Advocates for statehood for the District of Columbia demonstrate near the Capitol prior to a House of Representatives hearing on creating a fifty-first state, in Washington, Monday, March 22, 2021. The activists were able to gather near the Capitol building after the outer perimeter security fencing was dismantled this weekend. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Patricia Manning is a member of the Maine Indivisible Network.

Imagine if a majority of Maine residents, about 712,000 people, or 53 percent of the state’s population — somewhat less than the combined populations of Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot and York Counties — were historically denied the right to vote for members of Congress or have any say in their own communities even though they lived in Maine. Now, imagine how much more power the other 47 percent of Mainers would have because they could elect members of Congress who could promote or obstruct public policies that would affect the lives of everyone in Maine.

This is not theoretical — it’s the reality for the 712,000 residents of Washington, D.C., and an example of why granting D.C. statehood must be a top priority to provide a fairer and more representative democracy. All citizens who live, work, and pay taxes deserve an equal voice in their government. Maine is especially proactive in protecting all citizens’ right to vote with same-day registration, ballot drop boxes at town halls, walk-in absentee voting, among others.

On Jan. 6, partly pre-planned and at the urging of the former president, a mob marched to the Capitol and turned the District of Columbia into a combat zone. The nation watched as the city was almost powerless to defend itself because it lacked the state authority and powers to call in the National Guard. D.C. police put their lives on the line by responding to calls from the Capitol Police. The outcome has now left District residents with a 6-foot, razor-wire-topped fence surrounding much of the Capitol grounds, where many people were accustomed to picnic, jog, sled, or just enjoy the green space surrounding the Capitol.

But these Americans who call Washington, D.C., home have no voting representation in either the House of Representatives or the Senate — institutions that they so bravely defend. Our right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, but the argument to approve D.C. statehood doesn’t end there.

The issue of statehood for D.C. is about more than safety and security — it’s about the promise of our democracy and rights of all citizens. It is also about racial justice. The population of the District is majority Black and people of color. If D.C. is granted statehood, it would be the only state with a plurality of non-white residents. The ongoing disenfranchisement of Black and brown communities continues to highlight our shameful history of denying political power to non-white people.

It is our responsibility and obligation to correct this deliberate lack of representation for D.C. by making it the 51st state. Our senators spoke passionately about the importance of democracy in the wake of the Capitol riots. Now, they must ensure democracy exists in every corner of the United States and that the power of the vote is available to all.

Sen. Angus King can be a champion in the Senate on D.C. statehood and other critical reforms, as he has been on so many issues that affect the people of Maine. Now, we ask him to do the same for our fellow residents of Washington, D.C.

Let’s get behind what is a necessary and long-ignored action in our country. King should support statehood for the district and co-sponsor S. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.