The insurgency propelled D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to ask for help from the National Guard. But because D.C. is not a state, all requests for National Guard deployment have to be approved by the Defense Department and the president. Defense first denied the mayor’s request, even as rioters smashed the windows of the Capitol and proudly waved Confederate flags inside a building built by enslaved people. The D.C. government was forced to turn to states whose governors have unilateral power to mobilize their National Guards. Maryland and Virginia sent in several thousand troops, but it was too late. The mob was already damaging the halls of Congress, insurrectionists sitting in the chair of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
These images were in stark contrast to what happened in D.C. over the summer of 2020, when Trump called on federal forces to tear gas, shoot and terrorize Black Lives Matter protesters peacefully demonstrating for justice. The numbers tell the story. They explain why I feared for my life every time I attended a peaceful protest. On a single June day, more than 285 people were arrested in Black Lives Matter protests in D.C. After the attempted coup, fewer than 100 people have been apprehended so far.
Entrenched white supremacy protected the men and women committing the insurrectionist acts on Jan. 6. For more than 200 years, racist institutions have disenfranchised the majority Black and brown residents of D.C. who live amid the heart of our government without a vote in Congress.
Not only does our democracy hinge on Congress passing D.C. statehood, but also the safety of my family and neighbors depends on it. As a state, with all the authority and autonomy that statehood affords, D.C. could have defended its people from Trump’s brutal use of force over the summer and from the mob of white supremacists emboldened to storm the Capitol at the behest of Trump’s calls to overthrow the results of our free and fair election. Some are expecting violence at the inauguration Wednesday. Without self-governance, D.C. residents have little voice in how they will be protected.
A Republican senator called the majority Black and brown residents of D.C. “not real people.” But these people, my people, directly suffered the consequences of the lies that the election was stolen. Government workers, some of whom are my close friends who also call D.C. home, feared for their safety as they sheltered in barricaded offices. First responders put their lives on the line to protect a democracy that fails to afford them voting representation.
My fellow Black and brown D.C. residents were left to sweep up the broken glass in the halls and clean up the streets, filling garbage trucks with signs spewing white supremacist hate, when the violent mobs and TV cameras finally left the Capitol. Thousands of workers lost critical hourly wages used to feed their families because of D.C.'s mandatory 6 p.m. curfew. Many people were stranded with no way home as public transportation shut down. D.C. children lost out on a day of learning as child-care and school programs closed. My grandmother’s home health aide couldn’t visit her like normal.
As a young advocate with 51 for 51, an organization dedicated to achieving D.C. statehood, I’ve spent the past several years fighting for representation for the very people most affected by this insurgency. And with a Democratic majority soon in Congress, the finish line for D.C. statehood is closer than ever. With a progressive mandate from Black voters across the country, Congress has a responsibility to correct this centuries-long stain on our democracy. In the first 100 days of the new administration, we need Congress to bypass the filibuster to pass D.C. statehood with 51 votes in the Senate. Former president Barack Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic,” because it has been used to block hundreds of racial justice bills. We can’t let it block D.C. statehood, too. We must commit ourselves to rooting out racial injustice in all forms — and that includes the filibuster.
During the 2020 election cycle, President-elect Joe Biden, who has publicly endorsed D.C. statehood, insisted that “the soul of America” was at stake. The Jan. 6 insurrection again reminded us that the soul of our nation is still being fought over. For the spirit of America to reflect racial justice, equality and a true democracy, Congress must look toward justice in this painful moment and finally make D.C. the 51st state.