51st State Blog
TOPIC: Capitol Insurrection (January 20, 2021)
January 6, 2021 is a day that will go down in infamy all across America. The terror brought to the Capitol by an angry mob of Trump supporters, convinced that the 2020 election was stolen, despite all evidence to the contrary, is a dangerous moment for the nation that will resonate for years to come. As of this writing, the former President continues to call the election stolen, and a majority of the House Republican membership and multiple Republican senators continue to support that assertion. The Election of 2020 brought violence to Washington, DC on multiple occasions, however, and our community remains on alert. In just the last week we have seen a return of extremist protesters outside a local pizza restaurant who claim that the restaurant is a front for a child sex ring (see more about the debunked "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory here). A friend of this author was confronted by firecracker-wielding protestor-tourists and warned that she would "go to Hell" if she voted for Joe Biden.
One of the key arguments for creating the District of Columbia was to establish an independent jurisdiction outside of the control of a single state, to avoid a situation in which local discontent might become a threat to the national government, as in the Philadelphia Mutiny of 1783. Today, as tens of thousands of National Guard troops patrol the area around the National Mall from Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court and the White House, enormous fences and barriers closing streets in all directions, and news reports of additional arrests come in each day, the threat of political violence remains high in Washington, DC, even as the threats are clearly coming to the District from elsewhere.
But when it comes to the relationship between the Capitol Insurrection and DC Statehood -- a state separate from the District of Columbia -- there is MUCH more that needs to be said. 712,000+ people live in Washington, DC, and that number is growing. More than 750,000 lived in Washington, DC from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the District's population exceeded that of various other states. Generations of families have made their homes in a place that continues to be defined by many simply as The Federal City. And as views of the federal government have grown more negative, those views have often encompassed the District's population. Today, the lack of statehood is bound together with President Trump's concept of the "Swamp" and the "Deep State." According to this view, when Marylanders and Virginians voted for Joe Biden, it was Democratic states voting for a Democrat. But when Washingtonians voted the same way, they were not regular citizens, but rather "Deep State citizens" serving not only unaccountable bureaucrats, but various other dark forces as well, the forces which ensured that Trump would not be re-elected regardless of having won the ("legitimate") vote. The political hatred and violence leading up to, including and likely following the Capitol Insurrection is only amplified by perpetuating the myth that the people of DC are different from other Americans. And the chief means of perpetuating that myth is by continuing to block the residents of Washington, DC from showing their sameness by establishing their own state separate from the District of Columbia.
Beyond the ongoing danger of Covid-19, which prevented Americans from the 50 states from traveling to Washington on January 20, the Presidential Inauguration of 2021 was all but cancelled as a live event thanks to the events of January 6, turning the National Capitol Service Area surrounding Capitol Hill, the National Mall, White House, Supreme Court and neighboring federal buildings into a security zone off-limits to all but select VIP attendees and security forces. DC residents and neighbors from Maryland and Virginia were likewise told to stay home on Inauguration Day, as police and the National Guard focused on spotting additional threats early. Local businesses had little reason to operate, and residents within or adjacent to the security zone were forced to limit their movements as many anticipated violence.
In short, the residents of Washington, DC need 3 things:
- Respect as fellow Americans regardless of where they work or what they do
- Security in their daily lives from political violence or partisan hatred
- Statehood in order to achieve their full American citizenship
TOPIC: Big Enough and Time Enough: Population Problems and Prospects (December 31, 2020)
With so much drama in this unforgettable year (including some GOOD drama right here in Washington, DC with the passage of HR 51 in June), it seems fitting at the turn of the New Year to reflect on the longer term, beyond the next 20 days until Inauguration Day, beyond the next 6-?? months of fighting Covid-19 and staying safe and healthy, and beyond 2021 when we expect to see our statehood bill pass in the House once again, and think about the obstacles yet to overcome to achieve statehood.
Before you say, "I'm not sure I can take ANY more politics right now" -- that's not the point. At least not for the next few days. For right now, let's just think about this one piece of the bigger message we all need to keep spreading to our friends, family, old classmates, more distant relatives, children of friends, etc, etc. outside DC. Especially those who might have responded with skepticism, apathy or cynicism when you broke the news to them about the House's first ever passage of HR 51 in 2020.
