DC Statehood: A Primer
One of the deepest ironies of the United States’ democratic system is that its Capital is swarmed with activists seeking to influence their representatives in the federal government while residents of that city lack such representation. Here’s a short breakdown of DC’s unrepresented status:
- The District of Columbia is the only capital city in the world in which residents are denied basic political rights, such as the right to vote for and elect US members of congress.
- DC residents are required to pay both DC income tax and federal income tax, without receiving the same federal representation to which all other US citizens are entitled.
- In the event of a federal government shut down (an increasingly real threat), DC’s city-run and district-funded services would also be required to shut down (like trash collection), and district employees would be forced to take furloughs
- As a state, DC could bring in more than 2 billion dollars a year in additional revenue, allowing the local government to cut taxes, fully fund schools, and improve Medicaid services. Free from Congressional oversight, the DC government would also become more effective and more efficient.
- Prominent legal scholars, including Peter Raven-Hansen, from George Washington University, and Jason Newman, from Georgetown, agree that Congress has the power to make DC a state
In facing these challenges, DC has moved to gain more autonomy over the years. In 1960 residents gained a voice in presidential elections. In 1973 the Home Rule Act was passed, which allowed DC residents to elect their own mayor and city council. However, all legislation that the city council passes must be approved by congress. Lacking the self-determination that is central to the democratic process, here are a few examples of legislation congress refused to allow the DC government to implement:
- Needle exchange programs (as a result, DC now has the highest rate of HIV in the US)
- Funding abortions for low-income women using city tax revenue (as a rider in the national budget agreement)
- A city-wide ban on handguns
Historically, DC’s systematic disenfranchisement comes out of a legacy of racism and segregation. As a predominantly African-American city, the establishment was unwilling to grant DC residents full citizenship even years after the civil rights act of 1963.
DC’s lack of federal representation is marred in a history of racism and bigotry.
For these reasons, both historic and current, local Washingtonians ask that visitors to learn the reality of DC’s status as an unrepresented district. When utilizing the resources of organizers and activists in DC, also realize that Statehood is a constant fight, and one that requires the support of allies to win.
As a show of solidarity, and since you’re going to speak with your elected representative anyway, please take a second to bring up the issue of DC Statehood.