On Saturday, August 24, 2013, as part of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington commemoration, there was a Rally and March for DC Statehood. Mayor Gray and his team deserve a lot of credit for getting the word out and getting people to the rally. The rally was well attended and there was a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd for the statehood cause. The turnout for the rally offers two important lessons: 1) District citizens are hungry for statehood and want opportunities to channel that spirit and energy toward more meaningful efforts toward statehood; and 2) when the District government commits time and resources to the statehood cause citizens respond. To that end we cannot sit back and bask in the success of one rally and march instead we must move forward and walk the talk on DC statehood.
Several speakers said that we need to engage Congress on this issue and we at Neighbors United for DC Statehood along with Shadow Representative Nate Bennett-Fleming and the DC Statehood Coalition have been doing just that. Despite our good efforts we need more citizens calling, emailing, and meeting on the Hill to let Congress know that we want statehood. We need you to join us in that effort. On the Senate side from the comfort of your own home you could email priority Senate offices with a simple message (Senate_Priority_Outreach.pdf): “Please cosponsor S. 132, The New Columbia Admission Act, for it is the only bill in both Houses of Congress that will make us full and equal citizens.”
The second takeaway from the rally for statehood is important: committing resources matters. This mayor gives one of the best statehood speeches around yet his follow through has been non-existent. Now three years into his mayoral term he has yet to commit any new resources to the statehood cause. This rally, in fact, was his administration’s best effort yet toward statehood and it garnered results but it’s sad that three years in this was the administration’s best effort toward statehood. More is needed. In the weeks leading up to the rally (and yes, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington is a significant event to garner people’s attention) the administration was relentless on Twitter, Facebook, and through other outreach venues promoting this rally. Imagine if they did the same thing for a statehood lobby day or lobby days on the Hill? Our lobby days in the past have had dozens of people participate but with the weight of the mayor’s office and possibly the Council too we could have hundreds of citizens meeting with offices on the Hill saying “we want statehood.” As a matter of fact with Columbus Day on the horizon why not have a New Columbia lobby day around that time. And the entire Council could join us too, with citizen lobby teams from all eight Wards demonstrating one big Neighbors United for DC Statehood family!
Outreach and promoting lobby events would be at minimal cost to the District but that alone won’t achieve our goal of statehood. A need for significant and sustained funding for the statehood cause is needed. Our shadow delegation needs to be funded fully, the District needs to issue grant funds focused solely on statehood work, and the Mayor needs to follow through on his announcement to create a statehood office to help direct and coordinate efforts on the hill, in neighborhoods, and around the country. Money matters and at some point Mayor Gray and the Council needs to put money where their mouths are as it relates to statehood.
While there were many positives about the Rally for Statehood on August 24th we’d be fools to not act on some key lessons learned from the rally. District citizens want statehood and they want to participate in the process of achieving it. The District government cannot and should not bear the entire burden to fight for statehood but it needs to do more than it has done, we need to commit more time and resources to the cause. Additionally, citizens need to stop waiting for those who give lofty speeches to lead and waiting for the next rally or protest. The work of contacting members of Congress is well underway and is something that each and every one of us must bear responsibility to undertake. It’s time for those on the stage at the statehood rally and those in the audience to start walking the talk and become more actively engaged in the statehood movement.
Some thoughts from the back of the crowd,