If you've looked at our homepage recently (great!), you'll see the news about the US Census Bureau's new 2020 population estimates for Washington, DC and the 50 states. One of the most common arguments we still hear from both statehood opponents and statehood cynics is that DC doesn't (yet) have the population it needs to realistically win over a majority of the Senate (even assuming a willing President and near-majority support in the Senate (43 at last count)). Well, yeah, but beyond the vote counts, we need to push back HARD whenever we hear someone say we're still too few to be due our rights.
So let's look at the US Census results in a bit more detail.
The US Census Bureau released its annual state population estimates conducted in July 2020, putting Washington, DC at 712,816. This number puts the District ahead of Wyoming (582,328) and Vermont (623,347), and only slightly behind Alaska (731,158) and North Dakota (765,309).
But DC has been fighting for equality and for statehood for well over 50 years:
1920 -- 437,531
100 years ago, Washington, DC was larger than 7 of the 48 states, including #47 (New Mexico: 360,350) and #48 (Arizona: 334,162), and virtually equal in size (95%+) to Utah and New Hampshire. This was more than 50 years before DC was allowed even a local elected government (1974), and more than 40 years before our first vote for President (1964).
1940 -- 663,091
On the eve of America's entry into World War II, Washington, DC was larger than 12 of the 48 states, including 3 with <50% of DC's population, and one with <25%. DC was virtually equal in size (93%) to Rhode Island.
1960 -- 763,956
A decade and a half after the World War II mobilization, in the early years of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Washington, DC was larger than 11 of the newly-established 50 states, including #49 (Alaska: 226,167) and #50 (Hawaii: 632,772), as well as 3 more states with only 50% or less of DC's population. DC was very close in size (85% or more) to Utah and Rhode Island, and about 80% of the size of Maine and New Mexico.
1980 -- 638,333
Just after the passage of the DC Voting Rights Amendment and during the drafting of DC's first state constitution, Washington, DC was larger than 4 of the 50 states, virtually equal in size (90%+) to North Dakota and South Dakota, and 80% of the size of Montana and Nevada.
2000 -- 572,059
At the turn of the 21st century, at its lowest population since the 1930s, Washington, DC was larger than only one of the 50 states (Wyoming), but still very close in size (90% or more) to Vermont, Alaska and North Dakota, and about 75% of the size of Delaware and South Dakota.
Looking at Washington, DC's population growth since the turn of the millenium, it's a very different story. Looking just at the last decade (an increase of >110,000), it's quite easy to see how DC could overtake more states and pull even with others in the 2020s and 2030s. Beyond AK, ND, VT and WY, 5 states (DE, MT, NH, RI, SD) have populations of around 1 million. Another 4 (HI, ME, NM, WV) are around 2 million. None of these 9 states grew as fast as Washington, DC from 2010 to 2020, and none are projected to grow much faster than DC in the decades ahead. Projections from DC's Office of Planning (see p. 2) would put our local population at 940,000 by 2040, and 987,000 by 2045 according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, while bolder projections from the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service would put DC over 1 million in 2040, above AK, RI, SD, VT and WY, roughly equal (<50,000 difference) with DE and ND, and 75% or more of the population of HI, ME, MT, NH and WV. In other words, DC will soon be as big (bigger) as 10/+ states -- ONCE AGAIN!
"What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? ... You've always told me it takes time. It's taken my father's time. My mother's time. My uncle's time. My brothers' and my sisters' time. My nieces' and my nephews' time. How much time do you want for your progress?"
James Baldwin (link)
TOPIC: Legacy: John R. Lewis (August 1, 2020)
This week's funeral for the great John R. Lewis became another singular historical moment, a point of recognition of change, bringing Americans face to face, in unambiguous language, with specific proposals for making significant change from this day forward. Like a number of other great civil rights leaders who were lost this year, including Rev. Joseph Lowery, founder and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Black Leadership Forum, and Rev. C.T. Vivian, a fellow organizer of the Nashville Student Movement, the 1963 March On Washington, and fellow leader of the SCLC, who passed away the very same day as Rep. Lewis, we are all inspired by what these individuals achieved in their lifetimes. Yet with Rep. Lewis, maybe more than any other, we seem to be witnessing a moment in which his legacy is unfolding only days after his passing.
Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian both witnessed exceptionally momentous political events in their final year, along with tremendous social actions that the large majority of Americans would agree can only be compared to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The George Floyd Protests, a spontaneous, organic movement continuing to the present day across the United States, has launched a new social consciousness that will resonate for years to come. These protests, focused, largely nonviolent, and unwavering in their resolve, undoubtedly gave Vivian and Lewis great hope in their final days.
Yet Rep. Lewis' funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 31 provided the setting for a number of remarkable statements and pledges for action from some of our most prominent leaders and from others who remember their experiences with Rep. Lewis vividly.
Bernice King, daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the prayer for good fortune for the future: "Let a double portion of what Johnson Lewis' life was about fall upon us." Then Rev. James Lawson, nonviolence leader and teacher with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Nashville Movement, the Freedom Rides and the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968: "We do not need bipartisan politics if we're going to celebrate the life of John Lewis. We need the Constitution to come alive." Colbert King's recollection of Rep. Lewis is symbolic of Rep. Lewis' concern for bringing social change from many different directions at once. King met Rep. Lewis in 2016 at the Poynter Institute's Pulitzer Prize Centennial celebration, where he said, "I come here tonight to thank members of this great institution for finding a way to get in the way," continuing, "Finding a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble" is the work of all journalists. "We need the press to be a headlight and not a taillight. ... Tell the truth. Report the truth. Disturb the order of things. Find a way to get in the way and make a little noise with your pens, your pencils, your cameras."
President Obama and the Urgency of Now
Former President Barack Obama probably struck more directly than any other speaker at the political drama of today. He said, "Bull Conner may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators." Washington, DC, so often the "laboratory" for federal government interventions, led the way once again with the secret special forces who attacked peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square on June 1.
He continued in reference to ongoing disenfranchisement across America, "We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting -- by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don't get sick."
Nodding to this summer's protest, Obama continued:
"We see it outside our windows, in big cities and rural towns, in men and women, young and old, straight Americans and LGBTQ Americans, Blacks who long for equal treatment and whites who can no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of their fellow Americans. We see it in everybody doing the hard work of overcoming complacency, of overcoming our own fears and our own prejudices, our own hatreds. You see it in people trying to be better, truer versions of ourselves."
And Rep. Lewis' call to action for today:
"And so he knew [democracy] depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John's moral courage to question what's right and what's wrong and call things as they are. ... If we want our children to grow up in a democracy -- not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, a big-hearted, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation -- then we are going to have to be more like John. ... Just everybody's just got to come out and vote."
President Obama and the Fight for Complete Citizenship
"Complete citizenship...the right to vote and to be voted for in the American Republic"
Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (final autobiography), 1895
And then President Obama ventured on to call for action to remedy some of the very specific causes of our ongoing disenfranchisement and political stalemate: by reversing the repeal of critical portions of the Voting Rights Act; "by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who've earned their second chance"; "by adding polling places, and expanding early voting, and making Election Day a national holiday"; "by guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. They are Americans."
And finally, by eliminating the Senate filibuster, a rule routinely used to prevent the passage of any bill which cannot achieve a supermajority of 60 senators in the Senate's 100-seat body. The Senate filibuster was already effectively eliminated for Presidential appointments (lifetime and otherwise) when the Senate changed its rules to reduce the supermajority from 60 to 51. Today the 60-vote threshold remains essentially for legislation only. But an admission act creating a new state -- like the Washington, Douglass Commonwealth Admission Act -- is unlike other legislation, because admission acts cannot be amended like other laws. Once a territory becomes a state, it becomes the same kind of self-governing entity as all of the other states.
"If all of this requires eliminating the filibuster -- another Jim Crow relic -- in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do."
Pres. Barack Obama, July 31, 2020
Conversations about protests for social change frequently turn into debates over being patient, to ether accepting or refusing incremental, partial reform preceding some complete change later on. But when does patience become the wrong choice? Citing an early draft of John Lewis' address to the 1963 March On Washington, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi argued in The Atlantic that "[p]atience is a dirty word to those incarcerated by inequity" and "a nasty word to those with injustice kneeling down on their neck." Millions of Americans have been told to be patient for decades, even centuries, for full and equal citizenship. When John Lewis said in 1963, "We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!" these were not merely the words of a "testy" or even "radical" 23-year-old, but the words of a young man who recognized that decades and decades of hesitant, reluctant patience can only lead to a time of righteous impatience.
