Major League Baseball made a strong political statement when it announced that it would move this year’s All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to a new state law that restricts voting. It should have gone one step further and relocated the midsummer classic to the one American major-league city that is fighting to secure voting rights for its residents: Washington, D.C.
Moving the game to Denver was a missed opportunity. Unlike Georgia, where the Republican governor recently signed a law that will make it harder for residents to vote, particularly if they are African Americans in urban areas, the District of Columbia seeks the most basic of rights granted to citizens of each of the 50 states. That is the right to be fully represented with a voting member of the House of Representatives and two duly elected senators.
Residents of the nation’s capital have voted overwhelmingly in support of making the district the 51st state, allowing the 712,000 people who live within its borders to finally become equal citizens, albeit a couple of hundred years late. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass a D.C. statehood bill this year, as it did in 2020, and President Joe Biden supports it. But Senate Republicans will do everything in their power, which is considerable as long as the filibuster remains intact, to block this bill. And the district residents, whose numbers are greater than those in two states and just shy of two others, will continue to pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the country, with little to show for it.
DC voting problems bigger than access
Here’s where MLB could have made a stand.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he decided to move the All-Star Game after consulting with team owners, current and former players, their union, and The Players Alliance (which works to eradicate racism), in order to “demonstrate our values.”
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” he said. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
Here in D.C., it is not access to voting that is the problem. It’s much more elemental — and more sinister. Here, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, we have taxation without representation, as our license plates lament. This is exactly what our Founders were protesting when they dumped all that tea in Boston Harbor.
What’s more, its persistence is rooted in the same issue that has motivated so many other attempts to restrict voting throughout America’s history: racism.
Washington, D.C., is a majority-minority city. A plurality of its residents (and, until recently, the majority) are Black. In fact, the district would become the first state with a Black plurality, a powerful symbol in a country cleaved by systemic, anti-Black racism.
That Congress has maintained its stranglehold over hundreds of thousands of people of color comes as no great revelation to those who live here. That Republican senators fear adding two members from the intensely Democratic District of Columbia is predictable as well.
The argument that D.C. residents have considerable sway over the government is particularly offensive, not to mention specious. (One conservative statehood opponent argued that district residents influence Congress by displaying yard signs.) People who live here are teachers and doctors, mail carriers and grocery workers, as well as federal employees. Meanwhile, thousands of federal workers commute to D.C. from suburban Maryland and Virginia, and no one is trying to strip them — or millions of federal employees in other states — of their voting rights.
Race is at the core of these laws
In January, the nation witnessed one of the dangers of the district’s status when supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, killed a police officer and threatened the lives of then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress. Unlike state governors, Mayor Muriel Bowser was powerless to send in the National Guard, and the Pentagon delayed her request for three dangerous hours.
Similarly, Congress has the authority to interfere with the internal workings of D.C.; it can reject its budget and overturn local laws and referenda.
Manfred didn’t say he was relocating the All-Star Game in order to combat racism, but he didn’t have to. Suppressing the minority vote is the key motivator of the Georgia law and of a bevy of bills proposed in other states. It also is the reason D.C. residents lack the rights they deserve.
“We want to make our voice heard loud and clear in our opposition of the recent Georgia legislation that not only disproportionately disenfranchises the Black community, but also paves the way for other states to pass similarly harmful laws based largely on widespread falsehoods and disinformation,” The Players Alliance said in endorsing the MLB move.
Denver is a fine city that no doubt deserves to host the All-Star Game at some point. But not now. Not when the nation is wrestling with its greatest demon. This was not the year for half measures in the fight against systemic racism.
There would have been no better way for Major League Baseball to support voting rights than to relocate the All-Star Game from a state that moved to restrict them to the one American city that has a big-league team and small-time rights.
Commissioner Manfred: That would have been a statement.
Jodi Enda is a longtime political reporter and editor based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @JAEnda1. This piece was originally published in USA TODAY.
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