Loose Lips

Take My Statehood — Please!

Poor D.C.: It can’t get no respect in national politics.

The Republican Party, which is hosting its convention this week in Tampa, Fla., went out of its way to kick dirt in the District’s eye. The party’s platform committee wouldn’t even tolerate the vaguest hint of allowing D.C. to spend its own locally raised tax money without interference from Congress, and the official party platform specifically states: “We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has been giving the city the cold shoulder, too. Mayor Vince Gray told reporters last week he was concerned that the party’s platform wouldn’t back statehood and said he was prepared to press the point at next week’s convention in Charlotte, N.C. Also at issue: whether Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton was going to get a slot to talk about the District’s lack of representation in Congress. Gray and local Democratic boss Anita Bonds wrote a letter nagging Democratic officials to let Norton speak.

Even the Libertarian Party is giving D.C. a hard time, suing the city over its requirements that petition gatherers be District residents.

Making the case that the feds give D.C. the shaft is easy. Its 600,000 citizens have no voting representative in Congress despite paying federal taxes. Local tax money can’t be spent by local officials without approval from the clowns on Capitol Hill. Democrats take the overwhelmingly Democratic city for granted. And when conservative Republicans want to score points with special-interest groups, they put aside their small-government ideals to impose their will on a city that didn’t elect them.

But it’s hard to get too upset that outsiders aren’t taking D.C.’s second-class status seriously when D.C.’s own elected officials aren’t being serious themselves. The felony guilty pleas of two former councilmembers and three associates of Gray’s certainly don’t help make the city’s case nationally. “To state the obvious, things have become demonstrably complicated,” says At-Large Councilmember David Catania. But even without those distractions, the city’s often haphazard, half-hearted attempts at advocacy too frequently come off as little more than political self-promotion. And the results—little to no significant progress on statehood, voting rights, or budget autonomy—speak for themselves.

Consider the mayor, who earlier this year said he would go to the GOP convention to make the case for statehood. Former Mayor Anthony Williams made a similar pilgrimage in 2000. But Gray must not have had access to a calendar when he made his plans, since the timing seems to have caught him by surprise. “It would be two full weeks that I would be out,” Gray said at a news conference last week explaining that he was, in fact, not headed to Tampa, since he is attending the Democratic convention the week after.

D.C.’s status has always been friendly rhetorical territory for the mayor. After he won the 2010 primary, he held a series of meetings around the city. The high point of his speeches, often long and dry, came when he talked about the need for more aggressive activism on statehood.

Gray tried to show he was serious by getting arrested, along with 40 other pro-autonomy protesters a few months after he was sworn in. The mayor plopped down on Constitution Avenue NW after President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner solved a budget impasse in part by banning the District from using its own money to provide abortions for low-income women.

The arrests put a new spring in Gray’s step, whose administration had been battered by early revelations of crony hires and allegations of illegal acts on the campaign trail involving nuisance candidate Sulaimon Brown. The mayor showed off the bracelet the Capital Police put on him the night he was arrested like it was destined for future display at the Smithsonian. Gray and other statehood activists said the arrests would lead to a more engaged, sustained push for District rights. Shadow Rep. Mike Panetta compared the arrests to the fruit vendor in Tunisia who lit himself on fire and started the Arab Spring. At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown compared the moment to the Tiananmen Square protests in China.

But if this is what a revolution looks like, it’s not a pretty sight. Follow-up protests have drawn only a small handful of people willing to be arrested, resulting in almost no media coverage. Everybody’s favorite presidential spoiler, Ralph Nader, called for a general strike in which D.C. residents would take the bold step of arriving to work 15 minutes late. It’s unclear if anyone who took him up on the offer realized they were doing so.

The most notable move came from Adrian Parsons, an Occupy D.C. activist who went on a 25-day hunger strike against the District’s lack of voting rights. But Parsons, a performance artist who once circumcised himself in public, couldn’t even get a meeting with Gray when he showed up at his Hillcrest home on New Year’s Day.

The council’s effort hasn’t been any better. In January, several councilmembers and the mayor flew to Concord, N.H., to support a resolution in the state legislature promoting statehood for D.C. The publicly funded trip was touted by activists as the beginning of a multistate tour that would build momentum around the country for D.C.’s push. Instead, District officials faced tough grilling from Republican New Hampshire representatives, who sent them packing with no resolution.

After that embarrassment, talk of trips to other states ended. Brown insists he and other city officials are still determined to raise support in other jurisdictions, but that it’s just difficult to get on the schedule in part-time legislatures.

Brown says he’s made D.C. statehood one of his “top priorities” as a councilmember, but there’s little to show for that effort. The council created a special statehood committee that no longer exists. Brown recently spent tens of thousands of dollars on a P.R. campaign that included T-shirts, calendars, and bus ads around the city. Those ads no longer appear, and Brown says the council hasn’t set aside more money to continue statehood efforts. The website Brown pushed, statehooddc.com, hasn’t been updated in more than a month.

The city’s spending priorities speak volumes. Other than the statehood committee, D.C. earmarked only $200,000 this year for nonprofit statehood groups. D.C. Vote received $150,000, while two one-person shops received $25,000 each. Elinor Hart says her nonprofit, Vision House, will spend the money on statehood-promoting brochures and a video she plans to put on YouTube sometime soon. (Also sending a clear message: the paltry $12,500 District taxpayers voluntarily contributed to the D.C. Statehood Delegation Fund in 2010 when filing their returns.)

At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, the statehood effort may display a few more signs of life. Pro-statehood billboards around the convention site are planned. Ilir Zherka, head of D.C. Vote, is organizing a rally that will feature Gray and Norton as speakers. The group sent a staffer and an intern dressed as Abe Lincoln to the Republican convention.

