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Washington, DC’s Neverending Statehood Dream, Explained

by Alp Ünal AYHAN

Contrary to the belief of people outside the United States, the capital of the US-Washington, District of Columbia-is not part of any state. Washington, DC is a “federal district,” meaning it’s governed by the United States Congress. DC residents have been able to vote in presidential elections since 1964 and they have a mayor and a council but they don’t have a vote in congressional elections and DC Council’s decisions can be overridden by Congress. This is a result of a compromise made in the first years of the United States between “slave states” that had legal slavery and “free states” that didn’t to place the new nation’s capital in a neutral area.


For a long time, not many people except federal government officers lived in Washington, DC but the population here grew and grew and the city became the centre of a metropolitan area, with DC proper having an estimated 705,000 residents which are more than two US states: Vermont and Wyoming. The lack of full representation and voting rights for Washington, DC is the cause of rage and disappointment between its residents. Vehicle license plates issued in Washington, DC famously have the words “Taxation Without Representation” on them. This is relevant because Washington, DC residents pay the highest taxes of any US state or territory. Some other countries, especially in Latin America have federal districts that house their capitals but the US is the only country on earth to deny its capital full voting rights.


This problem, like many problems the United States faces at the moment, is rooted in white supremacy. Since the 1960s, white and non-Latinx white people have been the minority of DC residents. 50.7% of DC’s population reported their race as Black in the latest census in 2010, compared to 36.8% reporting white. Major progress towards full voting rights has been made since the civil rights era.


So what’s the solution to this problem? Residents and activists argue it’s statehood. DC’s statehood movement has been ongoing since the 1980s and advocates for Washington, DC’s admission as a state to the US. Since 1993 bills to make DC a US state were introduced to Congress every year but was never brought to a vote until recently this year. The D.C. Statehood Act passed the House of Representatives. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote it down. The bill stipulates that Washington, District of Columbia’s territory be divided into two, the area around White House, the US capitol, the National Mall and some government buildings forming “The Capital” that would be the replacement federal district required by the constitution and the rest forming the new state Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after known abolitionist Frederick Douglass who lived in DC for a while.


Why isn’t this made law already? Politics. Republicans control the Senate and White House at the moment and they don’t want DC as the 51st state because they’re certain the new Congress seats would go to the Democrats. DC becoming a state would create two new senators, who would certainly be Democratic as almost two-thirds of DC residents are People of Color who tend to vote for Democrats by a wide margin. In the 2016 presidential election Democrat, Hillary Clinton carried the District 90 to 4 per cent against Donald Trump.


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