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Activists pushing statehood for the District of Columbia hope to use the upcoming 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington to draw parallels between King’s vision for equality and their own push for democracy.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other statehood supporters will rally at the D.C. War Memorial, 900 Independence Ave. SW, to promote full civil rights for D.C. residents before marching to the Lincoln Memorial to join the larger, national celebration.
District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who worked as a volunteer and march organizer in 1963, will be among the speakers. Norton said Thursday that she learned a lesson 50 years ago “not to let a national march come to D.C. about people’s rights and allow them to march around D.C. statehood, over D.C. statehood, or avoid D.C. statehood, as was the case in 1963.”
At the time, residents had just won the right to vote for president, but they had no home rule government, no mayor and no city council. Those things have changed, but D.C. still has no voting representation in Congress and no budget autonomy.
“The average American does not know even one of those facts of life for D.C. residents,” Norton said.
More than 100 groups have signed on to participate in the rally, including civic and service organizations, church groups, labor unions and university alumni organizations. The list includes the Humans Rights Campaign, the NAACP and the local chapter of the National Action Network.
Organizers chose the 47-foot-tall, domed memorial — the one structure on the National Mall dedicated to D.C. residents — for symbolic reasons. Inscribed with the names of the 26,000 Washingtonians who served in World War I, the memorial represents the “hypocrisy that District residents continue to endure,” Gray said during a Wednesday news conference.
“We send our relatives, our friends, our sons, our daughters, our grandchildren off to fight wars in far-away places, and yet they come home and continue to be denied full democracy here in the District of Columbia,” Gray said.
“Everyone feels outraged and everyone feels passionate about this issue, but we now want people to recommit to sign up again and to really join this movement in a meaningful way to have their voices heard,” said Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Vote.
Gray’s office and DC Vote worked together to plan the rally. They invited the public to Freedom Plaza, in downtown D.C., on Thursday afternoon to decorate signs aimed at raising awareness among the national crowd.
Equally important is the effort to energize residents to lobby Congress for pending statehood bills.