With a Republican House majority bent on rolling back decades of home-rule progress, DC Vote (www.dcvote.org) has stepped up its efforts on the Hill to secure voting Congressional representation. DC Vote is smart, talented, and professional.
It is also completely ineffectual, and likely to remain so, because DC Vote, and the DC rights movement, demonstrate almost exclusively within DC. That cannot work.
Most of the people living in DC lack voting representation in Congress. The remainder is registered as voters in other states, and lack the numbers to sway their “home state” polls. Finally, 535 of the remaining greater DC residents are voting members of Congress. If the sheer moral force of the District Rights movement were going to persuade Congress, this would have happened long ago. Nor are the people outside DC likely to be moved by protests in DC. District demonstrations target a largely powerless or indifferent local audience in hopes of drawing the national audience’s attention away from the other major crises the US faces; this is a losing strategy.
Demonstrations outside of the Beltway, however, could be part of a winning strategy. Protesting for DC Rights in Democratic-leaning cities would place demonstrators right in front of people who have voting representation in Congress. If these people could be convinced to support the DC Rights movement, they could pressure their members of Congress to support the movement. Many Americans are genuinely unaware that most people in DC have no voting representation in Congress. Simply demonstrating outside the District may have real persuasive power, especially since the populations of large Democratic-leaning cities would love to increase the Democratic representation in the House.
The payoff could be dramatic: Manhattan alone has four Congressional districts partly contained within its borders. A day’s marching could reach more people with voting representation than any number of protests in DC. Further, the sheer novelty of a District Rights protest outside the District itself would probably generate substantial local and national news coverage.
Protesting outside the District will help build a genuinely national District Rights movement. In order to successfully demonstrate in New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, local activists are necessary to assist. These local activists will obtain permits, plan routes, publicize the event locally, etc. They could be recruited from local Democratic Party/College Democrats chapters, civil liberties groups, poverty advocates, and other organizations likely to support the District Rights movement. Local volunteers should be encouraged to remain involved long after any DC-based protestors leave and to form local groups advocating for the District’s voting rights. These local organizations could be important “force multipliers” during elections, helping to keep our issues in the political discourse even if DC-based groups lack the resources to do so themselves. By leaving the city to demonstrate, DC-based activists can build the institutions that will bring ultimate political success.
Of course, it will be difficult for the District’s poorest residents to participate in demonstrations outside DC. Partly as a result, demonstrations outside DC will probably be smaller than those we could muster locally. However, the advantages of leaving the District outweigh the disadvantages. Money spent on District demonstrations cannot engage large Democratic populations with voting representation – therefore, it is money ill-spent. And while it is regrettable that lower-income District residents could not demonstrate in New York City or San Francisco, their lack of voting representation in Congress is far more regrettable.
To obtain greater home rule and voting rights, Congress must be persuaded to grant these rights. This requires a national campaign, not an inside-the-Beltway campaign. We must reach out to the voters and persuade them to support us. The best way to accomplish this is to embrace the age-old real estate mantra: location, location, location.