The Power of the People

The District has just taken an historic step forward for democracy—and it wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the District’s voters.


Earlier this week, the Local Budget Autonomy Charter Amendment that D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved in the April 23 referendum became law. By Congress choosing not to pass a disapproval resolution during its 35-day review period, it is unquestionable that local budget autonomy is now the law of the District of Columbia. Over the next few months, the Council will be taking steps at long last to let the city spend its own money without waiting for an act of Congress—just like every other state and city in the country.


Budget autonomy could be achieved only by an amendment to the District’s Home Rule Charter. And that amendment could be achieved only by an act of Congress or a referendum by the people. It’s fitting that the District has now obtained this critical, missing element of democracy through a resounding vote by the people of the District.


As you know, the District for many years has tried to persuade Congress to grant D.C. residents budget autonomy and other basic rights. Those efforts have yet to be successful. In fact, just over the past year, sponsors withdrew two budget autonomy bills when it became clear that they wouldn’t pass without riders undermining the District’s laws on workers’ rights and women’s health.


But the referendum’s success shows that there is another way to advance D.C. democracy that originates locally, empowers the people–and produces real results.


We hope D.C. officials and other advocates for greater self-determination for the District are encouraged by the recent developments and are inspired to look for other ways to advance democracy locally. As Congressman José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) said at our annual event last month: this signals a new era in the fight for D.C. democracy. And as he said earlier of the referendum, the vote represents “democracy at its very core.”

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