WASHINGTON’S HOMEFIELD DISADVANTAGE by Michael Friedman

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As the 2007 baseball season opens, Washington DC enjoys its third opening day since Major League Baseball’s return after a 34-year hiatus, and begins the one-year countdown to the opening of its $700 million stadium, whose design has been described by its architects as symbolizing the “transparency of democracy.” Yet, as demonstrated by recent events, Washington’s citizens are excluded from that democracy, while the Bush Administration’s actions are anything but transparent.

Republicans continue show their support for imposing democracy in Iraq, but refuse to extend it to the 600,000 American citizens living in Washington DC. On March 22, Republicans blocked a bill providing DC residents with a voting member in the House of Representatives. On March 23, all but two House Republicans opposed a bill setting a deadline for removing US combat troops from Iraq. These moves ended a week in which the White House refused to provide access to top advisors to Congress, which is investigating the Administration’s latest scandal.

Since its founding in 1800, Washington’s citizens have lacked political representation in Congress, which is constitutionally mandated to oversee city affairs. Only electing local officials since 1974, DC’s “home rule” is highly circumscribed with Congress regularly interfering with city affairs, overseeing budgets and imposing pet programs. Expressing its frustration, the city started offering license plates reading “Taxation Without Representation” in 2000.

With their maneuvering on the voting rights bill, Republicans continue to show contempt for democracy in the shadow of the Capitol. Despite a new congressional district in overwhelmingly Republican Utah, House Republicans sought to overturn Washington’s 28-year old restrictions on gun ownership as their price for the long-overdue representation.

As DC residents pay for and defend democracy through taxes and military service while being excluded from political representation, they will get to enjoy democracy’s symbolic representation in the new stadium. Even this enjoyment, however, will be more symbolic than physical as the stadium in reality will celebrate capitalism than democracy with high prices excluding most DC residents from attending games despite public subsidies of $611 million.

Once inside the stadium, the game experience will be substantially different for the wealthy than for the average fan. The 5,000 lawyers, lobbyists and other civic elites will enjoy comfort in 78 luxury suites and three separate well-appointed club seat areas, with upholstered seats, waiter service, and dedicated restrooms and concessions stands. The average fan will be crammed into much smaller seats, fight long lines for food and toilets, and drink water from uncooled fountains. (For more information, see http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/cover/2005/cover1007.html)

If the stadium’s interior testifies to the excesses of capitalism, the stadium’s design is supposed to be an ode to democracy through architectural allusions to the rest of the city. The façade stylistically recalls the city’s multitude of Federal buildings and monuments, complete with columns and similar limestone materials. Large, plate glass windows will allow people outside the stadium to enjoy the spectacle within as they pass by. Beyond left field, the stadium features a grove of cherry trees, which is one of the city’s most unique features and will bloom annually around opening day.

And, as television cameras pan upward to track home runs towards left field, viewers will see the Capitol dome visible 14 blocks beyond the stadium. Democracy – symbolically so near, yet, in reality, so far.

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