The last time D.C. residents went to the polls to cast a vote for or against a D.C. statehood referendum, 52 American diplomats and citizens were being held hostage in Tehran by the Ayatollah Khomeini; the AIDS-causing virus hadn’t yet been discovered, let alone controlled; and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms had only been launched the previous year. The Cold War between East and West was at full pitch. Now China has become the world’s second largest economy and the Berlin Wall is no more. Even Eastern Europe’s democratic color revolutions have come and gone. South Africa has long since dismantled apartheid. In other words, most everything in the world appears to have changed since 1980; that is, except, of course, the non-voting status of District of Columbia residents. Our sorry political status remains conspicuously the same. We enjoy no right to equal congressional representation; nor, for that matter, are we permitted by Congress full local autonomy to run our daily affairs as only we see fit.
Whether it’s 1980, 1880 or 1801, it makes little difference to Washingtonians because in a political sense, time has virtually stopped, even as the world around us has greatly changed. Our right to independence, our right to equality, our right to congressional representation is by and large the same as it was 216 years ago. That is to say, nonexistent.
The fact that there has been no remedy granted District residents within these past two centuries makes for a strange tale in American history. Even so, today D.C. citizens appear to be more devoted than ever to winning equal rights under law. It is a testament to their resilience and fortitude that no matter the level of opposition they face, they remain dedicated to the proposition that all American citizens should share in the bounty of the rights of full citizenship.
Will a vote in favor of the D.C. statehood referendum help push the District’s down the road to equity of treatment? We say emphatically, yes. Our position may be based on an abundance of hope, but if history teaches us anything, it’s this: A just cause endowed with a true sense of moral clarity that’s purposefully pursued can and will prevail. Think the attainment women’s rights; the abolition of slavery; the fall of the Soviet Union and the death of apartheid.