On February 4th, 2014, the District Council debated the DC Promise Program (a scholarship program for low-income District citizens seeking to go to college). Before and during the debate an affliction that too often rears its ugly head seemed to be present in several Councilmembers. The affliction, commonly known as WWCD, is an acronym for “What Will Congress Do” seems to target District leaders and the most common symptom is paralysis to do the right thing on behalf of those who elected them out of fear of what our colonial masters on the Hill will do.
The DC Promise bill did pass unanimously on the first reading but several Councilmembers, Evans, Bowser, & Orange (all three running for mayor) openly worried about how Congress would react to the District creating its own scholarship program and voted to delay a vote on the bill. It is fair to ponder the thought of Congress ending the DC TAG program but we need to stop acting and legislating out of fear for what Congress would do (for example: Vincent Orange & speed cameras). Instead of running scared of Congress we should instead be planning to pay for DC TAG ourselves, we should be preparing to take charge of our own destiny and provide the financial support for District students that we deem fit and fair.
The DC TAG program is a good program but it’s a program unique to the District. No state has such a deal and there’s a reason for it: our unique and unequal status. Congress pays for it partially out of collective guilt that they have prevented the District from raising revenues in a manner we so desire. They pay for it partially out of guilt that a large portion of our land is federal or international land exempted from property taxes. They pay for it out of guilt that 646,000 American citizens are required to fulfill all the obligations of citizenship yet denied its most basic rights: the right to vote for national representation and have final say over local laws (and yes, Congress foots the $600+ million bill for our courts and prison system as well…again, partially out of guilt for restricting our ability to be equal citizens and an equal locality).
Councilmembers should not be fearful of Congress (or The Washington Post Editorial Board) instead this might be the time to legislate based on our values and just see what Congress does. Let’s see their values. Let’s draw them out for who they are: hypocrites for exclaiming the virtues of democracy around but denying it to those in the communities that surround the buildings where they work.
Operating (legislating & governing) out of fear of what Congress might do is a colonial mentality. The District deserves leadership that acts from a liberation mindset. Let’s govern based on our needs and values and be prepared to fund the programs and policies we feel best serve the District. The $35 million per year for DC TAG is a lot of “free money” for District students but if we value the program we should pay for it (whole other “fund it ourselves” conversation needs to happen about our courts & prisons too).
The DC Promise bill passed and several Councilmembers did speak up from a liberation point of view, in particular, as DCist notes Anita Bond, Tommy Wells, and Mary Cheh spoke forcefully for acting on our own and not being paralyzed by WWCD. The Council deserves credit for passing this program on the first reading but the debate was very telling about the colonial mindset of some of our leaders. Achieving statehood will not come by worrying about what Congress will fund for us rather it will come once the District commits to thinking, acting, and demanding what we want for ourselves.
It’s time for us to govern and legislate based on what District citizens want because that is right and the most liberating thing we can do.