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Occupy D.C.: Call For D.C. Voting Rights Helps To Localize Movement

Captiol And Protests

First Posted: 10/14/11 04:10 PM ET Updated: 12/14/11 05:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- As part of their overarching message, Occupy Wall Street offshoots around the nation have pressed issues of social justice and economic equality, including more locally tailored causes. In the District of Columbia, some Occupy DC and Stop the Machine protesters have been vocal in their support of full voting rights for the disenfranchised residents of the nation's capital.

The timing couldn't be better for D.C. voting rights activists, who are gearing up for a Saturday morning march from Freedom Plaza to the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial calling on Congress to end "taxation without representation." Currently, American citizens living in D.C. have no representation in the Senate and a delegate with only limited voting power in the House.

"In fact, Dr. King himself called for Congress to bring full democracy to the residents of the District of Columbia," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who will be leading Saturday's march, said in a statement.

While there's no formal affiliation between Saturday's march and the ongoing demonstrations in Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, many city leaders have voiced their support for the protests. The seat of D.C. government, the John A. Wilson Building, faces Freedom Plaza.

The District's continued disenfranchisement is an issue that resonates with the protesters.

"We have veterans from every war [living in the District]," said D.C. resident Glenda Richmond while waving pro-statehood signs on Freedom Plaza last weekend. "Our men go abroad and fight for foreign governments for their democracy, but yet we are denied democracy here at home," she said, adding that several generations of her family have served in the military.

"This is a plantation. It's the last colony," Richmond protested. "Why do we not have representation on the Hill?"

Local consultant Thomas Riehle admires how the Occupy movement has gained national recognition with issues that resonate widely. But he warned it'll take more to give the movement staying power in this city.

"To spark something in D.C., however, it is probably necessary to give D.C. residents a D.C.-specific reason to care about their success," Riehle said. "That’s why D.C. representation in Congress should be a leading issue, in order to generate participation and emotions among potential activists in Washington."

One of the major messages out of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been that ordinary people feel as if they've lost their voice. Of course, D.C. residents have never had much of a voice on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, Dwane Devoe of OurDC led a group of unemployed D.C. residents around the Hart Senate Office Building to urge senators to vote for President Barack Obama's jobs bill. But when they entered the office of Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, the lawmaker's staff asked if anyone was from the Keystone State. The group looked at each other, unsure of how to respond.

Devoe said he found it "awkward" -- since it's not as if the D.C. residents could have visited their own senator. "Regardless of where we're from, [unemployment] is a big deal for everybody," he added.

At an Occupy DC rally last week, Sonia Silbert of the Washington Peace Center spoke about the importance of D.C. voting rights. The issue has been brought up in general assemblies, and some protesters at a Stop the Machine rally on Oct. 6 carried D.C. statehood signs. Others have worn T-shirts calling for D.C. voting rights.

Riehle sees in this a potential strategy for keeping the Occupy movement going strong in other locations as well.

"Every Occupy undertaking would be a local megaphone for national Occupy issues, but the emotion and participation would be driven by a local issue as well -- immigration in San Antonio, pollution in L.A., education in Denver, for example," Riehle said.

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