In the recently approved budget the District will be creating a new Office of Statehood Delegation (OSD) that will have an executive director charged with coordinating statehood efforts for the District Government. This is a good step forward but the Executive Director and her/his team needs to hit the ground running to make sure that the funding provided, $225,800, is used wisely and effectively. While the District’s leadership works out what the office will focus on here are a few substantive actions that I believe the OSD should work on (and yes, these suggestions might deviate from the intent of the office):
- Community Education & Organizing: The OSD should partner with statehood groups around the city to make sure that every civic and citizens association and house of worship has presentations and Q & A sessions on statehood. Citizens need to have regular updates on happenings and progress toward statehood on a very personal level and the OSD needs to lead this effort. We need an engaged civic movement for statehood so that when we go up to the Hill our lobby days don’t have dozens of people but hundreds or thousands of people. Without an engaged District citizenry statehood will not happen.
- Advocacy on the Hill: A lot of progress has been made on the Hill over the last several years but the OSD must support and continue advocacy efforts in the House & Senate so that there’s a constant DC presence on the Hill. Members of Congress need to know that this issue will not go away for another 20 years and that District citizens and leadership want progress now, not later. This office needs to develop relationships with key staff and members of Congress so we develop a network of people who are not just supporters of the bill but active advocates for it.
- Statehood Education in Schools: DC high schools students traditionally get both US and some DC history in their 12th grade year. The OSD should lead educational sessions or offer grants to non-profits to ensure that every DC high school student (public, public charter, and private) has the opportunity to engage in meaning sessions, discussions, and debates on the subject of statehood. It’s vitally important to have these discussions in 12th grade because many will go on to college the following year which is a great way to spread information about our cause to a larger and national audience.
- Statehood Fellowships: College students have been integral parts of many civil rights movements and the District needs to enlist the support of students around the country to take on this cause. There are roughly 5000 DC students presently in colleges around the country receiving DC TAG scholarships, not to mention the thousands of other DC young people attending college without support from DC TAG. The OSD should establish a competitive fellowship program for DC college students where they apply for a stipend to support pro-DC statehood work of their own creation at the college or university they are attending. Students would have to create a proposal for funding pro-statehood work on their campus and the winners would get a stipend to support this effort. This could start small with just 5-10 fellowships being awarded early on to students attending colleges in targeted states (see below) and if successful could be expanded annually. For the statehood cause to advance we need sustained, energized, and engaged support at the state level and college campuses could be a great place to start.
- Targeted States: The OSD has limited financial resources but should pick a few targeted states in the first year (I’d recommend NC, PA, OH, NH, and ME) where the OSD visits to meet with local politically active groups such as unions, civil rights groups, and others to start building support at the local level for statehood. By building a low network of supporters we could turn them into our advocates in trying to get their Senators and Representatives to support the bill. Over time the OSD the list of targeted states will continue to grow.
- Media Campaign: The District needs to educate the rest of the country on a grand scale about our plight and the OSD needs to lead the effort on a coordinated media campaign using both social media and traditional advertising to help reach the rest of the country to educate them about our present status and about what our ultimate goal is.
The above list is a full slate of work for one or two people and maybe it exceeds the budget available but it’s better for the OSD to have too much on its plate than too little. The OSD, however, should not be looked at as the end all and be all of the statehood movement. There are many actions not mentioned above that others must do and take charge of. This cause must be owned and led by the citizens of the District and the OSD should help to give structure and focus to some of the avenues that must be pursued for the District to become a state. The OSD cannot do it all but it can play an important role in the pursuit of statehood and if the District chooses the right people to run the office and provides them with the necessary resources and political will to make it happen this could be a transformational moment for the statehood movement.
District voters will vote on whether or not we want to legalize marijuana on November 4, 2014, but our vote will not be the final word on the matter because only in a democracy does the vote of the people count. Recently, New York Times Editorial Board endorsed legalization in the District and other states but it is unfair to lump the District’s efforts with those of Alaska, Oregon, and Washington State and Colorado before us. The comparison is misleading because only in the District of Columbia is the voice and vote of the citizens meaningless and by high noon on November 5, 2014, we should know if ideologues in Congress want to interfere with our new law. We could pass this referendum with an overwhelming majority but one or two members of Congress along with a President averse to standing up for our right to control our own affairs could overturn our vote without our advice or consent.
