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Twelve Arrested At D.C. Voting Rights Rally; Gray Calls For Daily Action

Posted by Nick DeSantis on Jun. 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm

When 41 D.C. voting rights activists were arrested after a show of civil disobedience in April, Mayor Vince Gray, Council Chairman Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown and several councilmembers were  among them. Today’s D.C. Vote rally in Lafayette Park featured considerably less star power getting driven away in police vans.

Twelve people were arrested for blocking the sidewalk in front of the White House gates. The only elected official among them was Trayon White, State Board of Education representative for Ward 8.

Also arrested was 18-year-old Markus Batchelor, a Congress Heights resident and D.C.’s former youth mayor. Hey, if the current crop of D.C. politicians aren’t willing to get arrested twice in a few months, at least the next generation is stepping in, right?

“I just thought it’s my time to stand up for democracy just like everyone else is,” Batchelor said.

Though Gray chose not to join the protesters today, he did say he was proud to be arrested in April.  When he addressed the assembled crowd at today's rally, he called D.C.’s disenfranchisement a “hypocrisy of democracy” that will take more than a few feel-good rallies to fix.

“It is time for us to do something every day,” Gray said. “Because if we have an event today, and another one next month, and another one two months after that, we become the most easily ignored people in America.”

Unfortunately for voting rights activists, it may be difficult to keep up with such a tall order. Today’s rally showed that even if hundreds are still willing to show up and support D.C. voting rights from the sidelines, the city’s passion for headline-grabbing civil disobedience could be waning.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, said his group is doing the best they can with the resources they have; they’re planning a Capitol Hill advocacy day on June 7 to coincide with the floor vote on the House appropriations bill that will govern District spending.

And D.C.’s boosters may face an even bigger challenge than sustaining the interest of District residents or getting attention from Congress: few outside this city seem to know that the District has has no real say on Capitol Hill and fewer still seem to care. Nuchhi Currier, president of the Woman’s National Democratic Club, highlighted that problem when she asked the crowd if most people in other states are even aware that D.C. has no voting representation in Congress. The crowd shouted no.

Zherka said his group tries to move its message beyond the District when opportunities arise, but he admitted it’s sometimes difficult to reach a wide audience. Events like today’s rally will have to help close that knowledge gap, otherwise voting rights activists may continue to have a long fight ahead of them.

Photos by Nick DeSantis


Twelve Arrested at White House D.C. Voting Rights Rally

The 12 in front of the White House before being arrested. (Martin Austermuhle)

As the rally came to a close in nearby Lafayette Park, the 12 sat down on the sidewalk in front of the White House and linked arms. Park Police and Secret Service cleared the area, issued orders to disperse and proceeded to arrest the demonstrators. They were charged with violating a regulation that prohibits stationary protests within 10 feet of the center panel of the gate that surrounds the White House.
The 12 included Trayon White, the Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education; Dr. Dennis Wiley and his wife Christina of the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ; former youth mayor Markus Batchelor, the youngest of those arrested; former Ward 8 ANC Phil Pannell; former shadow representative candidate Nate Bennett Fleming; Reverend Amanda Poppei of the Washington Ethical Society, a Maryland resident who is eight months pregnant; and Tracy Loh, who was arrested in a voting rights protest on Capitol Hill in early May. Also arrested were Ron Swanda, Juan Thompson, Marcie Cohen, and Samantha Scown.

An estimated 400 people attended the rally, which included speeches by Mayor Vince Gray, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large), members of the Shadow Delegation, activists, religious figures, and D.C. voting rights advocates. The rally sought to put pressure on President Obama to take a more forceful stance on D.C. voting rights, primarily the issues of budgetary and legislative autonomy.
By Martin Austermuhle in on June 25, 2011 3:45 PM
Leaders and activists rally for statehood at D.C. protest

Saturday - 6/25/2011, 4:50pm  ET

Thomas Warrenwtop.com

WASHINGTON - District leaders and activists rallied at the White House on Saturday afternoon to continue the push for statehood and full voting rights in Congress.

Ilir Zherka, executive director for DC Vote says the event's purpose was to put pressure on Congress and President Obama to not only give the district full voting rights, but to pass legislation that gives the city control of its finances.

"I think the White House will have to respond to us today," Zherka said. "And I hope they will give us the sort of response today, and in the future, that is really worthy of the present."

Mayor Vince Gray was the headline speaker of the day-long event, and he continued his call for the District to become a full-fledged state.

"But it is not going to happen unless we fight for ourselves," he said.

Gray reiterated that he's willing to be arrested, as he was in April during a protest on Capitol Hill, for the cause.

