By Julianne Malveaux
The District of Columbia has 715,000 residents, more than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. We pay taxes, just like citizens in all 50 states. But our citizens are second-class citizens. We have no voting representation in the House of Representatives or the United States Senate. We have taxation without representation.
U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has served in Congress, as the non-voting representative of the District of Columnia since 1991. She has tirelessly fought for DC statehood, most recently introducing HR 51 on the very first day of the 117th Congress, on January 3. She has 202 cosponsors of the legislation, all Democrats. Not a single Republican thinks that the residents of the District of Columbia deserve equal rights. Norton has introduced legislation to establish DC statehood since 1991. Republicans don’t support this because they think Democrats get an edge if a voting representative and two senators are Dems. Would they disenfranchise California because Democrats do better there?
The insurrection on January 6 illustrates one of the many reasons that DC deserves statehood. Mayor Muriel Bowser cannot assemble the DC national guard on her own. She has to ask for federal government “permission” to get our national guard, made up of DC residents, to protect our citizens and our streets. Any other governor can ask for National Guard assistance, but the DC Mayor has to go, hat in hand, to the feds, who have been traditionally hostile to DC.
This is the most recent attack on DC sovereignty. In past years, Congress has passed laws that directly contradict laws the DC City Council has passed. Congress has offered scant respect for DC leaders. But DC voters, through charter amendment, made the DC Attorney General an elected position. Karl Racine was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018. He has aggressively challenged the status quo, suing the current administration of its chicanery. He has also defended DC independence and pushed back on attacks to DC sovereignty. The blessing of having an independent Attorney General (as opposed to someone appointed by the Mayor) is that the AG can play a different kind of politics than the Mayor must.
Thie DC statehood issue affects you whether you live in DC or not. When you hear voter suppression, think DC. A few years ago, DC was majority Black (now it’s at least 45 percent). Republicans weren’t about to put a congressional voting seat and two senate seats to Black folks. Just like they will scheme and connive to keep Black voters away from the polls in North Carolina, Georgia, and other states. You can’t talk about equal rights unless you are interested in the rights of DC residents. It’s not a local issue; it’s a national issue.
Too many, though, have been disturbingly silent about the rights of DC residents. Too many seem to think that our rights’ abrogation is a remote issue that shouldn’t matter to them. Too many put this on the back burner, preferring the status quo to providing DC residents with voting rights.
President-elect Joe Biden has not embraced DC statehood or put it on top of his list. That’s not surprising. When President Barack Obama had both a Democratic House and Senate, the matter was not a priority. When President Bill Clinton led our nation, he somehow did not get around to the statehood issue. Republican resistance to statehood is expected. Democratic indifference is far more galling. The same party that will challenge voter suppression has never made DC voting a priority issue.
Thus, Mayor Muriel Bowser has her hands tied, as prior mayors of DC have. Congress has intruded into DC internal affairs, appointing a “Control” Board (I called it the Out of Control Board) in 1995 to oversee DC financial decisions that should have been the Mayor’s purview. Congress meddles in DC in ways it could not interfere in any other jurisdiction.
DC deserves autonomy, and the debacle with the National Guard on January 6 is the most recent illustration of the reason. If you believe in equal rights, this is an issue for you whether or not you live in DC. The Biden –Harris administration must prioritize this, and you should, too.