Give Us Statehood Now!

The Old Man of Anacostia

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I watched the final vote in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump with a mixture of frustration and anger.  The frustration was that although 57 senators voted to find him guilty of seditious behavior, the overwhelming majority of the craven Republican senators engaged in a form of jury nullification, thus resulting in the inability to reach the 67 votes needed to convict.

My anger was that the District of Columbia residents, we whose city was the scene of the crime, had no representation on that senatorial jury.  Once again we had fallen through the crack in the Liberty Bell and again were ignominiously reminded that we are second-class citizens.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, DC residents have been slapped in the face several times.  Because the DC is not a state, last year we were unjustly deprived of our fair share of COVID relief funds.  Donald Trump and his enabling Republican senators were able to rush the process to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy with a conservative jurist.  And again, we in DC had no voting representation in that process.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy once said that the second-class status of DC residents will never be rectified until it rises to the level of a collective insult to us who live here.  What will it take for most of the DC residents to become passionate about DC statehood?  When will we rally against taxation without representation and demand that the Capitol Hill pharaohs let our people go?

I constantly ask myself what ignites passion among east-of-the-river residents?   We live in the part of the city that has been historically marginalized, maligned and neglected.  Inequality and inequity have reigned, resulting in our experiencing the most of what is bad and the least of what is good.  We live in blood-stained neighborhoods and yet there is no collective outrage around stopping the violence.  Other than the passion that is displayed among mostly younger African Americans impacted by the Black Lives Matter, the only other topic that seems to prompt energy among a significant number of people is the football team formerly named the Washington Redskins.

How I wish most people in DC could be as concerned about achieving statehood as they are about our hometown team getting to the Super Bowl.  I have been in barbershops where men can name every player in the starting lineup of that football team but do not know the names of the teachers and principals of their elementary school children.  There are fathers who know all the statistics involving the star players but cannot find the time to help their children with their arithmetic.  There are parents who will never miss a televised game, yet rarely make it to a PTA or civic association meeting. You can hear the unemployed and underemployed discuss matters involving the coaches and owner of the team with all the informed seriousness as if they were in the conference room of a Fortune 500 company.

There was considerable discussion around changing the racist name of the Washington football team, many times resulting in high-decibel exchanges of opinions.  Some people appear to be nearly terminally upset that the team paraphernalia that they purchased over the years will no longer be relevant and nothing more than souvenirs.  If changing the second-class political and governmental status of DC could generate a fraction of the energy as changing the name of a football team, the DC statehood movement would have the fervor of a civil and human rights struggle.

There are times when I enjoy thrift-store or consignment shopping.   I have purchased six cars and only one of them new.  So, I am not offended by that which is gently used and second hand.  But I refuse to accept being second-class and my fellow DC residents should feel the same.  DC statehood is now part of the national political conversation and it is time that we residents raise the political thermostat and decibel level.  Our hometown status is now in the super bowl of politics.  Display your DC statehood yard signs and posters the same way some display their football boosterism.  And do it proudly!

Philip Pannell is a long time Ward 8 community activist. He can be contacted at philippannell@comcast.net.