Don’t Tread on DC – July 2017

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#DCFlagDay grand prize winner. Photo: Theo Wilhite, Office of Councilmember Robert White

I wear a DC flag or shirt promoting statehood pretty much wherever I go. I wear the shirt so much it gets to the point of being obnoxious. It has a purpose however.

Recently, I was in a store in Staunton, Va., and I could hear the manager and the cashier speaking positively about President Trump. When I got to the counter wearing a DC statehood shirt, the manager chuckled and somewhat dismissively said, “Man, I haven’t heard of anybody promoting DC statehood in a really long time.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “it’s going to take some time but we will get there and we will be the 51st state in the union. Probably around 2024 if I had to take a bet on it.”

He and I then had a 10-minute conversation about what the founders intended for the federal district and what the reality of the district is now. He worried that DC is too liberal to be a state, but then conceded that, while parts of Virginia are very conservative, other parts like northern Virginia and the tidewater have made the Commonwealth a left-leaning state in senatorial and presidential elections, and thus political leanings are just part of who we are as a nation. He also conceded that the economies of suburban Maryland and Virginia benefit from the location of the federal district, and they all have congressional representation, but he was not ready to endorse DC statehood.

I do not think I convinced him to be a statehood supporter, but at a bare minimum the shirt or the bumper sticker on my truck spurred him to think about a subject he had not considered for a very long time. I’m sure the store manager and I are polar opposites on political leanings, but we had an engaging and substantive discussion about statehood, and, as normally is the case, opponents do not really have a solid leg to stand on. They point to the Constitution, a flawed document written by those who saw fit to protect slavery, disenfranchise women, and keep the Senate from being a popularly elected office. Statehood opponents also point to tradition, which is a tired, intellectually lazy, and morally bankrupt reason for disenfranchising us.

And finally, he, like others, turned to the fact that we vote Democratic as a reason to disenfranchise. It would be a laughable reason if the subject were not so serious. While we are American citizens first and foremost, others want to define us and treat us differently in a political sense because of how we vote. When my children were born and when we got them passports, no one asked for their party registration papers, nor should they. Our political leanings do not define who we are. Rather, they reflect a set of beliefs and principles, but not a defining trait or requirement of American citizenship.

Thus, whether it’s the Constitution or tradition, or our liberal leanings, there is really no justified reason for denying us statehood other than ignorance and prejudice.

The opponents of statehood do not have much to stand on substantively, so it is incumbent on all of us to educate others, to challenge our opponents, and to build support person by person wherever we go. Let’s force those who are ignorant to our status or opposed to our goal to think about it. Let’s force them to debate us, and let’s expose the moral and intellectual emptiness of their opposition.

This summer, if you head out of town, make sure you wear a DC statehood shirt or put a bumper sticker on your car. Each person who sees that is forced to think about our status, if only for a second, but it’s more than most would have thought about it otherwise. Promoting statehood on your car or your chest is a simple act and it has power.

Josh Burch is a member of Neighbors United for DC Statehood (www.the51st.org), a group of residents who believe that community organizing and strategic congressional outreach are the foundation and driving force behind the DC statehood movement. Find him at josh@unitedforstatehood.com or @JBurchDC.