That time seems to be our time.
TOPIC: VICTORY!!! and a Mandate for the Future (June 26, 2020)
Ain't no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don't stop
June 26, 2020 is the day history was made. Today the US House of Representatives voted to pass, for the first time, a bill providing for statehood for the people of Washington, DC, passing HR 51, the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth Admission Act by a vote of 232-180. After 219 years of struggle to achieve full citizenship for the residents of the District of Columbia, today was the day that we achieved -- in part -- our goal.
It really happened! It really is true! Thanks to all the everyday people who have kept the movement for statehood alive for so many years and decades when statehood legislation was pushed aside or delayed and the debate shifted to other issues over and over again. Thanks to DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Tom Carper for introducing and championing statehood in the House and Senate. And thanks to all of you everyday heroes who came out time after time these last years to round up the cosponsors with visits to Capitol Hill, festivals, conferences, visits to other states, personal outreach to friends and family, and whatever else you could do to increase the number of public supporters in Congress. Your work shows in the steady increase in House cosponsors during the last 4 Congresses:
2019-20: 227 (prior to passage)
And in case you're wondering, yes, there has been a steady increase in support in the Senate too, from 21 at the end of 2014, again in 2016, to 31 in 2018, and 41 (so far) in 2020. (And now 43 as of July 2!)
Today, in June 2020, we know exactly why we want statehood. We know our history and we know why other compromises didn’t work in the past and won’t work today. Time moves on, but it needs a push from the people. And so please don’t let anyone try to tell you that DC Statehood is a "political stunt" after 219 years of reforms, anti-reforms, and debates which almost never made the national news.
In fact, DC Statehood is one of the few issues outside of the Constitution itself where you can actually read debates going back more than 200 years as the federal government attempted over and over to patch together fixes and incremental improvements (and "dis-improvements") that often dragged on for decades. An overview of DC’s political history in Congress shows this:
1803, 1804-05 — Congressional bills to return DC to MD (retrocession) (failed)
1838-41 — Congressional bills to return DC to MD (retrocession) (failed in committee)
1847 — Congressional bill to return Arlington and Alexandria side of DC to VA (retrocession) (passed)
1862 — Congress passes DC Compensated Emancipation Act ending slavery in DC 9 months before the Emancipation Proclamation
1871 — Congress declares Territory of the District of Columbia including a Presidentially-appointed Governor, Secretary and bicameral legislature (upper house appointed; lower house elected).
1874 — Congress abolishes DC’s local elected government entirely, replacing it with 3 appointed commissioners. (This would remain essentially unchanged for a century until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act providing for a 13-member Council and elected Mayor.)
1888 — Congress debates a Joint Resolution (constitutional amendment) calling for DC Congressional representation and DC vote for President (Electoral College) (fails)
1902 — NH Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia introduces Joint Resolution to create the State of the District of Columbia during debate over admissions of states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. (No action taken.)
1939 — House Joint Resolution to provide Congressional representation passes Judiciary Committee flwg amendment limiting to House representation only. (Fails in Rules Committee.)
1952 — President Truman’s Reorganization Plan for the DC Government includes the following: “The denial of self-government does not befit the National Capital of the world's largest and most powerful democracy.”
1961 — 23rd Amendment is ratified, providing Washington, DC 3 Electoral College votes. (DC residents first vote for President in 1964.)
1974 — DC residents elect first Mayor and Council since 1874.
1978 — Congress passes DC Voting Rights Act (constitutional amendment) to provide full Congressional representation to DC residents. (Bill fails to gain required 38 states for ratification by 1985 deadline.)
1985 — DC Delegate introduces New Columbia Admission Act in House (much like HR 51 today). (Bill stalls following hearing in House DC Affairs Committee in 1986. No action taken on companion bill in the Senate.)
1987 — House DC Affairs Committee passes revised New Columbia Admission Act. (Bill never achieves floor vote.)
1993 — House vote on New Columbia Admission Act (first ever). Vote fails.
2009 — Senate passes DC House Voting Rights Act providing a single voting representative in the House, including a non-germane gun rights amendment. House bill includes a non-germane amendment prohibiting the use of needle exchanges (later deleted). House bill is withdrawn.
