Barack Obama won the presidency with 92.5 percent of the District’s vote, and Democrats won a 16-seat advantage in the Senate, but the past four years have seen mostly bitter failure for the D.C. voting rights cause. The disappointment lingers as Democratic leaders arrive in Charlotte to nominate Obama for another four years.
“I think it was a shock to everybody that nothing happened, that with all that going for us, nothing worked out,” said Michael D. Brown, one of two nonvoting “shadow” senators elected to advocate for statehood. “There’s a new feeling we need to do more to make something happen.”
The quadrennial Democratic convention is typically one of the most prominent opportunities for the city to push its voting-rights agenda. But there is a broad sense among local leaders that Democrats have taken the city’s support for granted and that they need to be more aggressive in their advocacy.
Several incidents still rankle: The House voting rights bill ground to a halt in the Senate when 22 Democrats joined Republicans to support an amendment gutting city gun control laws. Obama, shortly before his inauguration, signaled the issue was not high on his “chock-full” legislative agenda, noting its “partisan flavor.” Two years later, to avoid a government shutdown, he agreed to a legislative compromise with Republicans that ended the city government’s ability to fund abortions for low-income women.
Even in preparation for this year’s convention, there have been small-scale snubs.
City leaders, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), have pressed for the inclusion of D.C. statehood in the Democratic platform, restoring language that existed before 2004, to no avail. And while Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has typically enjoyed a brief speaking role at previous conventions to highlight the city’s struggle for voting rights, this year she has not been offered a slot. In conversations with local party leaders, Democratic National Committee officials have blamed a shorter, three-day program.
Local activists are generally treating the affronts as motivation. “We’ve got to go to Charlotte and make the Democrats step up,” Norton told a pre-convention gathering on Thursday. “We have got to do what we do every single convention. In a political universe where we are small, we need to make ourselves large.”
Delegates and activists have planned a number of ways to raise awareness of D.C. issues. Some will be making breakfast presentations to state delegations. Others are encouraging delegates to wear red T-shirts sporting pro-District messages. Brown and shadow Rep. Mike Panetta (D) have purchased two billboards promoting “statehood now” near the convention site using $7,500 from a city fund for statehood advocacy.