District and national voting rights leaders, as well as the daughter of a former U.S. president, called on Congress June 26 to pass legislation making Washington, D.C., the 51st state of the union.
They addressed an estimated 10,000 people at a rally on the National Mall that included participants of the Black Voters Matter trek through several southern states beginning June 19 and assembled on the mall to press for congressional action on the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act in addition to a District statehood bill introduced by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.).
The rally came just a few days after the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held its second hearing in the chamber’s history on a D.C. statehood bill.
No statehood bill has been vetted by a Senate committee after a successful House vote until last week. Carper’s bill has 45 co-sponsors, the most ever, that consists of Democrats and Independents.
However, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he doesn’t support Carper’s bill and two Democratic and one independent senators — Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona and Angus King of Maine, respectively — haven’t made public comments on the legislation. No Republicans are cosponsoring Carper’s bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and President Biden support D.C. statehood.
D.C. LEADERS SPEAK
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said the momentum for statehood must be maintained by Black people nationally registering to vote and going to the polls.
“We must keep the House,” she said, speaking of Democratic party control. “We must keep the Senate and we have the White House. We cannot lose those houses. We want to make sure residents of the nation’s capital have the same rights as other Americans.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told the gathering she scoffed at the idea by some Republicans that District residents must move to another jurisdiction to be fully represented in Congress.
“I was born in D.C.,” Bowser said. “I refuse to give up 200 years of a birth legacy because 100 people in the U.S. Senate refuse to do the right thing and give us statehood.”
Johnny Barnes, a civil rights attorney who practices in the District, said “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”
“We are the only nation that doesn’t allow the citizens of its capital to participate in its national legislature,” Barnes said. “We want to make sure that will end this Congress.”
NATIONAL LEADERS ON STATEHOOD
Clifford Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said D.C. statehood has “always been a part of our agenda.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about voting rights whether it be in Georgia or here in D.C.,” he said. “We know a lot of people don’t fully understand the situation here in D.C. We want D.C. residents to know that they are not alone in their fight. It will take more than D.C. to fight for D.C.”
District native Luci Baines Johnson Turpin, the youngest daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, surprised the crowd with her presence. Johnson said her father strongly favored civil and voting rights for Blacks and wanted the District to have as much autonomy as possible.
“In the 1960s when my father was president, the GOP and Democrats worked together for the rights of minorities,” Johnson said. “That was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now. I would like to know where are those compassionate Republicans? We shall overcome and we must.”
LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said District residents must fight for statehood.
“People in D.C. should be marching on Capitol Hill and going into those offices and talking to the senators,” Brown said. “People have to rise up and if necessary shut everything down to let them know D.C. is serious about statehood.”