Elections in D.C. are unlike any others in the United States. The citizens of D.C. pay local and federal taxes -- like other Americans -- but when we go to the polls, we vote for two Senators and a Representative who can't vote in Congress and who are barred from collecting a federal salary. And even when D.C. voters choose local officials, we know the choices they make and budgets they author are subject to scrutiny and overrule by Congress.
Our collective disenfranchisement, fellow voters of Washington, D.C., is precisely why it is so important for us to elect officials who advocate for our democratic rights.
D.C. voters go to the polls on Tuesday. There are several races on the ballot, including those for mayor, state committee, and several positions on the D.C. Council. All of these races matter. (And full disclosure, I'm running for state committee myself, so I care a lot about that particular contest.)
But, from the point of view of achieving full citizenship rights for the more than 646,000 people who call D.C. home, perhaps no race on April 1 matters more than the one for D.C. Council At-Large. Here's why.
Nate Bennett-Fleming, At-Large candidate and the unpaid, popularly elected "Shadow" Representative to the U.S. Congress, has been nothing short of visionary where D.C.'s democratic potential is concerned. In 2013, his first year in office, Nate pushed to get D.C. statehood legislation introduced before both Houses of Congress for the first time since 1993; it's a historic bill. And Nate has been tireless in securing support for the bill. He personally met -- all in a volunteer capacity -- with more than 100 Congressional offices to advocate for D.C. statehood legislation. And he has organized dozens more volunteers to help him reach out to Congressional staff and garner support for the bill.
I met Nate while volunteering in support of D.C. statehood on the Hill. I was struck by Nate's effectiveness. For decades, people in D.C. said full statehood was impossible; we needed to take a more incremental approach. And here was this young guy from D.C.'s Ward 8 not only getting statehood legislation introduced in Congress, but actually convincing Congress to support it.
Today, there are 65 House co-sponsors and 14 Senate co-sponsors for D.C. statehood legislation. Elizabeth Warren came on as a co-sponsor earlier this week. Nate's outreach, and the outreach of other volunteers (most notably Josh Burch of Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood), is the single biggest reason why.
The D.C. Council is considering legislation to fund the D.C. delegation to Congress so we have full-time statehood advocates lobbying Congress on a daily basis. Nate supports this bill and, if elected, would push to professionalize the volunteer effort he has already spurred.
Beyond statehood, there is another fundamental democratic issue of concern in the At-Large race for D.C. Council on April 1: the will of the voters of the District of Columbia. At 83 percent in a 2013 referendum, D.C. voters came out overwhelmingly in favor of electing our own Attorney General. The existing D.C. Council voted to overturn that decision and postpone voters' ability to choose their Attorney General until 2018. Among the Councilmembers who voted to effectively nullify the democratic vote of D.C.'s citizenry: the incumbent against whom Nate is running for office. Nate is a strong supporter of letting D.C. voters choose their own laws. If elected, he would prioritize letting D.C. select its own AG, and would not vote to overrule the people's voice.
Also at issue in the D.C. Council At-Large race: marijuana. At 63 percent, a solid majority of D.C. residents favor legalizing marijuana, as does Nate Bennett-Fleming. The incumbent does not. The War of Drugs has decimated parts of Washington, D.C., and the people have spoken. And Nate understands the War of Drugs very personally. Nate grew up smelling crack in his apartment building. He saw neighbors and friends die from gun violence, and others struggling with integrating themselves in their communities after they returned from jail. The so-called New Jim Crow is very much a reality in the racially diverse, but segregated, Washington, D.C. Ending the unnecessary, discriminatory prohibition marijuana is an important human rights issue, and one that Nate understands intellectually and in his core.
With our very voting rights at stake in the At-Large election on April 1, it is important that D.C. elect someone who believes in and fights for democracy. I believe that, as a tax-paying U.S. citizen, I deserve the right to vote in United States. Nate believes this, too. And that is why I'm supporting Nate Bennett-Fleming in the April 1 Democratic election for D.C. Council.