“While Abe Lincoln’s appearance is all in fun, the disenfranchisement of more than 600,000 people in our nation’s capital is no laughing matter,” the group said in a statement.

Unfortunately, as these two weeks of national conventions have shown, it’s more like a sad joke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PeterJOrvetti Peter Orvetti

    The Libertarians are suing because the petitioning rule is unnecessarily restrictive and onerous.

  • Publius

    Statehood is attainable for DC, but it is attainable only by widespread popular unrest. The biggest mistake some folks are making is assuming that our local government is capable of acquiring statehood for us. This hypothesis has been proven wrong by events throughout several decades. Regardless of anyone's opinion of our local officials, no one who holds the responsibilities of elected office should be expected to be able to get the District statehood in their spare time.

    What we need are grassroots, full time revolutionaries who are able to wage a struggle over the longer term. And they need to be credible people who are well-thought of and established in the community, not these Occupy freaks. These people also need to realize that dedicating oneself freedom and democracy for DC does not come without cost: people may need to quit their jobs, spend significantly less time with their families, etcetera.

    Statehood will also never be achieved through limp-wristed organizations such as DC Vote, which despite staging some arrests are completely afraid of real civil disobedience. Rosa Parks didn't apply for a permit to stage a protest by sitting at the front of the bus. The brave black Americans who risked their lives by conducting sit ins at whites only lunch counters did not apply for a permit to do so. Until folks commit to sustained civil disobedience nothing will happen. Violence is never the answer, but civil disobedience outside the purview of Park Police permits is. DC Vote's inability to realize this will prevent the group from ever achieving its goals.

  • AMF’

    Statehood is a ridiculous and unattainable aspiration of a few frustrated political hacks. What is attainable are full voting rights in Congress and budget autonomy. However as long as the local Democratic Party continues to support, nominate and elect crooks, self interested and corrupt officials there is no reason why Congress or anybody else pay attention to our pleas.

  • AMF’

    @ Publius- you are smoking crack. Get a job or build a business. Civil unrest? Really? DC officials are a local, regional and national joke. Why should anybody pay attention to them.

  • Drez

    Publius is 100% correct.
    Well said, Sir (or Ma'am).

  • Drez

    Modern day "civil disobedience" is naught but scripted theater.
    Theater is fun, but power respects only power.

  • http://www.the51st.org JBurch51

    Don't forget that we're donating a disproportionate amount of money to MD and VA Democrats who are actually opposed to Statehood and barely anything to those members of Congress who have consponsored the Statehood Bill: http://wp.me/p1xdSF-dG We have got to do a lot of things differently, first and foremost we need to organize citizens in each and every DC neighborhood to join the cause so that we lead the movement not the politicians.

  • Local Unrest

    The local government can actually lead the rally, it just won't. DC local government can order the police to barricade the bridges to the city to all those without DC plates. Start spending local taxes without federal approval. Basically, begin to treat itself independent of the states and break the law. I'm not for succession per se, but the spirit of independence and requiring the federal government to send in the national guard would raise the issue to a national issue. DC residents want a vote in the house and senate and are willing to go to the extremes to get it.

    The people of DC, however, have not expressed such a strong desire...

  • Drez

    Mass- 10s or hundreds of thousands- refusing to pay federal taxes might be a good start.
    A media campaign focusing on this could be productive.

  • And . . .

    Yawn - next topic please.

  • Wake-Up, People

    Refusing to pay your taxes will land you in prison. So would barricading the bridges. The only LAWFUL way to statehood is to amend the Constitution.

    As for those that say the current state of affairs is the result of an oversight on the part of the "Founding Fathers", you are wrong. They did address voting rights in the District, read The Federalist Papers. It was Maryland and Virginia that failed to address the rights of their citizens.

    Statehood is out of the question. Voting Rights are achievable.

  • drez

    ^ And this is how we end up perpetually stuck in a situation where the best anyone does is street theater.
    In the civil rights era it took mass arrests. Why should anyone expect it be any different this time?

  • nana



  • Scotch

    My election plan:

    1. DC budget autonomy.

    2. No DC resident pays sales tax until we have full-fledged voting representation in Congress.

  • Scotch


    2. No DC resident pays federal income taxes until we have full-fledged voting representation in COngress.

  • Dr. Van Helsing

    Publius, are you talking about rioting? You can forget that because D.C. have some of the most apathetic residents. You can't get people in the neighborhood to attend ANC, MPD CAC meetings, Civic Association meetings, and PSA meetings. There have been several street gun robberies in Ward 4 almost daily and most residents don't say a darn thing. It's business as usual.

    @AMF, the crack remark is very funny! hehe

    @Ward 4, what is your problem with making anti-semitic comments? noodlez, is that you?

  • Dr. Van Helsing

    @Scotch, I like the part about not having to pay federal taxes. hehe

  • Sally

    Did anyone ever take Michael Brown's "special" committee on statehood seriously? It was a joke for an empty suit of an ass clown.

    As the US Attorney gets closer to an indictment of Gray, look for him to make many more publicity stunts for statehood to draw attention away from his campaign's criminal activity.

  • Pingback: Hey LooseLips, The Statehood Glass is Half Full | Neighbors United for DC Statehood

  • AntiPioneer

    Sally, dear, get over it. If the US Attorney had anything on Gray he would have brought charges already. Now go make me a sandwhich. With mustard.

  • mizwillis

    @Sally from AntiPioneer: And give that man a beer on me.
    If you're the one fixing his sammiches, he more than deserves it.

  • Drez

    If dc becomes a federal tax haven, what's to stop the wealthy who would evade us taxes from driving up housing prices even more than is already happening?
    I could live with it. My family owns several homes in dc. We'd probably get rich off it.
    But what about those who don't?