D.C. Statehood Is A Civil Rights Issue For Young Activists There is renewed energy around the push to make the District of Columbia the nation's 51st state. Much of that energy comes from young activists who see it as a civil rights issue.

D.C. Statehood Is A Civil Rights Issue For Young Activists

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Residents of Washington, D.C., have been pushing for more representation for generations. But full statehood for the district? Advocates say this year, that's more of a possibility than ever before. Mikaela Lefrak from member station WAMU reports on a new group of young statehood supporters leading the charge.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK. I think we should get started.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: On a recent evening, about 60 young people in their late teens and early 20s log into a Zoom meeting. They're from all over the country, from New Jersey to California.

JEN MANDELBLATT: Hi, everyone. My name is Jen Mandelblatt (ph).

MICHAEL COLLOPY: I'm Michael. I use he/him pronouns.

DEMI STRATMON: Hi, everyone. My name is Demi.

LEFRAK: Advocates on this call are preparing to meet with U.S. senators - virtually, of course - to talk about making Washington, D.C., the 51st state. Congress currently has the power to change D.C. budget and local laws. Organizer Michael Collopy says statehood is one of the key civil rights issues of our time.

COLLOPY: Over 700,000 D.C. residents, most of whom are Black and brown folks, do not have access to the very democracy that surrounds them.

LEFRAK: This big statehood energy is pretty new. As recently as a decade ago, statehood was seen as a political dead end. No one outside D.C. was talking about it. But officials like D.C.'s mayor made it a priority. And in this hyperpartisan time we're living in, D.C. statehood has become a core part of the national Democratic platform. D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic. And making it a state would likely add two Democratic senators to Congress. This summer, the House of Representatives passed a bill supporting D.C. statehood for the first time in history. The next hurdle is getting it through the Senate. On the Zoom call, 22-year-old D.C. resident Demi Stratmon gives the young advocates some advice.

STRATMON: When it comes to preparing to meet with actual elected officials or their staff, you have to be confident, to not feel like you are invading their space. They are your elected officials. You have the right to speak with them.

LEFRAK: Because she's from D.C., Stratmon doesn't have any senators. And the district's one representative to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, can't vote on final versions of bills. That's why young advocates today are hyper focused on getting people from outside the district on board with the statehood cause. Twenty-four-year-old Noah Wills runs the advocacy group Students for D.C. Statehood. He's working to expand their chapters at universities outside the district. He also wants to get university students in D.C. bought in while they live here.

NOAH WILLS: They're really our gateway to the rest of the country.

LEFRAK: Wills and other advocates still have a lot of convincing to do. Last year in a Gallup poll, less than a third of Americans said they favor D.C. becoming a state. But after this summer's protests over police brutality, some young advocates want to push a different angle to the statehood cause - racial justice. Twenty-two-year-old D.C. native Jamal Holtz points out that D.C. is 46% Black.

JAMAL HOLTZ: We're treated as second-class citizens. To be frank, statehood is a - it's a civil rights issue.

LEFRAK: Holtz says the Black Lives Matter movement and D.C. statehood are completely intertwined. Even with all this new support, statehood is still pretty unlikely. Right now, there's little chance that it'll pass the Republican-controlled Senate. But for the first time in his life, Holtz feels like it's at least possible. He grew up wanting to be the mayor of Washington, D.C. And now he's already thinking about adjusting that dream.

HOLTZ: It'll give me a new goal in life - and not limit myself to mayor but make it governor.

LEFRAK: For NPR News in Washington, I'm Mikaela Lefrak.


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