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By Maria Leon-Acosta

Freshman, GWU

Taxation without representation. The same three words that sparked the American Revolution are now at the heart of another struggle against tyranny, albeit a slightly different one: the fight for D.C. statehood. Historically powered by the District’s Black community and popularized in recent years, particularly by DC’s 2016 statehood ballot measure and Congress’ re-introduction of the Washington, D.C. Admission Act in January, D.C. statehood is now under the national spotlight. The recent trampling of the District’s authority — exemplified by the Secret Service’s brutality against peaceful protesters in Black Lives Matter Plaza — has further underscored the issue, highlighting the inherent inequities of the status quo and making one thing very clear: Washington, D.C. must become a state.

 

The Washington, D.C. Admissions Act, currently co-sponsored by 215 Representatives and 42 Senators, establishes that the territory of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth would consist of all current District territory except for federal monuments and executive, legislative, and judicial office buildings — in other words, everything in D.C. except for the National Mall. Thus, there would be no need to amend the Constitution to admit D.C. as a state since the federal capital district mandated in the Constitution would still exist. D.C. also would not be able to impose state taxes on federal property and would not control federal military installations, preserving the principle of federalism & proving the compatibility between D.C. statehood and the separation of state and federal powers. 

 

Next, upholding the status quo or retroceding into Maryland are both non-starters. The events of January 6th and the delay in the federal response to the carnage crystallized the need for urgent action on D.C. statehood; had Mayor Muriel Bowser been Governor Bowser, she could have authorized the D.C. National Guard much quicker. Instead, she was forced to wait for the President’s word, which arguably allowed the worst of the violence to happen. Further, retrocession is both unpopular and less feasible than statehood. To this end, a 2016 Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 44% of Marylanders are opposed to annexing the District, and three separate congressional attempts to retrocede D.C. into Maryland in some fashion all failed, proving that retrocession — a common counter-proposal to statehood, particularly among conservatives — is not an option. Therefore, D.C. statehood is a binary issue: it’s either statehood or an untenable continuation of the status quo.

 

Moreover, granting statehood to D.C. is the equitable thing to do. D.C. residents are U.S. citizens that serve in the military, participate in juries, and pay federal taxes. Yet, they do not have a say in how their tax money will be used. For example, the District got less than half of the $1.25 billion of coronavirus relief earmarked for each state under the initial CARES Act, hitting D.C.’s Black and Brown residents especially hard. Given the District’s plurality Black population, that discrimination is particularly emblematic of the overall economic disenfranchisement of Washingtonians and the need for economic justice solutions that take intersectionality into consideration. One such solution? Statehood for D.C. 

 

In the same vein, D.C. would be the only “majority-minority” state in the country and would likely have 2 Black senators, with an entirely Black congressional delegation not being out of the question either. D.C. statehood would thus be a meaningful step towards racial equity in the federal legislature, considering that Black and Brown people are disproportionately underrepresented in the Senate and in Congress at large due to the Senate’s system of equal, not equitable, representation. Research conducted by the New York Times’ David Leonhardt shows that the average Black American is only 75% as represented in the Senate as White Americans, with that number clocking in at 72% for Asian Americans and 55% for non-white Hispanic Americans. While D.C. statehood wouldn’t fully solve racial disparities in representation, a little can go a long way.

 

D.C. statehood is undeniably a good path to racial, political, and economic equity. This is truly a now-or-never battle for civil rights, and perpetuating the disenfranchisement of the over 700,000 residents of DC is antithetical to this country’s fundamental promise of democracy for all. Making DC a state would right this horrible wrong.

 

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