The essence of democracy is the idea that the people govern themselves. That the people are the source of power. That those who serve do so with the consent of the governed. That the people have the right to be heard, to call for redress when necessary, to petition the government, to vote and be counted.

And so it is that the American citizens who reside in Washington, D.C., have petitioned the U.S. Congress to become the 51st state. H.R. 51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act, has been passed by the House of Representatives, and S.51 will soon be taken up by the Senate.

The call for statehood is broadly supported, fully constitutional and appropriate.

It’s also one of the most important steps our generation can take to bring our nation closer to “liberty and justice for all.”

The District of Columbia’s more than 700,000 residents do not have voting representation in Congress. That means when bills like H.R. 51 and S.51 come up for votes, D.C. residents have no one to call – no one to email with a “Please support,” “Please oppose” or “Please consider this information” message as other American citizens do. Statehood fixes that.

In addition to the lack of voting representation in Congress, D.C. residents lack sovereignty over local affairs. While D.C.’s government is structured very much like a state’s, with executive, legislative and judicial branches, it operates with one thing that burdens no state – the constant meddling of Congress. Every time D.C.’s duly elected leaders pass a law, Congress must review it before it goes into effect. Congress may, and often does, modify or overturn legislation, and sometimes Congress imposes an unwanted law on the District.

D.C. residents are subject to the political whims of a Congress in which they are not represented. Laws dealing with everything from the minimum wage to implementing Obamacare, to marriage equality, gun control and needle exchange programs have been affected.

In 2016, the year the statehood petition was approved by 79 percent of the D.C. voters who cast a ballot, members of Congress made 25 attempts to change or overturn local laws.

Appropriately, license plates in D.C. bear the words “Taxation Without Representation.” D.C. residents pay federal taxes yet have no voting representation in Congress, but that’s not all. Congress also retains control over D.C.’s local budget, a budget that is funded entirely with locally generated tax dollars.

Let that sink in. It would be like everyone in the Maine Legislature having the final word on your local budget and laws – except the ones actually representing your town.

And that judicial branch? Once again, D.C. stands apart as the sole jurisdiction in the U.S. without the power to choose its own judges. They are appointed by the president.

Over the years, D.C. residents have raised their voices repeatedly for self-determination. Congress has responded with incrementalism that understandably leaves residents frustrated. For example, it was 1964 before D.C. cast electoral votes in the presidential election, thanks to passage of the 23rd Amendment. It was 1971 before D.C. voters could elect a non-voting delegate to Congress. Over time Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has served as delegate since 1991, has gained the right to serve on a committee, to introduce bills and to vote in committee – but not in the final, all-important, floor vote.

It’s not enough. The rights and democratic aspirations of D.C. citizens have been suppressed for far too long.

Now that S.51 is before the U.S. Senate, it is up to us to do what D.C. residents cannot. We must pick up the phone, pen a letter or send an email and let Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins know that the time for full representation and local sovereignty for our fellow Americans in Washington, D.C., is now. Let’s welcome the new State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, and the enfranchisement of 700,000 Americans.


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