D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told hundreds of demonstrators on Saturday he is "sick and tired" of waiting for Congress to give the District full democracy and the time has come for city residents to "take" their rights.
Mr. Gray fired up a crowd of city residents, officials and advocacy groups ahead of their march from Freedom Plaza to the Washington Monument, a celebration of the city that featured banners, protest songs, drumlines and interested passers-by.
The "D.C. Full Democracy Freedom Rally and March" protested the city's lack of voting rights in Congress, despite their contribution in federal taxes, one day before the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.
In their remarks, Mr. Gray and other speakers relied heavily on the spirit and tactics of the 1960s civil rights era.
"I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of waiting," Mr. Gray said. "I'm sick and tired of paying taxes to a nation whose leaders treat us with disrespect and disdain. I'm sick and tired of having to ask someone else if I can spend my own money. I'm sick and tired of asking someone else to approve the laws that we approve here in the District of Columbia."
Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and the city's outspoken former "mayor for life," suggested that pro-D.C. rights activists launch sit-ins at congressional offices to achieve their goal.
Proponents of the D.C. cause were joined by a smattering of populist movements in the city, including the "Occupy" activists who have protested downtown in the District, on Wall Street in Manhattan and in cities across the nation.
"If you're right you're supposed to fight for it," said Carolyn Banks, and supporter of the "Occupy Philly" movement who traveled south for the Rev. Al Sharpton's "Jobs for Justice" march and learned of the D.C. rally in time to attend.
Hurricane Irene's path up the East Coast in late August had forced organizers to postpone the dedication of the King memorial, stalling momentum for the rally but allowing Mr. Gray and his team to promote the event for weeks and line up notable guests like comedian and activist Dick Gregory.
The rally and march down 15th Street joined Mr. Sharpton's contingent at the Sylvan Theater on the National Mall before continuing to the King memorial.
Still in the first year of his term, Mr. Gray has made budget autonomy and voting rights in the District a key part of his agenda.
In April, he and several D.C. Council members were arrested on Capitol Hill during a protest sponsored by the D.C. Vote group over a federal spending deal that imposed controversial riders on the District.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting member of Congress, touted the defeat of a GOP proposal on Thursday that would have allowed certain out-of-state residents to carry concealed weapons in the District.
Although defeated, the debate laid bare the divide between predominantly Democrat residents of the city — who assert their Washingtonian identity and are frustrated with their plight — and a Republican-led Congress that says it must balance fairness with oversight of the District and their strict reading of the Constitution.
Either way, proponents of D.C voting rights or statehood are adept at making their case to outsiders.
Two English tourists, Brian and Elaine Dewis, stopped near the rally and noted that their parliamentary system back home allows Scots and the Welsh to vote on strictly English issues.
"So I sympathize if that's happening here," Ms. Dewis said.
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