Why are we excluded?

Columbia

Many years ago, I moved to the District of Columbia and became aware that people in D.C. were not accorded voting representation in the House or Senate. I wondered how this could be when we’re American citizens. 

The right to representation is sacred. I asked a lot of questions about our being denied representation. The most popular response was simply that we wouldn’t get statehood until a Black person (meaning Marion Barry) was no longer at the head of our city and we were no longer a predominantly Black city. 

Why not now? 

Well, those two requirements have been fulfilled. and we’re still not recognized as a state. I wonder what the holdup is? 

There seems to be a problem about being a majority Democratic city. Republicans didn’t want to allow the Democrats to get two more Democratic senators who would most likely vote in favor of statehood for Washington, D.C. I am mindful that we couldn’t get the bill passed under either Republican or Democratic leaders! What’s next?

We never give up what we believe we deserve. On 9/19,19, the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform held a historic hearing on D.C. Statehood, — H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.  This is the first vote taken on Statehood in over 25 years!

H.R. 51 has Democratic leadership support with 220 co-sponsors. That’s still not a majority of the House, not even a majority of the Democrats! 

Constant opposition

From the beginning, many members of Congress opposed D.C. having statehood. Some directly and others indirectly said that D.C. was incapable of governing itself! Congress decided to treat us like slaves. 

In the 1870s, a senator from Alabama said that it had been done – stripping D.C. of local governance rights – “to burn down the barn to get rid of the rats” (the rats being us and the barn being the government of the District of Columbia). About 100 years later, D.C. was more than 70 percent Black. A representative from Louisiana said that D.C. was a “sinkhole, rat-infested, the laughingstock of the free and Communist world.” 

This was Rep. John Rarick. He wasn’t finished. He said that allowing the District to govern itself could result in a Black Muslim “takeover” of the capital. 

It seems that we have much of the same rhetoric today, but here’s what witnesses had to say at the recent hearing. 

The next step 

Eleanor Holmes Norton said, “There’s no doubt that the Washington, D.C. Admission Act is constitutional and the state would meet all of its financial, economic and other obligations. The 700,000 Americans living in the District of Columbia would be made whole. The next step is also – H.R. 51 will be marked up to move to the House floor.”

“D.C. residents are American citizens.  They fight honorably to protect our nation…. They pay taxes.  Not many people know this, but D.C. pays more in total federal taxes than 22 states. It pays more per capita than any state in the nation. D.C. residents have all the responsibilities of citizenship, but they have no congressional voting rights and only limited self-government,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. 

“Finally, there’s but one conclusion – that D.C. military veterans have a fundamental right and earned benefit to have a voice in the election of those representatives who make our laws. Congress must now do the only right thing and stand up for our D.C. military veterans who have stood up for you,” said Kerwin E. Miller, a D.C. retired Naval Reserve commander. 

There are plans to mark up the bill in the coming months. You can help by ensuring that your Member of Congress is voting “Yes” on H.R. 51.


Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. Contact her via www.nationalcongressbw.org.

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