Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

DC statehood demonstration

D.C. statehood supporters march to the Lincoln Memorial for the rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images)

Washington, DC Residents Deserve the Full Benefits of Citizenship

Equal representation is fundamental to American democracy

Five years ago, I left the state of Idaho to become a resident of Washington, D.C. I now live in a vibrant community with people who work hard, not just as federal workers but also as teachers, doctors, mechanics, and small business owners. We raise families, go to church, enlist in the military, hang out with our neighbors, and volunteer in the community. And we pay taxes, a lot of taxes: more than the residents per capita than in any state.

In D.C., "taxation without representation" isn't just a throwback slogan from the days of the American Revolution. It's an everyday reality for us.

Just like you find in many states, some of my neighbors have lived in D.C. for generations and some, like me, are newer transplants.

But one thing sets us apart: we're not a state. And we have no voting representation in Congress.

When Gallup released a poll on Monday revealing 64 percent of those polled don't think D.C. should be a state, we were a little hurt, but not surprised.

Not surprised because the fact is, we think most Americans don't know that the people who live in D.C.―more than 700,000 of us―don't have voting members of Congress. When asked in a 2005 poll if D.C. citizens should have equal voting rights in the House and Senate, a whopping 82 percent said yes. Because when it comes to having a say on big national issues that affect all Americans, like healthcare, military spending, immigration, national security, and the economy, you would think the residents of our nation's capital would have just as much a say as any other voter in the country.

But in D.C., "taxation without representation" isn't just a throwback slogan from the days of the American Revolution. It's an everyday reality for us.

It will surprise few that our lack of a vote in Congress has racist roots. In the early days of the District, black men won the right to vote in 1867, only for it to be taken away in 1874 by a Congress that wanted to limit the power of the new black electorate. In 1891, Sen. John Tyler Morgan of Alabama proclaimed stripping the vote was necessary to "burn down the barn to get rid of the rats... the rats being the negro population and the barn being the government of the District of Columbia."

It's a horrific, shameful legacy that continues today.

This affects the lives of District residents on a daily basis. As a "federal district," D.C. lacks complete autonomy over its laws and budget, so members of Congress, none of whom were elected by D.C. voters, can strike down or repeal laws they don't like. It would seem preposterous to anyone outside D.C. to imagine a politician with no local knowledge of your state, who spends less than half the year there, has no stake in the welfare of your communities, and is not accountable to its voters, could change your state's laws on a whim. No other state would permit this kind of federal control.

And yet, this is a regular occurrence in D.C., often with devastating results. In the late 90s, Congress prevented the District from responding fully to the HIV/AIDS crisis by restricting D.C.'s ability to institute a needle exchange program, resulting in needless deaths. Those seeking abortion care, domestic partner benefits, and medical marijuana treatment have also been victims to the whims of Congress.

This oppression will continue unless we achieve statehood.

We're counting on the rest of the country to help us right this wrong. You can exercise the representation we lack by contacting your members of Congress and telling them to support D.C. statehood. Tell them you see this injustice for what it is: voter suppression, plain and simple.

Equal representation is fundamental to American democracy. No matter what political party you're in, that's something we can all agree on.

© 2021 ACLU
Monica Hopkins

Monica Hopkins

Monica Hopkins became the executive director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia in 2014. Previously, Monica served as the executive director of the ACLU of Idaho beginning in 2008. During her tenure there she oversaw sweeping statewide victories, particularly in the areas of criminal justice reform, LGBTQ equality, immigrants' rights, and upholding the First Amendment.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

House Committee to Investigate Alito Leak, Right-Wing Lobbying at Supreme Court

"It's clear that some of these justices are simply incapable of behaving ethically or putting the law before politics, and the court is unwilling or unable to police itself," said one court watchdog.

Julia Conley ·

Fetterman Taps Person Who Literally Wrote the Book on Killing Senate Filibuster as Chief of Staff

"It will be invaluable to have a veteran of the Senate and a veteran of state politics in these key positions as we serve the people of Pennsylvania," said the Senator-elect about two key hires for his new staff.

Jon Queally ·

Climate Activists Tell Macron to Stop Using Trade Rules to Thwart Clean Energy

"Governments should be empowered to fight climate change and support the clean energy transition without fear of being undermined by antiquated trade rules," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·

Biden Urged to Sign Executive Order Guaranteeing Rail Workers Paid Sick Leave

After the president brokered a compulsory contract without a single paid day off for illness, one labor advocate implored him to "put up or shut up about how you really want them to have sick leave!"

Brett Wilkins ·

Campaigners Demand Deep Cuts to Plastic Production as Global Treaty Negotiations Ramp UpjuliaDec 1, 2022
Plastic pollution
"The scale of the problem is mind-boggling," said one advocate. "Plastic is in our blood. It's in fetuses. It's really encroaching on every aspect of human existence."
Common Dreams Logo