We’re seeing headlines saying “This Is Not the Time for Statehood” for Puerto Rico. Typically, the headlines introduce an essay saying, “Obviously, this is not the time to talk about statehood.” We don’t think it’s obvious. We don’t even think it’s true.
Lessons from history
Kansas became a state in 1861, when it was better known as “Bleeding Kansas” for the terrible acts of violence caused by the territory’s efforts to decide between allowing or forbidding slavery. At one point, there were 6,307 votes for a pro-slavery candidate when Kansas had only 2,095 eligible voters. The level of disorder and corruption in the territory’s government was unimaginably far beyond what Puerto Rico has seen.
The people of Kansas were also suffering from a drought which led to famine. They relied on donations of food sent in from the states to keep them from starvation. Thousands of settlers packed up and went back to the states.
The entire nation was on the brink of the Civil War at that time, and Kansas was still experiencing violent skirmishes between Native Americans and settlers, as well as natural disasters and extreme political unrest.
Statehood was the solution.
Minnesota experienced a “panic” — a severe economic crisis — the year before they achieved statehood. Frustrated by the way the federal government ignored their territory as they tried desperately to become a state, one group of Minnesotans declared independence. Fortunately, they were admitted to the Union before Congress heard about their declaration.
There are many more stories like this. Life as a territory is never easy. But statehood is not something territories have to wait for until they have sorted out all their problems. Statehood has always been a solution to the problems of territories. Once a territory has a good-sized population and an organized government, statehood is the appropriate next step.
What the people want
The people of Puerto Rico have voted twice — in 2012 and in 2017 — for statehood. A new poll conducted in Puerto Rico this summer finds that 61% of respondents want statehood. Puerto Ricans are not happy with the way things are going, but they are more optimistic than they were in 2016. The majority believe that statehood will provide a solution to most of the issues facing Puerto Rico, from lack of jobs to crime to economic crisis.
A survey conducted this spring among Puerto Rican voters living in Florida found that 81% favor statehood. Asked, “Do you favor or oppose statehood now for Puerto Rico, so that Puerto Rican citizens in the Island are represented with their own voting members of Congress and the same civil and political rights as all other U.S. citizens?”, 65% said they “strongly favored” statehood. Another 15% opposed statehood, with just 8% strongly opposing.
A similar survey of Puerto Rican voters in New York saw 66% favoring statehood for Puerto Rico. New Yorkers wanted a Yes/No plebiscite on statehood in Puerto Rico, and 75% said they would support statehood for Puerto Rico if voters chose this option again.
Gallup also just released their latest poll on statehood for Puerto Rico, asking voters across the U.S. for the fourth time since 1963. Statehood supporters have been the majority every time, and this time 66% favored statehood.
In short, Puerto Rico wants statehood and the American people agree.
There is certainly political upheaval in Puerto Rico. It is not about statehood. Anti-statehood factions, unable to change voter’s minds, are once again trying to change the appearance of political views in Puerto Rico. Getting people to agree that it is “obviously not the time” to talk about statehood — with no evidence or support for the claim — is one way to do that.
As for Congress, ignoring the will of 97% of voters but jumping on the bandwagon when protestors hit the streets is not the way to respect Puerto Rico.
Don’t be deceived. More than ever, Puerto Rico needs statehood.
The photo at the top of this post? It is a demonstration for statehood.