2011 — New Columbia Admission Act is reintroduced in the House for the first time since 1995 (received only a few cosponsors, no action taken).
2012 — Senate companion bill introduced for first time since 1980s. (Senate and House bills are reintroduced in each Congress up to the present day, eventually achieving an absolute majority of cosponsors in the House for the first time in 2019.)
2020 — House passes the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth Admission Act by a vote of 232-181.
(Adapted from DC Statehood Yes We Can!. See full timeline here):
What about the Senate?
There’s still plenty more work to be done in the Senate. As of today, 41 senators (now 43 as of July 2!) are cosponsoring the bill. Not too bad! Some senators will likely never waiver in their opposition to statehood (or even Congressional representation minus the statehood, truth be told). That's fine. We need to focus on senators who see the problem with a 219-year status quo but might still say they're looking for some elusive alternative. We need them to understand why the past is past, and why statehood is the only real way forward today.
You can see the list of senators who have not yet cosponsored DC Statehood here.
TOPIC: DC Tax Justice (April 9, 2018)
This year, for the second year in a row, Tax Day is April 17, rather than April 15. Why? First, because April 15 falls on a Sunday, and second, because Monday, April 16, is DC Emancipation Day, a local (but not federal) holiday commemorating more than 3,100 enslaved Washingtonians who were freed by the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, nearly a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. So, while you thank Washington, DC for extra time get your taxes in (not that we're encouraging procrastination), take a look at what taxation without representation really means for the people of Washington, DC. And let Congress know it's long past time to fix this by passing the Washington, DC Admission Act (HR 1291 in the House and S 1278 in the Senate)!
Here's how you can help:
First, if you're on Facebook or Twitter, here are some sample messages you can send and encourage others to share/retweet on 4/16 and 4/17:
- Paying taxes is stressful for everyone, but it is especially painful for DC residents, who have no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent. We must end this injustice with statehood for the people of DC. #JusticeforDC
- We need #DCStatehood to end taxation without representation for the people who live in our nation's capital. #JusticeforDC
- #DCStatehood will end voter suppression in our nation's capital.
Second, for those joining in meetings with Representatives and Senators on April 16, be sure to thank them with messages (and reminders):
- Looking forward to talking #DCStatehood with Sen/Rep XXX today. #JusticeforDC
- Thanks to Sen/Rep XXX for meeting with us today.
- Do you live in Sen XXX's state / Rep XXX's district? Please let Sen XXX / Rep XXX that you support #DCStatehood too.
You can also tag a cosponsor from the same state in your message:
- Thanks to Sen XXX (@XXX) for standing up for the people of Washington, DC. Please ask Sen XXX (@XXX) to join you in supporting #DCStatehood #JusticeforDC
And don't forget to include your own pictures!
TOPIC: Never More Relevant (July 28, 2017)
The summer debates in Congress over healthcare will likely be long-remembered, vote after vote in the Senate failing or succeeding by 1 or 2 or 3 votes. If you were living anywhere in America and paying any attention to the news, you were probably seeing messages saying, "Call your senators! These 2/3/4 senators will decide the fate of America's healthcare!" What appears to have been the final vote on repealing/replacing/amending the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) took place after all the late-night talk shows were done Friday morning, with the Majority failing to pass the measure 49-51. Given that Vice-President Pence was on the floor, prepared to cast another tie-breaking vote, it was effectively a one-vote margin, 50-51. So let's ponder on that for a bit: 50-51.
Weeks of furious Congressional battles have not been lost upon DC residents. DC activists headed over to Capital City in June and July, weaving through the crowds of people from all around the country, telling Senate and House staffers why we're united behind a plan for #DCStatehood today, and why it's time to stop relegating DC residents to the status of spectators as votes pass or fail in the Senate by the tightest margins again and again.
But we are making some real progress. In less than 6 months, we have set a new record for cosponsors in the House, with 136 (check to see if yours is on the list and if not, please contact them!), and 19 in the Senate (contact them here!). More and more members of Congress are seeing why it's finally time to move forward to full enfranchisement and full citizenship for DC residents after decades of attempts at providing something less in the interest of political expediency. Even masters of political expediency have to step back and look at the evidence, though. DC has decades and decades of experience in pushing for reform that long predates the political polarization described in today's media. This is why DC residents say the "done pile" of failed reforms has by now reached the sky.
