Occupy The Vote DC
Day 1: Getting our feet wet at Occupy Wall St

On Tuesday we hit the road driving up to New York, reading great speeches to each other in dramatic voices, discussing DC’s wealth disparity (higher than every state and every city other than Atlanta and New Orleans – the average white Washingtonian makes $3.08 for every $1 made by black Washingtonians), and planning what kinds of outreach to do through the rest of our trip to Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

We finally found parking in Lower Manhattan a few blocks from 60 Wall Street, where we found an Occupy Wall Street direct action meeting. Somewhat confusingly sharing the address of the suit-and-tie office building for Duetche Bank next door, it’s a kind of wide food court area where OWS has been meeting since the eviction of Liberty Plaza.

Some 35 people showed up for the meeting. The faces were new to us but the general assembly (GA) structure was refreshingly familiar. We introduced ourselves and our cause to the group along with everyone else working on specific issues, and then the group broke out into issue-based working group meeting.

In our working group we did an informal teach-in on DC’s third-class status (second-class is Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands and others, which also lack voting representation in Congress – but don’t pay taxes) to about ten people. When we said we were there to talk about DC statehood, one guy said, “Oh, you guys know the hunger strikers?” We told him we were three of the many. He made a heart sign with his hands, and he, along with a few others, committed to working with us on DC statehood actions in New York.

A reporter from WBAI 99.5 Pacifica happened to be there, and invited us to do a radio interview later that night. There, we spoke about our candlelight vigil for #J17 and our continuing 51 days of solidarity strikers along with how DC’s disenfranchisement effects all American citizens. Pacifica broadcasts in a dozen cities; we’ll post the report here when it comes out.

It’s fascinating to watch how indignant people become the more they learn about DC’s third-class status. People can’t believe that DC couldn’t vote for president until the 60’s, that they couldn’t vote for their own mayor and city council until the 70’s. That the president still picks our local judges and that Congress denies us from implementing a commuter tax that every other American city can legislate for itself – the absence of which deprives our city of life-altering resources. They are incredulous to learn that the closest our city has come to a vote in Congress was when Delegate Norton briefly had a vote in a committee, but it would only count if it didn’t sway the final outcome. That we are the only one out of some 115 world democracies that does not grant national representation to the people of its capital. (Guess that would make us a different sort of 1 percent!)

I believe America is standing proof that representative democracy is a people-driven form of government that, while imperfect and currently stacked against the 99%, can work to make people’s voices heard. But I can’t help but feel shame at the hypocrisy of our elected officials when they demand democracy in faraway lands but dismiss it in the political heart of our country. We must all work together to build a democracy in which all people’s voices are heard - the 100% of us, including the people of Washington DC.

This video, created by Len Jewler, father of hunger striker Sam Jewler, gives a great description of what we did during the strike and what’s next. Warning: heavy on patriotism and the ideal of equality for all Americans.


To the media:

Please see our press release attached and below regarding our event tomorrow, where we will launch three new initiatives as the next phase of Occupy the Vote DC, the campaign for full DC enfranchisement.

Occupy the Vote DC Announces Three New Initiatives

The DC hunger strikers and their supporters, including Mayor Vince Gray, will be announcing three new initiatives on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 at 11:00 a.m., on the lawn of the Luther Place Memorial Church (near the headstone of Mitch Snider, a legendary homeless advocate and hunger striker), located at 1226 Vermont Street, NW, Washington, DC.

As Occupy the Vote DC transitions into its next phase, more supporters from around the city and the nation want to get involved. Thus Occupy the Vote DC is launching the following three initiatives:

An online petition with 617,996 signatures from around the country, representing one for every DC resident. The petition demands full representation in Congress, legislative autonomy and budget autonomy for DC. It is addressed to both houses of Congress and the President, demonstrating that the vast majority of Americans, once they learn about DC’s plight, agree that Republicans should work with Democrats to grant the city full enfranchisement.

The beginning of a 51-day series of 24-hour hunger strikes by 51 different people consuming only water, representing their support for the District of Columbia as the 51st state.

The proposal to create a DC people’s representative who would inform and lobby Congress, and act as a DC rider-finder, to push legislators on Capitol Hill towards recognizing full democracy for DC. “If we can’t elect a voting representative we will enable an advocate of our own,” said Adrian Parsons, who will be 23 days into his hunger strike on Friday.

