TThousands of miles from the US capital, a group of progressive protesters recently came to the office of their senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, to demand that she support the creation of a state in Washington DC.
The protest was notable due to its location in Anchorage, Alaska, and similar protests have recently erupted across America. Progressives from Arizona to New York took photos with 51-star flags to show their support for making DC the first new state to join the union since Hawaii in 1959.
Previously dismissed by critics as a regional issue, Washington state has gained national significance in recent years, and that increased attention has now translated into legislative action. Late last month, the House passed a Washington state bill with a record number of co-sponsors, and Joe Biden offered full approval of the proposal.
This momentum gave activists hope that now – with Democrats controlling the White House and both houses of Congress – Washington state could finally become a reality. However, many challenges remain in the equally divided Senate, and Republicans are determined to keep just 50 stars on the American flag.
For defenders of the state, this moment is an opportunity to right a 200-year-old injustice. The district’s population of 700,000 is larger than that of Wyoming and Vermont, and DC residents pay more federal taxes than their 22-state counterparts, but they are not represented in Congress. Perhaps even more infuriating for supporters of the state is the fact that DC’s laws are subject to congressional scrutiny, which means lawmakers across the country have an effective veto over local proposals.
The issue of race is also of major concern, given that the citizens of DC are predominantly people of color, and their full rights as Americans are primarily limited by Republicans in the Senate, who heavily bias white.
DC residents themselves largely support statehood. In 2016, the district held a referendum on the issue and 86% of voters supported the creation of a state.
“This fight is the most pressing fight for the right to vote and the most pressing fight for civil rights in our life,” said Jamal Holtz, a 51 to 51 leader, who advocates for the creation of a state . “We shouldn’t agree that American citizens are not represented by voters.”
The lack of representation by DC residents has been the subject of international condemnation. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly stated that DC’s current political status is a human rights violation that flies in the face of America’s international treaty obligations.
Arturo Carrillo, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at George Washington University Law School, said the unfairness of the situation was somewhat ironic. In the capital of one of the oldest democracies in the world, citizens are not represented at the federal level.
“The paradox is so deep you hardly believe it,” Carrillo said. “It can’t really be like that, can it?” But he is. It’s exactly as bad as it looks. And all you have to do is drive around Washington DC and look at our license plates. You will see that they say, “End taxation without representation”. “
But for Republicans, the real injustice would be if DC, a city of just 68 square miles, was granted statehood and the two U.S. senators that go with it. Republican leaders have criticized the state push as a democratic “takeover” that contradicts the founders’ wishes for the Capital District to be completely under federal control.
“If DC became a state, Democrats would win two reliable liberal seats in the US Senate,” said Emma Vaughn, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “They cite various reasons why they want a DC state, but the truth is that these extra Senate seats would be a buffer for their radical far-left agenda. “
Supporters of the state recognize that DC would likely elect two Democratic senators if it became a state. In 2020, only 5% of DC voters supported Donald Trump, while 92% supported Biden. But activists say DC residents shouldn’t be deprived of their basic democratic rights because of their political leanings.
“It’s a much bigger take on power to deny people representation because you don’t think they would vote for you. It’s the seizure of power, ”said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democratic policy for the progressive group Indivisible.
Holtz also described Republican arguments against the state as “racist whistles,” given that the majority of DC residents are people of color.
“Republicans are afraid to admit DC as the nation’s first black state,” Holtz said. “Regardless of occupation and political party, all Americans deserve to be represented. “
Holtz’s organization is urging Senate Democrats to end filibustering for statehood, hence the group’s name 51 to 51, which means 51 votes for the 51st state. (With the filibuster mechanism in place, Democrats need 60 votes to move the state bill forward, which is seen as an impossible task given strong opposition from Republicans.)
But even if Democrats end the filibuster, it may not be enough to submit the state-building bill to Biden’s office. Senator Joe Manchin said on Friday that he did not support the bill and that four other Senate Democrats had not taken a position on the bill.
Without the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would still need all five on board to pass the proposal. These five delays are probably the reason why Schumer did not commit to setting a timeline for voting on a bill, but simply saying the Senate “strives to make [statehood] a reality “.
Hatcher-Mays urged Democratic senators to move quickly to statehood, noting that the party’s grip on the White House and both houses of Congress is unlikely to last long.
“History tells us that trifectas are quite rare, and they are quite ephemeral,” Hatcher-Mays said. “We really need the Democrats in the Senate to understand that this is why we gave you this majority, so there is really an urgent need to talk about it and get it through as quickly as possible.
For Holtz and many other residents of the district, the wait for statehood has already been long enough.
“Our moment is now,” said Holtz. “We cannot continue to count our days when there are disenfranchised people in our nation’s capital.”