In this present Congress, the elected city leadership has once again decided to align itself with the failed strategy of incrementalism. City leadership from the Council, to the Mayor, and to our Delegate on the Hill all know that Statehood is the only way to achieve full and equal citizenship and irrevocable autonomy over local affairs yet they believe that we can achieve this one piece at a time. Several years ago, folks felt that if we just got one vote in the House that it would be a watershed moment for Democracy in DC and in the US but that vote failed. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the citizens fought for “Home Rule” and what we got was limited home rule. In the 1970s we fought for a constitutional amendment for full Congressional representation but not local autonomy and that failed. And now, the current elected leadership thinks we can get budget autonomy but the leadership in Congress only wants to grant us limited autonomy (yes, they believe that ‘limited’ and ‘autonomy’ can go together, I don’t).
It’s time to stop dancing around the edges of what we want. Right now the Mayor and Delegate Norton want budget autonomy but as an article in the Washington Post points out a large contingent of the House of Representatives won’t give us complete autonomy. What they might consider giving us is autonomy over everything except for our ability to fund abortion services. That’s what they say this year and I’m sure next year or next Congress there will be another issue that we won’t have control over. The battle for budget autonomy is a waste of time and resources. I am not opposed to the bill, I like the bill, but I prefer Statehood and believe that if we’re going to have a debate with Congress let’s have it about what we want not about some substandard piece of the pie they might give us with strings.
While we have a debate about budget autonomy and whether or not to link abortion services to it no one is talking about fair and equal congressional representation in this debate. When we wasted time and energy several years ago looking for one vote in the House that’s all we talked about. We didn’t talk about the Senate or local control over local affairs instead we talked about one measly unconstitutional vote in the House. Our strategy is a failed strategy and it confuses our allies. A few months ago I met with a native Washingtonian and legislative staffer for a Representative from a Maryland suburban district and his question to me, while meeting about the Statehood Bill, was “what does the District really want? You all have all of these bills but what ultimately do you want?”
The elected leadership needs to wake up, the non-profits that promote incrementalism need to wake up, and the citizens need to wake up and coalesce around Statehood. Let’s have debates about needle exchanges and abortion services and school vouchers and height limits in the big Statehood debate. Let’s talk about Statehood with the rest of the nation and see if they think that politicians in Washington should micromanage their state affairs. I think we have a winning issue and a winning cause but we have too many people running around trying to fight over crumbs that they forget that there’s a big pie up there that we all have a right to. Incrementalism has failed and it has failed to gain citizens of the District of Columbia fair and equal citizenship for over 200 years. As Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The time has come to break free of the insanity and embrace a wholehearted and unified push for Statehood. If we’re going to have a great debate let’s have it about what we ultimately want and I want Statehood, how about you?
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