Of the many symbols the city of Washington D.C. represents, the one that should resonate most with those of us living in big cities throughout North America is that of a helpless lack of local self-determination. While the situation in DC is much more extreme, having neither full voting representation at the federal level (except for 3 votes in the electoral college) or a state mechanism to stand up for it on a national stage, it reflects a city’s lowly place in the political hierarchy. “Creatures of the province” we are in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario, Washington is a Constitutional article, proclaimed into existence from the perceived necessity to provide a secure site for all three branches of the federal government. A compromised location where it is not because that’s where the people were but because it’s where north met south.
An 18th-century administrative outpost without its own from of governance until it was bestowed upon them in 1973. Even with that, however, the city operates entirely at the behest of Congress which still maintains control over its budget and has the final say on any and all matters. Like many of its urban counterparts, the social demands made upon Washington DC are many and the resources to meet them are few.
Grand edifices are built (and, man oh man, does DC have some grand edifices) but many of the city’s residents live a little less grandly. They are not the visiting members of Congress’s concern. Why would they be? None live here so aren’t in any way accountable to those who do.
Severely under-represented at the federal as it, DC is often used as a bargaining chip, tossed as red meat to the usually antagonistic, anti-urban sensibilities of the Republican party when the fair-weather Democrats feel they have bigger fish to fry. As happened last week during the budget showdown. To secure a deal, the President allegedly gave over certain aspects of the city’s social policy like access to abortion and needle-exchange to the Republicans in order to secure wider funding for Planned Parenthood.This led to Tuesday’s arrest of DC Mayor Vincent Gray and 6 councillors who were protesting the move and their lack of say in the matter.
“Is DC the president’s to give?” was a question asked at Monday’s protest.
Good question, and one any resident of a city groaning under the combined weight of neglect and unequal fiscal transference might rightfully ask. Outside of the John A. Wilson building where the DC mayor and council do their work, in between demands for voting rights and outright statehood for DC, a digital banner calculates the amount of federal tax the district’s residents have paid this year. Over one billion dollars. Without having any say in how it’s spent. That’s one of the sparks that ignited the American Revolution, wasn’t it?
It’s the nature of a country’s relationship with its cities, too. Where the majority of its citizens live. Where the majority of the wealth is generated. Where the majority of opportunities lie. And yet, cities continued to be M.I.A. in the halls of power. Even during an election campaign, with all 3 of the leaders of Canada’s biggest national parties holding ridings in two of the country’s 3 largest municipalities, you’d think there’d be more talk about city building. A national transit strategy. Housing. Immigration.
Yet all is eerily silent on that front which, sadly, may be sound electoral strategy since our system does not truly indicate the actual urban demographic that we’ve become. But it’s nothing short of foolhardy when it comes to governing. Badly functioning cities inevitably lead to badly functioning societies.
Of course, we can keep saying that until we’re blue in the face. (Seriously, we can.) The sentiment just keeps falling on deaf ears. Perhaps, deep down, regardless of where they come from, politicians of all stripes just wish that cities could be more like Washington, DC. Seen but not heard.
– plaintiffly submitted by Cityslikr