Battle to make D.C. 51st state intensifies

District politicians unveiled a nationwide D.C. statehood campaign Tuesday, amplifying a decades-long effort to give D.C. residents representation in Congress and its leaders more control over the local budget.

Mayor Vincent Gray, an alumnus, joined D.C.’s delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and several members of the D.C. Council to urge residents to foster a grassroots movement and a “day-in and day-out fight” to make the city the 51st state instead of a federal territory.

Gray called for a stronger, daily fight for statehood.

“This has got to be something that does not go away,” he said. “We have got to make this a grassroots movement in the District of Columbia. We have got to get all of our districts and neighborhoods involved. We have got to get our universities involved in this.”

The campaign includes a new website, www.StatehoodDC.com, coupled with advertisements on Metro buses and literature to mail to state legislatures across the country to ask for support. A Metro bus sporting the new billboard slogans was parked near the podium as a showcase.

Media Credit: Paul Blake
The campaign’s efforts to turn D.C. into the 51st state include advertisements with facts about the city’s territory status on Metro buses and a new website.

Gray has used a large portion of his public appearances as mayor to drive home a demand for statehood. He marched Oct. 15 from Freedom Plaza to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, and the next day at its dedication ceremony said D.C. residents live under the “yoke of injustice.”

He also urged freshmen during a visit to the University in August to join the movement, saying city residents experience “second-class citizenship.”

Gray, who celebrated his birthday Tuesday, said he wished only one thing for D.C. and its residents: that their federal territory would one day become a state.

“We need to send a message that we are relentless; that we are not going to give up,” Gray said Tuesday. “We need to send the message that, when we stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say, ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ that includes the people of the District of Columbia.”

While Norton can serve on and vote in committees in the House of Representatives and introduce bills, she does not have the power to vote on legislation on the House floor. Congress holds the purse strings for the city – mayors must obtain Congressional approval to spend local tax dollars.

Norton has introduced three separate bills centering on D.C. statehood and representation to the 112th Congress, calling for statehood, full representation and voting rights.

GW Law School professor and D.C. councilmember Mary Cheh said there are misconceptions nationwide about the District’s status.

“So many people do not even know the condition of the people of the District of Columbia and the fact that they do not even have full democracy,” Cheh said. “We have not carried our message effectively around the nation. That is why this new effort is so important.”

Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, which would have granted the city full representation, in 1978, but just 16 of the required 38 states ratified the proposal.

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