By Mario Carter
Whenever I hear an activist offer advice on how everyday people can participate in direct advocacy, he or she usually suggests contacting your congressman and senators on Capitol Hill. However, when I hear this advice, I feel as if I’m still left without any real options to pursue.
As a native Washingtonian for 22 years, I have been denied representation in Congress from participating in important debates that affect me, the District, and the entire nation. Instead, we in D.C. are left to contend with an almost non-existent Congressional delegation. We have to settle with a non-voting delegate whose very limited power only extends to voting in committees as long as it’s not the deciding vote. Even more embarrassing, we have a stealthy congressional delegation that consists of two shadow senators and one shadow representative, all three of whom receive not a scintilla of power, legitimacy or respect; not even a salary. And in addition to having an artificial presence in Congress, our city doesn’t even have the ability to determine law for itself. Whether it is a budget proposal or a piece of legislation, it must first gain the approval of Congress before it can be signed into law. To put plainly, we have been neutered in every sense of the word.
In the past, whenever D.C. has campaigned for statehood, we have always been swatted down. Starting in 1978, Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment which would have given D.C. representation in Congress. However the amendment failed to get ratification from 38 states. Subsequently, every other attempt to achieve statehood or even a modest amount of change, such as giving the city’s delegate full-fledged voting rights in the House, have been defeated. Every time my city receives the rare opportunity, no matter how modest or small, to gain even a sliver of representation, there is always a force that stands ready to block our path.
Just why is it that D.C. is routinely treated with such blatant contempt and disregard? The arguments are as long as they are ridiculous: It would be unconstitutional. The city is too small. If we allow D.C. to become a state, can other cities become states? Statehood for D.C. will simply mean an all-Democratic delegation, so therefore the city does not deserve representation.
Instead, we are met with nonsensical proposals such as allowing D.C. to retrocede back into Maryland for Congressional representation despite the state expressing no interest whatsoever in allowing D.C. to join, and completely ignoring our wishes to represent ourselves. This opposition to D.C. getting any shred of power only reminds me of how right Ted Kennedy was when he quipped that “The District of Columbia and its residents are too urban, too liberal, too Democratic, and too Black.”
But let’s return to the arguments. Firstly, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution does say: “[The Congress shall have power] to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles) as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States.” And yes, D.C. was intended to be a non-partisan city, however, we are an entirely different place than the one that was founded in 1791. It is not reasonable to deny people who live in a major city such as D.C. the benefits of being a state while treating us like a state for other purposes. Statehood could be achieved in a much easier way than the so-called practical solutions that have been proposed and one that does abide by the Constitution. A Constitutional Amendment would be unnecessary. The District could be reconfigured so that there could be a new capital created that would serve as the seat of the government. After the new capital was created, D.C. could officially enter the nation as America’s 51st state, New Columbia. Secondly, D.C. is in the unique position of being a city that is not connected to a state. It is highly unlikely that other cities like Los Angeles would want to secede from California and become its own state. I have yet to hear a single legal or intellectual counterpoint against D.C. statehood that could possibly be taken seriously.
D.C. is no longer some sleepy, rural backwater town with just a handful of people. We are a bustling metropolis with approximately 600,000 citizens, certainly more than the state of Wyoming. D.C. pays more in federal taxes than some states do. We have had more soldiers serving in wars stretching back to Vietnam than other states have had. For D.C., statehood is not some notion of expanding the Democratic caucus in Congress, but it is essential in embracing our full rights as American citizens.