Despite Senate stall, DC statehood advocates in the AU community continue efforts
The House passed a bill in favor of D.C. statehood over the summer
D.C. celebrated a historic milestone this past summer in the fight for statehood when the House of Representatives passed a bill that would admit certain portions of D.C. as the 51st state.
Regardless of the outcome, this was a significant achievement for those fighting for statehood, including those in the American University community. Noah Wills, a 2018 alum of the School of Public Affairs, now president of Students for D.C. Statehood, said the bill’s passing in the House was “the pinnacle of the statehood movement.”
“I felt the excitement from the generations of student leaders and advocates before,” Wills said. “It was a testament to their determination. I’ve only been involved in the movement for about six years, but I’m happy to have contributed something to the past generations’ work.”
Votes were mainly along party lines, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting the bill. However, the Republican-majority Senate hasn’t taken the bill up for a vote due to unpopular support.
H.R. 51 would declare the state, which currently has a non-voting member of Congress, two senators and a voting representative. The bill would also declare that the state consists of all District territory, with the exclusion of some federal buildings and monuments. The excluded territory would be known as the “Capital.”
ANC 3D07 Commissioner-elect Christian Damiana, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and president of AU Students for D.C. Statehood, shared in the excitement of the moment.
“When it comes to statehood, progress has been very slow, and the success is rare,” Damiana said. “When success does come, it’s very powerful. We’ve seen more of this over the past few decades with small successes like D.C. getting more budget autonomy.”
Wills said that D.C.’s lack of representation is contrary to the ideals the country upholds. He said that is what drew him to the movement.
“I was astounded when I first heard that the capital of the United States, as a beacon of democracy in the world, doesn’t give its own residents the right to Congress,” Wills said. “I used my four years at American University to study the issue and to learn about why we are where we are, what the arguments for and against it are and why it hasn’t happened yet.”
Through D.C. Students for Statehood, Wills focuses on mobilizing high school and college students through education and advocacy — work he has continued since leading AU’s chapter of the organization.
Damiana said a goal of the organization is to spread this message of what statehood would mean.
“A lot of AU students will not stay in D.C. for the rest of their lives,” Damiana said. “Students come to D.C. and learn how important statehood is. Then, when they go back to their home states, hopefully, they’ll tell their family, friends and their representatives and senators how D.C. desperately needs statehood.”
As for the near future, statehood’s support has been on the rise among voters. In polls conducted by Data For Progress, 43 percent of voters supported statehood in September 2020 compared to 35 percent in early 2019. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed support for D.C. statehood, but for now, much is riding on the runoff Senate races in Georgia, where two additional Democratic seats could mean sure progress for the movement.
Wills and Damiana hope to see more substantial change in the future as they continue to work toward their shared goal.
“D.C. statehood is a pathway to economic justice, to labor rights and to saving our environment and eventually passing the Green New Deal,” Damiana said. “Many of these things will never be able to pass the U.S. Senate without statehood. Statehood would be the clearest showing of what D.C. residents can do for America if we let them.”