Executive Summary

American democracy is predicated on the people’s ability to select elected officials who represent our interests in a governing body—and to hold those leaders accountable when they do not. The idea of government of, by, and for a sovereign people is a core aspiration of American democracy.  

Yet there are well over 4 million people living under the U.S. American flag who continue to be denied that right to sovereignty and self-determination for which so many Americans have died. The people of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands—roughly 90 percent of whom are people of color—continue to this day to live under some form of colonization.  

Download the full Self-Determination policy proposal to read more

Like all the gravest ills in our democracy, racism and white supremacy are at the center of the continued subjugation and denial of sovereignty and democratic rights of the people of Washington, D.C. and the territories. Colonization has always been a desperate attempt to exert white supremacy, and the continued denial of full democracy to the people of D.C. and the territories is among its last, dying gasps. 

Ending the centuries-long disenfranchisement of Washingtonians and the ongoing colonization of the U.S. territories is absolutely key to a fully inclusive democracy. We can do that by listening to the demands of the people of D.C. and of the territories, who want to determine their own political status. We talked to people in D.C. and across the territories, who told us Congress should –   

  • Enact statehood for Washington, D.C., a political status 86 percent of residents have already voted to support.  
  • Allow the residents each of the permanently-inhabited U.S. territories to pursue a process of decolonization and self-determination of their preferred political status. 

The people of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands are leading the struggle for democracy and for racial justice in their homes, and sooner or later they will win. But Congress has a role to play in meeting our obligations under international law and ending our shameful legacy of colonialism once and for all: respecting these more than 4 million Americans’ right to self-determination.  

More in the Inclusive Democracy Agenda

This policy proposal is one of the six in Demos’ Inclusive Democracy Agenda.

This Agenda advances solutions identified by those closest to the problem of democratic exclusion: communities of color who have been kept from full democratic participation in varying degrees since the founding of the United States.