Gray Undaunted by Small Turnout at D.C. Protest

Posted April 18, 2011 at 8:20pm

D.C. Mayor Vince Gray continued his campaign for autonomy for the District by returning Monday to the scene of his arrest last week, but this time the group of demonstrators was far smaller.

Gray refrained from engaging in another act of civil disobedience, but several advisory neighborhood commissioners and D.C. shadow Sen. Michael Brown blocked traffic outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, as Gray and others had done April 11.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Keith Silver of Ward 6 was arrested Monday after several warnings from the Capitol Police to clear the street. Gray was among 41 activists arrested last week.

Gray, who was wearing a tag issued during his arrest, decided not to block traffic again.

“I got arrested last week, and it has to be a statement made by a broad cross section of people,” he said. “These are folks who haven’t been arrested yet, they’ve said they want to be today, and I suspect there will be more.”

Monday’s protest was the third in just more than a week and the smallest yet. More than 100 attendees were at the April 11 event, while dozens turned out for another one Friday. But fewer than 20 protesters marched along the sidewalk outside the office building Monday, and the demonstration was over within an hour. 

Gray wasn’t deterred by the diminished crowds.

“It doesn’t have to be 10,000 people down here every time,” he said in a speech before the demonstration. 

“This was planned to be a small event because these are just ANC commissioners, so I think for what they planned to do, this is an excellent turnout,” he said after the event.

The activists focused Monday on the issue of statehood for the District, while last week’s protesters spoke out against a budget deal negotiated among the White House, Senate Democrats and House Republicans. Several provisions in the law place restrictions on the ways the District can spend its tax revenue, including a restriction on how the city can fund abortion providers.

For protesters, the law is symbolic of larger problems between District residents and Congress. Residents, who do not have full representation in Congress, say lawmakers disrespect their will and use the city as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

The protests are one element of the campaign for full Congressional representation for the District, Gray said.

“I think protests will be a part of it, but it has to be a multi-prong strategy,” he said. “This is hugely important, but this can’t be the single thing.”

He declined to be more specific but said that his office has been in talks nearly every day in regard to the issue. He added that he may be willing to be arrested again, if that’s what it takes.

“I’ve seen this for 70 years,” Gray said. “So for me, this is a cause and a quest that is long overdue.”