THIS IS a special week in the District of Columbia -- a time to celebrate a decade of home rule and to look ahead for even more. And what a period of impressive change it has been, coming after a century of waiting for permission to shake off the grossly paternalistic colonial rule of Congress and the executive branch, and to let democracy work in the capital of the United States. It has worked too. But the experiment is not at all over. The District's painfully slow transformation from a ward of a domineering Old South Uncle Sam to a self-governing candidate for statehood still must engage more Americans elsewhere before those who live here can stop being second- class citizens.

The exact birthday of the first elected mayor- and-council government in this century is Jan. 2, but, like Rome, this place was not built in one day. The struggle for local self-determination was in progress long before Richard Nixon signed the home rule charter law on Christmas Eve of 1973 that set the stage for local charter ratification and elections in the next year and the January 1975 inauguration on the steps of the District Building.

Some of the presidentially appointed D.C. Commissioners tried as hard as they could to stretch their narrow mandates and make the city government just a little bit more responsive to the people's interests than Congress preferred. Walter N. Tobriner and John B. Duncan, of the last commissioner trio, knew well the frustrations of trying to balance reasonable popular demands against strict financial and administrative directives from those on Capitol Hill and in the White House with the money and the power. Then there was Walter Washington, the commissioner dubbed "mayor" by President Johnson after a home-rule bill failed in Congress. He demonstrated that local leadership in the District could be as competent as that in any other part of the country.

Today, Mayor Marion Barry and a 13-member council continue to sharpen the local government's capacities. They make mistakes -- like their counterparts everywhere else around this region. It's called responsibility, which is what home rule is: the right to make mistakes as well as to make good policy decisions.

This newspaper has long been committed to the expansion and strengthening of home rule in the District of Columbia. We believe there should be additional local authority in the District Building -- over the budget, for example. The city also deserves to achieve full and proper representation in Congress. With help and understanding across the land, the people of the District shouldn't have to wait another decade for what is already overdue.