- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

Thousands of D.C. residents and officials yesterday marched to the U.S. Capitol and called on Congress to pass a bill that would grant the District voting rights, braving fierce winds and a chilling rain that threatened to ruin the protest.

“We stand in solidarity today to go get what we have been denied for 200 years,” D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray told a crowd in front of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to begin the march, “and that is equality for the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

Officials worried that a storm moving through the D.C. area would keep many would-be marchers indoors. They said yesterday’s strong gusts blew down tents and fences near the Capitol and forced a rally planned at the Reflecting Pool to be cut short.

More than 6,000 people had signed up online to participate in the march. Organizers estimated that 5,000 people turned out but an early estimate was of a crowd half that size.

“It’s very important since I’m a D.C. citizen,” said Norah Sloss, a sophomore at the School Without Walls in Northwest who joined fellow students in the march. “I want to be able to vote. I want my kids to be able to vote.”

The march coincided with the District’s Emancipation Day holiday and was aimed to elicit congressional support for a bill that would grant the District a seat in the House and an additional seat for the state of Utah.

The measure is expected to be brought back to the House floor this week after parliamentary moves by Republican lawmakers delayed its likely passage in the chamber last month.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, and other city officials led the throng of marchers down Pennsylvania Avenue with chants of “Free D.C.!” and “We Demand a Vote!”

At the Reflecting Pool, Mr. Fenty praised the spirit of those who showed up for the march.

“They said, ‘Fenty, if you have this march, is anybody going to come?’ ” the mayor told the crowd. “Guess what? We’re right here, Congress. We’re right here in front of your face.”

The event also turned into a miniature forum for opponents of Mr. Fenty’s plan to take over public schools. They have accused the mayor of subverting democracy by not allowing a citywide vote on the plan.

As D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton addressed the crowd before the march — saying that a vote in Congress would be “206 years too late, but we’ll take it anyway” — one person yelled, “We want a referendum.”

When Mr. Fenty and other officials fronted the march and carried a banner protesting the District’s lack of voting rights, several school-takeover opponents walked in front of the officials with a banner reading “Fenty Let Us Vote on School Takeover” and chanted, “Democracy not hypocrisy.”

The takeover protesters then jostled with members of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation’s Roving Leader Program, who were helping to monitor the crowd and tried to move the group away from in front of Mr. Fenty.

Crystal Sylvia, a parent and one of the protesters carrying the banner, said the workers were “manhandling” the group and she planned to complain to the mayor’s office and to council members.

“I had to yell ‘Stop assaulting me,’ ” Ms. Sylvia said. “This [march] is complete hypocrisy.”

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