“There are 50 states in total and we’ll sing their names with glee, but there’s one place that gets shafted and it’s Washington, D.C.!,” the kids of Capitol Hill sang Sunday morning.
More than 30 children, mostly hailing from the Capitol Hill neighborhood, congregated at the U.S. Capitol to sing comedian John Oliver’s revised 50-state song, highlighting the District’s lack of voting rights. Oliver aired a 17-minute segment on D.C. statehood on his HBO program, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” on Aug. 2, which has been touted by District lawmakers, activists and residents as unprecedented national attention on the issue.
Former congressional candidate Tim Krepp, Mike Showalter and Maria Helena Carey decided the kids of D.C. should embrace the song, and spread the word online and on social media to meet at the East Front of the Capitol.
“This is probably a set of people that have not traditionally been involved in statehood,” Krepp said. “So this is a chance to reach out to them, to engage them in this push.”
One line in the song did cause some discussion among parents. The song highlights the usual congressional tactic for interfering with D.C. policy by referring to “some asshole with a rider.”
Krepp said some parents suggested the children put their hands over their mouth at that point, but they ultimately decided to sing the song verbatim.
“The parents [thought], ‘You know what, we care about this enough, it’s a funny song, let’s be a part of it and deal with how we get them to stop saying it later,’” Showalter said.
Kathy and Aaron Goldschmidt brought their daughter Emelia, who donned a shirt with the D.C. flag and placed red feathers in her hair, to participate.
“Why does the government get to decide everything?” asked the 8-year-old. “We should have a say in things.”
The Goldschmidts have lived in D.C. for roughly 20 years. “We’ve talked often over the years about leaving D.C. so we could have representation in Congress,” said Kathy Goldschmidt. “We love it here. It’s a walkable city, it’s a great community. So we don’t want to leave and we won’t probably leave because of that. But we do think about it. I mean every time Congress mucks with our laws it gets frustrating.”
At 10 a.m., the kids gathered in a group to sing the song, with parents holding poster boards as cue cards for the lyrics. They sang out every word, which highlighted issues such as riders interfering with needle exchanges, gun laws and marijuana.
The wide swath of issues covered in the song and segment surprised Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who was on hand Sunday along with the District’s two shadow senators and Miss D.C.
“He got weed, he got abortion,” Norton said with amazement. “He got all the subjects that the press … are not going to talk about it very often.”
Norton said one of Oliver’s producers called her a few weeks before the segment to learn about D.C., and she told the producer about the various riders dictating how the District can spend its money, though she was doubtful he would cover that in the segment.
She plans to capitalize on the segment by airing it at a congressional briefing on D.C. statehood when Congress returns from August recess, which will also include a discussion with a statehood expert.
The D.C. Council is also planning to acknowledge the segment when it returns in the fall. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh announced last week that she will introduce a ceremonial resolution to honor the comedian.
Oliver’s segment also caught the national press’ attention last week, even prompting a question to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on why the president hasn’t forcefully advocated for D.C. voting rights.
“The president does support statehood. The president supports home rule in D.C.,” Earnest said. “I think you’re right, I don’t think that he’s done that recently. But certainly the president’s views on this topic have not changed.”