UPDATED: UPON REFLECTION MAYBE THE STATEHOOD GLASS IS ONLY 1/4 FULL AND NOT HALF FULL AS ARTICULATED BELOW BUT THE POINT REMAINS: SOME SIGNIFICANT WORK HAS TAKEN PLACE OVER THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF IN THE PUSH FOR DC STATEHOOD.
In the LooseLips column in the Washington City paper, Take My Statehood-Please, Alan Suderman details the last year and a half of the statehood movement and comes to the conclusion that we’re failing. While, the column accurately depicts the last year and half of failed half attempts by political leaders to bring about statehood what it fails to look at is what the non-elected, non-DC Vote folks are doing. Part of the problem is that the media and many citizens in this struggle look only to DC Vote and the elected leaders of the city for guidance and direction. The Loose Lips column looks at the portion of the statehood glass which is half empty but fails to look at the portions that are half full.
What LooseLips, many in the media, and many Washingtonians fail to realize is that the statehood movement is simply a civil rights movement and leadership in civil rights movements rarely comes from those in elected office. William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass were not elected leaders. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Mother Jones never won elective office. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Hosea Williams, and yes, Marion Barry were not elected officials (yet). All of the aforementioned Americans were average citizens, nobodies, who were inspired to act to do what was right despite the failed leadership of the day to bring about justice and equality within American democracy. So LooseLips is right to criticize our leaders but he’s missing something else that’s happening. A group of nobodies has been slowly and methodically organizing and acting to bring about statehood for the citizens of the District of Columbia.
Over the last year and a half an army of nobodies have organized over the last year, as part of the DC Statehood Alliance, to lobby for congressional support for the statehood bill on Capitol Hill. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the New Columbia Admission Act (HR 265) in January 2011. After 9 months of EHN’s office not seeking cosponsors for the bill citizens under the umbrella group the Statehood Alliance then organized to lobby selected members in the House to cosponsor the bill. Because our elected delegate was not pushing for cosponsors for the statehood bill, District citizens took it upon themselves to do it and have had modest but tangible success in their effort. As a result of the work of an army of nobodies today there are 28 cosponsors on the DC Statehood Bill. While this is still a small number it is a substantive achievement, something that our elected leaders have failed to provide. The DC Statehood Alliance has contacted and met with over 75 offices in the House of Representatives just to discuss the Statehood Bill, I doubt either the Council, the Mayor, or DC Vote can claim to match those numbers. The Statehood Alliance is a prime example of what the sustained and methodical work an army of nobodies can achieve. The statehood glass is half full.
After the Mayor and others got arrested in April 2011, I and a neighbor hosted a house party with neighbors to discuss what we felt should be done to achieve statehood. From that meeting we formed a group, Neighbors United for DC Statehood, whose goal it is to have statehood groups in the 130+ neighborhoods throughout the District. We started our organizing effort in Brookland by going to the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association (BNCA) to see if they wanted to focus on DC Statehood. In their November 2011 monthly meeting we hosted a teach-in on Statehood and at the conclusion of that meeting the BNCA voted to form Statehood Committee. Since that time the Statehood Committee can account for the direct lobbying that resulted in 14 of the current 28 cosponsors of the New Columbia Admission Act and has met with over 40 House offices. The Statehood Committee is a group of no more than 10 citizens who believe they can create change. If Brooklanders can do it, so can the other 130 neighborhoods throughout the District. The statehood glass is half full.
And maybe most importantly over the last year and a half the citizens are starting to wake up to the fact that Statehood is only the answer. We’ve seen that budget autonomy will still allow for Congressional meddling; we’ve seen that a vote in the House would probably be revoked at the turn of an election; we’ve seen that these silly legislative band-aids might be more about one person’s legacy or one organization’s aim to please their funders. District citizens in Cleveland Park, Brookland, Congress Heights, Deanwood, and elsewhere are starting to pull away the veil of terms like voting rights and budget autonomy and starting to coalesce around the push for Statehood. We have a long way to go, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we know that the leadership for the Statehood movement is not located in the Wilson Building it’s located in the neighborhoods that make up our future state. LooseLips is right, the statehood glass might be half empty, but many of us have be quietly organizing and working to make sure the glass is half full. LooseLips is right but his story is incomplete…our work has only just begun.
PS- Alan, if you want to learn about the grassroots Statehood movement get away from the Wilson Building for a while and come join us in Brookland. We’re small, but powerful.