“This administration, as well as this Congress, is going to be, I believe, incredibly hostile to the District. There is no question about that!” This is what I heard Councilman Charles Allen tell a group of DC residents in southwest DC last Monday. Unfortunately, I have to agree – we are living in a time when a lot of the social and economic priorities important to DC residents, such as women’s reproductive rights, immigration, environmental protections, paid-family leave and education, to name a few, are directly threatened by both the executive and legislative federal branches. For that reason, being active in our local politics is exceptionally important right now. As Charles Allen emphasized, we would need to be very focused on local protections for the issues DC residents care about, since relying on Federal safeguards is no longer an option.
Councilman Allen made these comments during a town hall meeting on April 24th. The meeting was streamed live on Facebook, and the comments came in response to one viewer’s concerns about the President’s proposed cuts to a number of social and economic programs. I was attending the town hall in person – my first such endeavor in DC (and in general). The official topic was the 2017 DC budget and the funding priorities of the residents of DC’s Ward 6. After giving a presentation (a copy of which can be found here) on the 2017 budget components, funding sources, and priorities, the Councilman turned to questions from the audience. He addressed concerns related to, among other topics, affordable housing, health and sanitation, and transportation in the District. Although I did not go in prepared with questions of my own, simply attending the meeting got me thinking about ways to get more involved with the local political process and inspired me to do some research on the structure of our DC government. Below, I describe the things I learned and the steps you can take if you are a DC resident who wants to get more engaged politically.
- Find your DC Ward and Councilmember:
- The DC legislative branch is divided into eight Wards, and is composed of 13 total Councilmembers, each elected for a four-year term. The residents from each of the District’s eight Wards elect their own Councilmember every four years. Additionally, there are four Councilmembers and one Chairperson elected at-large by all DC residents. You can find out which Ward you live in by entering your address on the following site. Then, you can find the name of your Councilmember here and sign up for their email list to get updates on town hall meetings, rallies, local events or legislative initiatives. You can also follow your Councilmember on Facebook or Twitter to learn about events and opportunities to get in touch with them.
- Find your Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and your ANC representative:
- Each DC Ward is additionally divided into several ANCs, whose representatives are elected for two-year terms without pay. The ANCs present complaints and/or suggestions for neighborhood improvements to the DC government. You can find out your ANC and the contact information of your representative here.
- Watch or testify at a DC Council Committee hearing:
- DC’s Council has 11 committees, each of which oversees a certain set of policy issues such as health, labor and workforce development, finance and revenue, and transportation and the environment. A full list of the committees, along with details on their work and upcoming hearings can be found here (on that site you can also watch the hearings live online). You can also find the list of government agencies testifying in upcoming hearings and a phone number and email that you can use to request the opportunity to testify at one of those hearings yourself.
- Contact the Mayor’s office:
- You can reach out directly to the District’s executive branch by writing the Mayor’s office with any city-wide concerns, suggestions, or complaints, by using this form.
- Join the cause for DC statehood:
- Since DC is not a state, Congress has the unique power to block local legislative initiatives spearheaded by the DC council, signed by the Mayor, and/or funded with local DC-raised funds. The best way to get legislative and budget autonomy for our nation’s capital would be through achieving DC statehood. You can visit DCVote’s website for more information the cause for DC statehood, find out ways to take action in support of statehood, and/or join the Neighbors United for DC Statehood.
- Support the Hands Off DC initiative:
- Also related to DC autonomy, the Hands Off DC initiative, spearheaded by Councilman Allen, aims to organize DC residents to stand up to Congressional interference in local DC affairs. The initiative’s Facebook page and Twitter feed provide frequent updates on the campaign and on events around the city in support of it.
- Go to town hall meetings:
- You can find out about town hall schedules from your Councilmember’s website or mailing list. During town hall meetings, you can express your priorities and concerns about local DC policies and/or ask any questions you may have of your Councilmember. Upon entry into the meeting, you will also be provided with a form, where you can list your name and question/concern, if you are unable or unwilling to share it publicly. Even if you have nothing specific to share or discuss, you can attend a town hall for educational purposes, or watch it via a Facebook live video feed.
- And, of course, vote:
- If you are a U.S. citizen, register to vote in DC elections here.