Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-Zoo

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Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-Zoo metro escalator in the District of Columbia. When I lived in Adams Morgan, I erroneously believed that the escalator was the longest in the Western Hemisphere, but apparently that honor actually belongs to the metro station at Forest Glen.

Annaberg windmill

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The empty shell of a windmill at the Annaberg sugar plantation on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.
If there was a steady breeze, sugar cane was brought to the windmill. Revolving sails–which have long since disappeared from this windmill–turned a central shaft, rotating the rollers and crushing the sugar cane stalks. Juice ran down the rollers into the gutter and flowed downhill to the factory for processing. 300-500 gallons of juice could be produced in an hour.

Fort Willoughby

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Fort Willoughby on Hassel Island, United States Virgin Islands. Fort Willoughby on the southern tip of the island. The Danes originally had a battery here to protect the harbor entrance. When the British seized the islands during the Napoleonic Wars, they built this fort here to replace the Danish battery. The British eventually gave the territory back to the Danes in 1815.

Cinnamon Bay

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A Danish warehouse on the beach at Cinnamon Bay, St. John. The woman inside told me it was built in the 1840s and was used for legitimate purposes to house rum and sugar and, at one time, to store illegal goods.
Today you can rent snorkels and dive gear here.

Prologue

You may be surprised to know that there’s more to these United States than the 50 multi-colored shapes you’d find on a classroom wall map. Uncle Sam, always careful to disavow any interest in seeking empire, nevertheless claims ownership of dozens of islands, atolls, reefs, and rocks that dot the Caribbean and Pacific, as well as a federal district wedged between Maryland and Virginia. We, the 4.4 million Americans who inhabit these non-States, lack full representation in the US Congress.

Growing up in Indiana, I never considered what it meant to have actual representation in Congress. I took it for granted. Spotting my Senator sleeping during the State of the Union was always a thrill. I didn’t consider that people in other parts of the country would never know the joy or embarrassment of seeing one’s Senator threaten a cable news anchor to a duel or be embarrassed for marriage infidelity or some intern scandal.

Even when I moved to the DC, I didn’t give the matter much thought. The “Taxation Without Representation” license plate that I slapped on the front of my Volkswagen seemed like a gimmick. I saw it more as a conversation starter on return trips to Indiana than a city’s cry for political rights.

But then the 112th Congress arrived in town. With the new House Republican majority came rule changes. The media focused on the important ones, like the reintroduction of Styrofoam plates to the House cafeteria. Mostly ignored was the rescinding of a rule that had given non-States—DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands—a vote on House committees.

Weeks later Congress found itself unable to pass a federal spending bill. As a federal employee, Congressional dithering meant the possibility of an unpaid vacation. But, as a resident of DC—the only city whose budget requires Congressional and Presidential approval—a federal shutdown also meant a suspension of city services, from trash collection to pothole repair. DC’s 600,000 residents became hostages to Republic-shattering battles such as devoting .0001% of the federal budget to public broadcasting.

All of this coincided with a trip my girlfriend and I took to the Virgin Islands. Rather than devote our first day there to the beach, I dragged my girlfriend to the territory’s legislature—a former Danish military barracks—for a civics lesson. There we swapped stories with a local about life outside the bounds of statehood.

Eventually, Congress passed a spending bill, and trash collection continued in DC. Over the ensuring months, as Congress explored ways to drive its approval rating ever downward, 4.4 million Americans remained without a vote in the body that has a great deal of power over our communities.

Maybe our plight is due to the fact that the rest of the country seems wholly ignorant to our existence. Though small in size and number, we do have interesting stories to tell. This blog will shed some light on life in the non-States, the small slice of America that the rest of the country has forgotten about.