Building a Movement for Statehood

Earlier this week I made a quip on Twitter that we needed to achieve a ‘critical mass’ of people working for statehood. I was questioned about what exactly a ‘critical mass’ would be for statehood and so I’m going to try and explain that here. The reality is that there’s no scientific number of people that would create a critical mass that would automatically result in statehood. It’s much more complicated than that  and thus my use of the term ‘critical mass’ was imprecise. There are however, a few key constituencies, whose active engagement, I believe, would foster the creation of a mass movement that very well could lead to statehood. The sad reality is that we don’t have enough people or resources committed to the statehood cause presently so there is much before us to do.

The suggestions below are recommendations on how we can better organize ourselves to create a more effective movement. No one person or group bears responsibility for achieving statehood, rather we all bear it. We are all in this together, and I believe if we’re methodical about our process and actions we can make it a reality.

Here’s break down of who we need to activate and what they could do:

District Citizens:

·         1 in 100 People Doing Something: We need about one out of every hundred people doing something. In the District that means over 6,000 people playing an active role in the statehood movement. For some people their contribution could be emailing one member of Congress a week or a month to ask them to support statehood. For others it could mean picking a state and focusing on all of the elected members of Congress from that state and for others it could mean leading teach-ins with friends and family about why statehood is important. Most importantly we need more people involved and more people taking ownership of the movement, some with larger time investments than others but we all must do something. When put in the context of 1/100 people doing something for statehood I believe that’s quite achievable and would add 6,000 people to the cause.

·         Active Civic Groups: Civic groups should be the unifying bodies across the District that provide organizational structure and backing to the statehood cause. Every ANC and Civic/Citizen Association could lead a lobby day on the Hill once a year or pick a state delegation to focus on to educate about statehood. Having ANCs, or Civic/Citizen Associations, or Religious institutions play this role helps demonstrate to Congress and the President citywide support for statehood and it comes from non-partisan groups. So, while these groups already have a lot on their collective plates I do think they should accept the responsibility of providing the organizational structure and backing to a neighborhood led statehood movement. In fact, the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association gave life to our group over two years ago and we continue to expand our numbers across the Ward and across the city.

·         Convergence on the Hill: Too often we think rallies will lead to a movement rather than having a movement culminate with a rally. I believe that if we had a year or two of a sustained District-wide citizen led lobbying effort on the Hill there could be a powerful culminating rally that begins with a non-traditional march. Imagine if citizens and civic groups from around the city met up in their respective Wards and all marched/caravaned/biked to the Capitol from different areas of the city. Imagine folks from Fairfax Village, PennBranch, Randle Highlands, Hillcrest, and Fairlawn met up along along Pennsylvania Ave. and marched toward the Capitol. Citizens from Ward 2 march down Constitution Ave., and their neighbors from Wards 4 and 5 marched down North Capitol, all converging on the Capitol from different directions. The imagery of citizens converging on the Capitol from all eight Wards would be a powerful image and culminating event to tell Congress ‘We Deserve Statehood.’

District Government:

·         Mayor/Executive Office: At some point the District needs sustained executive leadership on statehood. We need the mayor or an executive designee/office to be a constant presence on the Hill building relationships and advocating for statehood. Too often the mayor-Congress or mayor-President relationship is borne out of crisis. We need proactive not reactive executive engagement and relationship building throughout all four years of a mayoral term. An executive office on statehood as I’ve suggested could be one way forward.

·         Council Lobby Days: The Council, although a legislative body, could easily play a simple yet effective role in organizing citizens and engaging Congress. As I’ve suggested before with 13 Councilmembers each could choose a state to lobby or choose a month each year where they spent some time lobbying on the Hill. This would be a great way to invite constituents up on to the Hill as well to help citizens and elected leaders partner on this venture.

·         Shadow Delegation: I’ve written about this before but if we’re not serious about providing resources to the delegation we hinder our chances of getting serious results from the delegation. We need to fully fund and think strategically about how the shadow delegation operates.

Friends in the 50 States:

·         This group is arguably where we need to do the most work as it’s the group that might have the most influence. If the above listed groups are all active part of their work could be to engage friends and family in the 50 states. My parents live and vote in Virginia so I have them every few months remind their Senators that statehood is important to them and they should support the bill in the Senate. If it’s only my parents sending such messages we won’t get very far but think about if 100 District citizens asked their friends and family in Virginia to contact Senators Kaine and Warner all at the same time asking them to support statehood. We could follow this model state by state but only if we get thousands of District citizens willing to do something for the statehood cause.

We don’t have much money in the statehood movement so we need to be strategic and methodical if want to create a powerful movement. I’m not sure there is a number that would be the tipping point for having a ‘critical mass,’ in fact I shouldn’t have used that term, but there are sound ways to build an effective statehood movement if only we all buy-in, stay focused, and follow through. Statehood is achievable before my almost 3 year old turns 18 but it won’t happen if our numbers don’t grow and our actions aren’t refined. Achieving statehood is ultimately in the hands and the responsibility of the 632,000 disenfranchised citizens in the District of Columbia.

There are many other ways to further the statehood cause but the above list is what I believe would be a good way to build a stable foundation for the statehood movement.

Josh Burch


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