On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
President Trump has said that “D.C. will never be a state.” But statehood supporters believe that forces are aligning to elevate the District to statehood next year.
One significant obstacle: the supermajority. Though the House passed a statehood bill this summer, the Senate requires a supermajority of 60 votes for passage — a threshold statehood advocates say is unfairly high. It’s also one the GOP-controlled Senate is disinclined to change.
The “51 for 51” coalition is working to remove that requirement so that it will take 51 senators to make a 51st state.
How realistic is their plan? And how do statehood supporters hope to give the issue traction in the rest of the nation, where voters are split over the issue?
Let’s talk about statehood, and it’s chances in 2021.
Produced by Lauren Markoe
SASHA-ANN SIMONSYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Later in the hour we'll talk about Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's new political memoir. But first Donald Trump says D.C. will never be a state. But many people in the District are feeling more optimistic than ever that statehood is going to happen. In June the Democratically controlled House passed a statehood bill, which had no chance in the Republican controlled Senate. But if Democrats take control of the Senate and the White House in November's elections there's hope it could clear a path to D.C. statehood.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSDemocratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is on board and his running mate Kamala Harris who's tweeted, "It's time to grant D.C. statehood." But even if that happens obstacles will remain. Our guests today are leading a coalition to remove those obstacles and they've been working for more than a year to make sure that if Democrats regain power statehood for D.C. will soon follow. Let's talk about the growing momentum for statehood and the chances that the District could perhaps relatively soon call itself the 51st state. Joining me to discuss are Stasha Rhodes. She is the Campaign Director for 51 for 51. Hi, Stasha, welcome to the program.
STASHA RHODESHi. How are you? It's good to join.
SIMONSGood. Thank you so much. Ty Hobson-Powell is the Lead organizer of 51 for 51 and he's the Co-founder of Concerned Citizens D.C., a group of young social activists. Hi, Ty.
TY HOBSON-POWELLHi. Thanks for having me.
SIMONSI'll start with you, Stasha. Tell us about the organization that you lead, which is 51 for 51. When was it founded and what's your goal?
RHODESYeah. Sure, thanks so much for having us again. Truly appreciate you shining a spotlight on this issue.
RHODES51 for 51 launched last year, 2019 in May with the goal of ensuring that members of the Senate not only supported D.C. statehood, but they supported an actual path to make D.C. statehood a reality. It is one thing to say that you support D.C. statehood. It is another to support an actual path to be able to vote for D.C.'s statehood. 51 for 51 asked senators to support D.C. statehood moving forward in the Senate with 51 votes in the Senate.
SIMONSGive us a brief history here, Stasha. You know, for those who don't know what is D.C.'s status right now and how did it end up a district?
RHODESSo over 700,000 residents of Washington have been without representation I think for over 200 years now. The mostly Black and brown residents of D.C. have waited for equal representation in Congress. In June, the House took a historic step toward righting the wrong by voting to make D.C. our nation's 51st state. And, of course, now it's up to the Senate to take action. But we know that we're faced with a procedural hurdle known as the filibuster that stops us.
SIMONSSo tell us -- your group is trying to get rid of that filibuster for statehood. Remind us what a filibuster is and tell us how it relates.
RHODESSure. The filibuster is a practice that allows a minority of the Senate to block legislation. So essentially it means that most bills can only pass if they have 60 or more votes in the Senate, and so without 50 votes -- and any senator can block most bills using a procedural rule known as the filibuster. We're seeing that the minority should not be able to rule the Senate. We believe the Senate is broken, because of this filibuster. And D.C. statehood should not meet the same fate. We believe that 51 votes, a simple majority is enough to ensure that over 700,000 residents have access to the democracy that surrounds them in Washington D.C.
SIMONSI want to bring Ty into the conversation. Ty, many people remember you from the headlines. When you graduated from high school at the age of 13 and then college at 15, which is wow. Now you're 25. You're already an experienced community activist. Tell me why you signed on to 51 for 15.
HOBSON-POWELLSo for me, I would say that signing on to 51 for 51 was sort of a gradual thing, because I had to get informed about the issues of statehood. How I was being disenfranchised by D.C. not being a state. It also helped that in the original organizing core I saw some friends, some people that I respected as organizers here on the ground in Demi Stratman (sp?) and Jamal Hultz (sp?) and Jevian Gudger and so many other just brilliant young minds that I already had immense respect for. And so like I said when I got educated on the issues I think just seeing my friends sort of aligned with it was the glue.
