D.C. statehood and voting rights activists took advantage of the Martin Luther King Jr. March for Jobs and Justice to present a variety of approaches to equal political representation for residents of the District. T-shirts, banners, chants and literature were highly visible as two factions of the D.C. equal rights movement pressed their cases at Saturday’s march and rally organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

“The capital of the nation is the last plantation. We want statehood. When do we want it? NOW,” shouted a small band of female protestors carrying a sign in support for their cause as they marched towards the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Other signs calling for the rights that Americans elsewhere take for granted read: “DC Voting Rights” and “No Taxation Without Representation.”

“The Democrats pay lip service but do nothing to bring D.C. statehood while the Republicans fear it out of ignorance. It’s time to influence voters from all states to elect political leaders who support our political fight for statehood. Americans are not free until all of us are free,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former D.C. shadow senator.

“I don’t know of any state that used an incremental approach to attain statehood. We want the same methodology that was applied to Delaware and Rhode Island, Hawaii and any other state applied to the District of Columbia,” said Joslyn “Josh” Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO.

“Our goal is full democracy for the District residents. With that goal and the harsh realities of what happens on Capitol Hill when the notion of the District becoming a state comes to the floor, we decided to take incremental approach, not to offend anyone. We can’t afford to lose the fight and push back,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an educational and advocacy organization whose mission is to secure full voting representation in Congress. “We are looking for victories on the road to statehood. We feel the successes that we make push us farther along.”

The piecemeal approach is supported by both Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Charles Moreland, D.C.’s first elected shadow U.S. Representative said the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, which would give the city one vote in Congress, ignores the expressed will of the people. “In 1980, D.C. residents overwhelmingly approved the statehood initiative. Those who support the DC Voting Rights Bill and other incremental approaches to democracy have given up on statehood. It is a cruel and cynical road map to never ending inequality, justice and political slavery.

“It is ludicrous,” Moreland said, “to believe that a crumb of freedom is better than nothing. If the universe bends towards justice then sustaining injustice is the impossible. Statehood is therefore our inevitable destiny.”

“I would never support a little bit of something when I know we are well deserving of the whole thing. District residents have done nothing wrong,” said Glenda Richmond, founder of Veterans and Military Families for Statehood. “My four brothers fought in foreign for others to have democracy and more rights than we do in the District.”

D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss said the incremental approach has failed in the past. “If we really take our cues from the Civil Rights Movement, we should be fighting for full equal rights. Dr. King’s dream was not for a few civil rights but all of them.”

Mukhtar Raqib, 26, is part of a new youth movement involved in using social networking to get young voters involved from around the country. “What is baffling to young people, like myself, is how generations of Americans have ignored the full rights of District inhabitants. We are only ‘listed’ as a state. However the citizens are treated like indentured servants. My generation doesn’t want to keep this going and we plan to put a stop to it now.”

“Would you say to Rosa Parks, well, now you can sit in the middle of the bus but still not the front,” said Michael D. Brown, D.C. shadow representative. “Statehood is the answer.”

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO