Four Arrested in Brief Voting Rights Protest
||Friday, December 16, 2011
||Benjamin R. Freed
Maybe it was the fact that Congress hammered out a $915 billion spending plan to keep the government up and running through 2012, or perhaps that it's not as warm out as it was the last time one of these things happened, but the rally today for full Congressional representation for the District was a fairly brief and sparsely attended affair.
In April, as we all remember, 41 people—including Mayor Vince Gray and several members of the D.C. Council—were arrested after occupying a block of Constitution Avenue NE during a protest that drew as many as 200 participants.
Today, there were perhaps 41 people total, including the handful of reporters who showed up outside the Longworth House Office Building. The rally, sponsored by DC Vote, featured boilerplate voting-rights speeches from a few speakers, including Rick Powell, the political director of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells showed up, too, but unlike the April rally, he was not among the arrested.
Instead, just about two dozen protestors, many of whom appeared to have come over from the Occupy D.C. encampment at McPherson Square, stepped into the eastbound lanes of Independence Avenue, holding DC Vote signs and placards opposing language in the budget resolution that would make permanent a ban on the use of District funds to pay for abortions that was implemented in an earlier federal budget standoff.
Among the protestors who showed up were the three remaining participants in a week-old hunger strike in support of District voting rights. (A fourth striker, Kelly Mears, ended his self-imposed deprivation last night.) The fasters were on Capitol Hill earlier this week, meeting with staffers to House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and barricading the door to Speaker John A. Boehner's (R-Ohio) district office.
Wheelchair-bound and nursing bottles of electrolyte-infused water, the hunger strikers were as much a focus of this morning's rally as the issues of voting and abortion rights that prompted the event.
After a few minutes, U.S. Capitol Police officers surrounded the protestors on the street and issued three warnings over a period of about two minutes. Most retreated back to the sidewalk, safe four who would be arrested.
Pete Ross, the shadow senator candidate, was the first to be arrested, perhaps burnishing his common-man bona fides after lending his campaign $102,000. DC Vote spokesman James Jones was as well, though the loudest cheers—mostly from the contingent of Occupy D.C. members, it seemed—were reserved for Adrian Parsons, the lead organizer of the hunger strike who is now in his eighth day of fasting. The cadaverous Parsons raised his weakened arms in the air before they were cuffed and he was wheeled into a Capitol Police wagon.
Traffic resumed a few moments later while the thinning crowd sang a modified version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" with subject-specific lyrics like "Yet, when all's done and said, freedom can't ring." A few minutes later, DC Vote executive director Ilir Zherka dismissed the remaning protesters and the pockets of Congressional staffers who stopped to look on went back to their business.