December 15, 2011

On Dec. 8, I began a hunger strike with three other members of Occupy D.C. at McPherson Square — Adrian Parsons, Kelly Mears and Joe Gray. This commitment is necessary to expedite congressional action toward democracy for the District.

Ours is an act of protest in response to a clear violation of our rights as Americans. We follow the examples of Alice Paul, Mohandas Gandhi, Anna Hazare and others in refusing food and consuming only water and vitamins in an indefinite hunger strike.

We are calling for three reforms.

First, we demand that as long as D.C. residents are paying federal taxes, we must have voting representation in both the House and Senate. We urge Congress to pass H.R. 266, the District of Columbia Equal Representation Act of 2011. Taxation without representation is incompatible with democracy.

Second, we call on House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to fight for, and for Congress to pass, a D.C. budget autonomy bill free of policy riders.

Third, we call for the elimination of congressional review of District laws. Why should politicians not elected by Washingtonians have any control over the city’s affairs?

Progress toward full democracy for the District has been painfully slow. A bill recently proposed by Issa would free the District’s budget from congressional control, but attached to it was a provision that would bar the District from using locally raised revenue to fund abortions for disadvantaged women. Attempts to impose such riders on bills have long plagued efforts to advance democracy in the District. We propose that city residents be permitted to vote on any riders attached to bills related to D.C. democracy.

For 200 years, Congress has unjustly hampered the District’s ability to govern itself. Congressional obstruction of the District’s needle-exchange programs has sabotaged the city’s ability to deal with its AIDS epidemic and resulted in preventable deaths. Representatives elected by people in other states have undermined our democracy by cutting funding for the counting of D.C. votes in a citizen-led initiative. Right now, some in Congress are working to attach more policy riders on the District’s fiscal 2012 spending bill in an attempt to put their own terms on our democracy.

The outrage of taxation without representation was a primary motivation behind our forefathers fighting and dying for the American Revolution. Today, democracy for the District is in equal measure a political and ethical issue — not an issue of left or right, but of representation and democracy. We have met with and continue to pursue meetings with key members of Congress to push this issue. The range of responses — across partisan lines — is diverse. Some representatives seem uninformed but concerned; others decline to engage in dialogue; and several have engaged us in productive conversations, both personally and through senior staffers. None of these representatives were elected by Washingtonians, yet only they hold the keys to our democracy.

As our strike progresses, we will lose our ability to communicate with the outside world. We urge supporters of democracy to contact their representatives in solidarity with us. The District cannot win full democracy without help from the rest of the country.

This city is hungry. For too long, Congress has starved it of democracy. We strike to end this injustice.