WHILE THE ARGUMENTS rage on about the fate, future and ratification process of the Equal Rights Amendment, more than a few Americans in the capital are deeply concerned about the lack of progress of yet another proposed constitutional amendment having to do with equality and rights. Residents of the District of Columbia--who fulfill all the fundamental obligations of citizenship, from paying taxes to serving in the armed forces-- are still denied representation in Congress, and their hopes for ending this gross inequity have been dimming.
As noted in a letter to the editor today from Adam Savitz, nothing has been said or reported about the amendment in some time. In urging a renewed campaign for ratification, Mr. Savitz suggests that such a drive will need help from city officials in addition to any coverage or commentary by the media--and we agree. The fact that nothing has happened to the amendment in a disturbingly long time should in itself be a matter of local interest and concern.
For people here as well as around the country who may not know but may well care, we begin by reminding you that both houses of Congress agreed by a more than two-thirds majority nearly 31/2 years ago to permit the people of the District a proper voice and vote in the lawmaking for these United States. But at the halfway point in the seven-year (unextended) time period for ratification by the necessary 38 state legislatures, only 10 states have said yes to the amendment.
Obviously it's a little early to cut any confetti for the celebration, but at least let's hold off on the black bunting. What better time than the start of a new year to reinvigorate efforts around the country for ratification of the D.C. amendment? It is unglamorous work, as the tireless workers for The Coalition for D.C. Self-Determination can attest; and it takes money as well as volunteer help to enlist the understanding and legislative support of a broad spectrum of Americans coast to coast.
The job is to locate and inform sympathetic citizens around the country--in church groups, political and social clubs, unions and businesses--who will lend a hand in their states to win over their legislators. In Oregon, for example, an impressive bipartisan effort produced a vote for ratification last July. And in other states, discussions with legislators can still find sympathetic ears. Once people are treated to more than just misinformation and scare tactics about the District of Columbia and its citizenry, they can see the simple justice in this proposed amendment.
There is no wreckage of the union or of the Constitution in this effort, nor is the District of Columbia merely an odd enclave of people living off the government fat of the land and creating some conflict of interest by seeking a role in the legislative process. The District is home for all kinds of Americans whose politics, jobs, religions or colors should not be conditions for denial of rights enjoyed by others, including six states that have fewer voters and taxpayers than the District.
So we continue to believe that once most people understand the D.C. Amendment as a matter of justice, of doing what is right for disenfranchised citizens, they can be moved to rekindle support for it in their state legislatures. To leave the amendment for dead would be tragic.