Capitol Hill (i.e. Congress) is NOT "our town." It is more like a hostile neighboring town, a town with some remarkable resources and super-entertaining gossip, but also an implacable rival, sort of Shelbyville to our Springfield, never letting up in its efforts to block Springfield from passing certain local laws, or else insisting Springfield create different local laws. This on top of all the work Shelbyville does as the Capital, or in Simpsons-speak, Capital City (Springfield's other neighboring town). Basically, for us Springfielders, Capitol Hill is Shelbyville and Capital City combined into one. And for too many of the archaic-thinking Shelbyvillers, Springfield is just thought of as a neighborhood within Shelbyville. And Shelbyville-Springfield politics gets pretty unbelievably petty.
So, basically, we're appealing to Capital City, Shelbyville's more enlightened neighbor. (The border between Shelbyville and Capital City is disputed, but everyone agrees there is one.) Capital City can tell Shelbyville they can't have it both ways. Shelbyville doesn't pay for Springfield's services. Springfield does. Shelbyville doesn't provide Springfield's Police, Fire Dept or EMS. Springfield does. Actually, Springfield helps Shelbyville and Capital City on that score. Capital City pays for the local jails and judges, but Springfield is happy to pay for its own and take back control, given that its annual budget is now $14 billion.
So we Springfielders are going to keep our sights set on a photo of a lost sign that used to hang above the road into Capital City (reportedly stolen by Shelbyvillers): "A Vote for All Equallee, That's the Way It Should Be"
And we're going to find it.
Topic: Score One for Douglass! (April 6, 2017)
Score one for the iconic (non-living, 19th century, historic) DC resident Frederick Douglass! This week, the US Mint announced that Douglass will be (posthumously) honored for his work with a US Quarter which is slated to be put into a much wider circulation (up to 400 million). The quarter depicts Douglass sitting at his desk, alongside an image of his iconic Cedar Hill home in Anacostia. (Any live sightings of Frederick Douglass or other historical figures should immediately be reported to the DC Department of Temporal Incursions.)
The timing of this new quarter is exciting, given recent developments around the proposed name for our new state. In 2016, DC voters approved a new draft state constitution called the Constitution of the State of Washington, D.C. ("DC meaning Douglass Commonwealth" as explained in the preamble). In March 2017, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced our new DC Statehood bill under the name "Washington, D.C. ("Douglass Commonwealth") Admission Act" (HR 1291). Many would argue that the New Columbia era has come to an end. What the new era will be called is still in flux (we won't have a final vote on a new name until the next constitutional convention), but we may now be seeing the beginning of the Douglass era.
And the name for Douglass/Douglass Commonwealth residents? Maybe Douglassites. Which might also work as a name for a new state mineral/stone, should geologists end up making a groundbreaking local discovery in the years to come.
We will soon raise our glasses to honor the 200th birthday (1818-1895) of the iconic man who made his home here after a lifetime of service to justice and full citizenship for all citizens, and whose lifetime of service and activism is still worth so much more than a plug nickel, a US quarter or most any other denomination:
"Complete citizenship -- the right to vote and to be voted for in the American Republic."
Topic: 2016/2017: Taking Stock and Still Smiling (December 31, 2016)
This was a big year for the future Washington, DC, whether it be known as New Columbia, Douglass, Douglass Commonwealth or some crazy combination of names in the meantime. DC Statehood got off to a strong start in 2016 with Mayor Bowser's announcement on DC Emancipation Day (4/16/16) that the residents of Washington, DC would vote on Statehood for the first time in a long time. This, in turn, led to the formation of the New Columbia Statehood Commission, which then convened a series of meetings and hearings throughout the summer regarding the New Columbia Admission Act (sponsored by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Tom Carper (DE)) and regarding much, much more, it turned out.
DC Constitution Summer & Fall
This summer's hearings on #DCStatehood became much more complicated as the discussion turned toward a top to bottom redo of the borders and constitution of our future state (first drafted and ratified in 1982, then revised by the DC Council and submitted to Congress with a petition for statehood in 1987). At the end of the day, what we learned is: 1) the public is keen to remain informed and involved in the process, and 2) DC voters will have an opportunity to elect delegates for a DC constitutional convention prior to final ratification of our new state constitution. You can see our current draft constitution, drafted by the New Columbia Statehood Commission, then revised and re-revised by the DC Council, here.
