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Washington DC’s long history of disenfranchisement needs to end

in Columns/Opinions by

Washington, D.C. should be a state. Period.

Taxation without representation has a long history in America dating back to our nation’s inception. After all, it was King George III’s refusal to grant the colonists representatives in Britain’s Parliament that sparked iconic events such as the Boston Tea Party and our Revolutionary War.

Although citizens of the nation’s capital are not subject to such monarchical rule, certain aspects of our story, which I should preface with the confession that I grew up in the district, reveal inextricable parallelism with the aforementioned bit of history.

Washington’s lack of Congressional representation stems directly from the fact that we are not a state. In the House, we possess but a single non-voting delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has fought tirelessly for the civil rights of marginalized people throughout her career. She currently serves on two Congressional committees, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and uses her position to promote enfranchisement for the district.

A direct consequence of this lack of representation also manifests itself in the Presidential elections. Our votes count less than voters in states because congressmen and congresswomen serve as delegates. Seeing as we have only one, our general election vote counts for disproportionately less than that of someone residing in a state.

Many see the district as a constituent of elites and government employees who do not need a vote because they influence policy on a daily basis. This is a complete misconception. Contrary to popular belief, the district possesses a large portion of regular American citizens who do everyday American jobs. The only difference between an elementary school teacher in Washington and one living just minutes away in Maryland or Virginia is that the latter two have a voice in selecting the composition of our Congress.

Another common misconception regarding backlash to the district’s attempts at statehood includes the idea that Washingtonians have more influence over the executive and legislative branches of government because they are geographically closer to the people calling the shots. In reality, most federal officials spend the majority of their time on their own constituents or national and international affairs. The district’s issues usually get overlooked, proving that proximity to power does not augment actual influence.

Others still argue that granting the district statehood would be illogical due to the tradition of the 50 states. “What would we do with our flag?” skeptics speculate. During the westward expansion of our nation, the flag’s formation was constantly in flux and only stopped changing on July 4, 1960 to include Hawaii’s star. A flag with 51 stars would look just as good as one with 50.

Logically, Congressional republicans do not want another blue state and thus will continue to refuse to pass a statehood bill for the district. In the last Presidential election, 90.9 percent of voters in the district went for Clinton. Were the district a red region, would Congressional Democrats make the same call? According to the Constitution, political belief is not indicated as a protected class. Regardless, the enfranchisement of American citizens should not be a partisan issue. The argument for the district’s statehood is one overflowing with positive statements: its citizens pay full federal taxes, they pay higher per capita taxes than Americans in any of the 50 states, yet they are American citizens who do not possess Congressional representation.

The best traditions are built to adapt. As it was written in 1787, the Constitution was formed during a time when only white, landowning men were able to vote. Over time, the Constitution has adapted to incorporate more of its citizens, evidenced by the amendments; the electorate has expanded and must continue to do so.

The cyclical nature of historical mistakes is a deadly path this country has followed regarding a lot of different issues, and the fundamental fear of change has kept and continues to keep many from voting.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, permitting nine predominantly Southern states to determine their own election laws. In her dissent to the Supreme Court decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed the law to be essential in preventing barriers to voting such as racial gerrymandering and the requirement of at-large voting in areas with higher populations of Black people. Some argue that the effects of this Supreme Court decision were seen in the last election.

America was founded on “a city on a hill” promise of government by the people and for the people. However, for the nearly 700,000 American citizens residing inside the district’s nearly 70 square mile radius, that is not the case.

Organizations such as DCVote have been fighting tirelessly for years with no tangible progress to date. Due to the current composition of Congress, it doesn’t look like much will happen any time soon. Maybe we should start dumping tea into the Potomac River. At the very least, it will send a message.

To learn more about DC statehood, visit dcvote.org

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