Policy debates around marijuana have demonstrated that we in the District really are the last colony on American shores. In 1998, District voters with a majority 69% of the vote voted to legalize medical marijuana but Congress, as it is constitutionally allowed to, initially intervened and forbade us from using our own tax dollars to count the votes on the referendum and then used riders from allowing us to implement legalized medical marijuana for over 12 years after we voted for it. Even though the vast majority of our budget comes from locally raised revenue our budget still must be approved by Congress. Congress, our democratically elected legislative branch of government forbade that the District count its own votes. American democracy in not alive and well in the shadows of the Capitol in fact American democracy is denied to those of us living in that building’s shadows.
Earlier this year after the District Council (state legislature) passed a law to decriminalize marijuana Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) began working the Halls of Congress to either overturn our law or to prevent us from spending our own money to implement it. Mr. Harris hails from a state that already has decriminalized marijuana yet he used his perch in Congress in an effort to bully the District and to make a point on a law that he could not even prevent in his home state. Marijuana, abortion, and other policy issues are issues usually left for the states and the courts to deal with except for here in the District. Mr. Harris picked on us because he could and only statehood for the District of Columbia can prevent these efforts to subvert the voice of the people and our elected representatives.
While we have the opportunity to vote on marijuana legalization like the states our path toward legalization will undoubtedly be much rockier. We have no Senators to defend us. We have no voting member of the House to defend us. We have a President who has used us as a bargaining chip in the past simply because he could. We sadly are not a state and time and time again ideologues in Congress remind of us that fact when they act to manipulate our laws or use us as bargaining chips in budget negotiations.
We are not a state and our effort to legalize marijuana cannot be separated for our yearning to be on equal footing with the 50 states. We pay taxes, fight in wars, and fulfill all obligations of American citizenship yet we are denied representation in Congress and are not the final arbiter of our own local affairs. Fundamentally our right to vote is more important than our right to smoke and while we might overwhelmingly vote for marijuana legalization on November 4th come November 5th at high noon there might be a fight a-brewin’ between the District and Congress. I hope we’re ready for it, I am.
While the nation turns it’s eyes toward the mid-term elections, especially the Senate, we in the District should not lose the momentum from the Senate’s hearing on the statehood bill. Neighbors United for DC Statehood, the DC Statehood Coalition, and others are keeping the pressure on the Senate to build support for the bill this year! You can help in by doing the following:
- Call, email, or Tweet to the Senate offices listed here with a simple ask: Please take a stand for fairness & equality by cosponsoring S. 132, #DCstatehood. Here’s how to contact our key target Senators: SenatePriority2014
- Join us on November 15th for a DC Statehood Strategy session from 10am-12pm (location TBD)
- Take part in a DC Statehood Senate Lobby Day on November 18th!
There’s something for everybody to do and if we all do one simple thing, collectively our individual voices have great power. Let’s get active for statehood and keep the momentum moving forward.
Come join us at the Argonaut at 1433 H St. NE on Wednesday, October 8th, from 6:30-8pm. We’ll be having a meet-up conveniently located near the intersection of Wards 5, 6, & 7 though all are most welcome. Come join us to learn about what’s been going on in the statehood movement of late, share your ideas on how we can make it better, learn about upcoming events, and ask lots of questions. This will be more of a social gathering than a meeting so come meet your neighbors who are also interested in and or working for statehood.
In addition to being held a great pro-statehood bar & restaurant we’ll have some fun DC history games for attendees, we’ll do some strategic #DCStatehood tweeting (for those who partake in The Twitter), and pick-up your “Statehood for the People of DC” sign. Can we do all of this in just an hour & a half? Yes We Can!
It’ll be a good time so please bring a friend or neighbor!
For more details contact Josh Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org and RSVP on our Facebook Event Page.