Why We Must Demand D.C. Statehood Now
D.C. statehood is a critical part of our democracy reform plan because it would enfranchise over 700,000 people and provide two new senators who would be vital to fixing our broken Senate.
In 2019, House Democrats passed H.R. 51, the D.C. statehood bill -- the first time in history that D.C. statehood passed either chamber of Congress. While HR 51 and HR1, (Democracy Reform) stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, we must take the opportunity to put democracy reform and D.C. statehood front and center in the new Congress.
At its core, D.C. statehood is a racial justice issue — if admitted, D.C. would be the only plurality-Black state in the country. Republicans know this. That's why they've worked so hard to stop DC from getting statehood.
Statehood is the only way to guarantee full autonomy and congressional representation to D.C. residents, who are currently at the mercy of the paternalistic whims of Congress. As a result, D.C. residents are treated like second-class citizens in their own country. Congress gets the final say on D.C.'s local budget. The Department of Justice is D.C.'s "local" prosecutor. D.C.'s locally-enacted laws are subject to nullification at the hands of any overzealous politician in Congress.
For the hundreds of thousands of residents in the District, statehood is about the promise of an equitable democracy, but it is also about justice. A historically-Black city, D.C.’s lack of statehood is a remnant of Reconstruction when racist white politicians sought to prevent the District’s majority-Black residents from gaining political power. GOP Senators are echoing this history even now in their pathetic opposition to D.C. statehood.
The reasons for disenfranchising the District of Columbia are pernicious. D.C. is a historically-Black city and Black people still make up just under 50 percent of the population. That’s because President Lincoln signed a bill into law that abolished slavery in D.C. a full nine months before his national Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, so the District quickly became a popular place for recently-freed Black people and escaped slaves to go, find work, and settle. However, during Reconstruction, racist white politicians were loath to give recently-enfranchised Black men more political power, a trend that’s continued to this day. In fact, as recently as the 1960s, the Southern chairman of the House committee in charge of D.C. oversight sent a truckload of watermelons to the city’s Black mayor after the District submitted its annual budget to Congress.
Due to D.C.’s lack of statehood, the 700,000 Americans who live in D.C. lack equal voting rights compared to their neighbors across the country. In fact, D.C. residents lack a voting representative in the House and have no representation in the Senate at all. The current makeup of our Senate is biased towards white, rural areas. This means that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and people living in urban areas receive less representation in our Senate -- making D.C. a state would begin to counteract this bias.
The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building in the District of Columbia in January, laid bare the injustice of the lack of statehood in the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, which was held hostage by the actions of Trump supporters who overtook the Capitol. In the face of a white supremacist mob, some of them armed, the District’s leadership stood powerless to stop the violence.
It wasn’t due to lack of trying. In fact, D.C.’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, tried to call up the District of Columbia’s National Guard. But because D.C. is not a state, the mayor does not have the authority to call up the Guard on her own. She can only ask the executive branch for permission. And Donald Trump, for hours, refused to approve Bowser’s request, despite the fact that Trump had no problem sending in the National Guard, military forces, and federal law enforcement into the District last summer to aggressively suppress peaceful protests in support of Black Lives Matter. During the insurrection with Congress under attack, Trump refused to send help, allowing the mob to advance deeper into the Capitol, with some breaching the Senate floor and congressional offices.
The breach should never have happened, but especially not when you consider the history of the District itself. Conservative opponents regularly trot out the same justification for denying statehood to D.C.: because, after being held hostage in the Philadelphia capitol building by furious Revolutionary War soldiers who hadn’t yet been paid, the Founders wanted a federal district that was wholly under federal control, specifically to protect legislators from mob violence. That justification fell away with the insurrection when, ironically, it was the leaders of the disenfranchised federal district who rose to the occasion and tried to stop the violence.
Indivisible will keep fighting for D.C. statehood until the fight is won. Without statehood for the District, we cannot claim to live in a fair, functional democracy.
Passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and H.R. 51, the D.C. Statehood bill, are essential first steps toward achieving any of our policy goals during the Biden administration. We must begin to unrig our democracy so every American has an equitable voice in our government. Call your Representative and demand they support and move swiftly on the For the People Act and the D.C. statehood bill. Then, call your Senators and demand the same thing.
Call your member of Congress and tell them to support the For the People Act and the D.C. Statehood bill
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