With President Obama's back-to-school speech as their news hook, supporters of the federal D.C. school voucher program converged on Education Department headquarters this morning for a curious exercise in civil disobedience that produced lots of chanting but no arrests.
Some background: Congressional Democrats, backed by the Obama administration, are phasing out the five-year-old program that provides vouchers to poor children to help them attend private schools. But support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships crosses party lines. Some Democrats and many Republicans want to continue it.
At about 10 a.m., one of those pro-voucher Democrats--former DC council member from Ward 7 Kevin P. Chavous-- linked arms with five other voucher supporters and stood in front of the main entrance at 400 Maryland Ave. SW. Their mission: block the door, get arrested and draw attention to their cause.
But two lines of uniformed officers from the Federal Protective Service stood guard at the entry and made no effort to handcuff them.
Meantime, a few dozen demonstrators stood in the background, chanting: "Save School Choice!" and "Put Kids First!"
After about 20 minutes nose to nose with the police, Chavous and his five comrades in purported civil disobedience realized the standoff would continue indefinitely unless they made physical contact with the officers and risked more serious jail time for assault.
So they backed off.
"We are not going to be deterred from making sure this program is reauthorized," Chavous said before the group dispersed. "We're willing to put our bodies on the line....You may not lock us up, but we'll be back."
Footnote: D.C. Council Member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) joined the protesters for a speech in solidarity with their effort. He scooted away from the scene before the confrontation with police, saying he had an appointment elsewhere. But Barry said he wouldn't have minded risking arrest. "I've been handcuffed a lot of times," he said.