DC Statehood and Voting Rights – A New Way Forward

Forty years ago, the movement for DC Statehood and the campaign for full voting rights both flourished in the District and across the nation.  The DC Statehood Party, formed in 1970, had succeeded in winning a seat on the District’s first elected school board, and was about to elevate party co-founder Julius Hobson to a seat on the first elected DC Council following enactment of Home Rule.  The Home Rule Charter granting self-governance powers and rights to the citizens of the District passed Congress in late 1973, and by August 1978, the Congress had approved a proposed Amendment to the US constitution that would have granted the District of Columbia full voting rights in the US House and Senate.  The text of that proposed Amendment read, in part,  that:  ``For purposes of representation in the Congress, election of the President and Vice President, and article V of this Constitution, the District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be treated as though it were a State.’’

But both movements have regressed from those high achievements during the heady years of the post-Civil Rights era.  Membership in the DC Statehood Party dwindled to the point where the party of Julius Hobson had to merge with the Green Party to survive.  No Statehood Party candidate has prevailed in DC elections since the last century.  The proposed Constitutional Amendment died after seven years when only 16 of the 38 stated needed for ratification had approved its adoption.  The citizen-driven statehood conventions of the 1970s and 1980s, which produced a draft Constitution and proposed government reforms, are but a long, forgotten memory, if they are remembered at all.  The movement now consists mainly of locally  publicized protests and arrests that have little or no impact, and the periodic offer of a few crumbs tossed out by Congress that never seem to generate any real change. 

Sometimes, the best way forward is an old path retaken.  It’s time to revive the drive for enactment of a DC Voting Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.  Just as they did during the 1970 and ‘80s, Republicans desperately need to find an appeal to African American voters if they are ever going to have any hope of re-occupying the White House.  Revival of the failed Amendment offers them an almost risk-free opportunity to make that appeal.  After all, Boehner, McConnell and company can conclude, they are only supporting the expansion of democratic ideals.  The states would still have the final decision, and states’ rights is the Gospel of the GOP. 

But this time, we know the trail we must trod to victory, and we won’t make the mistakes of the earlier generation, and wait until 18 states have ratified the Amendment before we roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We will hit the trail, going from state capital to state capital, to make the case for the Amendment the minute the Congress approves it.  But before that, we will be calling on allies in each state to pressure their members of Congress for approval of the proposed DC Voting Rights Amendment.    We can’t sleep on this opportunity a second time.  

Supporters of DC Statehood should not view the renewed drive for enactment of the Constitutional Amendment as a threat to their goals, which was often the case in the past.  The achievement of full Voting Rights in Congress will not be at the peril of Statehood, but will serve to move the District closer to achieving that goal, as the Amendment’s text, quoted above, aptly illustrates.  The last four decades proved that statehood is not something that is going to be gained in one fell swoop by a few activists breathlessly hoping to declare, ``Mission Accomplished.’’  Statehood and full voting rights are going to be won incrementally by the struggle of the many, piling up small victories, step by step, until the dream is realized. 

To those who say the path is more difficult now than ever, I say:  Who among you 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, would have predicted that same-sex marriage would be accepted and legal by the early 21st century?  Who, in 1980, would have predicted that gays would be serving openly in the military by now?  Times change, people change, attitudes and viewpoints progress.  

The renewed push for enactment of the Constitutional Amendment could also serve to invigorate a new generation of Civil Rights leaders that is much needed in this era of injustice, stand-your-ground laws, voter suppression aimed at minorities and the poor, and stark inequalities in our educational and criminal justice systems.  

This is my platform.  And this will be my agenda if I am elected to the office of Shadow US Senator for the District of Columbia.  

A New Way ForwardDC Statehood and Voting Rights

Forty years ago, the movement for DC Statehood and the campaign for full voting rights both flourished in the District and across the nation.  The DC Statehood Party, formed in 1970, had succeeded in winning a seat on the District’s first elected school board, and was about to elevate party co-founder Julius Hobson to a seat on the first elected DC Council following enactment of Home Rule.  The Home Rule Charter granting self-governance powers and rights to the citizens of the District passed Congress in late 1973, and by August 1978, the Congress had approved a proposed Amendment to the US constitution that would have granted the District of Columbia full voting rights in the US House and Senate.  The text of that proposed Amendment read, in part,  that:  ``For purposes of representation in the Congress, election of the President and Vice President, and article V of this Constitution, the District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be treated as though it were a State.’’

But both movements have regressed from those high achievements during the heady years of the post-Civil Rights era.  Membership in the DC Statehood Party dwindled to the point where the party of Julius Hobson had to merge with the Green Party to survive.  No Statehood Party candidate has prevailed in DC elections since the last century.  The proposed Constitutional Amendment died after seven years when only 16 of the 38 stated needed for ratification had approved its adoption.  The citizen-driven statehood conventions of the 1970s and 1980s, which produced a draft Constitution and proposed government reforms, are but a long, forgotten memory, if they are remembered at all.  The movement now consists mainly of locally  publicized protests and arrests that have little or no impact, and the periodic offer of a few crumbs tossed out by Congress that never seem to generate any real change.

Sometimes, the best way forward is an old path retaken.  It’s time to revive the drive for enactment of a DC Voting Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.  Just as they did during the 1970 and ‘80s, Republicans desperately need to find an appeal to African American voters if they are ever going to have any hope of re-occupying the White House.  Revival of the failed Amendment offers them an almost risk-free opportunity to make that appeal.  After all, Boehner, McConnell and company can conclude, they are only supporting the expansion of democratic ideals.  The states would still have the final decision, and states’ rights is the Gospel of the GOP.

But this time, we know the trail we must trod to victory, and we won’t make the mistakes of the earlier generation, and wait until 18 states have ratified the Amendment before we roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We will hit the trail, going from state capital to state capital, to make the case for the Amendment the minute Congress approves it.  But before that, we will be calling on allies in each state to pressure their members of Congress for approval of the proposed DC Voting Rights Amendment.    We can’t sleep on this opportunity a second time.

Supporters of DC Statehood should not view the renewed drive for enactment of the Constitutional Amendment as a threat to their goals, which was often the case in the past.  The achievement of full Voting Rights in Congress will not be at the peril of Statehood, but will serve to move the District closer to achieving that goal, as the Amendment’s text, quoted above, aptly illustrates.  The last four decades proved that statehood is not something that is going to be gained in one fell swoop by a few activists breathlessly hoping to declare, ``Mission Accomplished.’’  Statehood and full voting rights are going to be won incrementally by the struggle of the many, piling up small victories, step by step, until the dream is realized.

The renewed push for enactment of the Constitutional Amendment could also serve to invigorate a new generation of Civil Rights leaders that is much needed in this era of injustice, stand-your-ground laws, voter suppression aimed at minorities and the poor, and stark inequalities in our educational and criminal justice systems.

This is my platform.  

And this will be my agenda if I am elected to the office of Shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia.

Pete Ross

Candidate - Democrat U.S. Senate