"We are the biggest voice, the loudest voice in the world for democracy expect what we have in the District of Columbia is a hypocrisy of democracy," Gray said.

The congressional delegate from D.C., Eleanor Holmes Norton, arrived a bit late, but also addressed the crowd.

"Today we put the whole lot of ya'll on notice. The White House. The entire Congress. The Republicans. The Democrats. All of ya'll," Norton said. "We will not surrender any part of the home rule it took us 128 years to long to get in the first place."

Norton, like Gray, confronted the budget issue and Congress' control of the city's fiscal matters, saying revenue generated by citizens should not be under the control of the federal government.

Panchita Bello, a born-and-raised Washingtonian, said the issue of statehood and voting rights can no longer be swept under the rug. President Obama won 93% of the D.C. vote in his 2008 election, and Bello said if he doesn't tackle the issue of voting rights and statehood in the district he'll de in danger of losing a solid voting block.

"It could very easily be the deal-breaker as far as D.C. supporting him in 2012," she said.

Corey Barnette, who has lived in the District for ten years, believes criticism of the president on the issue is unwarranted.

"I think we sort of put that on Obama because he's a democratic president. He's an African-American president, and the district is still majority African-American," he said. "But the reality is that it's a problem that's been around for a long time. I can blame every president for it."

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)



DC voting rights activists, officials protest at White House

By Jordy Yager - 06/25/11 03:21 PM ET

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and hundreds of protestors took to the White House on Saturday to demand a representational vote in Congress for the capital city.

Gray and several D.C. council members were arrested earlier this year on Capitol Hill for protesting a short-term spending measure that placed new constraints on the city.

The U.S. Park Police arrested a dozen people as they sat in front of the White House's fence early in Saturday's rally.

Norton lauded the arrests.

“Every branch of this government has been implicated in our treatment as second-class citizens” said Norton.

“We are outraged that at a time when this rally should be about the vote and statehood, we are forced to defend the simple right of every American and of every local jurisdiction to pass any law and especially to spend any funds we raise any way we choose.”

At-large D.C. Councilman Vincent Orange called on the crowd to begin organizing 1 million people to march on the city next April – the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of D.C.’s slaves.

“They can’t lock up a million people, right?” said Orange.

Voting rights advocates came close to gaining a representative vote for Washington in the last Congress. Despite Democratic majorities in both chambers and the White House, the effort was held up by a Republican amendment that would have loosened the city’s gun laws.

Obama was seen as the city’s best hope of getting voting representation in Congress, but hopes of passing a bill have dimmed with a Republican-controlled House. And voting rights groups have recently charged that the president is using the issue as a bargaining chip with Republicans in order to pass a government funding measure.

The city’s shadow representative, Mike Panetta, said on Saturday that D.C. residents “are tired of being sold out by the President of the United States” and “tired of not having a Congress and not having a president that will stand up for their rights … and traded away like a chip in a poker game.”

Norton can participate in congressional debates and craft legislation but can’t vote on the House floor.



Group rallies for Washington representation

June 25th, 2011 07:04 PM ET

By: CNN's Ana Sebescen

Washington (CNN) - Activists advocating congressional representation for the District of Columbia had a clear message at a rally Saturday in Washington: "President Obama, stand up for D.C."

About 50 residents gathered Saturday morning at a rally organized by D.C. Vote, a voting-rights organization. The rally was a response to legislative moves by the U.S. House of Representatives to restrict the city's use of local tax revenue, demanding the right for representation in Congress and fighting for the right to statehood.

The District's nonvoting delegate to Congress, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, spoke at the rally, firing up the crowd that gathered at Lafayette Park near the White House.

"We are forced to defend the simple right of every American and of every local jurisdiction to pass our own laws and especially to spend any funds we raise in this city in any darn way we choose," Norton said.

Gray, who was arrested on April 11 near the U.S. Capitol at another protest, called for an end to congressional control of the nation's capital, urging people to stand up for their rights.

"It is time for it to be over, ladies and gentlemen," Gray said. "The question for us is, are we willing to stand up for our own rights? Are we willing to stand up for democracy in the District of Columbia?"

U.S. Park Police arrested 12 activists who violated laws against protesting in front of the White House. District resident Tracy Loh, 29, was one of them.

"I put my body and my life on the line," Loh said. "I would give up anything to bring statehood to the District of Columbia within my lifetime."

Abigail Jacobs, originally from Alabama, welcomed the protesters' call for congressional representation, but rejected the idea of statehood for the District of Columbia.

"I do believe that they need representation for the things that are going on, on the Hill, but other than that, them being a state is something that shouldn't happen because our Founding Fathers didn't want them as a state for a reason," she said.


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