Commentary: D.C. statehood is a civil rights concern

Throughout our nation’s history, civil rights movements across the country have had to fight to win victories for the disenfranchised. And one of the most important civil rights issues of our time is the struggle for statehood in the District of Columbia.

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser tried to call in the National Guard when insurgents breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. However, their request was denied by the Pentagon, which has sole control over the Guard’s deployment in the country’s capital. Alex Wong / Getty Images via TNSTNS

As a resident of Washington, DC, I don’t see politics in it. It’s about fulfilling the promise of our constitution and disenfranchising the more than 700,000 mostly black and brown people who have waited centuries to be represented in Congress.

DC’s underrepresentation continues to be based on white supremacy and is due to false concerns about “corruption” or our city’s alleged inability to manage its own affairs. These are all dog whistle arguments designed to undermine the conduct of color.

Talk of granting representation to DC Congress has been around for decades, but it was not until the 1950s that it was generally recognized as a problem by the civil rights movement. At the time, DC was 65 percent white and fairly evenly divided in terms of party affiliation, making the fight for representation politically viable.

However, by 1970, more than 70 percent of DC was black, and the district has remained a black majority city ever since. Once you learn about the history of the city, you can no longer claim that the efforts to keep DC residents disenfranchised are anything but racist.

In the 2020 election, black and brown voters paved the way for President Joe Biden’s victory and empowered Democratic majorities in Congress to rule. It would be devastating for Democrats to miss the opportunity to get rid of DC statehood and correct a centuries-old stain on the legacy of our democracy.

So it is disheartening when elected officials claim to have progressive ideals only to abandon course when they have the power to make change. This moment in our history takes courage and determination. To fight for racial justice and equality in our democracy, President Biden and the Democratic Congress must make DC statehood a top priority.

We cannot allow these efforts to be staggered through the filibuster that has been used for centuries to block racial justice and civil rights laws. The progressive movement has come together in a call to remove this arcane rule. DC statehood is a struggle for representation and equality, and we mustn’t let anything stand in the way.

The January 6 coup attempt embodies why the District of Columbia must now be granted statehood. When insurgents violated the Capitol, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser tried to call in the National Guard, but her request was denied by the Department of Defense, which has sole control over the Guard’s operations in the country’s capital.

In contrast, then-President Donald Trump was allowed to use the National Guard a few months earlier in response to a peaceful protest against Black Lives Matter in DC against the will of the local leadership.

The systems of white supremacy anchored in the United States have protected those who have committed treason but suppressed those who stand for justice and equality. For more than 200 years, the same racist institutions have disenfranchised the majority of DC black and brown residents who live in the shadow of the center of our government but have no voice in Congress. Now is the time to change the rules.

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