District Residents Tell Congress “Keep Hands Off D.C.”

Ariel Gomez

“Hands off DC,” chanted a group of almost a hundred District residents gathered near the U.S. Capitol Building Monday, Feb. 13. The “Hands Off D.C.” demonstration was held as the House Oversight Committee voted on whether to invalidate a D.C. law legalizing assisted suicide.

Joined by local city officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, they rallied in an effort to tell Congress to respect D.C.’s voters.

Even though the law passed through local D.C. government under the Home Rule Act, D.C. has to submit all of its laws to Congress for oversight. If both chambers pass a disapproval resolution and the president signs it within 30 legislative days, the legislation becomes legally null.

“We are here because we believe it is our local elected officials who should determine our laws, not Congress members who live two thousand miles away,” said Councilmember At-Large Robert C. White Jr. to the crowd. “When you say that you stand on the principle of small government, then you have to stand on that principle even when it is not convenient.”

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, leads the movement to stop the “Death with Dignity” law approved by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Bowser.

In response, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, among others, urged D.C.residents to speak out and hear D.C.’s voice.

“Tell Representative Chaffetz and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to keep their #HandsOffDC as they vote to override the will of District residents,” a Facebook invitation from Councilman Allen said.

The law was introduced to the D.C. Council by Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh.

In a statement on her website she said, “I introduced the Death with Dignity Act of 2015 to give dying patients greater choice and control over their final moments. If this bill becomes law, terminally-ill patients with a diagnosis of six months or less to live will become eligible to apply for a medication to end his or her life when the pain and suffering of the disease becomes unbearable.”

Among the attendees at the rally, held at the Spirit of Justice Park, were Shadow Senators Paul Strauss and Michael Donald Brown, Shadow Congressman Franklin Garcia, and D.C. Delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said she is tired of having to defend D.C.’s laws to Congress.

“This is D.C., it’s not just the capital of the United States, it’s almost 7,000 living, breathing, tax-paying citizens who come this session to say we are not going to be bullied out of our laws,” she said. “We are not asking them to agree with us. We understand that this bill is controversial, but vote for ‘Death with Dignity,’ vote for local democracy.”

Mayor Bowser addresses a child at the rally outside of the U.S. capitol building | Photo By Ariel Gomez
Mayor Bowser addresses a child at the rally outside of the U.S. capitol building | Photo By Ariel Gomez

During the demonstration, Mayor Bowser, who many at the rally referred to as Governor Bowser, also expressed her desire to keep Congress away from D.C. local law.

“We take care of ourselves — we are no more dependent on the federal government than any other state. We have 21 consecutively balanced budgets… We are the fastest improving urban school district anywhere in the United States… Almost a thousand people are moving here each and every month,” said Bowser at the rally. “The best thing the federal government can do for us is leave us alone.”

These sentiments were shared by all of D.C.’s elected officials present at the rally and by the residents in attendance. Councilmembers David Grosso, Robert White Jr., Mary Cheh, Brandon T. Todd, Charles Allen, Kenyan McDuffie, Elissa Silverman and Brianne Nadeau were all present at the rally.

The night of the rally the House committee voted 22 to 14 to block the Death with Dignity law, which must now move through other Congressional channels.

“As the only residents in the United States of America who pay taxes, but have no vote, they must at least respect our laws,” added White, Jr. “Jason Chaffetz, we did not elect you, you do not speak for us, go back to Utah, it looks like you have your hands full there.”

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