Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of representing DC Vote at a series of meetings and events of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon led the launch of the much anticipated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aspire to eradicate poverty and create a just and equitable world.

The Sustainable Development Goals are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of 2015. Like the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals establish a set of universal goals and targets designed to frame policy making in UN member nations. The SDGs expand beyond eradicating poverty, and include wider objectives such as climate change and protecting environmental resources for economic and social development. But, as the Secretary General so wisely reminded us, the UN cannot do it alone. The UN seeks partners with which they can implement and make progress on this bold agenda.

It was a huge honor for DC Vote to be present and, to be candid, a critical time for DC Vote as an institution to play a role in these new and evolved set of international goals.

I was often asked what relevance DC Vote had to the international community and particularly to the SDGs. Again and again I noted that:

  • Washington, DC is the only capital city in the world that disenfranchises its citizens from the national legislature.
  • The denial of equal congressional voting rights to the citizens of Washington, DC is a serious human rights violation. It places the United States in violation of numerous international human rights treaties and agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Here’s an example of the typical response of shock when global citizens become aware of DC’s lack of rights. This is a recent blog post by a young Pakistani leader beginning a fellowship here in the United States: From a Weak Democracy in Islamabad, to the Denial of Democracy in Washington, DC. “I know firsthand what a weak democracy looks like,” writes Farhad Ahmed Jarral. “Pakistanis have been ruled by four dictatorships and still rely on the army to play a major role in the setup and ongoing operation of our government. Despite this, Pakistanis have elected representatives from all the cities and constituencies of Pakistan, including the capital city. Unlike residents of DC, the people of Islamabad have the right to hold their representatives accountable and advocate for their basic needs to be met.”

Back to the UN meetings: One of the new Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 16, is particularly relevant to DC’s lack of democratic equality. SDG 16 makes clear the critical need to build participatory institutions and policymaking as the basis of a sustainable global society.

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. More specifically, the references to participation can be found as:

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements

There should be no reason for the United States, often referred to as a beacon of democracy to the world, to isolate and unjustly ignore the voice and vote of the citizens of its nation’s capitol.

Through DC Vote’s national advocacy and national education campaigns to build public support at all levels of American society, we are pledging to coordinate with the United Nations, its agencies, and others in the international community to fully enfranchise the people of Washington, DC toward the goal of more inclusive and participatory decision making at all levels in the United States.

Together, we can work toward fulfilling the goal of SDG 16 and ensure a peaceful, inclusive, and just society in the United States and the rest of the world.

Voting Rights

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