Correction: A previous version of this commentary had the incorrect party affiliation for the author. This version has been updated.
Commemorations in the District of historical milestones are frequent. In 2012, it was the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Day. Last year, it was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Last month, it was the 200 years since the burning of the city during the War of 1812. Next year will be the 150 years since the end of the Civil War.
The irony behind these celebrations is that, while Washingtonians played a central role in these events, which made the United States of America stronger and more inclusive, Washingtonians are left out.
The poem that became our national anthem was published 200 years ago. That poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry,” later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was written by a Washingtonian, Lt. Francis Scott Key.
Millions of District residents lived, paid, fought and died for that banner throughout our nation’s history. But we have no star on the flag we cherish. Nowhere on it is a recognition of the contribution we made — and make — as Americans, citizens of this great democracy. We are the only people in the world denied equal rights on the basis of geography.
As a child, I stood up dutifully every morning next to my desk, put my hand across my heart, faced the flag and said, “With liberty and justice for all.” I believed it then — and I believe it now.
And now we have work to do.
The New Columbia Admission Act sits in both houses of Congress, with more than 100 sponsors. It would make the District equal for the first time in its history by adding our star to the flag and making the District the 51st state. President Obama, when asked recently about District statehood, said, “I’m for it.” The Senate will hold a hearing on this important bill on Monday.
Many stars have been added to the flag since Key penned his famous tribute, but one is still missing. We should not celebrate another occasion in which Washingtonians played a major role without affirming the principles on which this nation was founded.
Before the hearing, to commemorate the anniversary of Key’s poem and to show support for the bill, a group of District residents and combat veterans will visit members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and thank them for moving forward on a process that is long overdue. Each member of the committee will be presented with a custom-made 51-star American flag as a reminder that our democracy must include all of us.
The time has come to stand and be counted. In the Senate, in the House of Representatives and on the flag we honor and that should wave for every citizen, even those of us who reside in the nation’s capital.
The writer, an independent, represents the District of Columbia as a shadow U.S. senator.