OP-ED: Struggle for D.C. Statehood Mirrors Georgia’s Voting Rights Crisis

Sybil Miller is the Communications Director of SisterLove, an Atlanta-based organization fighting to eradicate HIV and promote reproductive health and justice. With the passage of the ironically-named Election Integrity Act of 2021, Governor Kemp and Republican legislatures enacted sweeping legislation to restrict voting in Georgia. Coupled with the recent election of Georgia’s first Black Senator, the bill’s timing is all too clear - lawmakers in our state are looking to suppress and stifle Black votes and voices.

Our democracy is clearly in the midst of a reckoning — on racial justice, voter suppression, and the very foundations of our democratic institutions. To address these existential questions, we rely on our members of Congress to represent our voices and values. Without a vote, we are unable to tackle the issues that threaten our communities. As Georgia’s state legislature authorizes voter suppression, we are losing the representation guaranteed by the basic tenets of American democracy.

The current predicament in Georgia is mirrored by the situation in our nation’s capital city. Right now, more than 700,000 Americans live in D.C. without representation in the Capitol building right in front of them. Washingtonians have no control over the District’s budget and their local laws can be overturned by Congress — all because D.C. is not a state.

D.C. lacking statehood is voter suppression and racial injustice in practice. The majority of D.C. residents are Black and Brown, and it is overt racism to deny them a vote in our democracy. In their desperate, anti-democratic arguments against D.C. statehood, Republicans deploy insulting dog whistles like “D.C. residents couldn’t handle their own budget” and nonsensical claims that “D.C. doesn’t have car dealerships.” Regardless of how they dress up their arguments, the goal is clear: blocking the Black community from basic voting rights.

D.C. statehood is personal for Sister Love, where we advocate for reproductive health and provide support for those with HIV. With the rapid proliferation of HIV in the 1990s, the D.C. City Council sought to implement a needle exchange program and limit the spread of this deadly virus. But elected officials from thousands of miles away decided to meddle in D.C. affairs, so Congress blocked the District from using locally raised tax dollars for syringe access. The residents of D.C. were powerless. After eight excruciating years of this blockade, the ban was lifted in 2008, and the rate of HIV infections plummeted.

With their tyranny over local laws, Congress stole Washingtonian lives, ignored the values of D.C. residents, and brought shame to our nation’s democracy.

The urgency of D.C. statehood grows everyday as these white Congressmen continue to intervene in local affairs. By exploiting a rule known as the Dornan Amendment, Congress has consistently prohibited D.C. from using its locally raised funds to pay for abortions for Medicaid recipients. 85 percent of Medicaid enrollees in the District are Black, so this is yetanother example of Congress denying Black Americans full bodily autonomy. Despite the basic reproductive care guaranteed to all Americans under Roe v. Wade, the residents of D.C. continue to find themselves excluded from the promises made by American democracy.

As Georgians begin the uphill battle for our voting rights, it is important that we include Washingtonians in the fight. Now is the time to uplift D.C. voices and ensure that they have fair representation. Georgians are fortunate to have Senators Ossoff and Warnock to fight for us and it is our responsibility to use this voice to stand up for Americans who are denied one. Do your part — call your Senators and ask them to prioritize D.C. statehood, because D.C. residents don’t have anyone to call to represent them

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