At a Tuesday night holiday party at their modest Dupont Circle headquarters, employees and guests of the advocacy group DC Vote toasted the evening with wines labeled “Statehood,” “A Vote in Congress” and “I Demand the Vote.”
Guests laughed about the double entendre, asking one another, “Would you like A Vote in Congress? Would you like Statehood?”
But advocates for full voting rights in Washington, D.C., don’t have much to celebrate.
With sizable Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, their agenda rose in the 111th Congress — only to be shot down.
“It looked like they were going to be the golden years of the D.C. democracy movement,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said. “We came to this Congress with modest but important steps to full citizenship for D.C. residents and we were slapped down.”
Prospects for full voting rights for D.C.’s Congressional representative died after gun advocates attached an amendment to the bill that would have barred the District from prohibiting people from carrying guns in public.
“We don’t have any illusions about D.C. voting rights being able to move in this next Congress, at least in the House,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said.
Advocates are also concerned that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — a stalwart opponent of D.C. autonomy — may be installed as head of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that deals with the District.
Still, advocates are infused with a steely resolve, Zherka said, shelving his inches-thick folder of new protest ideas.
“Up until now, we’ve done fairly traditional advocacy efforts, and they’ve taken us relatively far but were not sufficient to create urgency,” he said. “I think the lesson we’ve learned is that it’s going to take a lot more. It’s going to take, really, over time, a radicalization of the movement.”
In the past, advocates paired with Utah Republicans to hammer out a deal that would give the District a voting Representative and Utah another. But after the 2010 census numbers are released, Utah is expected to gain another Representative in Congress anyway. Zherka and Norton said another state that loses seats in Congress or narrowly misses out on gaining a Representative could be a partner for a similar deal in the future.
But the movement may have to take a few steps back before it can move forward.
They’ve already compromised on a bill to allow the District and the territories to place one statue each in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, opting to bring the Republican version to the floor this week instead of the Democratic version, which would have allowed the District to have two statues.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.