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Advocates demand DC statehood: Almost 700K American citizens still denied voting representation in Congress

As people nationwide marked the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol attack amid rising concerns about American democracy, District of Columbia residents and advocates for full representation renewed calls for congressional action on DC statehood.

January 6, 2021 “began with Black joy and ended with white hate, and the 700,000 of us who call D.C. home were forced to bear the brunt of that hatred,” declared Jamal Holtz, lead organizer of 51 for 51, a coalition of pro-statehood groups.

“A year after that violent day, DC’s residents — the majority of whom are Black and Brown—are still denied voting representation in Congress, and we still do not have the full protections that statehood provides,” Holtz noted.

“The anniversary of January 6 is a reminder that we cannot wait for another violent attack on our home to act—Congress must grant DC statehood now,” he said. “The safety of our community and the sanctity of our democracy are on the line.”

House Democrats last year approved legislation to make Washington, Douglass Commonwealth the 51st state, named in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The Washington DC Admission Act (H.R. 51) is sponsored in the House by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who is not allowed to vote on the final passage of any measure.

The companion legislation (S. 51), sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), has not been voted on in the evenly split Senate—like so many other bills blocked by GOP obstruction and Democrats’ refusal to restrict or abolish the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently vowed to change the chamber’s rules by January 17 to pass voting rights legislation.

Demands have mounted over the past year for congressional Democrats to advance democratic reforms including DC statehood, which supporters say is not only important for U.S. democracy but also a matter of gender and racial justice. In a letter to Schumer on January 6, over 150 pro-democracy groups urged Senate Democrats to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Protecting Our Democracy Act, and DC statehood “by whatever legislative means are required.”

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, asserted that “you cannot say that you care about representative democracy in this country if you are not actively campaigning for DC statehood.”

“It is long past time for Congress to correct this 200-year-old historic injustice and grant full and equal voting rights to the people who live in DC,” she said.

In a piece published Wednesday on the ACLU chapter’s website, Hopkins shared some of her experience with the attack incited by former President Donald Trump and other right-wingers who spread the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen for President Joe Biden.

Hopkins revealed that for two weeks in late 2020 and early last year, she hosted a friend who sought “refuge from their apartment near Capitol Hill,” explaining that her friend “feared for their safety because their neighbors had rented their apartment on Airbnb to a group of white insurrectionists in town to disrupt the democratic election process.”

Arguing that “that DC, the heart of this country’s democracy, remains vulnerable to outside attacks without the protections of statehood,” Hopkins wrote:

Following the insurrection, many felt we were living in an occupied state. Over 25,000 troops patrolled our neighborhoods—more troops than were in Iraq and Afghanistan combined at the time—as we tried to live, work, and take our kids to school. DC residents were put in a physically, mentally, and politically perilous situation made possible because we lack statehood.

As a state, DC would have voting representation in the House and the Senate who could lead the charge to hold those responsible for January 6 accountable. With statehood, DC would have full representation in Congress to advocate for the right investments in the District to shore up our community from attacks while protecting our First Amendment rights. And with statehood, the 700,000 residents of DC, the majority of whom are Black and Brown, would have full voting rights to make our voices heard. Ultimately, the right to vote was at the center of the insurrection. With statehood, we would have the necessary control to fully protect our communities and our democracy.

Norton similarly highlighted in a statement that the “unprecedented mob assault” on the Capitol impacted DC not only on but also in the wake of January 6, 2021.

“The attack was not only an attack on our democracy; it was also an attack on the District of Columbia, and particularly on the residential neighborhood surrounding the Capitol, where I live,” she said. “The Capitol attack affected district residents and businesses for months, with fencing, road closures, and police and military patrols.”

The anniversary, she suggested, should serve as a reminder that DC lacks full authority over its public safety agencies. She promoted her proposals to give the district’s mayor control of its own National Guard and to repeal the president’s ability to federalize the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). She also advocated against permanent fencing around the Capitol.

The congresswoman also called out the House GOP for opposing her statehood bill last March.

The MPD, “which is funded by taxes paid by DC residents, who are denied voting representation in the House and Senate and lack full self-government, voluntarily saved the lives of members of Congress and congressional staff, the Capitol, and democracy itself,” Norton said. “Yet House Republicans thanked DC by voting against the DC statehood bill only a few months later.”

“DC residents pay the highest per capita federal taxes in the country yet are denied voting representation in Congress, including members of MPD who helped save the Capitol and democracy itself that day, and full self-government,” she tweeted. “It’s long past time for #DCStatehood.”

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