August 30, 2013

“I THINK we know how Dr. King would have reacted for the people of the District of Columbia still not having full citizenship rights.” Those words, from former president Jimmy Carter at Wednesday’s commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, brought an appreciative roar from the crowd.

It would have been nice if the current president had joined Mr. Carter in citing the shameful disenfranchisement of District residents as part of the unfinished business of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But even without President Obama’s help, this important civil rights issue got some attention on a historic day, and that’s a good thing. Mr. Carter’s pointed words should prick the country’s conscience, hopefully propelling its leaders finally to take action to end the injustice to the people who live in the nation’s capital.

Among the legislative priorities listed by the march’s organizers as part of the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom is to attain full voting representation in Congress and democracy for D.C. residents. The District is the only place in the United States where citizens pay federal income taxes and fulfill obligations such as military service but are denied a true voice in the federal government. The District has a representative in the House who is not permitted to vote, and it has no representation in the Senate. Compounding those wrongs is that the District is also denied full control over its local affairs, although there are encouraging prospects for the city to finally achieve budget autonomy over its tax dollars.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), present at the 1963 march and this week’s reincarnation, unsuccessfully lobbied for Mr. Obama to include the District’s plight in his speech. She told us it was jarring to hear him advocate for voting rights without any mention of the second-class status of the city that was host to both marches for equal justice.

King, who was a full-throated advocate for the District, having marched for home rule in 1960, recognized that human rights is of one piece; to deny the minority its rights diminishes the whole. It’s time to make the District and the United States whole.