May 4, 2014, Pacific Daily News.
Last Wednesday I had the privilege of joining Frank Ishizaki's public administration class at the University of Guam to talk over Skype about the work We the People Project is doing to advocate for equal rights and representation for the nearly 5 million residents of U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
Representation and the right to vote can sometimes seem abstract. So, as a class exercise, I asked the students to identify current events in the news they thought were important. A number of students suggested the military buildup. Others raised compact impact, economic development, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, Guam war claims and self-determination.
Then I asked them to imagine how policy conversations in D.C. on these issues might be different if residents of Guam had voting rights just like other Americans. Think voting representation in Congress might mean greater responsiveness to concerns about the military buildup? You bet it would. Might having a vote for president meant better consideration under the Affordable Care Act? Absolutely.
They say politics is the art of the possible. But I can assure you what is "possible" in Washington depends in large part on the electoral strength of who is doing the asking.
Without any national voting rights, it shouldn't be a surprise Guam ends up short-changed or forgotten about altogether.
I founded We the People Project just over a year ago to try and change that. Guam's sons and daughters fight and die to defend democracy abroad. It's about time we are able to fully participate in democracy at home.
Achieving equal rights and representation is easier said than done. One thing is clear though --what we've been doing over the last several decades hasn't worked. That's why we're trying something new.
First, recognizing that the political process is broken, we are using impact litigation to drive change. Just over a week ago, we filed our opening brief in a case before the D.C. Circuit that fights for equal citizenship in the territories. And we are developing a new voting rights challenge that will argue that representation and the right to vote shouldn't depend on where you live.
Second, we are building a new grassroots movement that will bring together the nearly 5 million Americans in the territories and D.C. alongside the over 5 million Americans living in the states who have close ties to these areas.
We are stronger united than we are divided. Only with our voices combined will this ever become a national issue instead of just a Guam issue.
So what's next? Keep an eye out this summer as we launch our "Represent Guam" campaign. And if you think it's unfair you can't vote for president because of where you live, take our "Right to Vote Survey" to help us build our new voting rights challenge.
For that and other ways you can take action for "Equal Rights, Wherever You Live," visit us at www.equalrightsnow.org/take_action, "like" us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter @EqualNow.