The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Ty Hobson-Powell is a 51 for 51 youth advocate and organizer for Concerned Citizens DC. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
Throughout our nation’s history, civil rights movements across the country have had to fight to achieve victories for the disenfranchised. And one of the most important civil rights issues of our time is the battle for District of Columbia statehood.
As a Washington, D.C., resident, I do not see this as being about politics. It’s about fulfilling the promise of our Constitution and enfranchising the more than 700,000 mostly Black and brown people, who have waited centuries for representation in Congress.
D.C.’s lack of representation continues to be rooted in white supremacy and driven by false concerns over “corruption” or the alleged inability of our city to manage its own affairs. These are all dog-whistle arguments meant to undermine leadership of color.
Talk of granting D.C. congressional representation has been present for decades, but wasn’t widely recognized as an issue until the civil rights movement in the 1950s. At that time, D.C. was 65 percent white and fairly evenly split in terms of party affiliation, which made the fight for representation politically viable.
By 1970, however, more than 70 percent of D.C. was Black, and the district has remained a Black-majority city since then. Once you learn the city’s history, it becomes impossible to argue that the efforts to keep the residents of D.C. disenfranchised are anything but racist in nature.
In the 2020 election, Black and brown voters paved the way for President Joe Biden’s victory and empowered Democratic majorities in Congress to govern. It would be devastating for Democrats to squander an opportunity to pass D.C. statehood and correct a centuries-long stain on the legacy of our democracy.
So it’s disheartening when elected officials claim to espouse progressive ideals only to abandon course when they have the power to affect change. This moment in our history requires grit and determination. To fight for racial justice and equality in our democracy, Biden and the Democratic Congress must make D.C. statehood a top priority.
We must not let these efforts be staggered by the filibuster, which has been used for centuries to block racial justice and civil rights bills. The progressive movement has coalesced around a call to eliminate this arcane rule. D.C. statehood is a fight for representation and equality, and we must not let anything stand in the way.
The attempted coup on Jan. 6 epitomizes why the District of Columbia must be granted statehood now. As insurrectionists violated the Capitol building, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tried to call in the National Guard, but her request was denied by the Department of Defense, which has sole control over deployment of the Guard in the nation’s capital.
In contrast, just months prior, President Donald Trump was allowed to deploy the National Guard in response to a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., against the will of local leadership.
The United States’ entrenched systems of white supremacy have protected the people who were committing treason, but suppressed those standing for justice and equality. For more than 200 years, these same racist institutions have disenfranchised the majority Black and brown residents of D.C., who live in the shadow of the center of our government but lack a vote in Congress. Now is the time to change the rules.