To put it simply: we planned, we organized, and we advocated. Standing up and speaking out for statehood isn’t a complicated venture for those of us in the District. We all live within a 30 minute car, metro, bike ride, or walk of the US Capitol yet for some reason too few of advocate for DC statehood. On the 152nd Anniversary of DC Emancipation Day on both the House and Senate side of the Capitol statehood District citizens made our case to Democrats and Republicans that statehood is a cause about fairness, something that all members of Congress should support.
Neighbors United for DC Statehood took the lead advocating on the Senate side while our colleagues in the DC Statehood Coalition and our Shadow Representative Nate Bennet-Fleming took the lead on the House side. Senate meetings consisted of offices old and new which meant we met with six offices for the first time to educate them on the merits of the bill and met with fourteen offices as follow-up visits. It did not matter whether it was a first-time meeting or a follow-up meeting, Democrat or Republican office, our ‘ask’ was the same which was to request that each Senator cosponsor S. 132, the New Columbia Admission Act.
Rarely in meetings do staffers let us know their boss’ true feelings on the bill but more often than not there are several common themes with the first time offices we’ve met with:
1. Shocked & Confused: In our first meeting of the day the staffer was shocked that there was a statehood bill, embarrassed that she didn’t know about it, and confused as to why no one had come to their office to ask for their support on the bill. The shock of our “friends on the Hill” is precisely why we have advocacy days so that we can let offices know about the bill and ask for their support on it. Over and over again we’ve heard from offices that they have never met with any one from the District, elected officials nor everyday citizens, about statehood. If we don’t advocate for ourselves why should we expect others to act on our behalf?
2. Politics: Commonly among both sides of the aisle once we explain the merits and mechanics of DC statehood and the bill there are usually few objections to the bill itself. Too often, though not surprisingly, the conversation then shifts to the politics of the bill. Democrats worry about cosponsoring if they are from a conservative state and Republicans worry about being the first Republican to cosponsor the bill. It’s sad that the merits of a bill or righteousness of a cause are not the main considerations as to whether or not a member of Congress supports a bill but that’s the system we live in.
3. Sympathy: We often get that look from staffers especially the ones who keep their voter registration in their home state (understandably). While I guess it’s well intentioned and maybe it’s all they are permitted to offer in a meeting but I’d prefer outrage, indignation, or even push back but more often than not we get through words and mannerisms sympathy from staff because they know it sucks that we’re the last people in America to be taxed and not represented.
And while the reactions from staff are often similar from office to office at first time meetings on statehood there is hope. Sometimes (16 times to be precise) that web of shock, confusion, politics, and sympathy align in just the right way and our meetings help push the issue along and a Senator ends up cosponsoring the statehood bill. Our meetings on the Hill aren’t all that exciting but they are vitally important and from time to time are interesting intellectual and constitutional conversations. Advocacy work on the Hill isn’t flashy or headline grabbing like a civil disobedience or direct action but this is the work needed to both build a base of support in Congress for statehood and to help break down the opposition to statehood.
I wish statehood was imminent and that this was our last lobby day on the Hill but that’s not where we are as a movement or a cause. There will be more lobby days and in the months and years to come and the only way our efforts will become more effective is by activating and mobilizing more citizens in the District and around the country to join our cause to lend their voice to our cause. We’re making progress, we made progress on DC Emancipation Day, but we have a long way to go and we look forward to working with you to make it a reality.