D.C. voting rights activists take their protest to the White House
||Washington Post (DC)
||Saturday, June 25, 2011
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Abdullah Muhammad came because, after spending all of his 59 years here, he’s still not sure why the District isn’t a state. Mika Altskan and Joe Meier came after hearing a debate about D.C. voting rights in a high school class. And Emma Levine came because she just wants President Obama to “care more about where he lives.”
Hundreds of District residents and activists gathered across the street from the White House on Saturday to deliver a pointed message to its occupant: Stand up for the District and against efforts by Congress to reduce its autonomy.
A dozen protesters went further, sitting on a restricted portion of Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk until they were arrested by U.S. Park Police.
“What we have in the District of Columbia is a hypocrisy of democracy,” Mayor Vincent Gray (D) told the rally at Lafayette Square. “Frankly, it is time for that to end.”
Obama has long endorsed voting rights for the District, but some local nerves are still raw over the short-term spending measure he signed in April. The bill prohibited the District from using its own taxpayer funds to provide abortions to low-income women, a concession Obama reportedly made to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) by saying: “John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it.”
Local leaders fear it may happen again. The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote in July on a D.C. spending bill for fiscal 2012 that contains the same ban. Although the Senate’s version of the measure likely won’t include that language, activists fear the District could again be used as a bargaining chip in final negotiations between the two chambers and the White House.
“Mr. President, even my 9-month-old daughter knows the difference between rolling over and standing up,” said Laura MacCleery of the Center for Reproductive Rights, gesturing at the baby strapped to her chest.
The White House has sought to combat the notion that Obama is insufficiently engaged on District issues. Obama had a private lunch with Gray in December, and administration officials have participated in numerous local events.
“The president continues to be an unequivocal supporter of voting rights, home rule and budget autonomy for the District of Columbia,” White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm said. “The people of D.C. deserve to have control over their own local affairs.”
The agenda for Saturday’s event — organized by DC Vote and other groups — went beyond preventing more abortion restrictions. The crowd chanted for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to get a vote in the House, and several speakers called for the District to become the 51st state.
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