A majority of the D.C. Council threw their full support behind Saturday's "One Nation Working Together, D.C." march on the Mall, widely viewed as an effort to rally Democratic-leaning voters ahead of the November midterm elections.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, the presumptive next mayor, and six other members joined labor leaders and NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous at an hour-long news conference Thursday at the John A. Wilson Building to urge city residents to attend the rally.
"Labor unions are under attack and working men and women are under attack," said council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5). "This city is not going to take it."
Council members Kwame Brown (D-At Large), Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and David Catania (I-At Large) also spoke at the news conference.
Each council member stressed differing views on why it was important for city residents to join the protest, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people from across the country. Catania, for example, said the city's gay and lesbian residents should use it to send a signal that they want more rights. Others spoke about the push for D.C. voting rights in Congress.
"I think there is general frustration that we have very serious problems and our political system is failing," Catania said.
Jealous stressed that the rally is "nonpartisan" event to keep the public discussion focused on job creation.
"They are coming because in tough times, we have to stand up for jobs and people are tired of seeing such divisiveness on TV," said Jealous, noting that at least 1,600 buses will be arriving with protesters Saturday.
The event, which will be held one month before the November election, appears to be an effort to counteract several recent marches on Washington by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and members of the tea party movement. Those conservative-themed marches drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington.
But the heavily Democratic council never put out the welcome mat for those protesters or held news conferences to try to increase turnout. When pressed by reporters about whether it was appropriate for the council to use city resources to promote Saturday's event, Gray said he doesn't "see it as a partisan event."
"I see it as an effort to support those things that will help the people of this city," said Gray, who plans to participate in the march.
But the news conference also appeared at times to be an effort by local labor leaders to flex their political muscle in the aftermath of Gray's election over Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Shelia H. Gill, a former counselor in D.C. public schools, spoke about how she believes she was unfairly terminated by the Fenty administration. Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, also mentioned recent layoffs in city government during his remarks.