D.C., a Laboratory for Structural Adjustment                                       (updated 4/14/02)

(This is substantially the same as the article in D.C. Free Press, 9/10/01, Vol.1. No.4,

But it contains updated information, documentation and other material omitted for the lack of space; DC-IMC is a great resource: http://www.dc.indymedia.org) [MS Word Doc version]

Catastrophic cuts in the District’s “safety net” for our children, poor, disabled and elderly have occurred in the last few years, forced by the austerity regime of the Control Board with the unfortunate compliance of the City Council and Mayor. Mayor Tony Williams was the Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) of the unelected Control Board. As CFO he recommended the hurtful budget cuts in the safety net.  Our mainstream media, projected this new arrival to DC, with significant financial backing by individuals and organizations associated with regional corporate interests (the Federal City Council), into the Mayor’s office.  "With the city in better financial shape, Williams said he hopes to begin rebuilding the social services network for children, seniors and the poor that was devastated by hefty budget cuts in recent years. 'All of them took a huge cut as we made the policy choices... to get us out of the financial predicament we faced" (Washington Post 2/9/99). Mayor Tony Williams' proposed budget for FY 2003 is once again is balanced on the backs of low income and working class residents who constitute the majority of the District population. We are still waiting for the rebuilding of the safety net promised three years ago. Programs such as Tenants, General Public and Emergency Assistance, Chore Aid for Seniors and Disabled have not been restored. Homeless Services remain seriously under funded, while homelessness is growing. The expansion of the number of treatment slots for substance abuse is still far below the estimated need. Over 50,000 residents remain without any health coverage, while the Mayor's health insurance program for those under 200% of poverty remains grossly inadequate and under funded. The TANF benefit with entitlements included remains below the federal poverty level, impacting at least a third of our children. Budgeting for these programs is literally a matter of life and death. We are told that there not enough money to address these needs, in spite of the multibillion dollar taxable income of wealthy District residents, who now pay lower local tax rates than low income residents. We are told that we can’t fund these programs while providing a long overdue increase in the school budget. The destruction of DC General, our only public hospital, is an assault on the human rights of our residents, especially our low income and working class majority.

The Control Board was created by Congress on the pretext of eliminating a large budget deficit. But the real agenda of this unelected body has been to lubricate the wheels of finance capital, by promoting privatization, weakening income security for workers and the poor, increasing economic inequality and the “misery index”, accelerating gentrification and economic development for corporate interests, eroding the remaining democratic rights of District residents, in other words, neoliberal globalization come home. The District became a laboratory for Structural Adjustment.

The rich grow richer, the poor (and increasingly the “middle class”) grow poorer.  Instead of “trickle down” economics, we have witnessed an “artesian well” flow of wealth to the top. This is demonstrated by IRS statistics for District tax payers, showing the booming incomes of the wealthy, while low/middle income brackets stagnate or decline. This restructuring of the economy of the Metro DC area is the local application of neoliberal policies of the transnational banks and corporations resulting in growing polarization of rich and poor. Neoliberalism is the theory that the market should be left to function without burdensome regulation or social constraints, including the social safety net, environmental and occupational protection, and labor rights.  The World Bank and IMF have led the way in transforming the global economy following the neoliberal agenda.  It is no accident that the World Bank is a sponsor of the Economic Resurgence plan for the District, that a World Bank economist Darius Mans with a record of implementing privatization in several developing countries sat on the Control Board, apparently leaving after being exposed during A16. With a growing lack of affordable housing for most residents, the construction of luxury apartments and the Convention Center is highest on the agenda of real estate interests in the District. If unchallenged by an effective labor community coalition, "economic resurgence" will benefit the wealthy while driving out the working class of the District.

With the Control Board gone, the regional corporate agenda will still be imposed on the District unless the power of a labor community coalition is asserted. This emerging coalition forced our City Council to oppose the Mayor’s and the Control Board’s destruction plan for DC General. The DC Statehood Green Party will continue this struggle to empower our residents, especially our working class majority.

