D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and four panelists talked about the future of the District statehood movement on Sept. 29 as the midterm elections loom in November at the 51st Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference.
Norton convened the forum, “A Discussion of Next Steps for DC Statehood,” that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest. Panelists for the discussion included: Jamal Holtz, a lead organizer for 51 for 51; Markus Batchelor, a former Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education member who works as the deputy director for leadership programs for the People for the American Way; Meagan Hatcher-Mays, the director of Democracy Policy at Indivisible; and Portia White, vice president of voting rights and state organizing at End Citizens United.
Norton and the panel praised the U.S. House of Representatives for passing her statehood bill in 2020 and 2021 and the Senate for holding a committee hearing on its companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
“We have made tremendous progress on statehood,” the delegate said. “We have never made this type of progress.”
However, they acknowledged more work will need to be done to advance statehood particularly if the Republicans gain control of at least one of the chambers of the U.S. Congress.
“What we have achieved so far is step one,” Hatcher-Mays said. “We need to win this fall and keep going.”
Holtz said the key for statehood legislation to progress in the late part of the present congressional session and to flourish in the new Congress in January, if the Democrats hold both chambers, will be to deal with the filibuster in the Senate.
“Getting rid of the filibuster is the important thing to get a statehood bill going forward,” he said. “My organization started working on this in 2018. If Supreme Court justices can be confirmed with 51 votes, why can’t a D.C. statehood bill?”
Batchelor, who grew up in Ward 8 in Southeast, said granting the District statehood has emerged from being a local issue to one of national importance.
“D.C. statehood is a broader democracy issue,” he said. “It’s a voting rights issue. We are closer than ever to achieving statehood. We must make sure that our national allies don’t forget us.”
However, Batchelor said the fight for D.C. statehood will be “tougher in a few years” if the Congress flips to the Republicans.
White agreed with Batchelor that D.C. statehood has become a national issue but added her organization sees it in a different context.
“We see denying D.C. statehood as a voter suppression issue,” she said. “Over 700,000 American citizens are being denied their right to fully participate in democracy. In our view, this is just as bad as the laws some states have passed to restrict voting.”
White also termed the struggle for D.C. statehood as a racial justice issue saying that the District is still a majority minority city that deserves representation in the Congress and the right to govern itself without federal interference.
Ward 8 resident Marsha Johnson, who attended the forum, said her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, embraces the District becoming the next state. She noted that during “Delta Days” – when sorority members come to Capitol Hill to lobby legislators – the organization added the D.C. statehood bills authored by Norton and Carper as a part of their agenda.
“Delta is behind D.C. becoming a state,” Johnson said. “We are pushing for that.”
Holtz said the statehood movement must continue to expand beyond its allies and friendly legislators in order to be successful.
“The problem is we are talking to the same people over and over,” he said. “It is like an echo chamber. We need more people to see this as a priority. A lot of people don’t know that D.C. is not a state. They see lists of the services the federal government provides D.C. and think everything is fine.”
Additionally, Holtz said more money must be injected into the statehood movement.
“Money is an issue,” he said. “If you are a senator and you want my money, you must make a commitment to support statehood. If you don’t respect my vote, you won’t get my money.”