Since the founding of the District of Columbia in 1790, the rights of the residents within the District have changed over time. The twenty-third amendment in 1961, which granted votes in the electoral college, set off a chain reaction in the latter half of the 20th century for DC statehood. It wouldn’t be until 1980 when J. Edward Guinan put statehood on the ballot as an initiative that DC statehood would become a popular topic for running officials in DC. Since then, the debate over statehood has spread around the country, but often in the absence of the voices of Washingtonians, specifically those East of the River. DC statehood is important to the residents because it would truly allow our voices to be heard and for DC residents to have full autonomy over what happens in the city they live in.
Currently within the District, Congress, under the District Clause of the Constitution, can exercise its authority over DC local affairs. This includes reviewing, modifying, imposing, and overturning legislation within the city. Congress also has authority over the District’s budget which is funded by the taxation of DC residents.
Ironically, it goes directly against the notion of “Taxation without representation” as DC residents have no say in congressional votes. While other states have access to implement and review legislation without Congressional interference, the District of Columbia is left vulnerable to the political whims of biased Congressmen. When in crisis, the District is unable to fully satisfy the needs of the people who live there due to Congress blocking important legislation. Recently this has included access to needle-exchange programs, affordable abortions, and affordable health care.
The largest impediment to furthering the interests of DC residents has been the Republican Party within Congress. Historically, DC has been a Democrat territory. What’s most concerning about this is that DC overperforms compared to some other states and yet the residents are regarded as second-class citizens by Congress.
In 2020 alone, DC grossed a GDP of $132.53 billion, more than seventeen other states, some of which have twice the population. Recently when distributing COVID relief to states, DC, while having the same or higher population as other states, was denied $755 million in emergency funds.
DC statehood would allow the District’s government to have complete authority over its budget and increase revenue through in-state fees. The possibilities of having autonomy over our money would allow us to pour back into our communities, especially in those East of the River. The ability to pass legislation without Congressional interference would benefit DC residents for the better, statehood would give us the opportunity to move forward much quicker and strive towards sustainability and equity.
Another reason to push for DC statehood is to fix the racial inequality that exists with DC not being a state. DC has been a historically Black city, even with growing gentrification, Black people still hold a majority of the population within DC. While our current government already overrepresents White Americans, giving DC statehood would help fill the gaps of voter representation.
Hundreds of thousands of Black citizens in DC pay billions in taxes and are left without a say in the highest form of government to represent their needs and interests. It’s the same Congress that we don’t have representation in that blocks legislature that would be passed to help disadvantaged Black residents. Black residents of DC East of the River are exposed to food deserts, crime, and over-policing. Consistently, Congress blocks legislation that would help Black DC residents who live East of the River when it comes to easy access to healthcare, housing, and education.
The lack of representation due to DC not being a state shows a larger picture of the disenfranchisement of Black Americans. If DC became a state it would become the first plurality-Black state in the country and would show that Congress is not only there to represent the needs of White America. DC statehood would not only give full representation within our government, but it would work to reverse the systemic inequalities that exist within our government.
The largest argument against DC statehood is that it’s not what the founding fathers intended for DC to be and that it goes against the Constitution. (It’s important to highlight that the founding fathers also did not intend for millions of enslaved Africans to be set free.)
While the point is a fair one, it can easily be circled around. The proposal that accommodates that argument is to carve out the federal area of DC as its own self-governing independent territory and leave the rest of the District as a new state. Under a new name, possibly the “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” it would not be in contradiction to what the Constitution states as it would be separate from what the capital is.
In conclusion, to effectively carry out a true democracy, the voice and representation of all citizens are crucial. DC statehood, in the wake of a bipartisan vote, will not only greatly benefit DC residents but it would also ensure that our Congress is carrying out its duty to represent all voices, especially the voices of a predominantly Black territory.
While several points can be made against DC statehood, ultimately they fall short of providing any alternatives or concrete reasoning as to why DC shouldn’t be a state.
The only thing stopping DC from becoming a state is the continued refusal of Republican representatives to accept the needs of 700,000 United States Citizens. DC statehood is the only path to pave true equity and inclusion within our government.
Noah McBride is a high school student and Ward 7 resident. This essay won the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s DC Statehood Essay Contest. It has been lightly edited for space.