The Reality

While DC’s life expectancy has declined, contrary to national trends, income inequality has increased. One half of our children live below the poverty level, as a result of welfare "reform" and impact of inflation since the 1970s. Infant mortality for African Americans remains at twice the national average. While life expectancy has been increasing nationally in the last 15 years, it has declined in the District. Using the most recent statistics available, life expectancy for DC men is 10 years below the national average, for women 5 years. For Black men in DC, the life expectancy is apparently 58 years or less, for Black women 72. The life expectancy for Black men in the District is lower than for any nation in this hemisphere except for Haiti (Doug Struck and Hamil R. Harris, “Death in the City”, Washington Post 6/29/98; David Brown and Avram Goldstein, "Death Knocks Sooner for D.C.'s Black Men", Washington Post 12/4/97).  The District income gap is greater than any state, or virtually all the nation's major cities, and is the underlying cause of the poverty and bad health of so many of our residents (see e.g., James Lardner, “Deadly Disparities”, Washington Post 8/16/98). DC’s ratio of the top fifth to bottom fifth of average income of families with children is 27 to 1, $203,110 to $7,498, compared to the national ratio of 10 to 1. DC’s ratio just a decade ago was 16. The middle fifth of family income, averaging $36,918, has not kept up with inflation (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Economic Policy Institute). The same trends have been highlighted in “D.C. Gap Between Rich, Poor Widening Census Data Show A City Polarized On Several Scales”, by D'Vera Cohn and Sarah Cohen, Washington Post, 8/13/01, B01 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1585-2001Aug12.html): “The dramatic divisions between the District's haves and have-nots widened over the 1990s, according to new census data that show a growing number of rich and poor even as the middle class is shrinking.” Instead of “trickle down” economics, we have witnessed an “artesian well” flow of wealth to the top. This is also demonstrated by IRS statistics for District tax payers, showing the booming incomes of the wealthy, while low/middle income brackets stagnate or decline. At the same time thanks to Congress and the President, we cannot get our deserved federal payments amounting to at least $1.8 billion per year, and the tax revenue from the income of non-resident workers, some $500 million per year. Note that the World Bank and IMF are exempt from paying over $50 million per year in tax revenue owed to the District.

Human Rights Violations in the District of Columbia, Political, Economic and Social

In 1996, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations issued General Comment 25, which held that the status of the residents of the District to be a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The U.S., along with 136 nations ratified this Covenant.  The lack of full congressional representation of DC residents and continued erosion of home rule are direct violations of the Covenant’s Article 25 which guarantees the right of every citizen to participate in national and local government through elected representatives.  It holds that every citizen has the right to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”, to vote and to be elected by “universal and equal suffrage” and to have access to public service on “general terms of equality”. Only statehood will give us self-determination comparable to other U.S. citizens, including permanent legislative and budgetary autonomy as a state, as well as two Senators representing this majority African American and Latino community.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular, articles 23, 25 and 26 outline each person’s right to housing, food, education, health care and a job at a living wage. For example, Article 25 states:  “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself [herself] and his [her] family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services...”

The U.S. government, with the near complete acquiescence of DC government, continues to stand in clear contempt of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (signed by U.S. on 2/16/95; the U.S. along with Somalia are apparently the only nations in the world which have still not ratified this Convention!)   This Convention asserts the following:

“The child has a right to the highest standard of health and medical care attainable. States shall place special emphasis on the provision of primary and preventive health care, public health education and the reduction of infant mortality...Every child has a right to a standard of living adequate for his or her physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The child has a right to leisure, play and participation in cultural and artistic activities.”

All of these social and economic rights have been systematically violated as a result of DC budget cutting, implementation of the national welfare reform, and the continued denial of political rights of District residents. For example, Congress continues to forbid the use of local, public and even some private funds for the District's clean needle-exchange program to cut short the HIV/AIDS epidemic which now mainly impacts people of color.

Finally, the continual threat of the reimposition of the death penalty in DC by federal authorities or Congress is contrary to internationally recognized standards of human rights. The violations of these human rights are objectively and profoundly racist since its worst effects are borne by African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, first of all children, but the rights of all DC residents are being violated. The systematic violation of our political, social and economic human rights in the District should not only be a local and national focus of organizational activity but also must be made an international source of extreme embarrassment for the U.S. government. It is high time to make these violations an international issue by exposing the hypocrisy of the President and the State Department, who preach human rights to everyone else on the globe, “protected” of course under its umbrella of military force and economic/political blackmail.

The DC Statehood Green Party joined by Standup for Democracy have launched a global online petition to the UN Commission on Human Rights for DC Statehood and Human Rights. Sign it and spread the news to your friends and relatives!

David Schwartzman, Tax & Budget Coordinator, DCSGP, dwslichen@hotmail.com

Online Petition and More material on our website: www.dcstatehoodgreen.org