The event will be attended by Parsons; Sariel Lehyani, who will be 11 days into his strike; Sam Jewler, who fasted for 11 days; Joe Gray, who fasted for 10 days; and Kelly Mears, who fasted for 8 days.

They have already been joined by several dozen people doing 24- and 48-hour hunger strikes in solidarity with the cause, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), DC faith leaders and other members of the community. Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory has been fasting since Dec. 17, calling on DC residents to unite in solidarity for enfranchisement. “The more people we have sacrificing for the cause, the better our chances of getting the message out across the country,” said Gregory.

Contacts: Sam Jewler 202-210-9362 Joe Gray 301-275-4431

Announcing three huge initiatives tomorrow at 11am here at Luther Place (1226 Vermont Ave. NW)

Mayor in attendance. Most importantly, hope to see you.


no taxation without representation
Announcing three huge initiatives tomorrow at 11am here at Luther Place (1226 Vermont Ave. NW) Mayor in attendance. Most importantly, hope to see you.


no taxation without representation

DC Needs Representation: Fast.



To: Those in Congress with a vote

Re: Full Democracy for the citizens of DC.

Since its creation, our capital, the bastion of American democracy, has been handicapped from responding to the will of its citizens. Despite paying taxes to the federal government and sending our citizens to fight and die in every war, Washingtonians have had no voting representation in Congress, and have had to seek approval from people they did not elect on all legislative and budgetary matters. In other words, the so-called capital of the free world is America’s most disenfranchised jurisdiction.  

More than two hundred years after the American Revolution, taxation without representation – the foundational grievance of our country – is still alive and well in our nation’s capital. Washingtonians pay higher per capita federal income taxes than any state, yet we have no say in how Congress spends that money.

It’s true that there was a time long ago when the capital had few residents outside of the legislators and first federal workers who maintained representation in their home states.  But DC now has 600,000 taxed, yet voiceless, citizens. Not a Senator to hear them at the Hart Building, no voting representative in the House to stand for their concerns. 

Based on the founding principles of our democratic nation, we the signees demand that Washington, D.C. have the long-overdue freedoms of: 

Full budget autonomy. Congress is overburdened and often stalemated by its responsibilities to the rest of the country. Yet, the D.C. Government cannot spend its own tax dollars without the approval of Congress. A bill proposed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) would free DC’s local budget from Congressional control.  We urge Congress to pass this bill free of any “riders” restricting how DC spends its own money. Letting D.C. take control of its own budget would free time for Congress to attend to national issues, while giving D.C. the local democracy that is a given to every other American. 

Full legislative autonomy. Eliminate the requirement for congressional review of new District laws. This red tape subverts democracy and adds bureaucratic inefficiency to the processes of both Congress and D.C. government. We urge Congress to pass the District of Columbia Legislative Autonomy Act of 2011, H.R. 506.

Full representation and voting rights in Congress. The people of D.C. do not have a vote in the House or in the Senate. This deprives more than 600,000 Americans of an empowered voice in our national legislature. This unjust situation has allowed members of Congress who were not elected by the people of the District of Columbia to impose policies upon the citizens of D.C. that are not supported by the people.  We urge Congress to pass H.R. 266, the District of Columbia Equal Representation Act of 2011. 

Politicians have attached riders related to abortion funding and gun ownership to past bills that would expand real democracy for D.C. residents.  These riders ultimately divert the dialogue from democratic representation and further disenfranchise Washingtonians. We demand that any such riders attached to the legislation above be presented not as mandates, but as referendum proposals up for vote by the citizens of Washington, D.C..  

Until D.C. realizes democracy as stipulated above, we will follow the examples of  Alice Paul, Mohandas Gandhi and Anna Hazare, and will refuse all food and consume only water in a continuous hunger strike. In a gesture of transparency we fast here, in the open, at McPherson Sq., Washington, D.C., with a transparent 24/7 video livestream at http://occupythevotedc.tumblr.com

To consciously disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of American citizens is unjust and contrary to this country’s principles. Democracy for D.C. is not a political issue but a moral issue; not an issue of left or right but of representation and democracy. We call on President Obama, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, and the U.S. Congress to show leadership and give the capital of this great country the voting representation and local democracy it deserves.

In solidarity with Occupy DC and people’s democratic movements the world over, signed,