The Cry of the Poor

Washington, D.C., is actually two cities. Official Washington is the city everyone knows, the capital of the United States of America, a place of monuments, marble, and malls. Stately and cold, the proud architecture of government buildings conveys a clear message: "This is the center of all that is important."

The city's chief characteristic and commodity is power. People here either have it, want it, or need to be close to it. But there is another Washington. It's a city that few know. The people that live here are mostly black and poor. Their neighborhoods are only blocks from the government buildings, but they might as well be a thousand miles away. No monuments here, just substandard housing. Broken glass is far more common than marble. Here kids don't play on grassy malls; they run up and down dirty streets and rat-infested alleys. This city is a center of things, too: things like unemployment, drugs, crime, and despair.

The leading characteristic of this other Washington is powerlessness. Blacks who live in Washington, D.C., have historically served as the domestic help and cheap labor pool for those who run the government.

Colonialism is still the best word to describe the tale of these two cities. The 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia don't even have the right to send voting members to Congress, where the social priorities of the nation are being decided this summer.

Jimmy Carter's administration has proposed a federal budget for fiscal year 1981 in which nearly half of every tax dollar would go for military use. It is the largest military budget in the history of the nation. And in mid-June, the Congress acted to further increase the amount budgeted for defense. Since World War II, the United States has spent $1.8 trillion on the military. Under commitments now being made, we will spend $1 trillion more on the military in the next five years.

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