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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