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What D.C. Statehood Would Mean To Black America – Ebony, October, 1990
|| 11/11/2008 || 10:11 pm || Comments Off on What D.C. Statehood Would Mean To Black America – Ebony, October, 1990 || ||

Today I posted the article below to numerous DC neighborhood yahoo groups. The aim was to get people thinking about what the coming administration might be able to do for the disenfranchised Washington, DC residents. I’m hoping some people see the importance of the next few months and are motivated to demand full representation in Congress.

“There is no Black America… there is the United States of America.” but do residents of Washington, DC get to participate?

Below is the e-mail I sent out:

In his acceptance speech Barack Obama said “Change happens — change
happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up
and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new
time. America, this is one of those moments.”

Below is an 18-year-old article from Ebony Magazine that frames the
Statehood argument, and does not mention the unconstitutional 1/3
representation scheme that DC Vote and the Democratic Party are
currently advocating.

As you’ll read, times have changed, but our disenfranchisement has
not. If we want full equality, its time we demanded it.

Nikolas Schiller
Ward One, Washington, DC

What D.C. Statehood Would Mean To Black America

By Laura B. Randolph for Ebony Magazine, October, 1990

It’s so ironic, political observers say, it’s almost inconceivable: the United States of America is the only democratic nation on earth that denies the residents of its capital city representation in the national legislature.

That means, among other things, that Washington, D.C., with a population larger than that of four states, has no representation in the U.S. Senate, none, and no voting right in the House of Representatives.

Why are district residents, who pay more federal taxes than the residents of nine states, denied the same rights enjoyed by the citizens of every American state, no matter how small, no matter how poor? It’s a simple answer, really, with a seemingly simple solution. Only states are entitled to full representation in Congress, and the District of Columbia is not a state. The solution? Make the district a state, as was done with Alaska and Hawaii in the 1950s.

It’s simple, right? Wrong, say statehood supporters. The populations of Alaska and Hawaii are different from the district’s in a fundamental way: they are not primarily Black. And that is a primary reason, say several analysts, that Washington will never become a state, if some top political powerbrokers have their way.

But why all the fuss over making the district a state? The fuss, insiders say, isn’t really over statehood. It’s over power. Major league national power. Full political equality for a state, with a 70 percent Black majority.

This is the bottom line, then: If the district becomes a state, it would be entitled to elect two senators – senators who would almost certainly be Black and Democratic. And when you talk about giving Black people that kind of power at that level, simple solutions become very complex, very fast.

“It is obvious that racism and political bigotry are what really block the way to statehood for the District of Columbia,” nationally syndicated columnist Carl Rowan says. “When Hawaii was up for statehood, the opponents mostly whispered that there ought not be a state run mostly by Asians. Now the bigots are saying openly that statehood for the District of Columbia would produce the `disaster’ of two Black members of the U.S. Senate… and Jesse Jackson probably would be one of them. Why should America have a Senate in which there is not a single Black voice…? It is time we got national leaders…who will show the guts to stand against racism and… do for D.C. what others did for Hawaii and Alaska.”

That jibes with the assessment of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who joined Sen. Paul Simon (D-III.) in introducing a bill that would do exactly that. As Sen. Kennedy candidly pointed out, the real problem with district statehood is the four “toos:” “The District of Columbia and its residents are too urban, too liberal, too Democratic and too Black.”

Of course opponents don’t actually come out and say this. To do so would be political suicide. But the buzz among insiders is that statehood opponents feel that giving Black folks the right to elect two senators and a voting member of the House, never mind another Black governor, would give Black America too much say in national policy-making.

And it isn’t just politicians with a cause to advance who see it this way. Academicians who have studied the issue extensively say prejudice is indeed a primary factor in the opposition. “D.C. statehood would put two Black senators on Capitol Hill. You can believe it comes down to a question of the complexion of the District of Columbia,” says Ron Walters, a Howard University professor who has studied the statehood fight for more than a decade.

That’s why Jesse Jackson, who joined a growing cast of statehood supporters by launching a nationwide lobbying effort in January, has called statehood “the highest civil rights issue in the country today. It transcends any other agenda in town,” says Jackson who is running for one of the two non-voting “shadow senator” seats created by the District City Council early this year to lobby for district statehood.

