Gray finds a fitting platform for D.C. rights

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray took advantage of the dedication for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial this weekend to highlight efforts to get voting rights for the city.

“Today we are here to honor Dr. King’s dream,” he said Sunday from the stage during dedication ceremonies. “Sadly, that dream remains unfulfilled. If you live in Washington, D.C., you do not have a vote in Congress. … Release the shackles of oppression.”

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, told hundreds of demonstrators Saturday that 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.

In their remarks Saturday, 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.”

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and the city’s outspoken “mayor for life,” suggested that pro-D.C. rights activists launch sit-ins on 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 on McPherson Square, 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, a supporter of the “Occupy Philly” movement who traveled down for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Jobs for Justice” march Saturday 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, including comedian and activist Dick Gregory.

The rally and march along 15th Street joined Mr. Sharpton’s contingent at the Sylvan Theater on the Mall before they continued to the King Memorial.

Still in the first year of his term, Mr. Gray has made budget autonomy and voting rights in the District key parts 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 about a federal spending deal that imposed controversial riders on the District.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, touted the defeat of a House GOP proposal on Thursday that would have allowed some out-of-state residents to carry concealed weapons in the District.

Though the proposal was defeated, the debate laid bare the divide between predominantly Democratic residents of the city and a Republican-led House that says it must balance fairness with oversight of the District and their strict reading of the Constitution.

On Saturday, English tourists Brian and Elaine Dewis, who had stopped near the rally, noted that their parliamentary system allows Scots and the Welsh to vote on strictly English issues.

“So I sympathize, if that’s happening here,” Mrs. Dewis said.

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