David Alpert in the Greater Greater Washington blog just posted the fifth post in a series on the passage of the District’s Home Rule Act in 1973 (It is well worth reading all posts). The articles cover different facets of the congressional debate on the billing ranging from discussions about non-partisan elections, the appointment of the chief of police, the court system, the ability for the city to pass criminal law, and the bipartisan support for the bill. While the pieces are informative and substantive on there own there are few additional takeaways that readers should also keep in mind when reading these articles in whole.
First, the articles show that even in the post-Civil Rights Act era in Congress members of Congress where still unwilling to give the District complete control over its own affairs. The Home Rule Act, while a huge step forward compared to where we had been democratically, should have been more appropriately named the “Limited Home Rule Act.” Members of Congress in both parties wanted to be able to still influence affairs in the District and still many feared true democratic home rule. The Home Rule Act should never be viewed as an end rather a step in the direction toward statehood.
Second, by looking at the votes on the Home Rule Act in 1973 it shows that even some fairly racist and partisan members of Congress saw the bill as simply the right democratic thing to do. Despite a history of societal prejudice and racism members of Congress, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, voted to allow District citizens to have unprecedented control (albeit with restrictions) over the nation’s capital. While the struggle for true democracy in the District has been a 212 year struggle to date, the bipartisan vote for Home Rule is an indicator that even some of our biggest detractors will join us and our fight for equality once they break free of the veil of partisanship and embrace our cause as one of justice, equality, and democracy.
Third, a follow-up article should be written specifically about Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater, two arch conservatives, who both voted against the Home Rule Act but then five years later in 1978 voted for a Constitutional Amendment to allow the District to have one voting member of the House and two US Senators. It would be a fascinating read to find out what caused these two conservative stalwarts to succumb to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theory that the “moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” The story of how and why those two conservative icons evolved to go from opposing a move toward democracy in the District then to have them vote to further enhance and enshrine democracy in the constitution is a story worth knowing.
And finally, by reading the articles on the Home Rule Act and looking at the members of both parties that embraced the movement toward democracy in the District when confronted with it should give hope to DC Statehood supporters. While the path ahead is rough, if Barry Goldwater and Storm Thurmond could vote to enhance democracy in the District so can the extremes of each party today. These articles also show that while the Home Rule Act was a democratic step forward it is limited and only statehood will put us on permanent equal footing with our 300 million neighbors in the 50 states. It’s often said, ‘what’s past is prologue’ and the history of the Home Rule Act paints a picture that clearly shows our path forward must be a bipartisan push for fairness, equality, and democracy. The push for statehood is attainable in this generation and we must seize upon the opportunities before us.
Let’s get organized, let’s get statehood!
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