DC Election Day
And on November 8, as the rest of the country collectively held its breath and then went to bed, exhausted -- or stayed up all night, frustrated -- waiting for the final results of the presidential election, DC voters confidently said YES to statehood, YES to a new draft constitution (subject to future revision, as explained above), YES to new state borders and affirmed that YES, we will continue to support a democratic form of government (as opposed to a hereditary monarchy or military junta) for our new state. The measure passed with 86% of the vote (and 79% even if you count those who didn't vote on the initiative, just in case you were wondering). In taking these steps, the government of the District of Columbia has once again met its side of the bargain in applying for admission to the Union. Now it's time for the rest of the Union to act and fully enfranchise the more than 680,000 residents of its longest-forgotten territory.
Paid Leave: A Case Study
Finally, in December, our DC Council took action on a measure long-debated and much noticed by national political leaders, passing the DC Paid Leave Act in its (likely) final form on December 20, becoming the fifth should-be-state to do so (after CA, NJ, RI and NY). And while we're not in the habit of taking sides on non-statehood matters here, we do want to take a moment to explain how paid leave provides an excellent example of why statehood matters in the day-to-day economics of local Washington, DC.
After a long study of the financial impact of a paid leave program on the city's finances, the DC Council decided that the District would largely follow the models in other paid leave states, creating an insurance pool through an increase (0.62%) to the payroll tax, a tax which is normally split between employers and employees. Like other laws applying to wages (such as the state minimum wage), the District's new paid leave law applies to all DC workers, residents and non-residents alike. The problem is that the federal DC Home Rule Act prohibits the District from collecting any income tax from non-DC residents (aka a 'commuter tax'). As a result, funding for the DC paid leave program will have to come from DC employers until such time as DC's political status and/or the DC Home Rule Act can be changed. (The new law is expected to go into effect by the beginning of 2020).
What does 2017 portend? After obsessive prediction-making and horserace politics throughout 2016, we'd like to take a break from predictions for a little while. What we do know is that 2017 means that we will need to reintroduce the New Columbia Admission Act to a new House and Senate, and that means that we will have much of the same work to do in terms of gathering cosponsors and explaining to other lawmakers how decades of attempted reforms, large and small, have brought us to today's movement for statehood. (See our list of cosponsors to see if your/your parents'/your sister's/your brother's/your cousin's/your friends' senators and representatives have cosponsored the bill yet.)
Like it and not, time marches on!
Topic: Talk Back for Statehood (Nov. 4, 2016)
A big shout out to all those who spoke up once more for #DCStatehood in the run up to Referendum Day! The Washington Post's editorial on October 21 endorsed a yes vote in the District's upcoming statehood referendum, but also seemed to advise caution on focusing too vigorously on statehood legislation in Congress (you might call it a Curb Your Enthusiasm editorial). The Post instead proposed that DC officials take another look at incremental reforms such as voting rights in the House or other limited reforms to expand local DC autonomy (measures which have been attempted repeatedly over the last twenty years).
Not surprisingly, this editorial generated a number of responses and counter-responses from residents in the DMV. Thanks specifically to Ann Loikow, Susan Meehan and David Bardin for your contributions to this discussion.
WPFW's Parisa Norouzi hosted a panel discussion on November 1 on the upcoming referendum, as well as the status of our new draft constitution. You can listen to the conversation here.
Finally, another shout out to Timothy Cooper and former DC Shadow Representative John Capozzi for their op-ed in The Hill on November 3 on natural rights and the unnatural loopholes that block those rights.
Topic: A New State Constitution (Oct. 21, 2016)
Since Mayor Bowser's unveiling of the new draft state constitution in May, DC residents have been thinking a lot more about the design of our new state government. This includes everything from the name to the new legislature, state borders, state courts, and agencies, independent and otherwise, that will help manage the new state's laws and finances. In the end, though, after months of hearings, much of this comes down to what gets put into our new constitution and who gets the final say-so over that document.
On Tuesday, October 18, the DC Council finalized its work on amending the draft constitution submitted to them in July by the New Columbia Statehood Commission. In so doing, they made some changes to the Commission's earlier draft. One key issue for many DC residents has been the constitutional convention. As a result of the Council's vote, we now know that the constitution provides for a mandatory, binding convention with elected delegates which will take place "no later than the second anniversary of the date of admission" (Article VII, Section 4 -- p. 39).
