MORIAL: The Objectives of Our Civil Rights Motion Will Not Be Realized Till D.C. Statehood is Achieved

“Congress has both a moral obligation and constitutional authority to pass DC Statehood. This country was founded on the principle that there is no taxation without representation and consent from the governed, but DC residents are taxed without representation and cannot consent to the laws by which they must live as American citizens. “- Eleanor Holmes Norton, Delegate to the United States House of Representatives representing the District of Columbia

Earlier this month, I had the honor of testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in support of the statehood of the District of Columbia.

While studying law in Washington, DC, I learned to love the community and made the city my second home. As a member of the DC Statehood Commission from 2006 to 2010, I campaigned for DC Statehood.

As the former Mayor of New Orleans, I have many years of experience running a busy, thriving city with a diverse population. Residents of these cities, like Americans across the country, must be represented in Congress to meet their needs and protect their rights. Citizens of the District of Columbia continue to be denied that representation and are relegated to second-class citizenship.

The international community agrees. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Organization of American States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all recognized the injustice of the status of development cooperation.

Nearly 700,000 Americans live in the District of Columbia and suffer the daily injustice of “tax without representation”. They pay the highest federal per capita income taxes in the country, sit on juries and fight and die in wars, but are denied full democratic rights. You are unable to complain to influential federal officials, to take advantage of other members of Congress, or to have a say in the important issues of war and peace that this nation faces.

As a civil rights and human rights organization, the National Urban League is in a unique position to see how this lack of representation is directly affecting the populations we serve – most of all in the past year. Black and brown communities suffered higher infection, death and unemployment rates due to Covid-19. Racial inequality in education, housing, employment, health care and household wealth is worse than it was before the pandemic broke out.

Nowhere is this tragedy more evident than in the District of Columbia. DC residents, including key workers and small business owners, desperately needed the facilities under the CARES Act. Unlike other citizens, they had no Congressional contribution to the CARES Act and were initially denied $ 755 million in critical direct aid.

Last summer, DC residents took to the streets peacefully against racist police violence. In response to this peaceful uprising, the previous government ordered both the National Guard and Federal Police to conduct a completely disproportionate and inappropriate response, all in the interests of a photo opportunity.

On January 6, despite the urgent pleas from DC Mayor Bowser, the same administration refused to call in the National Guard in response to a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol until much of the damage was done.

In both cases, DC officials were unable to respond effectively to urgent emergencies in their city due to the lack of statehood and the critical security mechanisms it provided.

Despite all of these events that directly affected and harmed them, DC residents are unable to hold elected officials accountable for the harm. You are not represented by a member of Congress who can vote in favor of establishing a commission to investigate the Capitol Rebellion or restructure public safety through the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

I am grateful to Senator Tom Carper of Delaware for drawing national attention to the second-rate status of the District of Columbia citizens by introducing the Washington, DC Admission Act in the Senate.

I also applaud the long and strong leadership on this issue from DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who drafted the first statehood bill upon arriving in Congress in 1991 and has remained a steadfast soldier in the fight for equal rights for the district’s citizens.

For centuries, black Americans have been bleeding and dying for the right to vote in this country. The Supreme Court decision in the landmark Wesberry v. Sanders puts it best: “No right is more valuable in a free country than having a say in the election of those who pass the laws by which we are obliged as good citizens”. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined. “

We cannot allow this denial of constitutional rights to continue right on the doorstep of Congress. The goals of our civil rights movement will only be realized when DC statehood is achieved.

Morial is President / CEO of the National Urban League.

Photo by Marc H. Morial

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