Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” showered the sold out crowd packed into DC Brau brewery for Prime Time Pro Wrestling’s Butch vs. Gore, signaling the arrival of independent wrestling darling EFFY. Eyes fell on the entryway, awaiting his trademark burst through the curtain, but they saw something different that cool March night. EFFY reverently emerged holding a championship title synonymous with Washington D.C. ‘s centuries-long struggle for adequate political representation ahead of himself, letting it enter first. The 51st State Championship entered the building to absorb chants of “51st State!” and serve as a gold-plated statement for equality.
PTPW aimed to be unabashedly D.C. since Lolo McGrath and Nick Capezza founded the company in 2019, and that meant taking on the mosaic of the metropolis’ residents and the inequities they face on a daily basis. Both were up for the challenge.
“That was a major reason why we started the company in the first place,” McGrath told Fanbyte. “The local scene in the ‘Grapitol Region’ already had high expectations as it pertains to inclusion and equity. To underbook marginalized people in the District would be the antithesis of the values most people who live in the area hold.”
The company’s reflection of its home’s progressive attitude extends past showcasing marginalized talent, however. The 51st State Championship is just the latest example of Prime Time Pro Wrestling using its local pop culture platform as an advocacy tool for the region it represents. From utilizing wrestling specific spins on mottos and phrases ubiquitous with D.C. as event names (Submission Without Representation, Grapitol City) to providing a stage for talent from marginalized communities, the young promotion has established itself as a voice for social and political change within the “Grapitol Region” and beyond.
Knowing this, it’s only natural that the company would use its rope-lined stage as a pulpit to support Washington, D.C.’s long fight to secure equal political representation through statehood.
While most Americans see D.C as the home of the nation’s halls of democracy, its citizens and leaders see it as a modern exercise in unjust governance.
The region has very little power to govern itself in the same way any other U.S. state or municipality does. Congress has the final say on its local budgets and laws, which has led to attempts by Congress to erode the District’s progressive policies over the years.
That disconnect is widened by the fact that the District has very little input into Congressional matters. D.C. has House representation in the form of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a woman unafraid of throwing down a wrestling-esque promo within the Capitol, but she isn’t permitted a vote on the House floor. The District doesn’t even have that luxury in the Senate. The region wasn’t even allowed to vote for its own mayor and city council until the passage of the Home Care Act in 1973.
The issues derived from this lack of voice took center stage more recently when Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser criticized Congress for designating the District as a U.S. territory in its coronavirus relief bill, significantly cutting the amount of funding it would receive despite having a larger population than Vermont and Wyoming. That designation followed a significant victory for the D.C. statehood movement in February when the House Oversight Committee approved a bill that would establish the District as a state.
Despite this lack of political representation, D.C. citizens still pay more federal taxes per capita than most of the country; a fact that led to the “Taxation Without Representation” banner that adorns license plates throughout. It’s for all these reasons that the push for D.C. to become the 51st state continues to be a hotly contested topic; one that McGrath and Capezza, both former D.C. citizens, openly support.
“If you were told there were tax-paying American citizens who did not have voting members of Congress, I expect you’d agree that was fundamentally wrong,” Capezza told Fanbyte. “Statehood is a no-brainer. You pay the taxes, you participate in your community and contribute in whatever way you can, you get a vote,” McGrath added. “It’s not even political, it’s just the right thing to do. Granted, it’s not an easy feat and I’m over simplifying a major process, but it’s fucked that residents don’t have an equal vote.”
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Holding such strong feelings for the region’s plight, it’s only natural that Capezza and McGrath would use their promotion to educate audiences about it. Much of that work took form as verbal communication during and around events, making sure PTPW fans keep the movement in mind. But those effects also unexpectedly wisened up the members of the PTPW locker room to the issue.
“I didn’t know until I worked for Prime Time that people in DC don’t have voting power,” wrestler Billy Dixon told Fanbyte. “[McGrath] was telling us about this backstage one time, and we were all really dumbfounded … How are their voices not able to be heard?”
McGrath is happy to educate their company’s roster, but they hope that fans will take the same initiative and spread the word as well. “These workers are somewhere new every weekend. Why should they care about D.C. and its struggle above everything else going on,” McGrath said. “I’m hoping the public and our fanbase keeps the issue in wrestlers’ heads since those folks are traveling around so much and can share what they’ve learned because we’ve connected it to wrestling.”
That is why the creation of the 51st State Championship holds such higher importance than most secondary titles. What began as, according to Capezza, “a tribute to the citizens and businesses of D.C.” that supported PTPW quickly took shape as a beacon for equal representation. “It was the first name that was even suggested. [Capezza] made his dream for the title very clear: it was to unapologetically stand for D.C. and statehood is where my head went,” McGrath said.
It didn’t take long for the 51st State Championship to start doing its job, as evidenced by the response to its debut at PTPW’s LGBTQ Pride event Butch vs. Gore in March. Dixon, who co-produced Butch vs. Gore alongside McGrath, sees the title as a commitment to the District just as much as an educational asset. “Immersing yourself into your community as an independent company is really important and to include championships in that makes it that much more effective,” Dixon said.
Championships packed with cultural significance are something that Dixon knows well. He currently holds the Chocolate City Championship, named after a D.C. nickname highlighting the city’s large black population, for F1ght Club Pro Wrestling, a fellow D.C. promotion highlighting wrestlers of color. It’s important to Dixon that voices reflecting the region’s demographics are heard within the movement as well. “The statehood movement shouldn’t be co-opted by just white voices. It should be co-opted by all of the community, and that includes black voices,” Dixon said. “The wrestling promotions out here are getting it right. They’re getting it right for how they want to see representation.”
Representation is simply the first step though. If McGrath and Capezza have their way, the 51st State title will simply be the next step toward tangible change within the “Grapitol Region.”
“I hope that the 51st State Championship will shed light on the struggles citizens of the District struggle with that are unique to them. Bringing attention to these struggles will hopefully lead to real change,” Capezza said.
“Pro wrestling is sexy. The statehood campaign needs some work in that department, and I say that as someone who admires the work they do,” McGrath added. “Ideally, we can make some strides in connecting this project and our wrestling roster to the district government. I want to make some weird content with a city council member, dammit! Let’s get weird and force people to talk about the issue.”