HOBSON-POWELLThe idea that we could have directly impacted parties leading this effort, leading this conversation, leading this dialogue was something that was very very empowering to me, because I don't think that there are too many opportunities where we have been given that voice. And so to be able to have that access to be at the Iowa State Fair with Joe Biden and really talking the issues, to be in all of these different places and spaces it really was a privilege. And the experience is kind of what also continually sales statehood to me.
SIMONSNow, Ty, you're featured in a video that was released by 51 for 51. And it shows you walking through the city and making the case for statehood. Let's talk a listen.
HOBSON-POWELLEver since Donald Trump was elected I've been fired up to mobilize. I've attended marches. I've knocked on doors. I've visited Town Hall meetings. And I'm not the only one. Seems like every other day someone is saying, Call your representative. Call your senator. That's a great idea in theory, but I can't do any of that because I don't have senators or representative who can vote. Because I'm a resident of Washington D.C. and D.C. isn't a state, which means I like 700,000 Washingtonians lack congressional representation.
HOBSON-POWELLI was born and raised right here in Washington D.C. I graduated high school here when I was 13 years old. I graduated college at 15. And I finished grad school at age 17. And I'm one of many bright voices being silenced. I came back to organize and advocate here in D.C., because I believe that 700,000 residents deserve to have a vote in Congress.
SIMONSTy, who's the audience that you're trying to reach most with this video and where can we find it?
HOBSON-POWELLSo you can find the video on 51for51.org. It's on our twittter @51for51. It's on my personal Instagram tyhobsonpowelldc. But the target audience really for that is America. That messaging is for the America that is ignorant to what D.C.'s lack of statehood means. You know, as we are going into the violent summer months, we know very real here in D.C. that the lack of statehood translates to a bunch of dead bodies in our streets, because the guns that are coming from these states that have loose regulations are flowing into our streets and killing our children. And because of our lack of ability to have a seat at the table on issues like background checks and red flag laws we are just sort like lame ducks in it.
HOBSON-POWELLAnd it's a very very very real thing. So the target audience is to everybody to really just educate them on the idea that this marginalization is not just some political device, not just something that is talked about. It's a lived reality for 700,000 majority Black and brown bodies, who are being marginalized every day in the nation's capital. And if that doesn't stand out as something to deal with then I don't know.
SIMONSIf you're just tuning that's Ty Hobson-Powell. He's the Lead organizer of 51 for 51 and Co-founder of Concerned Citizens D.C. That's a group of young social activists. Also with us is Stasha Rhodes. She's the Campaign Director for 51 for 51. Stasha, you hear Ty say this video -- you know, this is for American. You know, in 2016 more than 85 percent of D.C. voters approved a statehood proposal. But what do we know about what the rest of the country thinks of statehood? What do the polls say?
RHODESYeah. I want to quickly just touch on something that Ty said and the importance of having representation in Congress. He mentioned gun violence and sort of the escalating gun violence we see. Over the weekend there was a horrible mass shooting in Southeast D.C. And I think it's important to note that that's why representation matters. That's why it matters to have a voice in the Senate. D.C. has enacted relatively strong gun laws. But illegal guns make their way to Washington from neighboring states with poor gun laws. In 2018, ATF traced over 1400 crime guns in D.C., 600 came from Virginia, 100 came from Georgia. More than 100 came from North Carolina. There is no sort of substantial gun law preventing gun trafficking at the federal level.
RHODESIf D.C. were a state, we could have two senators fighting to protect us from other state's bad laws. And so I want to definitely highlight the reality of what it means to lack statehood for residents of Washington D.C. I think for folks outside of D.C. -- people largely think of Washington D.C. as Congress and Capitol Hill and the White House and monuments. They don't often think of the 700,000 residents that live here that pay federal taxes. In fact, D.C. pays more federal taxes than 22 states. And more federal taxes per capita than any other state. They don't think about those things. They're not aware of it.
RHODESSo often as we travel last year to early primary states talking to presidential candidates, talking to folks in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, they were shocked to find out that D.C. residents did not have representation.
SIMONSLet's hear from a caller. Iman is on the line from Chantilly. Hi, Iman.
