DC Residents Demand a Full Share of Democracy

The chant on Monday was terse and to the point: “We demand the vote,” shouted some of the thousands of people who marched through rain and strong winds to rally for full representation for the District of Columbia in Congress.

It was Emancipation Day, a holiday celebrating the day in 1866 when about 3,000 slaves in Washington were set free. Slavery and its oppression were recalled by several people who stood linked together by chains on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building a few east of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. A banner opposite them read “Free D.C.!,” Statehood Now!,” and “Break the chains.”

On this day that celebrated freedom, the cause that brought people out from around the region was a hunger for more freedom for the 600, 000 people in Washington who pay taxes and serve on juries and can do everything any other U.S. citizen can— except assert their will through a vote in Congress.

“Are we truly free?” D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty asked the crowd on Monday. “We are the only capital of a democracy in the world that doesn’t have a vote in the national legislature.”

The rally and march to the Capitol were in support of The Voting Rights Act (House Resolution 1433) that recently was reintroduced by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican from Virginia. The bill would expand the U.S House of Representatives to 437 voting members by giving a seat to the District of Columbia and another seat to Utah. White House Opposition

If the House does approve the bill, and the Senate also approves, the measure still faces opposition by the White House. Aides to President Bush have said that they will recommend a veto.

Erica Williams, field associate for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said that the bill is expected to make it to the floor this week.

Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, said that with the march, local elected officials and thousands of others had sent the message to Congress that “we’re tired of being second or third best,” and “tired of taxation without representation.”

The demonstrators ranged in age and they all seemed equally enthused. Timothy Davis, 49, took his sons, 9 and 12 years old to the rally. “They need to understand that this is history right here,” Davis said.

Washington resident Janet Diggs was at the march. “We want to show them that we are fed-up,” she said. “I think we do have a chance. Our voices deserve to be heard like the rest of America.” Nadia Phipps, who lives in Laurel, Md., was there Monday adding her voice to Washington’s cause. “This is a start. There has been a long history of disenfranchisement of the people in DC. If this bill is passed, people here will only begin to see true democracy.”


Howard University journalism students produce articles for the Capstone News Network