Mary Burke Washington was sitting in the lobby of the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel Wednesday when a delegate from Florida walked past.
"You know we have taxation without representation in Washington," she volunteered.
"We know, we know," Terry Fields responded, sounding as if he had been lobbied before.
"You know we have the highest federal tax rates, but do not have voting rights," Washington, 76, continued. "You know a lot of this is that [Republicans] are afraid that we will send two black senators."
Fields promised to spread the message to other Democrats.
"I just want to make sure anyone who passes by is aware of our situation," she added.
Washington -- the widow of the District's first mayor, Walter E. Washington -- said she made one final promise to her husband as he lay dying at Howard University Hospital last fall.
"He told me he wanted to continue the fight for voting rights that he carried on for so long," Washington said.
She decided that there would be no better way to honor him than to travel to Boston this week to help the District's Democrats lobby for full representation in Congress.
"My first day here, I really got a little teary-eyed because he was not with me," said Washington, the former mayor's second wife. "I am doing this in his honor."
While many delegates from other states are spending their free time in Boston at seminars, receptions and late-night parties, Washington and the other 44 delegates from the District are working the crowd.
The delegation and its supporters are executing a well-organized strategy to draw attention to their cause by mixing retail politics with a nonprofit group's paid media buy, which they hope will guarantee that few Democrats will leave Boston without hearing their appeal.
They are applying pressure to Democratic senators and congressman who have not yet announced their support for a proposal before Congress that would give the District two senators and a full voting member of the House of Representatives.
They are also targeting certain constituency groups they believe are most sympathetic to their cause. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) spoke Wednesday to a gathering of gay and transgender Democrats.
"I want to thank this community for what it has done in the past for us in the District of Columbia, but now I ask you to go even farther," said Norton, who holds a nonvoting seat in the House of Representatives. "This is the last great violation of civil rights law in the country."
From a "war room" in a Boston hotel, delegates and volunteers organize daily before fanning out across Boston to talk to each state delegation and anyone else they come across.
"We still need to send someone to the Alaska delegation," A. Scott Bolden, chairman of the District Democratic Party, said to volunteers Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, the delegation received national attention when it re-created that most famous taxation-without-representation demonstration, the Boston Tea Party, and threw tea into the Charles River. Tonight, Norton will address the convention to further highlight the issue.
DC Vote, a nonprofit advocacy organization, is supplementing the delegation's efforts by spending $10,000 on a commercial airing on CNN and MSNBC in Boston this week. The spot highlights how District residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military but do not have a voting member of Congress. The group also has produced a 90-second video that connects the District's struggle to past struggles granting women and African Americans the right to vote. That video is scheduled to air to the full convention before Norton speaks.
"There really has been nothing like this in the past," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote. "This is clearly unprecedented in terms of the movement."
Washington can attest to that. She has attended seven Democratic conventions, the first in 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt received his final nomination and added Harry Truman to the ticket.
She recalls the contentious struggle to integrate Mississippi's delegation to the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City, and the burning sensation of tear gas during the riots at the 1968 convention in Chicago. And she remembers how she lost a bet at the 1976 convention, when she had predicted that the party would not nominate Jimmy Carter, a southerner.
But she said she never remembers a delegation working as hard as the District delegates are working this week. "The D.C. delegation has really brought this issue to the forefront," Washington said.
She predicts that the District's quest for voting rights won't come up at the next convention. "We're going to have them by then," she said confidently.