August 19, 2022

Jan. 6 showed why D.C. deserves statehood

By Robin Savannah Carver

At around noon on Jan. 6, 2021, a friend in Virginia Beach sent me a private message: “If you need a place to stay, our living room isn’t much, but at least it’s not in D.C.” More than two dozen similar messages poured in throughout the day from generous friends in the area.

The phone call from my mom was more direct: Were my partner and I safe, and did we have a plan in case things went south at the Capitol?

The insurrection instigated by Donald Trump has become a kind of political north star in the year that’s passed since. An entire ecosystem of post-mortem analyses has grown up around the day.

Experts have examined its causes, the conspiracy theories that animated it, the complicity of Republicans still in Congress, and the traumatizing effects it’s had on members of Congress and law-enforcement officers whose bodies, brains, and lives have been permanently scarred.

I’m glad for that national conversation, which has kept the violation of democratic norms in memory. But as a resident of the District of Columbia, I’m frustrated by the narrow breadth of that memory.

Because when I think of Jan. 6, I don’t think of Capitol security, and I don’t think about members of Congress. The memories that come rushing to me are the go-bag in which I hastily packed my medicine and a few cherished personal effects.

I remember the numbing terror coursing through my veins as I took notes in an afternoon meeting. I remember an exasperated conversation with my partner: Should we keep working through 5 or get out of the city before it became impossible to leave?

Most of all, I remember the overwhelming helplessness of the day.

It’s a helplessness I’ve learned to live with as a resident of the District of Columbia. Although close to 700,000 people live in Washington D.C., we still have no voting representation in Congress — despite paying more per capita to the federal government than any state in the union.

The federal government sets the District’s budget, dictates our laws, and has made a habit of ignoring our desire for statehood. A statehood referendum in 2016 passed with 86 percent of the vote, but still hasn’t been taken up for a vote in the Senate.

As a result, we had no one to call as Republicans ran rough-shod over democratic norms. We had no voting members to contact during a series of government shutdowns, which affect the Capitol region more acutely than any other part of the country. And today, as President Biden’s overwhelmingly popular agenda continues to stall in the Senate, we have no senator to call.

The solution to these problems is infuriatingly simple: Congress must grant statehood to the people of Washington, D.C. The House voted to do that last year. Now it’s the Senate’s turn.

As a state, the tax-paying citizens of D.C. could write and enforce our own laws just like the rest of the country. As a state, we could organize our own budget to better defend against insurrections like January 6. And as a state, we could break the gridlock that presently paralyzes the Senate.

Granting statehood to D.C. would represent a huge step toward a more democratic America. Until then, residents of D.C. have no choice but to contend with a different violation of democratic norms: taxation without representation.

Robin Savannah Carver is a development associate at the Institute for Policy Studies.