican).

There is absolutely no defensible reason for DC residents not to have representatives in Congress. Democrats are a long way away from being able to do anything about it now. But DC statehood is the kind of thing that a Democratic House should be voting in favor of again and again, to attract attention to the issue and force Republicans to vote against enfranchising American citizens. Republicans will surely make those votes. But it will be up to Democrats to make sure the rest of the country sees them doing it.


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