I want to answer the question, can we trust President Obama and the Democrats, with a loud “yes,” but after the last minute budget deal made on Friday night that avoided a government shut down, I am not so sure. It pains me to say that.
I grew up a Democrat in New York supporting and working for Democratic candidates since I was 12. I have always believed in the principles of the party. My parents were immigrants who came here to escape Hitler. My mother’s parents came too but my father’s died in Auschwitz. I was brought up to respect all people and to believe that government is fair and can provide a safety net for the least among us and for anyone in times of crisis and need.
I became a civil rights activist, community activist and anti-war activist. It was, after all, the 1960s and 70s — an exciting time and a time of struggle. I became a teacher in Harlem and joined the union, fought City Hall and supported the PTA when they padlocked the school and demanded the city build a new one. We taught our students in the local RKO movie theater until the city acquiesced. I then joined Rep. Bella Abzug’s (D-N.Y.) staff and fought for women’s rights and finally became true to myself after moving to D.C., came out and have been fighting for LGBT rights ever since.
Last week many people in D.C. and around the nation held their breath while negotiations went on to avoid the first government shutdown in 15 years. Friends were going to be without paychecks both in the federal and D.C. government. Along with others I was appalled that the current Republican leadership in Congress wouldn’t even do what Newt Gingrich had done 15 years earlier passing a bill allowing the D.C. government to stay open and spend its own money. Money that the taxpaying residents of the District pay to secure services from our Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Office of Motor Vehicles and other basic services.
Then on Friday night I rejoiced with others when President Obama came on the air around 11:15 p.m. and announced that the crisis had been averted and a deal had been struck to keep the government open. He proudly said he had kept the social riders such as cutting the Planned Parenthood budget out of the deal.
Then we began to hear more about the deal and it soon became apparent that the president had lied. The president and the Democratic leadership in Congress sold the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia down the river.
The deal cut had in it riders on the District’s budget that prevented poor women from accessing an abortion if they needed one with the District’s own funds and foisted education vouchers on the District. It may also include a prohibition on using our own money for needle exchange to prevent the continued rise of HIV/AIDS in the District.
President Obama and the Democratic leadership have allowed this to be done to the people of the District. People who have supported them for years and people who work in their offices and are their neighbors.
My first thought on hearing about the D.C. riders was: Where do the Democrats of today draw the line in the sand? What are the principles of today’s Democratic Party? I can’t join the Republican Party that wants to lower the corporate taxes for companies like GE that already pay no taxes while trying to take Medicaid coverage away from the poor. A party whose presidential candidates all want to demonize the LGBT community and are more concerned with pandering to the religious extremists and the Tea Party than they are with solving the nation’s problems. But then my party, the Democratic Party, is leaving me cold. They are losing their direction and now it appears their principles.
Why aren’t we demanding that we tax hedge fund managers, many of whom are making more than a billion dollars a year more than 15 percent on their income? Why aren’t we putting forth some budget solutions that will cut the budget but maintain our safety net for the poor and support education for all? Why are we treating the residents of the District of Columbia as if we are invisible?
I watched in awe as the women of the Senate stood together and said they will not allow a deal that will hurt the women of the nation. But it appears those same women stood by while the poor women of the District were hurt. Again, it is as if we are invisible to them.
I am pragmatic and understand functioning in the realm of the possible but won’t accept being lied to and treated as if I don’t exist. Democrats cannot act as if the issues facing the 600,000 residents of the District aren’t even worth mentioning.
My party must stand up for the people of the District. What will happen if the Republicans try to roll back marriage equality in the District? Will the president turn his back on us? Will the leadership in the Senate cave again?
We need the president to call for the immediate introduction of a bill to make home rule a reality. He needs to make a speech about the need for 600,000 people to have legislative and budget autonomy. The bill should be introduced not by our intrepid Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton but by Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and they should make floor speeches and work to have every Democrat co-sponsor those bills.
The next letter or e-mail any resident of the District gets from the DNC, DCCC, DSCC or President Obama’s campaign should not be asking for money but telling us that this legislation has been introduced and they are asking everyone across the nation to support it. This is not a plea for statehood or even a vote for the D.C. delegate, even though those things are important. It is a simple statement to the nation that the people of the District of Columbia who pay more than $5 billion in local taxes and nearly $3.5 billion in federal taxes need at a minimum to have self determination over how they spend their local taxes. That can’t be too much to ask of my party.
The time is now for the Democratic Party to stand up and be counted. Win or lose, the party must stand for decency and for the 600,000 people of the District of Columbia who for too long have suffered because not even the Democratic Party will fight for its own principles.