By Riley Fink
Despite being the seat of the United States federal government and the nation’s capital, citizens of Washington, D.C. enjoy relatively few of the liberties promised to citizens of neighboring states.
As the U.S. is meant to be, at its core, a representative democracy, the fact that citizens living in the home base of government operations have no real congressional representation seems particularly ironic. While they do have “shadow Senators” and a delegate in Congress, it is very difficult to make your voice heard when you can’t vote on the issues at hand. That means that, unless the District of Columbia becomes a state and gains full representation, other issues will always be drowned out and ignored. Congress spends billions of D.C. taxpayers dollars each year, yet those people receive no reciprocation. Additionally, Washington, D.C. has little home rule, as the Constitution grants Congress jurisdiction over the District. Some recent steps, such as the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973, have granted more power to locally elected D.C. officials. Thanks to this Act, commuter taxes on out-of-state workers are currently illegal. Yet, Congress still retains the authority to overturn local laws and keep a tight grip on the city. The city’s budget must also receive congressional approval.
D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has, in recent months, seemingly renewed the campaign for D.C. statehood. Even during our group’s day of service this past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, where Mayor Bowser made an appearance, she referred to D.C. as the “soon to be 51st State.” Bowser’s citizens seem to share a similar sentiment. This past November, D.C. residents voted to take the statehood issue to Congress via petitioning. In total, about 79% of voters approved of this measure. This plan would incorporate the residential areas of the city into the state boundaries of New Columbia. In the center of current-D.C., a small, circular area containing government buildings and monuments would be carved out to create a new federal district. The aforementioned petition to Congress included four parts: An agreement that D.C. should be admitted to the Union as the State of New Columbia, approval of the New Columbia constitution, approval the boundaries of the state, and agreement that New Columbia’s government shall be representative.
Other notable figures, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have also joined the push for the admittance of D.C. to the Union. Sanders has stated that while the District has a higher population than his home state of Vermont, it lacks the same congressional representation. “I think it is morally wrong for American citizens who pay federal taxes, fight in our wars and live in our country to be denied the basic right to full congressional representation,” Sanders has said of D.C. statehood.
Walking around D.C., one notices the frequent messaging all throughout the city clamoring for D.C. statehood. Signs and posters are plastered all around, and the license plates on cars bare the politically charged slogan “Taxation Without Representation.” Even President Obama’s limousine had the license plates affixed in 2013, at the time showing support for the struggles of the D.C. families and working class without a voice. Since then, however, I can’t recall any time he’s ever brought the subject up in a meaningful way.
When the plate design was first introduced in 2000, President Bill Clinton also opted to use them on his motorcade during his final day in office, while President George W. Bush used a different design.
Of course, there are many questions, problems, and technicalities that work to prevent Washington, D.C. from becoming a state. Congressional authority, violation of the Constitution, compromising the autonomy of the federal government, gaining Maryland’s consent, overwhelming Democratic influence in the new state, and possibly repealing the 23rd Amendment are only a few of the concerns that would have to be addressed in order to move forward. No one appears to be in much of a hurry to grant D.C. residents the rights they deserve. Besides the residents themselves, that is.
Regardless of the problems the possibility of statehood presents, something must be done to give D.C. residents a proper seat at the table. No matter what someone believes concerning the practicality and logistics of D.C. statehood, every morally sensible person is able to see the injustice in the plight of the District.