Loose Lips

A Wounded City Gets All the Symbolism It Could Ask For

Group photo! Click for slideshow from protest. (Lydia DePillis)

If the District needed a way to vent its frustration over being denied the right to use locally raised tax dollars how it pleases, it was satisfied this evening, as Mayor Vince Gray and a majority of the D.C. Council sat down in the middle of Constitution Avenue before being carted off in police vans to chants and cheers.

For Gray, it was a delivery on the grumblings of this last week, when D.C. was jerked back from the brink of a federal shutdown. And he hit all the high points of the budget deal's indignities in an impassioned speech to the crowd.

"Why should women in the District of Columbia be subjected to a set of conditions that nobody in the rest of this country is subjected to?" he asked. "Frankly, whether a woman has an abortion or not should be a decision between her, her family, and her physician."

And then: "We want our kids to be educated as much as anybody else," Gray said. "But frankly, if we want a voucher program, we should make that decision ourselves!"

And finally: "We know that there are are more than 200 cities and states around the country that have successful needle exchange programs. So why are we debating that? Don't we want to stop this epidemic?" he asked, rising to a roar. "It is mean spirited to tell us that we can't spend our own money on what we know to be a legitimate, life-saving health approach!"

The rest of the councilmembers present said their bit, and then clustered in the center of Constitution, before being ziptied and trucked to a Capitol Police warehouse at 67 K Street SW. A total of 41 people were arrested, according to Tom Sherwood, including Tommy Wells, Yvette Alexander, Michael A. Brown, Kwame Brown, Muriel Bowser, and Sekou Biddle. At-large Council candidate Vincent Orange stood on the sidelines, while shadow senator Michael D. Brown vroomed around in a motorcycle with a D.C. flag on the back. Councilmember Jim Graham was visiting the Center for Creative Nonviolence, and hadn't heard that people had been arrested when I ran into him at about 6:45 p.m.

Notably absent was Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. I've asked her office where she was, and will update if they tell me. [UPDATE, Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. – She says she skipped the rally so as not to make it look like it needed her leadership.]

This isn't the first time a D.C. mayor got arrested over D.C.'s dysfunctional relationship with Congress, but it's been a while. Sharon Pratt Kelly went to jail with 36 others in a pro-forma statehood rally before a civil rights-themed March on Washington in 1993.

Will the act of civil disobedience change anything in the budget negotiations still underway in the buildings on the hill they sat on? Well, probably not. But to the extent that preventing D.C. women from getting abortions and drug addicts from getting clean needles is a symbolic act by the federal lawmakers—given that it impacts neither the federal budget bottom line, nor the constituents of any voting member of Congress—then perhaps symbolism is as good a weapon as any.

And even if Gray's protest does nothing—even if it conveniently distracts the voting public from a series of scandals that have sent his administration reeling—D.C. residents probably would have been disappointed if he hadn't spoken up. After all, District politicians have been complaining about the city's lack of representation and budget autonomy for years. At some point, the talk had to give way to action.

For a slideshow of photos from the protest, click here.

  • trulee_pist

    Vincent Orange would not step off the curb to stand up for DC voters' rights

  • LacaiRaine

    I just returned from 119 D Street NE where national Capitol Police transported 41 DC residents to finalize their police booking for Civil Disobedience charges in connection with their protest on Constitution Avenue NW on Monday, April 11.

    As a 17-year transplanted DC resident, I could not have been more pleased and proud to be a DC resident than TODAY; my Mayor, my Chair, my Councilmembers standing up for the residents of Washington DC by putting their bodies on the line.

    I am so proud of Mayor Gray; I am honored that I have the distinction of being able to not only tell my young adult children of the convictions of men and women in the Civil Rights struggle but now I can show them a modern day Civil Rights struggle being played out on the steps of the Capitol. As District residents they can now see how honorably and forthrightly their leaders rose to the challenge.

    Today, in police custody, Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown, Councilmembers Bowser, Wells, Brown, Alexander and Biddle were booked, fingerprinted, body-scanned and incarcerated. These leaders stood with 35 of their DC residents in this common purpose of openly challenging this "Congresses" igregious and self-serving "taxation without representation" and "disrespect" of the District of Columbia residents.

    Again, I am so deeply honored and proud to be a District resident!!!!!!

  • DC Ward 4

    LacaiRaine, were you arrested with these clowns? Where was Jack Evans, David Catania, Mary Cheh, Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson? Guess what, the majority of DC residents don't care about this. They have more important thing on their minds like their Iphones, texting, Twitter, and Facebook account. With the rising gasoline prices and people having to rob Peter to pay Paul, this is the last issue on their minds.

