Michael D. Brown, a Democrat, is one of D.C.'s shadow senators.

Last week, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill to make the nonfederal areas of D.C. the 51st state. In her introductory remarks, she noted that the bill is similar to one she introduced in 1991 and several more times over the past 30 years. Furthermore she outlined the injustices that the bill would resolve for the 715,000 residents of the nation’s capital by making us equal Americans citizens for the first time in more than 200 years.

Missing from her remarks was the fact that if we become a state, our new senators and representative undoubtedly would be Democrats. We are reluctant to speak of this, even though there is truth in the claim, because we feel it undercuts the moral imperative that our cause is about justice. To be sure, the injustice is clear. We pay federal taxes, serve in the military and take on all the responsibilities of citizens, but we are denied our basic right to representation and control over local affairs.

Unfortunately, Republicans have successfully turned this into a strictly partisan battle, arguments of justice be damned. The new bill has 202 co-sponsors, a record number, without a single Republican. In the last Congress, the successfully passed legislation was the same: no Republicans.

I am confident this reintroduced bill will pass in the House again, thanks to Norton’s hard work and consistent effort. Now the challenge moves to the Senate, where Democrats have just won a major victory and where no Republican supports the idea of D.C. becoming the 51st state. But with Democrats taking the Senate majority soon, there’s a chance, albeit a slim one. To capitalize on it, we need to embrace the obvious partisanship inherent in our legislation. It’s time to face the reality of the challenge that faces us: To gain the broad nationwide support we need to move similar legislation in the Senate, we need to point out what’s in it for others.

In one of my first meetings with Norton, she said “nothing is ever generated within the walls of Congress.” Yet we continue to lobby on Capitol Hill rather than taking our struggle to the nation.

We need to make people understand that beyond forming a more perfect union, there is much in D.C. statehood for them. It’s hard to invoke empathy and support from those who cannot feel our pain. The people of the 50 states have the rights we seek, and, although they sympathize, they can’t identify and they see nothing in our emancipation that’s to their benefit.

I learned long ago, running a successful small business, if you want the deal to work, you need to put something in it for everybody. Here’s what’s in this bill for others. Democrats would gain not just two senators, but likely two progressive Democrats. The D.C. Council is majority female and African American. Our new congressional representation probably would be similarly representative. Senators from D.C. would represent progressive values, such as pushing for a living wage and worker protections, including paid sick leave. They would advocate for a fairer tax structure and fight against systemic racism and for police reform. These are common interests that go far beyond our borders. They help all Americans, not just those in D.C.

We still have to get all Senate Democrats to support the companion legislation, a feat we have yet to accomplish. Then we have to convince them to suspend the rules to end debate, commonly referred to as the “nuclear option.” That’s why we need to build a coalition of constituents who see their interests aligning with ours.

Democrats didn’t make this fight a partisan battle, but, unfortunately, that is what it has become. Look at how the Republicans use every advantage to install last-minute Supreme Court justices or to overturn the will of the people, even trying things that have never been done before that undermine our democracy. Soon, Democrats will control both houses of Congress and the White House, and we must press our advantage, like the Republicans have, to advance our agenda.

We’ve been here many times before and believed that the righteousness of our cause would carry the day; it never has. It’s time to take the argument off the Hill and to the people. It’s time for us to admit that, yes, it’s about two more Democrats, but it’s also about justice.

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