The Time is Now for DC Statehood

Dr. Oye Owolewa
Democratic Candidate for DC’s Shadow Representative


American history was made on a sunny Friday afternoon on June 26th 2020. For the first time ever, DC statehood’s HR-51 bill was passed in the House of Representatives. Not only are 700,000 Americans living in the nation’s capital on the verge of ending representation without taxation, but this bill’s passage impacts the lives of all Americans. A lot of work has led DC to the brink of statehood, but more is needed from all activists and believers of true equality to take this fight past the finish line.

Currently, DC residents are forced into second class citizenship in the richest nation in history. Recent events and legislation have highlighted the disparity between how Washingtonians are treated compared to everyone else. While DC residents pay the highest amount of federal income taxes per capita, we receive less than equal share from the government. For example, compared to our neighbors in all other states, DC received 60% less emergency aid resources from the CARES act to combat COVID-19 and support our financial, health care and infrastructural well-being. By denying DC statehood, Congress is suppressing our voting representation and say in national policy. Our lack of statehood also prohibits our right to self-govern. Once DC statehood is achieved, local leaders can pass legislation and set a budget without threat of federal interference. DC statehood will also allow us to control our criminal justice system so we can escape a punitive structure of mass incarceration and transition to a progressive system favoring diversion programs. Last but not least, once DC becomes the 51st state, we will control our own resources and President Trump would no longer be able to deploy our national guard against us when we march peacefully. The fight for DC statehood not only ends our nation’s longest case of voter suppression, but also gives residents of the nation’s capital the right to live free of government control.

Although HR-51’s bill is deservedly making national headlines right now, local leaders have been advocating for DC statehood for decades. DC’s delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has worked tirelessly to maintain DC statehood as a Congressional priority. DC’s mayor Muriel Bowser uses her national platform to champion statehood during her interviews and frequent media opportunities. Our (shadow) Congressional delegation, most notably DC Senator Paul Strauss, has raised awareness and recruited allies outside of DC. Senator Strauss was key in sustaining the Iowans for DC Statehood movement, who used their strategic role in the Democratic presidential nomination process to advocate and lobby for DC statehood in front of our most prominent national leaders. Lastly, local statehood activist organizations have inspired a new generation of young activists (including myself) to put in hours talking to congress members and even presidential candidates to support DC becoming the 51st state. The decades of advocacy and hours of lobbying has culminated in HR-51’s passage, in addition to all Democratic presidential candidates (including current Democratic Nominee Joe Biden) pledging support for DC statehood. Due to all this work, DC has never been this close to full equality!

Although DC statehood may seem like a local democracy problem for nearly 1 million District residents – DC statehood is truly a national issue. Providing essential voting congressional leadership for some of our nation’s most grounded, energized, and intellectual thinkers will immediately benefit our nation. DC statehood will provide Congress with 2 Senators and a Representative that will champion essential policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and an immigration system that respects people’s rights and values their contributions to our society. DC recently launched the Fair Elections Program to combat big money’s influence on politics a long-time progressive goal that could be further popularized in front of a national audience. Congress needs DC’s perspective and values to eliminate the billionaire class control over national lawmaking. HR-51 passing through the house is a win for all Americans who want a fairer society where voting is not suppressed and no one is relegated to second class citizenship.

In summary, June 26th, 2020 will mark a turning point in American history in DC’s fight for equality. With that said, there’s much more work that needs to be done to achieve statehood. Given that statehood requires full passage through Congress and the White House, DC’s best chance lies in securing Democratic control over the US Senate, House of Representatives and Presidency. We also need all concerned Americans to spread the message of DC equality to all corners of the United States. Washingtonians need the Democratic Socialists of America to join the fight for DC statehood because ending DC voting suppression will get us closer to passing progressive laws and policies to ensure a fairer society. With DSA help, we can ensure DC statehood and progressive laws are achieved as Day 1 priorities for the next administration.