Washington, D.C., Councilmember Vincent Orange’s (D-At Large, LAW ’88) yearlong petition in support of District of Columbia statehood launched July, with policymakers discussing the merits of the petition’s demands during a public hearing in the council’s Committee of the Whole on Oct. 27.
Orange’s petition, “Statehood or Else,” aims to garner one million signatures in support of statehood. Orange will deliver the petition to President Barack Obama and Congress at the Democratic and Republican conventions in July 2016. The current number of signatures is undisclosed.
Orange declined to comment on the petition.
According to the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973, any piece of legislation passed by the D.C. Council must undergo a 30-day Congressional review, during which time Congress can prevent the legislation from becoming law. However, Congress has only used this power three times in the past 40 years.
Additionally, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s nonvoting member of the House of Representatives, is D.C.’s only representation in Congress.
Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) has vocally supported the petition and said the rest of the country is unaware of D.C.’s lack of representation.
“Many residents around the country don’t realize that the 660,000 residents of the District don’t have control over their own budget, that Congress can come in and decide which laws they like and don’t like, and that’s something that no other state has to face,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau is asking all visitors to her office to sign the petition and aims to generate enough awareness and activism around the issue to get legislation regarding statehood passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“The most important part of statehood is that we will be able to fully realize our autonomy, that we will have full representation in the House and Senate, that we will be able to enact our own laws without fear of how Congress will react, and we will be able to set policies that are best for the people of the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said.
Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) said that after years of failed attempts, the movement is gaining traction today because of a more mature government and increased social media engagement.
While registered District voters are most affected by the campaign, residents elsewhere can lobby their representatives to support the bill.
According to Silverman, statehood would affect key issues in D.C. today, such as marijuana legalization, access to family planning resources and budget allocation.
“When you’re talking about family planning and abortion rights, we wouldn’t have disputes with Congress about whether we can use local dollars for that,” Silverman said. “I am fully, enthusiastically in favor of that.”
In November 2014, D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, which legalized limited possession and cultivation of marijuana for residents 21 and older. However, the legislation brought the issue of D.C.’s lack of autonomy to light.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) included a policy rider that said the city could not enact any law that legalizes marijuana in a December 2014 spending bill. Despite these efforts, legalization officially went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at the end of a 30-day Congressional review period.
Silverman added that she believes college students would benefit from involvement in the statehood campaign and the implications it would have for registering to vote in D.C.
“Georgetown has actually had a reputation for having undergrads who have gotten involved in local politics and have become [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] commissioners and been very influential in campus planning,” Silverman said. “I would say, as a college student, your vote is much more important on the local level than it would be on the federal level.”
According to the District’s Board of Elections’ October report on voter registration statistics, 431,746 of D.C.’s 660,000 residents are registered to vote. Among all 18-24-year-olds in the nation, only 41.2 percent are registered to vote, representing the lowest participation rate among voting-eligible age groups, according to the Census Bureau.
Madeline Taub (COL ’18), who has lived in D.C. her entire life, said it is unfair that D.C. residents who are citizens cannot vote on laws that affect them.
“When I vote I want to be voting for a real representative who can vote on things I believe in, not a shadow representative who can only speak on my behalf,” Taub said. “D.C. citizens are citizens of the United States just like any other American, yet they cannot vote on laws that directly affect how they are run.”
GU College Democrats board member Scott Lowder (COL ’17) said he is surprised that statehood is not a particularly prominent issue in the campus community.
“Georgetown students are very politically engaged, but for a major university in D.C., it is surprising to me that there isn’t more activism around this issue,” Lowder said. “If we wouldn’t accept this status for our own cities and states, we wouldn’t accept it for D.C.”