IMANHi, thanks for taking my call. I just want to tell the guest we know one thing for a fact here is that numberwise if D.C. becomes a state, you know, there will be a Democratic and they will have two Senate seat. So Republicans they see that this will not help their cause. So it's really -- the bottom line is that is the only reason why they want D.C. not to become a state. And I'm very angry sometimes.
IMANWhen Barrack Obama was the president D.C. could have been a state by now. We wouldn't discuss this issue, because we had almost close to 60 senators that time and they could not even stop anything. But that is not something that I called. But I want to tell the guests that we need to be realistic. These Republicans they will fight to the -- hard because they will accept D.C. as a state actually. And I appreciate for you taking my call.
SIMONSThank you so much, Iman. Stasha, do you have a response to that? He says it's probably not going to happen. We need to be realistic.
RHODESYeah. I want to add a couple of points. One is I agree that Republicans are blocking this, because they are afraid of the increase of power for D.C. residents getting two senators, but I also want to add another reason why D.C. hasn't been added as a state and it's because racism. Leaving 700,000 mostly Black and brown residents without a vote in Congress is racism. And we must change the rules in the Senate to realize the democracy that represents Black and brown people.
RHODESI think the reality is that D.C.'s voting residents is 46 percent Black. If D.C. is granted statehood, it would be the only state in the nation to have a polarity of Black residents. So we certainly cannot count out the Black and brown population. If this were a white place, residents here would have a vote in Congress. I unlike our friend, who called in, I am incredibly hopeful that we have a chance to actually make D.C. a state. I think first we have to ensure that we take back the Senate in November. And then we have to ensure that we bypass the Senate filibuster to actually make this happen.
SIMONSWe'll continue our conversation after a very short break. Stay with us.
SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with Stasha Rhodes. She is a Campaign Director for 51 for 51. And Ty Hobson-Powell. He is the Lead organizer of 51 for 51 and Co-founder of Concerned Citizens D.C., a group of young social activists. We're talking about D.C. statehood. Ty, what about the issue of the constitutional amendment, you know, people saying, Washington D.C. cannot be a state, because the Constitution forbids it.
HOBSON-POWELLWell, we don't need a constitutional amendment to make D.C. a state. That I think is very clear. And HR51 kind of clearly sort of outlines exactly that D.C. would be still a federal district downtown. But that Washington, Douglas, Commonwealth that surrounds it would be the Washington D.C. So that conversation is actually a moot point.
SIMONSStasha, what groups specifically are part of the 51 for 51 coalition and tell us who's funding it because it's been reported that you've got a seven figure budget.
RHODESYeah. Look, we've been really blessed to have the resources necessary to push our message outside of Washington especially in the early primary states. We have incredible partners like Brady, the gun violence prevention organization, the American Federation of Teachers, Indivisible, Demand Justice and so on. We have about 35 coalition partners, who have been working with us to pull resources. Organizations with a broad array of issues like gun violence, healthcare and more, because D.C. statehood is a fundamental democracy issue, and they believer that if representation continues to be absent in Washington, then they can't move the needle on the issues that matter to them the most.
SIMONSLet's hear from another caller. Ann is on the line from us. She's in Washington D.C. Hi, Ann.
SIMONSWhat's your comment or question for us today?
ANNI have a comment. I just wanted to explain a little bit why becoming a state is so important. It's not just the issue of whether we have representation in Congress. In fact, Peter Rodino for those of your listeners, who are old enough to remember Watergate testified back in hearing in the late 80s early 90s that even if the 1978 effort by our Delegate Walter Fauntroy to amend the Constitution to give us a vote in Congress passed, Congress would still be effectively our state legislature and have total control over all the state powers and all the local powers that belong to states.
ANNIt's under the Article 1 of the Constitution, which gives Congress exclusive legislation over D.C. It means any law, anything that the mayor does, that the Council does, Congress has the authority for any reason or no reason at all to change it, to get rid of it, to put in whatever it wants to.
ANNAnd we do not have the basic fundamental sovereignty that citizens of states have. And if you remember how the Constitution came about and how we became the kind of government that we had, it was the states, the 13 colonies, which became the original states under the Articles of Confederation. They were the initial units of sovereignty created by the people. And when that original government didn't really work very well at the nation level, the states elected delegates to go to a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to figure out how to build a stronger federal government.
