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DC Vote Brings Its Message to Convention

On Tuesday afternoon, Denver’s 16th Street Mall was packed with residents, tourists, activists and the commercially savvy, and a visitor couldn’t walk a block without the offer of a political pamphlet or a convention memento.

Weaving in and out of the crowd were about a half-dozen D.C. voting rights activists, hoping to gather supporters for their long-fought mission: to get a voting Member in Congress.

The Democratic National Convention is one of the few venues where District officials can spread the message to constituents and politicians throughout the country.

While the issue is well-known within the Beltway, activists are fond of pointing out that most Americans are unaware that D.C. residents don’t have a voting Member in Congress.

“I’m a delegate but I haven’t really done any delegate work this week,” said Eugene Kinlow, who is also the outreach director for DC Vote, the city’s main voting-rights group. “It’s been DC Vote all the time.”

The issue is active within the Pepsi Center as well. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) gave a speech on the floor Tuesday afternoon while D.C. delegates cheered her on and wore “Taxation Without Representation” T-shirts.

“If George W. Bush will not sign the D.C. Voting Rights Act … Barack Obama will,” Norton thundered as she ended her brief address, referring to the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Before her speech, Norton played DC Vote’s new music video, set to a song by a D.C. rapper. DC Vote officials are hoping Norton’s speech and the video — which includes Joe L. Da Vessel and the band Melodic sporting T-shirts imprinted with DC Vote license plates on gold chains — will get delegates to read up on the situation.

“We are hoping to scratch an itch, to get people to hear a little more about the issue,” Kinlow said.

Since Sunday, volunteers have been walking the streets, attending delegation breakfasts and trying to get the handful of votes needed for the D.C. Voting Rights bill to pass the Senate.

That bill grants the District a full-voting Member of Congress. It passed the House more than a year ago but stalled in the Senate last September after falling three votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Since then, DC Vote has traveled to several targeted states such as New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon, talking to the constituents of Members who voted against the bill.

But this week and next week at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., volunteers are targeting everyone, passing out thousands of bumper stickers and fliers.

In Denver, those activities also included handing out a slew of wooden nickels — in honor of the Denver Mint — representing the worth of their nonexistent vote in Congress.

On Tuesday, several people on the 16th Street Mall stopped to listen to their pitch.

Some unexpected supporters were life-long Republicans Robert and Shirley Thompson, who immediately signed one of the group’s petitions in support.

“I knew about it but probably like most of the country, I haven’t done much about it,” Robert Thompson said, adding that he would look into the issue. “It’s a separate little island by itself.”

DC Vote volunteers occasionally ran into D.C. residents, who were eager to talk about the issue. And crowds gathered to take pictures of Eli Zigas, a DC Vote official who was dressed like Abraham Lincoln, beard and all (though instead of a suit, he wore black jeans).

Among the volunteers Thursday were former D.C. shadow Rep. John Capozzi (D) and National Federation of Democratic Woman Vice President Janice Davis.

Davis, a fourth-generation Washingtonian, said her parents also used to fight for voting rights. Even after debating with several people Tuesday about the issue, she expressed hope that the efforts would pay off soon.

“See these young people?” she said. “They won’t stand for it.”

Jessica Kline contributed to this report.