Marchers call for D.C. voting rights

Thousands marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol Monday afternoon to protest the District of Columbia’s lack of a voting representative in Congress.

Despite strong winds and cold rain, protesters of all ages marched holding signs and chanting “Free D.C.” and “No more taxation without representation.” City representatives hope the rally will raise awareness and aid in passing a D.C. Voting Rights Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would make the District a full, voting member of the House.

The District has a non-voting repesentative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, in the House, a shadow representative and two shadow senators. Norton regained the ability to vote in her committee, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Jan. 24 after having the privilege taken away in 1995 when Republicans regained the House majority.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who led the march, spoke and rallied the crowd at the reflecting pool outside of the Capitol.

“The residents of D.C. are fed up over Congress not giving us the right to vote,” Fenty said to the cheering crowd. “We are here today to say to Congress, ‘If you have the legislation in front of you that would give us the full vote in the House of Representatives, we want you to pass that legislation now!'”

Monday was a District holiday, Emancipation Day, which celebrates former President Abraham Lincoln’s freeing of about 3,100 enslaved persons in D.C. nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation declared all slaves in America free. Organizers said the march was organized on April 16 to take advantage of the day’s significance for Washingtonians.

Democrats hope to pass the D.C. Voting Rights Bill Thursday. The bill would add two members to the current 435 House representatives – one would go to the District and the other to the rapidly growing state of Utah. The bill stipulates that Utah’s extra seat will be subject to normal redistricting at the 2010 Census.

Both Norton and Fairfax Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) are sponsoring the bill.

Some say D.C.’s reputation as a Democratic stronghold has polarized the voting rights bill. A vote on the bill was canceled March 23 when Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) attached an amendment that would repeal the District’s strict gun laws. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it crosses his desk.

Sophomore Edward Guadiana, who was at the march representing the D.C. Republicans, said he does not think partisan politics are involved.

“As a Republican … I don’t think there’s a matter of a partisan line. I think that’s just for D.C. I think that Democrats should be in favor of it; I think that Republicans should be in favor of it,” he said. “What’s the point of keeping the vote from a city full of people no different from us?”

Barrie Daneker, 39, believes that while it may be construed as a partisan issue, partisan ties should not be involved in the decision. He is a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission near Catholic University, which is an elected body advising the local government on community issues.

Daneker said he was frustrated with losing representation, having recently moved to the District.

“(I feel like) I live in a Third World country,” he said.

Alternative proposals to the D.C. Voting Rights Bill include annexing D.C. into the state of Maryland.

Matthew Brokman, a junior and leader with the Progressive Student Union, said the idea of annexing D.C. is undesirable, and the District should apply for statehood and become “New Columbia.”

“The District of Columbia should not be divided into Maryland and Virginia … the District of Columbia should become the 51st State,” he said.

Despite being residents of other states, a large number of GW students attended the march. Many were from a political science class taught by professor Mark Croatti, who offered extra credit for attending the rally. Many said they came not only for their grade, but to offer their support in a cause they believe in.

“My professor had introduced the D.C. voting rights issue and made my classmates a lot more passionate about it,” said freshman Shannon E. Johnson. “It’s a really important issue to a lot of students on the GW campus since we live in D.C., and it’s an issue we’re aware of.”

At its monthly meeting Wednesday night, the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission passed a resolution asking Congress to pass the D.C. Voting bill.

The ANC is a locally elected body that represents the community to the government.

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