Civil rights leaders joined about 70 D.C. statehood activists at Freedom Plaza in Northwest on Aug. 28 to insist making the District the 51st state is a priority for the national voting rights movement.
“The District of Columbia has been robbed for over 200 years,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival. “The people of the District of Columbia don’t have full voting rights as other Americans do. The attack on the District is not just a racial attack because D.C. is known as ‘Chocolate City’ but it is also an attack on our democracy.”
Barber served as one of nearly a dozen speakers at the rally sponsored by the Douglass Commonwealth Coalition calling on the U.S. Senate to end or suspend the filibuster and take up the Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021.
The Douglass Commonwealth Coalition operates as an umbrella for former and present members of the District’s congressional delegation — both voting and non-voting — pushing for D.C. statehood.
Barber’s remarks, along with statements by NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, addressed concerns by D.C. statehood activists that the speakers and leaders of the March on for Voting Rights would not address the District’s lack of full congressional representation despite having to pay federal taxes and being obligated to fight in America’s military conflicts.
Organizations supporting the march favor statehood for the District and have added the Washington, D.C. Admission Act to a legislative to-do list that includes passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act.
Barber on D.C. Statehood
Barber said District residents have gotten a bad deal from its federal government.
“We must talk about statehood in a moral atmosphere,” he said. “The people of D.C. fought in our country’s wars for other Americans to have the right to vote but they don’t have it for themselves.”
Barber, long associated with advocacy of economic policies that serve poor people, began staging what he called “Moral Mondays” in 2013 targeting North Carolina’s restrictive voting laws and attempts to cut funding for social programs and pushing back against tax changes benefitting large corporations and wealthy individuals and a widespread disregard of police brutality against people of color.
Now, Barber has added ending the filibuster, a legislative delay tactic, to his legislative agenda.
“The filibuster is bad,” Barber said. “It has been used throughout history to prolong slavery and to support racial segregation. The filibuster is now being used to stop D.C. from becoming a state. I say we must end the filibuster in order for D.C. to get statehood. The way to do that is for Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell to be told by the Democrats: No D.C. statehood, No tax cuts for billionaires or corporations. It’s time for Democrats to get serious about voting rights. It’s time for the Democrats to play hardball. Why does everybody else get to play hardball but us?”
Johnson Talks Statehood
Johnson said the NAACP has long supported D.C. statehood. He made his comments as the NAACP makes plans to bring its national headquarters to the District from Baltimore in the coming years.
“We cannot forget the fight over D.C. statehood,” Johnson said. “Anyone who says they support voting rights but doesn’t support D.C. statehood doesn’t support voting rights. Whether it be in California, New York, North Carolina and Mississippi, D.C. statehood is a priority.”
Statehood Activists Promote the Cause
Movement activists Saturday seconded advocacy by Barber and Johnson for D.C. statehood.
“I want to thank the Douglass Commonwealth Coalition for sponsoring this rally,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “I believe our opponents are fighting so hard to stop D.C. from becoming a state because for them this is the last gasp of white supremacy.”
District shadow representative Oye Owolewa called out Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for his lack of supporting D.C. statehood legislatively. Manchin favors the District becoming a state but only by constitutional amendment.
“We are going to Morgantown, W.Va. to talk to Senator Manchin’s voters,” Owolewa said. “It’s time for us as D.C. residents to tell our story.”
After the speeches, nearly 50 people marched to the Lincoln Memorial to the site of the march. At the march, Bowser, District Shadow Sen. Michael Brown and Stand Up! for Democracy for DC Executive Director Anise Jenkins spoke.
“This is a real movement,” Jenkins said. “The cause for D.C. statehood is real.”