There are over 700,000 people in America, right this moment, who have no senators to call when they need a voice on issues. But this week, the House will hold a hearing on H.R. 51, the bill that would right that wrong and make Washington D.C. the 51st state.
The hearing marks notable progress in the over 200 year-long fight for statehood. In that time, statehood has gone from being a fringe issue to having over 220 House and 40 Senate co-sponsors in this Congress. Thanks to the tireless work of 51 for 51 young advocates, nearly 20 former Democratic presidential candidates and leaders have endorsed passing D.C. statehood with a simple Senate majority — including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
D.C. statehood affects everyone. If you are an American who strives to see a more representative Senate — a body that in its 232 years has only had 11 Black senators — then you care about forming the only state that would have a plurality of Black residents. If you care about racial justice, then you care about granting full voting rights to Black Americans. If you care about issues everyday Americans are facing, then you care about having two more votes in the Senate for civil rights, gun violence prevention, environmental justice, economic equity and more issues that affect communities across the country.
We pay taxes and serve on juries
The reasons for Congress to make D.C. a state are fundamental, inarguable and plentiful. To start, D.C. residents pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the country, yet have little influence on how that money is spent. Just look at the CARES Act passed last year: D.C. was shortchanged $750 million in economic relief, even as Black and brown communities were hit disproportionately hard by COVID.
We serve on juries and in the military, yet we have little control over our own court system or whether America deploys its troops, including D.C.’s service members. D.C.’s local laws are subject to congressional approval and often used as political cudgel for politicians to seem tough back home.
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Perhaps starkest among those reasons is how we keep our own community safe. Last summer, as peaceful protesters took to the streets to protest police violence and racism, unidentified federal law enforcement officers dressed in tactical gear cleared streets with tear gas and batons while D.C. had no authority to tell them to stop.
And just weeks ago, as rioters stormed the Capitol and threatened our city and democracy, our leaders had to ask permission to call the National Guard. Now a militarized fence runs through the middle of D.C. Security may be eased soon, but as in all decisions, since we have no senators, we must depend on lawmakers who represent people far away from our home.
Free DC residents from tyranny
This hopelessness is unfortunately too familiar. I’m the youngest in a long line of D.C. natives in my family, I’ve taken up the struggle of generations before me to realize the rights this country promised my family. My mother and grandmother lived in D.C. before and after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They both watched as civil rights legislation made its way through Congress in the 1960’s, while the Black residents of D.C. — then a majority — remained locked out of democracy. D.C. statehood was never on the agenda. Right now, they face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finish the most urgent civil rights fight of our lifetimes.
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As historic democracy reform heads for a vote in Congress in the coming weeks, our ask is simple: Make my generation the last to be denied equal representation in Congress. Fight for affordable health care, gun violence prevention and voting rights — and fight for D.C. statehood. We have an opportunity and responsibility to make sure my kids won’t grow up in the shadows of democracy like my mom and grandmother before me.
People nationwide must call their senators and ask that they support D.C. statehood. Call for my late grandmother, for my mother, for me and for my future children. Call for the 700,000 residents of D.C. who have no senators to call, and whose House delegate has a floor vote that comes and goes depending on who controls the chamber.
If we’re the “Land of the Free, Home of The Brave,” then it’s time for this Congress to be brave and free D.C. residents from this. Let us be full citizens, not second-class citizens. This is the moment for Congress to right the wrongs of our past and live up to our founding creed: that all people are created equal.
Jamal Holtz, 22, a 2020 graduate of the University of Rochester, is a D.C. native and a lead organizer for 51 for 51, a statehood advocacy organization urging the Senate to make D.C. the 51st state with 51 votes in the Senate. Follow him on Twitter: @Jamal Holtz