The car on the Boston-bound Acela Express train was adorned with banners reading "We Want a Vote" and "Home Rule" and "Bring Baseball to D.C."
At a window seat, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton was busy writing talking points as the city's leaders briefed other delegates on what to say to the largest gathering of Democrats in four years.
The District's delegation to the Democratic National Convention headed north yesterday not just to help nominate a presidential candidate but to sell about 5,000 delegates from across the country on the idea of voting rights for the capital city.
"Today, my fellow Washingtonians, we are boarding a train to the Democratic National Convention for a cause," Norton told delegates and volunteers at a rally before departing. "That cause is to get a vote in Congress for the residents of the District of Columbia."
Led by Norton and Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the city's delegation is vowing to make an unprecedented effort this week to highlight the District's lack of voting rights in Congress. Local Democrats say that getting the message across at the convention is as important as rallying behind Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), who will be the party's standard-bearer.
"We are going to be at the Democratic convention when they are talking about democracy, when they are talking about voting rights, when they are talking about citizenship and responsibility. They need to know we have 600,000 people who are disenfranchised in the nation's capital," said Anise Jenkins, 54, of the Shaw-Howard University neighborhood.
The D.C. state committee has raised $100,000 so it can give each delegate at the convention "Free D.C." welcome bags. Each bag will include a T-shirt and brochure telling delegates how they can support efforts in Congress to give the District representation.
Tomorrow, the District's delegates will host a new Boston Tea Party, where they will throw tea into the Charles River to re-create the famous 1773 uprising against taxation without representation. Norton also plans to highlight the voting rights issue when she addresses the convention in a three-minute speech Thursday evening.
To get to Boston, the delegation chose a seven-hour ride on Amtrak's Acela, with about 45 delegates and 100 volunteers and party officials in a cramped reserved car.
"It is symbolic," said Williams, who passed the time reading "The House of Morgan," a book about the history of American finance. "You know, the journey to Boston and the journey for voting rights."
Before the train departed, the Democrats rallied at Columbus Circle, where they chanted, "Free D.C.," before parading through Union Station shouting similar slogans. A Dixieland jazz band played "Happy Days Are Here Again" while perennial mayoral candidate Faith, who goes by one name and wore a U.S. flag toga, tooted a bugle.
The District's political leaders also used a nonbinding presidential primary seven month ago, which drew opposition from national party leaders, to highlight the city's lack of full representation in the Senate and House of Representatives.
"This is a way to get our bills supported in Congress," said Emily Vetter, executive director of the D.C. committee. "You've got some real bills on the Hill, and there's real potential to get something passed."
The delegation is hoping to use the convention to highlight legislation before Congress dubbed the No Taxation Without Representation Act.
The bill, sponsored by Norton in the House and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) in the Senate, would give the city two senators and a full voting member in the House. A competing proposal by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) would give Norton full voting rights in the House while giving Utah, a Republican stronghold, an additional House seat.
"Even though I do not like the Republican plan, I like the idea that Republicans are feeling enough pressure to come up with a plan of their own," said Paul Strauss, a D.C. shadow senator. "I see it as a sign of real progress."
But Norton said she doubts either proposal will advance as long as the president is Republican and the House and Senate are controlled by the GOP. So yesterday's train ride meant that the delegates and their supporters had a lot of work to do.
Faith and her husband, Jude Crannitch, spent the trip rehearsing a song they plan to sing at the tea party:
D.C. tea upon the sea, will always be our memory
Of tyranny and white supremacy.
Congress won't hear us. But soon they will fear us
As we show the nation our own declaration
Of freedom and justice proclaiming our own sovereignty . . .