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The crowd dispersed as D.C. statehood activists Anise Jenkins and E. Faye Williams stepped up to the mic.
“Since 1801, the D.C. residents have been fighting for D.C. statehood,” Jenkins, the executive director of Stand Up! For Democracy in DC, said. “We have no representation in the house, no representation in the Senate, yet we pay the highest federal taxes per person in the country. Taxation without representation is a ripoff. It’s tyranny! It’s criminal!”
Most of the journalists and spectators didn’t hear that call Wednesday. They had followed the famous faces walking away from the mic toward the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument. Martin Luther King III, the son of the Civil Rights activist, his wife Arndrea King, and Rev. Al Sharpton had wrapped up a media event after meeting with Texas Democratic state legislators.
It was a tough act to follow and Williams, the national president of the National Congress of Black Women, says she had to go up and ask people to stay and listen to D.C. statehood advocates.
She adds that, because she’s a Black woman, she has to force her way into press events like the one held Wednesday.
“Maybe it’s not meant to be, you know, disparaging to us. But it is when we are not invited into these things. We have to push our way in,” she says. “Males have felt that they run the world but … women have had the biggest struggle. And yet we have been standing for every human and civil rights issue there is in the country.”
She points out that the only woman who spoke at the press event was Arndrea King along with her husband.
“We’re not going to be angry, because we know that can consume and destroy us,” she continues. “We’re just going to keep on working, keep on struggling, and we gonna win this fight one day. We are gonna let the world know that we did this. The others helped us, but we did it.”
Jenkins and Williams’ push for voting rights is one of many occurring around the country this month. Sharpton and the Kings will attend events throughout Texas and other states against legislation passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures. Demonstrators say new laws such as ID requirements and limits on mail-in voting disadvantage voters of color. Republicans say the measures protect against fraud and restore confidence in voting after President Trump’s unsupported claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Sharpton, the Kings, and the Texas legislators spent this week meeting with lawmakers and testifying before Congress. They will be back at the end of August for the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
“What Martin Luther King talked about was creating the nation that we ought to be for all people. And that’s why we’re here today,” Martin Luther King III said during the conference.
When asked about their support of D.C. statehood, Arndrea King said: “I certainly think that you can’t have a conversation about voting rights and voter suppression and have a march in D.C. without discussing the impact of D.C. statehood and the fact that there really isn’t without representation. So it is an issue for us.”
Although D.C. statehood is gaining momentum in Congress, it still faces major roadblocks. For D.C. to become Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, the filibuster would likely need to be removed. Two Democratic senators, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have essentially torpedoed any chance of putting an end to the filibuster. This puts D.C.’s fight in limbo.
Williams says D.C. advocates aren’t going to let up. She says Jenkins has been pushing for statehood for years and one 84-year-old supporter who attended Wednesday’s gathering passed out from the heat. (He received medical attention and is reportedly OK.)
“He was here because he cared enough to come out and to do these demonstrations,” she says. “If we don’t get this filibuster undone, we can move on and get progress for all the people in this country, not just the right few.”
She adds she doesn’t know why advocates are focusing their attention on Manchin or Sinema.
“Joe Manchin is a Democrat. He knows what he should be doing. Sinema knows what she should be doing. They run under the umbrella of the Democratic Party,” Williams says. “So we have to either make them understand what our issues are in the Democratic Party, or send someone to defeat them.
Williams isn’t going anywhere. She’ll continue this fight even with five people in the audience.
“I’ve been working for years and sometimes we aren’t even mentioned that we around, so we have to do what we did today. We have to take it where we find it.”
— Bailey Vogt (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
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