District residents joined hundreds of political and anti-poverty activists from around the country at Capitol Square on Dec. 13 to urge the U.S. Senate to move forward on the Build Back Better plan and voting rights legislation but voiced concerns that D.C. statehood legislation received no attention.
“I am here today because we need to ‘Get it Done in 21,’” said the Rev. Leonina Arismendi, a District resident who co-leads the virtual Kairos Center Freedom Church Spanish congregation Iglesia del Pueblo. “The Senate needs to pass the Build Back Better Act so that the D.C. government can help people who have no housing and the other services that the immigrant community in particular needs.”
The rallying cry of the “Get It Done in 21” demonstration — sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR) — includes passage of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan. It serves as a blueprint for America’s future with spending on pre-Kindergarten education, child care, tax credits designed to reduce child poverty, limit climate change and improve the nation’s infrastructure.
Additionally, the For the People Act of 2021, which would curb corporate influence in elections, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2021, which would restore gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, count as part of PPC:NCMR’s agenda. The plight of District statehood did not receive any attention, much to the chagrin of city residents.
Barber Speaks to the Demonstrators
Bishop William J. Barber II, the co-chair of the PPC:NCMR, said the time has come for the U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to do the right thing and fully support the Build Back Better program.
“Manchin and Sinema have joined 50 Republicans in supporting the corporate lobbyists and the money grabbers,” Barber said. “A bunch of rich people are trying to protect rich people. We are fighting for the people. This is political abuse. We will not be divided.”
Barber pointed out the more than 800,000 Americans who have died due to the coronavirus and the 20 million people who have lost jobs since the pandemic started in March 2020. He said while the pandemic has run its course, “billionaires have made trillions.”
He urged the followers to use the example of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 as inspiration.
“The Montgomery Bus Boycott took 381 days to achieve its goal of integrating that city’s bus system,” Barber said. “Their first victory was fighting. They won because they endured. They didn’t have the Internet or Tik Tok or Facebook or Twitter. They did more with less and we need to do more with more.”
The program featured activists from 33 states who discussed some of the problems low-income people continue to face. All of the speakers said passing the Build Back Better program and the voting rights bills will go a long way in solving the country’s economic and racial problems.
D.C. Statehood Receives No Mention
During the rally, 11 activists each held a letter of the phrase “D.C. Statehood” near the podium. While the PPC: NCMR has endorsed the District as the 51st state, city residents expressed frustration that none of the speakers mentioned the movement.
“I came to this rally because I am concerned about gentrification in D.C.,” said Anise Jenkins, the executive director of Stand Up! for Democracy, a pro-statehood organization. “I was very disturbed when no one talked about statehood. It seems to me that there are some people who think statehood would benefit rich white people and that is not the case at all.”
Arismendi echoed Jenkins’s wariness.
“They definitely should have talked about statehood,” she said. “That was a big oversight. I am involved with the Poor People’s Campaign and I will speak to the leadership about that.”