WASHINGTON — The current push for statehood for the District of Columbia, purportedly in the name of increasing its residents’ representation and fighting racism, is a fraud. It is aimed at gaining seats in the Senate for one of the capitalist rulers’ twin parties, the Democrats, at the expense of their Republican rivals and is an attempt to bolster Democrats’ grip on the federal government.
With the backing of President Joseph Biden, in a 100% partisan vote, the House adopted a bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state April 22. The new state would give the Democrats at least one representative to Congress and two senators. In the last four presidential elections, the district has voted Democratic by more than 90%.
A fight for home rule for the district, then an overwhelmingly Black-majority city, developed in the 1950s and ’60s. It was part of the rise of the fight against Jim Crow segregation. For decades the city was ruled over by a three-person committee appointed by Congress.
The 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom here, along with the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, 1963 Battle of Birmingham, the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, and other proletarian battles were highpoints of that struggle for civil rights that changed relations and attitudes among working people.
Demands for home rule in the district were also fueled by the substandard housing and schools and low wages prevalent for working people across the city.
In 1973 home rule laws were passed allowing District of Columbia residents to elect a mayor and City Council. However, Congress reserved the right to interfere with the council’s legislation and budget.
At that time the Socialist Workers Party pointed out that demands for statehood could only advance the fight for Black rights and working-class interests if they were tied to a course of independent working-class political action. That entailed breaking from the Democratic and Republican parties.
Demands for statehood in today’s conditions have nothing to do with expanding democracy. They are part of a broad partisan move to try and ensure Democratic control of the government and strengthen working-class reliance on the bosses’ parties. These include proposals to expand the number of judges on the U.S. Supreme Court so they can pack it with liberal justices, ending the filibuster so Democrats no longer need Republican votes to push legislation through the Senate, and abolishing the Electoral College.
Deepening class inequality marks the district today. It has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrialized world. Life expectancy for Black males is 17 years less than for white males. For women the gap is 12 years.
But the city has also changed since the 1970s. Blacks are no longer a majority and there are almost as many Caucasian residents as Blacks. In 2019 the District of Columbia had a higher median income than any state in the U.S., and is home to a growing middle-class meritocracy that staffs government departments, nongovernmental organizations and universities. It also has the highest poverty level of any of the other richest areas of the country.
Conditions of class and racial inequality will continue whether or not Democrats’ statehood legislation makes it through the Senate. As my party — the Socialist Workers Party — pointed out in the 1970s, the only road forward is to break with the two bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans, and fight for our own class interests. That is the road to fight the ruling capitalist families who exploit us.
To do that the working class in this city needs to fight for our own party, a labor party, part of a national party based on the unions. It would lead all those exploited and oppressed by the capitalist rulers to fight in our millions to establish a workers and farmers government; take control of the factories, fields, mines and banks; and use our power to deepen the struggle to end racism and all forms of oppression.