Sometimes problems are really big, and they can be intimidating. How, when faced with complex societal challenges, does a single person go up against entrenched, powerful forces and succeed?
Among the things that have motivated me as an activist is a white wall in the Holocaust Museum. The wall lists hundreds of names, maybe thousands. Each of those names belongs to a person who did something productive, if small, to fight Nazi persecution during the Holocaust. The individuals the wall commemorates, by in large, did not engage in strategic, coordinated action. Rather, they housed a Jew in a laundromat they operated, or fed a concentration camp detainee through a fence. But collectively, the actions of people listed on the Holocaust Museum’s white wall mattered a lot, saved many lives, and accomplished much good in an era of government-sanctioned genocide.
That lesson of small, seemingly insignificant things being part of something larger and powerful has stuck with me, and I believe the lesson has applications for activists engaged in a variety of movements. Among them: DC statehood.
The disenfranchisement of the residents of Washington, DC is the status quo. It has gone on for more than 200 years. The solution seems simple enough: give DC statehood. But there are reasons we don’t have DC statehood, and they all relate to power. There are people in Congress who don’t want to share concentrated power with a larger group of people. Platitudes about democracy be damned, we have elected officials who are perfectly happy about taxation without representation, if it means they have more political clout and control.
And how do you fight that? Members of Congress don’t just, out of the goodness of their hearts, say, “Oh yeah, you guys are totally being screwed here on the democracy front. Paying taxes, fighting in wars, but having no say in how your government works? Our bad! Let’s fix that.”
DC’s disenfranchisement is frustrating for most of its citizens. People have been fighting this battle for centuries, literally, and failed.
Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by how big the DC statehood challenge is. But I’ve decided to adopt the lesson I learned from the Holocaust Museum’s white wall as a sort of motivational mantra. If I can’t unilaterally restore basic democratic rights to the citizens of the District of Columbia, I can do some small things – one thing a month, say – and collectively, combined with the work and strategies of other friends, neighbors, and activists, those things will add up to something bigger.
And so I challenge my family, friends, neighbors, and citizens who seek to change our status to adopt the same policy: one thing a month for statehood. Members of our group have written to papers around the country to get Op-Eds published, educated our to our fellow college alumni through pieces about statehood in newsletters, and helped family around the country draft letters about statehood to their members of Congress. Your one thing a month can be small and that might seem like nothing, but it counts as SOMETHING. And the more little somethings we have, done consistently, the more we can grow momentum around the statehood cause, and the more consequential our collective actions will be.
To join this effort, to get background materials on statehood to support your “one thing a month for statehood, or to share your one thing a month for statehood please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.