You might have seen this or other yard signs around the city. But did you know that the neighborhood initiative Neighbors United for DC Statehood is based right here in Brookland? I had the chance to ask Josh Burch, the founder of Neighbors United for DC Statehood, a few questions. He explains why he fights for Washington DC to get equal representation rights, and how you can be part of this important movement.
On Saturday, January 12th, 2013, the newly formed Ward 5 Neighbors for Statehood will have its 2013 kick-off meeting at 10am. Please go to www.the51st.org for location information.
1) Josh, could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself, and describe what motivated or inspired you to lead the DC Statehood movement?
I was born and raised in DC so this issue has always been important to me. My parents moved from NW to Brookland when I was 16 months old and after being away from Brookland for college and Peace Corps I was fortunate enough to buy a house in Brookland back in 2002 and have lived here since. I am now raising a family of my own in Brookland thanks to my wonderful wife and daughter. Throughout my life I’ve always supported Statehood but it wasn’t until the budget deal in spring 2011 that I became more active. At that time, when the District’s right to spend its own money was used as a bargaining chip that I realized all other legislative options would leave us as separate and unequal citizens in the United States. Only statehood would make us equal under the law and within the halls of Congress to the 50 other states. At that time I realized it was time to get actively engaged in the movement so that when my daughter turns 18 she won’t suffer the same indignity I did when I turned 18. Our right to vote in the District is really a limited right to vote and that is completely un-American to me.
2) What is the structure of the Statehood DC group? How is it different and/or similar to other initiatives?
The group I run, Neighbors United for DC Statehood, has the goal of creating statehood groups in all 130+ neighborhoods around the District so that we create a citizen led movement for statehood. Over the last year we have had an extremely effective DC Statehood Committee within the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association (BNCA) and we are looking to replicate this model around the city. Due to a growing interest from neighbors around Ward 5 and the need to have a bigger tent approach to our group we’ve now created a Ward 5 Neighbors for Statehood group. Citizens from around Ward 5 are welcome to join us. In partnership with the DC Statehood Coalition we are creating similar Statehood groups in all 8 Wards.
3) Who can participate and what can people do to help this cause?
Everyone is welcome to join us. We have activities for people who can commit only 5 minutes a month or 5 hours a day. There’s a lot of work to be done so all are welcome. Presently, our group focuses on two main content areas: 1) Community Outreach, Organizing, & Education; and 2) Legislative Outreach. Through our community outreach, organizing, and education work we hope to present on DC Statehood at all civicly minded meetings around Ward 5 to spread information and answer questions about DC Statehood. Even if someone wanted us to do a presentation at a school or at a brown bag lunch at their place of work we’d be happy to come out and present. Through our legislative outreach in the last year we’ve met with 50 House offices and 13 Senate offices to discuss DC Statehood and by expanding our base of support we hope to drastically increase those numbers in the coming year. We need to continually remind Congress that statehood is our ultimate goal and we will not stop pressuring them until we achieve equality.
4) Are there any tasks in particular that Statehood DC needs volunteers to sign up for?
Yes. First, we need to keep expanding our base of support so I’d encourage readers to invite us out to their civic or citizen association to give a presentation on our work. Second, I’d encourage people to host a house party for friends, family, and neighbors to come together to talk about DC Statehood. We have hosted and will continue to host these house parties as ways for citizens to have an informal setting to talk about and learn about the importance of DC Statehood. And finally, I think by joining with the Ward 5 Neighbors for Statehood we’ll be able to pool our resources and have a more systematic and methodical approach to lobbying Congress, reaching other neighborhoods, and really building a grassroots movement to achieve statehood. And, finally I’d encourage readers to draft their own letters to members of Congress as to why statehood is important to them. We will be targeting specific members of Congress and once people draft a generic letter we can share with the contact information for members on our target list. Getting 100 letters in support of DC Statehood is a lot more important than getting just 1.
5) How would you describe the progress of Statehood DC?
The progress of the statehood movement is 213 years behind schedule but it is gaining momentum. Over the last 10 years District leaders have embraced several legislative options that have all failed to pass Congress and that would have all resulted in constitutional challenges that if upheld would still have left us unequal. A growing number of people and groups around the District now realize that a statehood focused movement is the right path forward because it is the ultimate end we seek. It is the most practical legislative option that will make us full and equal citizens. Statehood for the residential and commercial portions of the District is constitutional and the legislative threshold is lower than that of a constitutional amendment.
6) What do you think is the key to bring statehood to Washington DC?
First and foremost it’s breaking through the apathy of many Washingtonians. Most people I’ve spoken with about statehood say they believe in statehood but just don’t think it will ever happen (since we’re 213 years into a system of inequality). If we can get these people working constructively toward statehood our numbers would grow exponentially. We have 632,000 people who could all be at the US Capitol within 15-20 minutes on any given day but yet we’re not actively telling Congress what we want and what we believe we rightly deserve. Lobbying for statehood should become a constant drumbeat by all District citizens so that Congress knows that at some point they cannot continue to shut the doors of democracy on those of us who live in the shadows of the US Capitol.
Second, we have to spread our message around the country. While we can bang on the doors of Congress non-stop members of Congress have no obligation to us since we don’t vote for them. It’s important to spread a unified “we want statehood” message to the 50 states so our fellow citizens can stand with us and stand up for us too by telling their members of Congress to support the New Columbia Admission Act.
7) How can people get more information about Statehood DC and/or stay informed?
They can contact me directly and can include them in on our email list: firstname.lastname@example.org; they can follow my statehood focused blog at www.the51st.org; I can be followed on Twitter: @JBurchDC but my tweets are not solely statehood focused there’s also random posts about biking, my family, etc.; and we’ve just established a Ward 5 Neighbors for Statehood Facebook page too.
The DC Statehood Coalition has a website with more information at: www.newcolumbiavision.org