But in the light of the powerful opposition, even supporters concede that turning the district into the state of “New Columbia” isn’t going to be easy. “No one doubts this will be a difficult uphill struggle,” Sen. Kennedy says, “but we are committed to the effort…”

It will take more than commitment, however. Passing the district statehood bill requires the approval of both houses of Congress and the president’s signature. Without significant pressure, supporters say, the Senate’s 45 Republican senators are not going to cast a vote that will almost certainly add two Democratic senators, much less two Black Democratic senators, particularly when Democrats already hold a 10-seat majority. “I anticipate there will be two major roadblocks in our fight for statehood – Republicans in the Congress and President George Bush,” says Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown.

A concrete measure of Brown’s feeling can be found in a Senate vote last year – 97 to 2 – not to approve financing to create a district statehood commission to merely study the possibilities. “I continue to be amazed – and appalled – by the hypocrisy of members of Congress opposing this measure,” says Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.” They honor democracy everywhere else – why not in the capital of their own country?”

Washington Mayor Marion Barry’s headline-making drug trial has not helped the struggle, say observers. In fact, many opponents are now pointing to it as “proof” that Washington should not be free to govern itself, an argument proponents say that is ludicrous. “Two of the last four governors of Illinois have ended up in federal prison, but I have not heard anyone suggest that citizens of Illinois ought to be denied representation,” says Illinois Sen. Paul Simon.

But putting all those arguments aside, proponents insist that statehood for Washington comes down to something far more basic: Equity. Fairness. Justice. And, Josephine Butler, chairwoman of the District Statehood Commission and “the mother of the movement,” says she’s got the facts to prove it. Consider, says Butler, the following:

* District residents are the only taxpaying Americans who are denied representation in Congress.

* D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy represents more people who pay taxes than any other member of the House of Representatives, yet he is the only one who cannot vote.

* During the Vietnam War the district had more casualties than 10 states and more killed per capita than 47 states.

* District residents pay more taxes per capita than residents in any other state except Alaska.

* The district contributes more to social security than six other states.

* District residents pay over a billion dollars annually in taxes to the federal treasury, more total federal taxes than nine states pay.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Ron Dellums sums up the statistics this way: “We pay federal taxes but we have virtually no control over the taxes that are withheld from us. We serve in the military, but we can’t choose representatives who can vote for us in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. We are required to serve on juries, but we are forced to appear before judges who have been appointed without our advice, much less our consent. We are the last colonists in the last colony…”

The race issue aside, many believe any one of these facts would have been sufficient to win statehood for the district a long time ago. “Of course race is a factor,” says D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, the nine-term Democrat who began the struggle for statehood more than a quarter century ago. “But we’ve never let that stop us.”

By “us” Fauntroy doesn’t just mean Black Washingtonians. He, along with a host of political leaders, insists that the fight for statehood is a fight for all Black Americans. “As African-Americans we have a moral obligation to ourselves, to our children and our children’s children, to make an unyielding commitment to our present and their future through an unceasing effort to achieve statehood,” says Rep. Ron Dellums.

Although only Washingtonians will win a new voting right, a predominantly Black “New Columbia” will in all likelihood put two Black senators and a Black voting representative on Capitol Hill, and Black America will gain a much-needed, long-overdue voice in the most exclusive political fraternity in the world. “Two African-American senators would have a natural and a constituency-based interest in looking out for the primary needs of African-Americans, in developing good relations between the U.S. and Africa, and in the development of Africa and the Third World generally,” says Jesse Jackson. “That kind of interest and concern would not only benefit African-Americans, but the country and the world as well.”

DNC Chairman Brown agrees. “The political reality of D.C. statehood should not be underestimated,” says Brown. “The new votes cast in Congress will support a fair minimum wage, a national health plan, equal protection and rights for minorities and women, affordable housing programs, a tough crime bill, and training and investment programs for our workers and children.”

“D.C. statehood would mean that the one jurisdiction that has come to be symbolic of the economic and political empowerment of African-Americans would be represented in the U.S. Senate by two African-Americans,” agrees Fauntroy.

Ultimately, says Black Caucus Chairman Dellums, that is why district statehood is “a moral mandate for African-Americans. This is our goal – this must be our struggle – and we shall overcome!”

COPYRIGHT 1990 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Published here without permission for educational purposes

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