“All or Nothing” Worked for Rosa Parks, Why Not DC?

On September 14th, 2012 Patrick Mara penned an Op-Ed that was carried in the Washington Post that articulated many of our setbacks over the last year in our push for full and equal citizenship rights here in the District of Columbia. While there are many truths in his piece I believe he meekly draws the wrong conclusions based on the belief that we as District citizens should just give and give and give in order to get some crumbs from Congress. Our methods and tactics should be questioned and analyzed and Mr. Mara makes good points but ultimately I see his push for a quasi-budget autonomy as something that will lead us down a path of 212+ more years of inequality, something none of us should tolerate.

First, I wholly agree that the movement for Statehood (he’s a budget autonomy believer while I’m one of those “pie in the sky” statehood folks) should focus on both major political parties and other parties. The modern day Statehood movement and the autonomy supporters are wedded to the Democratic Party which cheapens the Statehood argument to a partisan one. This struggle is a civil rights struggle. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Statehood-Greens, and Libertarians in the District are all equally disenfranchised. Our movement should reach out to all members of Congress as they all play a key role in passing the legislation that could make us whole citizens.

Second, I believe he fails to see that what makes Congress act is pressure from the people such as mass movements (or sadly through donations). The Civil Rights Movement transcended partisanship but not politics because citizens were organized around a debate of right vs. wrong. An engaged citizenry forced the issue after a hundred years of neglect and tinkering around the edges the issue. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed it did so with both Republican and Democratic support only after years of mass protest, lobbying, and citizen engagement in the struggle. Mr. Mara thinks we need to make deals, I think we need to get organized. What we need is not to compromise our principles to get some crumbs, what we need is for the 638,000 citizens of the District to get organized so we can share a piece of the whole democratic pie with our neighbors in the 50 states.

Third, Mr. Mara is correct that Steny Hoyer opposes Statehood because of the commuter tax, so does Jim Moran as they both are on the record for voting against DC Statehood back in 1993. But in 1993 is that Barbara Mikulski was a cosponsor of the Senate version of the New Columbia Admission Act and Ben Cardin, then in the House, voted for the bill as did several other members of the House from Maryland including the only Republican to vote for the bill, Wayne Gilchrist. Marylanders do support DC Statehood, heck even the PG County Council voted unanimously earlier this year to support it. The commuter tax is a real issue that needs to be worked out but to give up before having a debate on it is ridiculous.

And finally, Mr. Mara closes his piece by asking how much longer we should be willing to take an “all or nothing approach” to working with Congress. We’ve been denied full and equal citizenship rights for 212+ years so I’m not willing to bend over to pick up a few crumbs from Congress just so I can still be hungry. This is about me and yes, it’s about my daughter, and I am unwilling to make more deals to keep her less than a full and equal citizen. We’ve been dealt crappy deals for 212+ years why ask for more of the same? Our problem is not an “all or nothing approach,” our problem is that we all are not on the same page and we all, all 638,000 of us, are not active in an organized movement. If we all stand up, speak out, and act as a unified front for statehood our day will come.

I close with a couple of questions of my own: Mr. Mara, do you question the wisdom and moral righteousness of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Improvement Association’s “all or nothing” approach toward ending segregation on buses and then across the South? If not them, why us?


To get involved in organizing District citizens in the Statehood movement contact us at unitedforstatehood@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter: @JBurchDC

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