Laura MacCleery of the Center for Reproductive Rights summed up the sentiment of many in the crowd at the rally in Lafayette Squre on Saturday June 25th when she said “Mr. President, even my 9 month old daughter knows the difference between rolling over and standing up.” The crowd, filled with District residents and supporters of democracy for District residents roared with approval. That one line seemed to encapsulate the frustration of 400+ protesters who want the same political and civil rights as those in the 50 states and want folks who say they support us to actually stand up and support us. The presidents as well as members of Congress have been mute on the plight of the District.
About an hour after Laura MacCleery’s words energized the crowd 12 people sat down in protest outside the White House and were arrested. As the crowd of supporters cheered them on from Lafayette Square tourists continually stopped to ask why they were being arrested and what their cause was. Whether it was the two young women from Arizona, or the man from Nigeria, or the older woman from NYC those demonstrators achieved their goal, they stood up by sitting down. They sent a message and they gave those of us on the other side of the police barrier the time and the opportunity to teach others about our plight and our cause.
The woman from NYC asked me with great skepticism “how are they raising awareness by getting arrested.” My blunt response was that ‘it got you to stop and ask why.’ The young women from Arizona stayed for about 10 minutes asking question after question wanting to know why we have no representation in Congress and why we’re not a state. They had trouble understanding how that would affect their daily lives and I did my best to help them understand the range of local and national issues that we in DC have no control over due to our lack of full voting rights. And the man from Nigeria was dumbfounded that people would get arrested for a cause so I brought up the fact that freedom fighters across the African continent were arrested protesting against the colonial rule of French, the British, and the Portuguese, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Colonialism in Africa has many similarities to the plight of the District: Taxation without Representation, a lack of local autonomy, and limited control/oversight of judicial functions.
Taking that time on Saturday to seize a “teachable moment” might not have changed our plight and certainly isn’t the final hurdle towards statehood but it was a step in the right direction. We need to keep organizing, we need to keep teaching, and we need to keep acting. Saturday was a good day but we need to create bigger and better days.
Well done to those 12 brave citizens and to all of the organizers of the event.