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D.C. Statehood Activists Ramp Up for House Vote, General Election

Activists for D.C. statehood have elevated activities such as calling congressional offices, organizing virtual events and getting the message out about Friday’s vote in the House on legislation to make the District the 51st state and informing people about the stakes of the Nov. 3 general election.

Josh Burch, organizer and educator of the Neighbors United for DC Statehood, has a strategy to promote the D.C. statehood bill in the city and nationwide.

“It has been hard to organize District residents because of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of public gatherings,” he said. “I have been encouraging residents to put up D.C. statehood yard signs on their lawns and in their windows. I have also reached out to residents using social media. I want residents to reach out to members of Congress who don’t support the statehood bill to encourage them to do so and for those who support the bill to tell their friends and family members in other states to tell their lawmakers to support the legislation.”

The House has plans to vote Friday on D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill — The Washington, D.C. Admission Act — which would grant the District state status. The bill has 226 co-sponsors, according to staffers in Norton’s office, well over the 218 needed to pass the chamber. All of Norton’s co-sponsors are Democrats.

If Norton’s bill passes, it would be the first time in history that a stand-alone bill endorsing D.C. statehood would pass either chamber of Congress. While Norton’s bill has promising prospects in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said he will not bring a D.C. statehood bill to the floor. Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) has a companion bill similar to Norton’s.

Despite Republican opposition, Burch said his organization will focus on getting senators’ support, particularly Democrats.

“We have seven Democratic senators who are not co-sponsors of the D.C. statehood bill,” he said. “We want to get all of the Democrats co-sponsoring the D.C. statehood bill. We know that Mitch McConnell will not bring the bill to the Senate floor.”

Burch said his organization has its eyes on November.

“We are looking at the general election and focusing on electing pro-statehood senators,” he said. “Even though really this is not a partisan issue, we would like to see U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) become the majority leader of the Senate in the next session of Congress. Plus, we want to see Steve Bullock and Theresa Greenfield elected to the Senate in Montana and Iowa this year. Meanwhile, we will work to see what kind of support we can get from current senators. In the past, we have used the carrot to argue for D.C. statehood in an altruistic manner, but now we are going to use the ballot box.”

Adeoyo “Oye” Owolewa, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing District 8E01 and the Democratic nominee for the D.C. shadow representative seat, said he also has a strategy at work to help the House bill pass.

“I will reach out to young activist groups,” Owolewa said, referring to the recent hordes of demonstrators in the District protesting police brutality against African Americans and racial injustice in the country. “I will also tap into my personal contacts to get together to watch the vote virtually. In November, my position is that every seat counts and for statehood to move forward, we need to keep the House and get the Senate and the White House in Democratic hands, and I will work towards that.”

Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Vote, a nonprofit aiming to secure voting rights in the U.S. Congress for District residents, said his organization will host a virtual party on Facebook while the House considers Norton’s bill.

“We didn’t want to do something like a rally on the U.S. Capitol because of the mayor’s order that only 50 people can assemble in the city because of the coronavirus,” he said. “When we are through with the House, we will focus on the Senate. We don’t do electioneering but we will work to educate senators on D.C. statehood. We will continue to press the senators and see if there are any opportunities for support.”

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