Taking D.C.'s Case to the World
||Common Denominator (DC)
||Monday, June 13, 2005
By some measures, the campaign for full democratic rights for the District of Columbia, although more active and visible over the past several years, might be said to have little to show for its recent efforts. In terms of real self-government and voting representation in Congress – of which we have neither – we haven’t fundamentally moved forward since the beginning of home rule in 1974. Mayor Williams’ coziness with Congress has accomplished little more than a restoration of the status quo prior to 1997, when Congress temporarily suspended the little self-government we had.
Yet when one looks more closely, the signs of progress are unmistakable. In particular, the D.C. democracy movement has enjoyed success in recent years in taking the District’s cause to the international community. In December 2003, a decade of effort paid off when a human rights commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) ruled that the District’s lack of equal voting representation in Congress constituted a violation of international human rights standards. This past March, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as part of a report on last year’s U.S. presidential election, also took the United States to task for its denial of full voting representation for the District.
While the Bush administration has taken upon itself the role of lecturing the rest of the world on the virtues of democracy, the OAS and OSCE rulings have tarnished the United States’ reputation as a font of freedom. Tim Cooper, who as executive director of the human rights organization Worldrights has helped carry the D.C. democracy struggle abroad, notes that in 2004 the vice-mayor of Hong Kong, when lectured about the lack of democracy in his domain by Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, threw the District’s disenfranchisement back in Davis’ face. Also last year, D.C.’s status helped undercut a U.S.-sponsored United Nations human rights resolution against Belarus.
"The continuing disenfranchisement of D.C. residents has actually begun to stymie U.S. foreign policy initiatives to promote freedom and democracy," Cooper said. Countries with poor human rights records are "deflecting criticism by pointing an accusatory finger at the U.S., keenly aware now of America’s own democracy deficit in Washington, D.C."
Just as the anti-apartheid movement turned world opinion against the former rulers of South Africa – and as human rights advocates have turned on the heat against the leaders of Serbia, Sudan, Burma and other countries – the success of the movement for full democracy in the District depends in part on gaining support beyond U.S. borders.
An unprecedented opportunity to lay the District’s case before the world takes place during this year’s Independence Day weekend when the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly meets here. This gathering of over 300 elected members from 55 national legislatures, mostly from Europe but also including delegates from Canada, a number of Central Asian countries and the United States, will meet to discuss security, human rights, the environment and other issues. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who have never shown the slightest interest in democratic rights for citizens living just beyond the Capitol’s steps, have invested their prestige in a smooth, non-threatening OSCE meeting. Hastert, Frist and Secretary of State Condolezza Rice are scheduled to address the conference.
Reaching the OSCE parliamentarians with a powerful message of D.C.’s disenfranchisement will be critical to cultivating support in the international community. Cooper relates a conversation with an OSCE official in Warsaw who asked, "Why aren’t D.C. residents climbing up the walls and out in the streets" protesting their treatment? So the July 1-5 meeting at the W.F. Marriott Hotel provides an opportunity to show that D.C. residents are angry at our treatment by Congress – and that we want to enlist OSCE’s support in helping us win our rights.
As the delegates schedule a full five days’ worth of meetings, sightseeing and receptions, Team D.C. Democracy – a coalition of organizations working for voting representation and full democracy for the District – is planning a parallel series of rallies, discussions with delegates and other events to press their cause with the parliamentarians. Inspired by color-themed pro-democracy movements in other countries, such as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Team D.C. Democracy has decided July 1-5 will launch the "Blue Revolution" – symbolic of how second-class citizenship has given us the blues, but with blue also being the color missing from the D.C. flag that will make us fully endowed Americans. Activities will center around Freedom Plaza, conveniently across the street from the Marriott, but since the delegates will be venturing around the District, the lobbying will likewise be a mobile affair.
"America will not succeed in its campaign to globalize democracy without first guaranteeing democracy in its own capital city," Cooper added. "Our leverage is in place. Now all we need to do, as D.C. residents, is to use it. If we do, like the Berlin Wall, America’s double standard will fall."
While events are still in the planning stages, one thing is clear – the Blue Revolution needs you! The more people and the louder the voices, the more we’ll impress the delegates not only that we need them to fight for us, but that we’re ready to fight for ourselves. Visit http://standupfordemocracy.org or www.osceindc.com for more details.
While the rest of the nation gets ready to celebrate America’s freedom, let’s be prepared to win our own. Be ready to rally, starting early on Friday, July 1, as the delegates arrive. And wear something blue.
Mosley is a member of the Stand Up! For Democracy in DC Coalition. Contact him at email@example.com.