You can see the full draft constitution here (and note that pp. 1-7 describe the borders of our new state ("State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth" aka "State of Washington, D.C." aka ???? -- we'll obviously figure that out later), while the text of the constitution begins on p. 8.
A quick outline:
- Legislature -- a 21-member, unicameral "Legislative Assembly" made up of 16 members from each of the 8 "legislative districts" plus 5 at large members (21 being the number proposed by Mayor Bowser in July) -- pp. 10-13
- Advisory Neighborhood Commissions -- pp. 14-15
- Auditor -- pp. 15-16
- Executive Branch -- pp. 16-20
- Independent Executive Agencies (Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, State Board of Education, Board of Elections) -- pp. 20-23
- Judicial Branch -- pp. 23-25
- Budget and Financial Management & Borrowing (Article IV and Article V) -- pp. 26-35
- Initiative, Referendum and Recall (Article VI) -- pp. 36-38
- Miscellaneous, including Construction of Constitution, Constitutional Amendments and Constitutional Convention -- pp. 38-40
- Transfer of Offices and Transition from District to State -- pp. 40-45 (end)
Topic: Statehood in the 2016 Presidential Race (July 24, 2016)
It's general election season, which means we're hearing more about each of the candidates and their (or their parties') platforms on statehood for the people of DC. First and foremost, we're happy to say that of the four "leading parties" (by which we mean parties whose presidential candidates will appear on the ballot in many, if not all, of the states on November 8), three of their presidential candidates are on board in support of statehood. These include Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Dr. Jill Stein.
First, the Democrats:
Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party nominee, has gone on record strongly endorsing statehood for the people of Washington, DC. She made this clear early in the race, telling DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that statehood will absolutely be on her agenda. Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, is a cosponsor in the Senate of the New Columbia Admission Act (S. 1688).
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform (see p. 18) reads, "Restoring our democracy also means finally passing statehood for Washington, D.C., so that its citizens have full and equal congressional rights as well as the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without Congressional interference."
Next, the Republicans:
On the Republican side, Republican nominee Donald Trump created some buzz early in his campaign when he said in 2015 that he was for "whatever's best" for the people of DC in a less-than-enlightening interview on Meet The Press, leading some to speculate that he might be open to a conversation about statehood. More recently, however, he stated that he would prefer to limit DC to a single vote in the House, a view his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, appears to share (Pence supported the DC House Voting Rights Act while in Congress).
Meanwhile, the 2016 Republican Party Platform strongly opposes statehood (along with a variety of other reforms such as budget autonomy or DC voting rights). Regarding statehood, the platform begins, "Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment. Any other approach would be invalid." This assertion runs counter to the analyses of numerous legal experts who have affirmed the constitutionality of the New Columbia Admission Act, including Georgetown University law professor Viet Dinh, who defended the bill in testimony before the Senate in 2014. (Viet Dinh served as Assistant Attorney General and senior legal advisor to President George W. Bush.)
The Platform concludes, "A statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived." In fact, it was not a statehood amendment, but rather the 1978 District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, intended to confer full voting rights in Congress -- but without the local government autonomy conferred through statehood -- which passed Congress with a two-thirds majority (including many Republicans such as House Republican leader Howard Baker). The amendment was ratified by 16 states, but failed to achieve the 38 states required (three quarters of the fifty states) by the 1985 deadline.
DC Republican Party Chair Patrick Mara denounced the GOP's 2016 platform language and said that the DC delegation stood and booed on the convention floor during the vote to approve the 2016 platform. A previous draft of the 2016 platform is said to have removed the anti-statehood language, but the language was apparently reinserted at the behest of Tony Perkins, Louisiana delegate and former head of the Family Research Council.
While the 2016 Libertarian Platform does not specifically address the issue of statehood for the people of DC, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson met with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in the spring and stated his support for DC's efforts.
And the Greens:
Support for statehood for the people of Washington, DC has long been a part of the platform of the Green Party. Green Party nominee Jill Stein has also gone on record to support statehood in her own 2016 platform statement (see section "Empower the People: Fix our Broken Elections with Real Democracy").
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