Taxation without Representation


root - Posted on 04 September 2007

A young voter of color resists

by Mari Villaluna/PNN Youth in Media Washington D.C. Correspondent

Taxation without Representation. This principal is taught to every young person formerly educated in the US, in other words, political voting representation is granted to those who pay taxes. But what about the thousands of so-called “undocumented citizen’s” who pay taxes, yet they can’t vote, and the thousands of poor people of color who are incarcerated, and can’t vote?

As a young voter of color who has been oppressed by our unjust system I headed to the Washington DC Voting rights march, which is the same day as DC’s emancipation day. I saw thousands of people rallied around the right to vote in their Congress. As I moved closer to the stage, I saw Mayor Adrian Fenty speaking about the right to vote. I also saw several other things that were important to voters, promises made to constituents that were casually being reneged on by the recipients of our votes. On the side was a contingent of people holding signs saying “Save Affordable Housing”, “Save Temple Court” and chanting, “Practice what you preach.” I quickly scurried over to find out what was happening.

I found out that the contingent was from Temple Court Apartments in Northwest 1. Temple Court apartments were on the eviction block, and to subsidize the tenants the district planned to give them section 8 vouchers. I spoke with April Hall, a tenant at Temple Court about their demands and what they wanted for their community, “We will not be moved. We voted for him (Mayor Fenty). He said he would stick to the original plan… We want Mayor Fenty to stick to the original plan, no displacement, no relocation, and no vouchers. We want housing to be built for Northwest 1.” I was reminded about the same city planning that happened in San Francisco during the dot com boom, out with the poor, in with the rich.

Soon after, I saw youth marching and holding up signs that read, “Save Youth Court.” I asked Ariana Benjamin about her sign and what Youth Court is, she stated quite simply, “It gives youth a second chance. If we didn’t have youth court we would be in jail.” She stated further, “Youth court is so additive… It saves lives.” I was then directed over to the founder of Youth Court, Professor Chan who teaches at the District of Columbia Law School. I found out that the Youth Court in D.C. was the largest teen court in the nation, and has been in place for 10 years. Youth Court gives many of D.C.’s youth a chance to have the same right every adult gets, a chance to be judged by a jury of their peers. 100% of youth offenders that are tried in a youth court volunteer in Youth Court. After 50 hours of volunteering they receive a recycled computer, and after those hours they will receive Safeway gift cards to provide for their nutritional needs.

This reminded me of my own experience with Teen Court while I was in high school. I had previously been tried as an adult for a low-level shoplifting crime, and spent a night in adult jail. Not one person in the adult criminal system asked me why I stole those clothes. If they had asked me why, I might have been able to tell them that I was severely tortured, abused, and neglected. Stealing was the only way I could provide food and clothes for my sister and me. Instead I was treated as a criminal, a criminal of poverty (as I have since learned from www.POORmagazine.org). After being reunified with my mother, I started to get involved so that other youth would have a chance. My hope in joining Teen Court was that other youth would get that second chance that I never received from the adult criminal system.

Professor Chan stated what motivates him to do this work, “I don’t get paid to do this, I do this because I believe in justice.” He explained further that they take 60% of the youth justice non-violent cases, and that many in the district government believe that this is a great program that should continue. He then explained to me, that they had just run out of funding today, and were promised funding by the Deputy Mayor but is not currently being carried out by Mayor Fenty. They are being told by the Mayor’s office, “We are actively looking for the money for this program.” This was after three months of calling the Mayor’s office and reaching nobody. Professor Chan left me with an important question commenting on the closure of this program, “How will this advance justice in this city?”

I noticed Mario Cristaldo speaking to Telemundo talking about the vote and how it relates to building equity for Latinos in the District. Mario was demanding representation from Congress but not just through a vote. I spoke with him further to comment upon what he was talking about with representation, “We demand representation… We clean the buildings, cut the grass, cook the food… We demand to live and stay here.” He then further went on to talk about all marginalized people living in the district, “There is a class war going on, all must work together, Black, Latino, Asian to end the gentrification, the incarceration and displacement of our communities.”

It has been 206 years without a vote in Congress for D.C. residents, even though Congress requires its residents to pay taxes. Within the protest, D.C. residents wanted full representation that does not stop with a vote. Representation includes immigration reform, youth justice, and housing for all.

Taxation without representation is a value that is said to be upheld in this democratic state. Yet thousands are left voiceless within this voting system. Youth who are under 18, immigrants, incarcerated folks, and District of Columbia residents pay taxes but yet are denied participation in the U.S. electoral system. When marginalized folks are even allowed the right to vote, they very rarely have an opportunity with participatory representation in this government. Recently, the D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton stated, “As one southern Senator put it, "The Negroes . . . flocked in . . . and there was only one way out . . . and that was to deny ... suffrage entirely to every human being in the District." To deny the vote, to deny representation, is to deny people of color in this country.

Finally, thousands of people like myself marched on the Capitol, not for a right to vote but for a right to have our human rights met. In the same tradition of resistance carried onto us by our ancestors, we marched. Marching alongside the Temple Court tenants who were organizing to keep their housing, the youth who are fighting to keep their Youth Court program open, the immigrants who are speaking out the right to amnesty to live upon this stolen land. It has always been and always will be about the institutional marginalization that my ancestors and I have gone through. Being evicted from our lands, our own supportive systems and languages attacked and attempted to be stolen from us, and often being treated as an immigrant even though our blood runs through this land

On April 19, 2007 The U.S. House passed the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, it is now introduced the Senate. The current legislation will not only give DC one vote but also a new vote for the state of Utah.

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