ANNAnd what they did was decide what powers that the states had -- because you had the states doing foreign policy and all kinds of things back in the late 18th century. What powers should be in the federal government, what powers should be in the state and particularly if you look at the Bill of Rights in the 10th Amendment it says that all the power is not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved to the states and then to the people.
ANNYour guests were talking earlier about our problem with illegal guns and all this kind of stuff. The reason Congress can overturn our gun laws and threaten to wipe out them completely -- what they've done many times over the last number of decades is because we're not a state. Those are powers states have to regulate things within the boundaries of the state.
ANNBut in our case Congress holds that authority. You saw it most recently in how the president and the administration basically started taking over the streets within the District of Columbia for little reason or no reason or for whatever he wanted to do.
SIMONSWell, thank you for that information. We've got to get some other callers in here. I appreciate you adding that to the conversation. Ron's been waiting patiently on the line. Ron is also calling from D.C. Hi, Ron.
RONHi. Thank the guests, you know, doing the work they're doing to elevate statehood and also this question on the filibuster. I've very supportive of 51 for 51 and the effort for D.C. to get statehood. But I'm a bit concerned that District residents and our leadership aren't really thinking about what D.C. looks like once the District of Columbia, becomes Douglas Commonwealth. What is our constitution? Most residents don't know that we unlike a lot of states that have gone through this process haven't had an elected constitution convention since the 80s.
RONAnd so I really would like to see advocates push, you know, that we get back to government formed by the people and really talk about the need for D.C. to have a traditional state constitutional convention where we have elected delegates, where we have the voice of the people in the room right on the document that will govern us for, you know, many more generations to come.
SIMONSThanks, Ron. Appreciate your call. Stasha, what do you think there? You know, Ron is saying we're not thinking about day one of statehood and what that would actually look like.
RHODESYeah. I think Ron is -- it's good to hear Ron stress the importance of making sure that folks are thinking about what happens after statehood. Actually it's hopeful to think about what happens after statehood since we have so many hurdles to sort of climb before we are able to get to after statehood. But I think he's right. I think what's important to sort of center in that conversation is that you should continue to hold your local elected officials accountable in pulling together a plan for what statehood looks like after it's granted. And then even more so, though, folks should be empowered about the fact that they would have a role, a say in their government and how it's shaped, because they would actually have the power and authority to elect members here that can do that.
RHODESRight now D.C. doesn't have that power and does not have that authority. And I think the good thing is knowing that D.C. being a state gives the power to residents. And if I could quickly just say that the first caller Ann was absolutely right. Congressional representation is not the only reason we should be pushing for D.C. statehood. Right now Congress can overturn any D.C. law that they do not agree with. So that means folks from Kentucky and Texas and Alabama can make rules for D.C. residents that have no connectivity to the residents that voted for them.
RHODESAnd so issues like school funding and marijuana legislation and abortions for low income women are used by Republicans in Congress as political football. So that's why D.C. deserves full statehood and we should make sure we see it happen after November.
SIMONSTy, you spoke a lot earlier about the racial component of all this. You know, the Black Lives Matter movement has touched almost every aspect of life in America especially over the past few months. How has it affected the campaign for D.C. statehood?
HOBSON-POWELLI think that in real time we saw what D.C.'s lack of statehood meant. As Ann regarded, you know, the deployment of troops on Black Lives Matter Plaza shooting tear gas, shooting rubber bullets was quick contrary to the message that was being given. And so I think that really it's humanizing. It's humanizing what this movement is for D.C. statehood. When you look at the COVID response and how in the CARES Act we were shorted, because we're not a state and weren't able to get that adequate financial relief.
SIMONSReal quick. How has the pandemic affected the campaign for D.C. statehood?
HOBSON-POWELLOh, it's affected some of the mobility I would say in what we typically do is 51 for 51 in going out and traveling and directly engaging. But I think that it's challenged us to move to digital fronts and really transition to what this new normal is utilizing social media.
HOBSON-POWELLHashtags, why we can't wait. You know, just really just tapping in to what that energy is because you have to find some way to organize or miss it all.
SIMONSOur thanks to Ty Hobson-Powell, the Lead organizer of 51 for 51 and Co-founder of Concerned Citizens D.C., a group of young social activists, and Stasha Rhodes, Campaign Director for 51 for 51. Thank you both. You're listening to The Kojo Nnamdi. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Up next, what Governor Larry Hogan did and didn't include in his new political memoir. Stay with us.
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