Here in the Greater Washington area, politics permeates the air we breathe. Winter, spring, summer, fall — it’s always campaign season here, and we can speak expertly about who’s up and who’s down in the opinion polls and how well or how poorly a candidate faired in the latest debate.
There’s more to politics than elections, of course, and our proximity to the White House, the Capitol and Supreme Court obligates us to use our voice to speak truth to power.
The National Urban League uses its position as one of the country’s oldest and most respected civil rights organizations to advocate for policies that benefit underserved communities. Its “Washington Bureau” (as distinguished from the organization I lead, the Greater Washington Urban League, which focuses on people living in our region) collaborates with the federal government on a wide range of issues facing urban America, educating policy makers and demonstrating the potential for reform.
Over the summer, former U.S. Senate Chief of Staff Don Cravins Jr. took the reins of this operation, setting out to push an economic empowerment agenda. Don and I are in frequent contact and work closely together. The man has one of the busiest schedules in Washington —and in D.C. that’s saying a lot. He is already working with policy makers in the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and the U.S. Census Bureau.
As everyone knows, the District of Columbia is not a state, a circumstance that deprives its residents of our representation in U.S. Congress. However, this energetic community isn’t about to keep its mouth shut, and I’d like to highlight a couple of organizations that help residents of our region to amplify their voice.
DC Vote pushes for measures that would allow the Capital to control its own budget, to pass its own laws without congressional interference, and, ultimately, to give Washingtonians representation in the House and Senate. As Executive Director Kimberly Perry eloquently wrote in a recent blog post, “We make the same sacrifices as all other Americans do. We pay federal taxes, but have no say in how they are spent. We send family members to fight and die in military conflicts, yet when votes pertaining to war and peace occur, we have no way to register our opposition or support.”
The DC Fair Budget Coalition advocates for the District to devote more resources to fight poverty and address human needs. Led by Ericka Taylor, the organization makes a point of collaborating with social service providers — and poor people themselves — so that it truly represents the population it serves. In recent months, the organization has focused on improving services for homeless people and mandating gender-equal parental and family leave.
Whether you march in the street, send a letter to an elected official, or attend a community meeting, you can push for a better society. As Frederick Douglas said in 1857, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Now, 158 years later, it is still true. It’s the American way.
George H. Lambert, Jr. is the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.