Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Spurred on by recent anti-racism protests around the country, today the U.S. House is voting to make the District of Columbia the 51st state.

The historic vote is the first on the issue since 1993, and seeks to correct what is seen as a longtime injustice rooted in racism, according to Monica Hopkins – executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, D.C.

She points out that the 700,000 mostly Black residents have never had voting representation in Congress. At the same time, Congress has complete authority over the District – and can even veto City Council moves, as when President Donald Trump ordered the National Guard to dominate recent protesters at the White House, against the D.C. mayor’s wishes.

“The entire nation’s focusing in on these protests in D.C,” says Hopkins. “And how, you know, that the Trump administration came down with a heavy hand really highlighted the inequity of living without representation.”

The bill is likely to pass the House, but faces opposition from Senate Republicans, who claim the District is too corrupt and financially dependent on the federal government to be a state. White House officials have said the president would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Hopkins says the voting repression of D.C. residents stems from white supremacy. Black men in the District got the right to vote during Reconstruction, but as they became more politically powerful, Congress removed that right in 1890.

Hopkins says the idea back then was to use D.C. as a model to disenfranchise all Black Americans.

“Some of the southern sharecropping owners said that they should strip the right to vote away from Black individuals across the nation, that this should be the law of the land,” says Hopkins. “And while it is not the law of the land in the rest of the nation, it still is the law of the land here in D.C.”

D.C. residents pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the United States, according to the D.C. Statehood Commission. The group also notes that the District receives almost 30% of its budget from the federal government, which is less than five other states.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.