What is a testimony?
DC Council, like many other government bodies or agencies, holds hearings where individuals have the right to voice their thoughts, opinions, and concerns about a specific topic. Every resident of the District of Columbia has the right to speak in front of council at these public hearings and roundtables. The individuals speaking to DC Council can come from many backgrounds, schools, ages, and areas of the city.
Testimony is a written statement containing information that is presented to the City Council as part of a hearing. Testimony usually describes a specific situation that affects a group of people or one person. Organizations or individuals can present testimony. Testimony should include a thorough description of the situation, how the situation impacted the people involved, and recommendations (to the committee). Total time you have is 3 minutes to do a verbal presentation (although the written testimony can be longer than 3 minutes.)
What is a hearing: A hearing is a public forum that is convened by members of DC City Council (or any legislative body) in order to gather information about a specific topic (issue-focused hearing), investigate a situation, or to hold public servants and officials accountable for doing their job (oversight hearing)? Usually a hearing is convened by a Council Committee – a smaller group of council members working on a specific issue.
Why testimony is important: It’s your chance to influence powerful people, expose problems you’ve experienced, and become part of the public record. Hearings are the highest form of public-to-leader discourse that we have. All testimony is videotaped, televised, and available as part of the public record. The written testimony helps to inform the Committee’s policy and becomes available for anyone who is doing research or interested in these issues (like the media!)
- You have the right to testify in front of council.
- You have the right to learn about DC government and decision-making process.
Learn about your government
DC is a very unique place. It is not a state, but it is not within a state either, so that means that it has a lot of responsibilities that states have, but it doesn’t have full rights in the US government.
Who is part of the DC Government?
The Mayor: The Mayor is elected every 4 years. She/he is charged with running the city. The Mayor enforces all city laws, looks over the work of all city agencies, city departments (like DCPS, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Health), pushes policies and agendas to the Council, and prepares and turns in the city budget for approval. The Mayor has the right to approve or veto bills passed by the DC Council.
City Council: This is made up of people who want to represent the city. There are 13 members of the council, and they are elected every 4 years. Eight members represent one of the eight wards; they are elected by only one ward, and they are supposed to be looking out for that ward. One member is the chair of the council, and he sets up a lot of the meeting and committees- he is supposed to represent all of DC. The rest of the 4 members are elected by the whole city, and they are supposed to look out for all DC residents.
The Council is the central and chief policy-making body for D.C. In this role, the Council’s main purpose is to make laws, but the Council also is responsible for oversight of multiple agencies, commissions, boards, and other instruments of District government. Find out how a bill becomes a law in DC.
Government Agencies: Government agencies and departments are in charge of working on the Mayor’s agenda, and implementing laws and policies.
Here are some steps you can take to testify.
- Think about what you want to testify about- is it a problem? Or has something been going well? Does this involve asking the government for more money?
- Decide which Committee is appropriate for your testimony
- Look up the testimony schedule
- Contact the Committee in which you want to testify
- Prepare your testimony (you can use this template) and/or read this pamphlet An Easy Guide to Testifying at City Council
- Practice reading it (you have about 3 minutes, but your written testimony can be longer) and prepare for the Committee to ask you questions
- Show up on the hearing date (at the Wilson Building) and bring your ID. Wear nice clothing (you’ll be on TV), be polite (but remember that these people work for you), and keep track of the lineup.
- Follow up with your requests through email- here are all the Councilmembers emails.
Here are some resources that help youth get involved in the political process:
- Local Organizations
- National Organization
- Advisory Neighborhood Commissions
- DC Government Councils and Institutes