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Getting Out to Get a Vote

The weather was gloomy, but the mood was light as thousands rallied yesterday for District residents to get voting rights in Congress.
The weather was gloomy, but the mood was light as thousands rallied yesterday for District residents to get voting rights in Congress. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Mary Beth Sheridan, David Nakamura and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Braving stiff winds and an icy drizzle, thousands of people led by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty marched to the U.S. Capitol yesterday in the biggest demonstration in decades for full representation for the District in Congress.

"Free D.C.! Free D.C.!" chanted the activists, who thronged several blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, marching past fluttering red-and-white District flags and U.S. flags. They waved signs reading "I Demand the Vote," "Democracy Starts at Home" and -- in a nod to the foul weather -- "Getting Wet to Get a Vote."

Organizers estimated the turnout at up to 5,000 people. Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, said the crowd numbered roughly 3,500. That would make the demonstration the biggest voting-rights rally in decades, and possibly the largest ever, organizers said.

The march occurred at the start of a week in which House Democrats expect to approve a bill giving the District its first full seat in that chamber. The measure then would go to the Senate, where it probably will face a tougher fight.

It was not clear whether the march would temper strong opposition to the bill by some leading Republicans and the White House, which has threatened a veto. But the demonstration could help keep the issue on Congress's front burner at a time when politicians are consumed by the Iraq war and other issues, analysts said.

"The more you can keep a public focus on an issue, the better it is in terms of raising the sensitivity of members of Congress to push it a little higher in the queue," said Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute.

Marchers made it clear they would keep up the pressure.

"We're gonna go to the White House next!" yelled Fenty (D), addressing the marchers after they reached the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol.

"White House next! White House next!" chanted the crowd.

The voting-rights bill, sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), adds two seats to the House of Representatives. One would go to the overwhelmingly Democratic District, and the other to the next state in line to get an additional representative: Utah, a Republican stronghold.

Many activists said they will continue pushing until the District gets two senators as well as the House representative.

The event began with a rally at city hall, featuring Fenty, former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), members of the D.C. Council and Norton, who can vote in House committees but not on final legislation. It was held on Emancipation Day, which marks the freeing of slaves in the District.


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