DC Statehood

Elena Roe, Contributing Writer

In the wake of the recent passing of H.R. 51 in the House of Representatives – a bill which, if signed into law, would institute Washington, D.C. as the 51st state – the American people have once again been called upon to examine their perspective on their foundational revolutionary adage: “no taxation without representation.”  Reflecting the earliest calls for Revolution in the thirteen colonies, finds new meaning today — that an entire federal district with a population larger than that of the entire state of Wyoming has no legislative representation. The very logic behind a representative democracy is that each citizen should have this power, and the rights granted alongside the inherent freedom and self-determination in a people’s government. Yet, such an issue is somehow incredibly partisan, as Republicans have repeatedly shot down any attempts to give the population of the District of Columbia the same rights they enjoy. It’s a power play that, if nothing else, illustrates the ever-present reality that America has never been a democracy for everyone, and as such, has never really lived up to the idea of democracy at all.

Republicans’ argument for denying Washington, D.C. its statehood is painfully simple: if the District of Columbia were to enjoy the privilege of statehood, it would receive two seats in the Senate, which would more than likely go to Democrats.  Republicans would find it difficult to overcome this majority, and such a phenomenon would “throw off the balance of power.”  These legislators seem to miss the blatantly obvious point that if 692,683 people have to go without a voice in Congress for a party to keep a chance at majority status, that party probably shouldn’t be in power.  That is, in the most elementary terms possible, how democracy works.  

There is a deeper layer to this, however; Republicans have toed the line in defense of the United States Electoral College to make sure the voices of Americans in states like Wyoming are heard. Yet the difference between Wyoming and Washington, D.C., besides their respective political leanings, is their population demographics. Wyoming, once described by GOP Senator Tom Cotton as “a well rounded, working class state” is in direct juxtaposition with Washington: Wyoming has a population that is 92.5 percent white, with only 6 percent of residents below the poverty line. In contrast, 47.1 percent of Washington, D.C.’s population is made up of Black Americans, and 16.8 percent sit below the poverty line. Income inequality in the city has been described as the worst in the country. While statistics can be tricky, the numbers really don’t lie on this one. The bottom line? Republicans’ repeated denial of Washington, D.C. statehood is a classic example of voter suppression’s disproportionate effect on low-income and minority communities. This strategic disenfranchisement is entirely intentional, and falls right alongside mass incarceration in making sure minorities can’t vote for leaders and policies that will benefit them — or mildly inconvenience white people, to Cotton’s dismay.

An added injury to the reality of this bill is that it will likely be shot down in the Senate via filibuster, a controversial tactic with Jim Crow-era roots which requires 60 votes to shoot down.  With the continued existence of a legislative tactic that was founded in the intention of denying Civil Rights legislation, the Democrats’ majority in the Senate means nothing— as does the vote of the American people. Congress remains in gridlock with the word of a single senator, and a bill that would give basic political human rights to thousands of American citizens will die because somehow Republicans just can’t imagine a world without Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. At the end of the day, Americans elected Democrats into the executive and both legislative branches in 2020. Whether their votes were motivated by Trump fatigue or genuine hope for change, they voted for the platform that U.S. President Joe Biden and his associates put forward.  

If Republicans (plus West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin), despite fumbling the support of the majority of the country, can block every direly needed policy change with a twiddle of their thumbs, what is the point of even electing our leaders at all?  It seems that while the citizens of the District of Columbia aren’t even having their voices heard, the rest of America may never see their wishes executed. Biden cannot govern the nation by Executive Order; this tactic is fundamentally flawed, antithetical to democratic principles, and far too volatile. Human rights cannot be on the chopping block every four years because no policy lives beyond its signatory. America has voted, and it is time to hold Biden & Co. accountable for the promises they made — but change can only occur if the U.S. Congress chooses to become compatible with the basic principles of representative government. 

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