Washington, D.C., is the only national capital in the democratic world whose citizens do not have equal voting and representation rights. The denial of representation is and overt act of voter suppression with racist roots in the Reconstruction. The district’s more than 700,000 residents – the majority of whom are Black and Brown – are still being denied those rights 150 years later despite paying more federal taxes per capita than any state. In the past year alone, D.C. residents did not have full representation for key decisions on the city’s local response to COVID-19, ongoing protests, and the insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol.
Here’s the history behind this glaring example of voter suppression:
1. In 1867, Congress granted all adult citizens of the district, including Black men, the right to vote. The bill – along with an increase in D.C.’s Black population from 19% in 1860 to 33% in 1870 – granted historic electoral power to Black Washingtonians.
2. Congress replaced D.C.’s territorial government with three commissioners appointed by the president in 1874, disenfranchising a politically active Black community. Self-governance didn’t return until a hundred years later when the Home Rule Act allowed D.C residents to elect a mayor and city council.
3. The Voting Rights Amendment of 1978 would have granted the district full voting representation in Congress but failed to receive enough state support for adoption. Today Congress still exercises authoritarian rule over the district and its residents.
4. All D.C. legislation must go through congressional review before taking effect, and Congress regularly blocks the district from using its own local tax dollars to provide social services, including abortion coverage for individuals enrolled in Medicaid, something all other states are free to do.
5. In 2016 alone, there were 25 attempts by Congress to overturn or change local D.C. laws. That same year almost 86 percent of D.C voters supported statehood in a referendum to end the disenfranchisement of a majority Black jurisdiction.
6. In April 2021, the House passed H.R. 51, granting D.C. congressional representation as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. Now the matter moves to the Senate.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Get involved with the Unitarian Universalist for Social Justice’s (UUSJ) efforts to pass the “Washington D.C. Admission Act” by visiting https://bit.ly/2WpxPBI . Urge your senators to support the creation of the 51st state by visiting ACLU DC Statehood.