  • LacaiRaine

    The first thing on my mind as a "woman" is for a group of men (ANY MAN--no matte the color, class or socioeconomic status) telling ANY WOMAN what she can and cannot do with her body and her reproductive rights.

    The other issue as a woman is for ANY MAN or WOMAN whom I have not elected to office to tell me HOW TO SPEND my money/tax dollars while they are busy giving my money away to their RICH REPUBLICAN FRIENDS billions of dollars in tax rebates and corporate welfare. So you see it matters very much to me.

  • ray

    I'm a dc resident (born here, grew up here and I've always lived here) and it matters plenty to me.

  • Mary

    This was a publicity stunt by Gray and Brown to elevate themselves in the minds of DC residents. They are both so low in the public opinion category right now with their corruption and misspending of money they needed some press that showed them actually doing something for DC residents. I support the poor woman who might want an abortion and the right to choose to have that abortion. But I also support helping the poor in DC and they will not get that from Gray, Brown, Barry or Thomas. This group will continue to step on the weakest who do not speak up for themselves while they roll along in their SUV's.

  • Education2way

    I agree with Mary, this clearly was a plan to get the DC Council out of the hot seat and atleast bring them some positive publicity in the wake of the city's corruption allegations.

    This was nothing more than Politics 101: DC Style. There are more than enough "newbies" in the city where something as staged as "getting arrested" will sadly woo them to believe the council has their act together.

    Where was Marion Barry & Harry Thomas? ......exactly

  • Brillig

    It seems they were arrested for the wrong reasons. . .

  • Rake

    My favorite thing about this debacle was seeing Dave Stroup's tweet come across: Kwame Brown arrested (not for corruption) - that was hillarious!

    Sad that getting arrested is the most productive thing both Fully Loaded and the One Citidiot in Chief have done since taking office. And, as Mary stated, a good distraction from their ongoing miserable failure. Does Vince take the time to wonder why Congress didn't consult either he or EHN? Because they aren't respected at all - just ignored. All of the shenanigans of the past few months haven't helped either.

    Much like Sharon Pratt Kelly, getting arrested may represent the high point of this One City farce for Vince.

  • Throw the Rascals Out!

    Excellent points as always, LaCaiRaine. For everyone one else, what exactly would you have done as an elected official in DC in response to what the Dems and Repubs did in negotiating our rights away to avert the govt shutdown?! As a native Washingtonian I, too, was quite proud of them. Nobody is stupid and we all see that it was too there benefit to protetst but atleast someone did it and it made national news. We call all grandstand behind our computer screens but who is willing to put some action behind their keystrokes?!

  • RT

    I for one am proud of the Council and Mayor. They could have done this a while ago, but I'm glad they finally did it. Now if our own cowardly citizens (yes, including myself) would continue the civil disobedience, maybe we could make some hay. The Dems in Congress should be ashamed of themselves for not getting the cloud lifted for the last two years when they could. Now the 'pubs will run roughshod over our lives without any regard for the so-called "states rights" that they claim to espouse.

    GET UP! Speak up! This situation cannot continue and is part of America's considerable shame. But as someone above mentioned, people only care about their daily lives and not general injustice anymore. It's a me-first culture we've developed.

  • DC Elected Official Crap

    Mr. Biddle should focus on jobs for the unemployed, education and balancing the dc budget without taxes on residents making over $125,000.

  • Jack Love

    Time for a much wider massive citizenry protest.

  • Education2way

    Being a native washingtonian is all fine and dandy but lets be real, Gray & Brown did not do anything heroic or to work in favor of the citizens, they did that stuff to save their ass from the media that has chewed them up for all their mishaps.

    The government taking away the money for abortions is a touchy subjects so outside of the extenuating circumstances (rape etc.) for those people who just make a choice to have sex, should be accountable for their own decision if they neglected to

    A.practice safe sex

    B.recognize the responsibilities of having a child & raising it

    C.too damn lazy to take into account the person your having unprotected sex with probably isn't the best person to be in that situation with

    DC has a crazy HIV/AIDS rate, therefore people need to be accountable for their actions and not look at it as "I messed up but its your fault not mine"...

  • cbr

    I want to know where MY Councilmember, Jack Evans, and the others that didn't show were, and why.

