Today marks the fourth anniversary of that happy day when Congress, by more than the requisite two-thirds vote, passed the constitutional amendment granting D.C. citizens full voting rights and full congressional representation. Having reported in these pages on the progress of the amendment toward ratification by the states on each of the three previous anniversaries, it would be rather cowardly to hide now just because, to understate it, things are not going well. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here goes.
First, the bad news: only 10 states (out of the needed 38) have ratified the amendment in the four years that have elapsed. No constitutional amendment has ever been adopted with only 10 ratifications in the first four years; as a matter of fact, most ratifications have taken place in the first year after congressional approval. Murphy's law -- if anything can go wrong, it will -- surely has been working overtime here. There were the miscues right after congressional passage, the bickering among supporters, lack of funds and other resources, and then citizen defeatism and apathy. Even the most ardent supporter of ratification would hardly call this a very encouraging picture.
So, shall we give up? Nonsense! There are three years left of the seven-year ratification period, and that is plenty of time to persuade the needed 28 additional states to ratify.
The extension of the Voting Rights Act was in an almost equally precarious position a couple of years ago. Sen. Strom Thurmond, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he was going to repeal the Voting Rights Act or, at least, let it expire by its own terms this month. The conventional wisdom around town was that any short extension of the act would be accompanied by a compromise, watered-down version of the original act. But the right to vote has an unusual, almost sacrosanct, degree of support in this country, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the other organizations working with it were able to turn the situation around by arousing the grass roots of the nation to let Congress know how deeply it felt on the issue. The result: not only far and away the longest extension of the 1965 act we have ever obtained, but a vital strengthening of the act on the merits to make "effect" rather than "intent" the legal standard for enforcement.
We could do worse than make the struggle for the Voting Rights Act extension the model for ourselves in arousing grass-roots support for the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment. Incidentally, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act extension last month, the only blacks and Hispanics in this country who do not have the legal right to vote for senators and representatives are those who live in the District of Columbia.
When the going gets tough in a political struggle like this one, you get further counting your assets than worrying about your liabilities. Here are a few of those assets:
* Voting rights have a high place in the hearts and minds of the American people-- witness the Voting Rights Act extension.
* The national labor unions, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and as many as a hundred national organizations are supporting our effort around the country. There was tremendous support for ratification of the amendment at the League of Women Voters' convention in Houston in May and a deep dedication to getting the job done state by state.
* All of the state legislatures meet early in 1983. Coalitions of organizations and individuals in support of ratification are already in place in many states, and the remainder can be put into place before January. 1983 can see tremendous strides: whether it will depends on us.
* The leading candidates for mayor have committed themselves to helping pull the District together in support of ratification as soon as the election campaign is over. The failure of the business community to support the ratification drive (with a very few friendly exceptions) is a disgrace, and only the mayor has the clout to raise the funds necessary to carry this effort to the state legislatures across the country.
* Our greatest asset, of course, is the simple matter of being right. Our opponents have yet to field a single argument for the existing disenfranchisement of 700,000 hard-working, patriotic and high tax-paying citizens of the nation. The only thing our opponents say -- some whisper, some speak out loud -- is that they are not going to give the District the chance to send two black, liberal, urban Democrats to the Senate. The argument that we should be denied our voting rights because of whom we might elect is shabby, immoral, unconstitutional and a lot of other things that a family newspaper wouldn't print. But time and education can expose that argument as the combination of racism, reaction and regionalism that it is. Only the absence of resources has kept us from throwing the spotlight of reason and decency upon this un- American contention and those who make it.
Nor need the statehood issue divide the citizens of the District. Both statehood and the constitutional amendment are routes to the goal of self-determination. The two District of Columbia senators and the representative would become the chief lobbyists for statehood in a Congress now none too friendly to the idea.
The right of all citizens to vote and be fully represented in Congress is too firmly imbedded in our democratic history to be forever denied. One day it will come, even if some of today's strongest supporters are no longer here to welcome it. And it can come now if the citizens of the District, and especially the business community, will rally around so just a cause.