Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and several other council members were arrested shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday for civil disobedience while blocking traffic in both directions on Constitution Avenue in protest of the congressional budget deal. More than 200 protestors including local activists and elected officials rallied in front of the Hart Senate office building in response to two new provisions, one of which bans the District from spending its own money to provide abortions for low-income women. The deal will also cut funding that would restart the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives low-income families a chance to send their children to K-12, non-public schools under a maximum $7,500 scholarship voucher.
The condition of the two riders was passed late Friday night to prevent both federal and D.C government shutdowns.
“No other state or jurisdiction had to endure the hardship of planning to shut down a municipal government, thus spending valuable resources and personnel on a process that never should have been necessary”, wrote Gray in his statement released Saturday morning after the budget deal was announced.
Police let protestors sit in the street for 30 minutes before arresting and charging a total of 41 people with unlawful assembly. The crowd of about 100 onlookers began cheering.
Gray believes the people of D.C. should “express their outrage, as I have, over the colonial status of the District of Columbia. Congress needs to fix this once and for all, so that our city government can spend its valuable human and fiscal resources on the issues facing our city without partisan congressional meddling”.
“The United States Congress ought to do what is morally right and grant the residents of the District of Columbia — who pay more than $5 billion in taxes annually — the right of full citizenship and budget autonomy”, wrote Gray.
The District is home to thousands of government employees, though it does not have a vote in Congress. The city’s financial plans are submitted to Congress, which has the final say in budget affairs.
“It’s like they’re a bunch of bullies, and they said, ‘Who doesn’t have the tools to fight back?’ because they don’t have two senators, and they don’t have a House vote to even cast one vote against the package,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In the comments section of the Washington Post’s blog update of the protests and arrests, Post user Paul5301 said it best: “DC isn’t asking for a handout, they’re asking that the choice of how to spend their own dollars in their own community not be dictated by Congress. That’s a basic right, that power be derived from the consent of the governed, spelled out in our Declaration of Independence, but that right is denied to the residents of the District”.