  • Tito Puente

    @Education2way; you make an excellent point. People shouldn't have sex if they don't want to get pregnant or use birth control. Tax dollars shouldn't be used to pay for abortions, unless it was rape. People need to stop fornicating unless they are in love and prepared to raise, work, and support a baby. This is not the responsibility of the government. There are too many women still dependent on welfare and social programs to provide for them.

  • JustaThought

    Does this mean that we will now lose these thoughtful public servants because they're entangled in the judicial system?

  • JustaThought

    Isn't that why Mr. Karim had to resign weeks ago?

  • Peaceful Uprising

    I agree with Jack Love - We do not assemble to voice our discontent as we should. We talk among ourselves and do nothing while giving away our dignity and control. PEACEFUL UPRISING - AND LET OUR DISCONTENT BE KNOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Just the facts, ma’am

    We may disagree with the way Vince Gray and Kwame Brown have been performing their jobs and handling the public money, but this issue transcends all that.

    The idea that we were one hour away from not being able to use our own tax dollars to pick up our own trash is beyond unfair and offensive.

    Taxation without sanitation is dogshit.

    It's time our elected officials stand up to Congress - and the White House - and it's time for the rest of us to back them. Even those among us who would hold their noses while standing in proximity to our local officials.

    Like it or not, we're all in this together!!!!

  • Really

    Yeah people shouldn't be doing these things, but it happens and prevention and education are what is needed to combat this problem.

    Again, you can't have it both ways. You talk about the kids and family utlizing gov't services. Now it's a problem on the front end.

  • Really

    Jack Love...AGREE! Next up needs to be a shut down of the 14th street bridge.

  • Tformation

    It doesn't matter what you idiots think of Gray and Brown or any other person who was elected by DC residents! The issues isn't that congress and republicans don't "respect" or like them a's someone put above. They "respected" and liked "Williams and Obama and Fenty had a strange a'ss kissing love affair going on that didn't change the way Congess treats DC residents.

    What you are saying is it is ok for them to take away your rights a's a citizen of this country if they don't "respect" you. Weather you like or "respect" them has no bearing on if you give them the ability to be represented while paying FEDERAL TAXES! You people who call foe the control board because you aren't happy with who was elected or say people shouldn't have rights based on if you like, respect or agree with them should move to one of those third work dictatorship countries and see how you "like" that.

    You can't have a country based on one philosophy and exclude a certain group of citizens from your own philosophy based on your likes and dislikes.... And you wonder why your children are going into schools with automatic weapons, killing everyone they don't "respect". Look at what you teach them! When you should be teaching them that there are lots of different people in this world and they all deserve to have a right to sit at the table, you teach them that they should only get a seat if they "like" them. IDIOTS! I am very proud of what our elected leaders did yesterday and hope they keep it up while at the same time am Discusted and embarrassed by what some have done in the first few days of being elected. That doesn't take away from our right to have representation as DC residents. Shame on you for thinking it should!

  • Tformation

    For those who like to nick pick, please excuse the typos. Don't let it stop you from understanding the point of my message.

  • Throw the Rascals Out!

    @Tformation - wonderfully stated, thank you!

  • Really

    Thank you Tformation!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Roberts

    Abortions tickle!

  • Concernedaboutdc

    I support the Mayor, participating councilpersons and residents in their protest; and arrest.

    It brought national attention to an issue that Congress would much rather remain silent.

    It has to be embarrassing for them to be seen denying to the citizens of the District of Columbia what they would never tolerate being taken away from their hometown constituents.

    The District of Columbia requires budgetary autonomy NOW!

    Let D.C. be the fuse that ignites the powderkeg of presidential and congressional discontent in the nation.

  • Typical DC BS

    I thing Marion Barry probably couldn't participate in this event because he's still on probation for tax evasion?

  • CP

    Why are Gray and Brown sitting in the street? Shouldn't they be in their $2,000/mo. SUVs (hell, they're probably bullet proof for that price), parked across Constitution Ave.? A few commenters noted that even if one disagrees with how these two have spent taxpayer money, that we should respect their courage, fortitude, etc. But, how can we, as DC residents, argue for budgetary independence when our mayors demonstrate themselves to be crass, machine politicians when it comes to hiring decisions, city contracting and their own personal expenditures of taxpayer funds? I also agree with the many commenters who noted that this is a tactic by Gray to deflect attention from his Suliemon (sp?) Brown and campaign manager malfeasance.

  • http://citypaper Tony

    MARY,you have spoken nothing but the truth.

  • itsjustamess

    I'm in agreement with Mary, CP, and Tony! Spare me the lights and cameras. Show me some action!