Vincent Orange

Vincent Orange (D-AtLarge) D.C. Council member (Courtesy Photo)

A veteran D.C. Council member seeks to launch a petition drive to get one million people to support making the District of Columbia the 51st state in the union.

D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) submitted a “sense of the council” resolution on July 7 called the “‘Statehood or Else’ Signature Campaign of 2015.” Partially using the slogan of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March – “Justice or Else” – the event will take place on Oct. 10.

“The time is now for the District to push for statehood and collecting one million signatures demonstrates that sense of urgency,” Orange said. “It is important to have the signatures by next summer so that the future leadership in the White House makes statehood in the District a priority of their administration.”

Orange said he wants to collect one million signatures for a petition supporting D.C. statehood and submit them to the White House, the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, and to the leaders at the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions.

The resolution is legislation that expresses the determination, decision, and direction of the D.C. Council, according to the latest edition of the D.C. Council Handbook. The resolution only has to go through one full reading by the Council and doesn’t have to be approved by the mayor or the U.S. Congress. Orange’s bill will likely be taken up after the D.C. Council’s summer recess, which ends on Sept. 15.

D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 8), Brianna Nadeau (D-Ward 1), and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) are co-sponsoring the legislation. However, while Orange has enough support to pass his bill through the council, he said that more political and governmental leaders need to be on board.

“For the campaign’s success, we need Mayor Bowser, all 13 council members, Attorney General Karl Racine, the Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Senators Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown,  Representative Franklin Garcia, D.C. Vote, D.C. Appleseed and all District residents and citizens of the United States to aggressively support this campaign for D.C. statehood,” Orange said.

“The ‘Statehood or Else’ campaign is an opportunity to present a unifying front with the goal of achieving statehood for the District.”

Garcia said he supports Orange’s initiative enthusiastically. Garcia, Strauss, and Brown are non-paid elected officials charged with lobbying Congress to grant the District statehood. “It is a good initiative,” Garcia told the AFRO on July 25. “We need to have a national campaign to get statehood and we need to take our message beyond D.C. and its borders.”

Garcia said that any effort to highlight the political plight of D.C. residents is worth it. “I was in Rhode Island recently and I explained to an audience that D.C. residents don’t have a vote in Congress and people were shocked to hear that,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what is going on in D.C. We need to do whatever we can do see that people across the nation are informed about our lack of democracy.”

Orange also has the support of Stand Up! for Democracy – Free D.C., a grassroots organization that is pro-D.C. statehood. The organization posted that it “has already planned to work to mobilize and educate visitors for D.C. statehood and will work in coalition with council member Orange and ‘Justice or Else.’

However, Orange’s approach does have its critics. Josh Burch, the founder of Neighbors United for Statehood, said on his website, the51st.org, that he supports the spirit of what the council member wants to do, however, some aspects should be changed. “There are many good components in Council member Vincent Orange’s resolution to promote the statehood cause through a multi-media campaign and a petition drive,” Burch said. “The name D.C. Statehood or Else, should be tabled but the basic premise should be preserved, nurtured and developed into something meaningful, impactful and inspiring.”

Burch proposes that a march, rally, and a peaceable and non-violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by District residents takes place on April 16 instead of a petition drive.