Fight for Voting Rights Takes Political Activism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Fight for Voting Rights Takes Political Activism


Byline: Adrienne T. Washington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As one D.C. democracy advocate noted, "It's just too many dates to keep up with." No matter the fund-raising dinners, the community forums and the straw polls, the flurry of activities filling up D.C. voting rights champions' calendars all lead to the big event - the D.C. presidential primary Jan. 13.

The "beauty contest," or nonbinding "presidential preference" primary, was purposely designed as a billboard for disenfranchisement, but the struggle to right a woeful wrong just ought not be so hard.

Along with about 100 D.C. sympathizers, yours truly trekked out in the rain last week to the City Museum (the old Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square) to attend a fund-raising event hosted by D.C. Vote that honored several "Champions of Democracy."

Jack H. Olender, a civic-minded philanthropist and lawyer, and Phil and Jan Fenty, community activists and owners of Fleet Feet Athletics in Adams Morgan (and the parents of Ward 4 D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty) were honored for their "dedication toward raising awareness about D.C.'s denial of democracy and their commitment to bring equality to the residents of the District of Columbia."

Yet, it was for Walter E. Washington, the city's first appointed and first elected mayor, that I went to the City Museum for his unmistakable "dedication to fulfilling the promise of democracy and for the many ways [they] celebrate the rich heritage and vibrant communities of Washington."

Unfortunately, Mr. Washington (no biological relation but a distinct kinship) was not present. Worse, he is hospitalized, "not well" and cannot receive visitors, according to his wife, Mary Burke Washington. For Mr. Washington to be honored as a Champion of Democracy is unquestionable.

Kevin Kiger, spokesman for D.C. Vote, said Mr. Washington was honored at the refurbished City Museum because he is a "phenomenal historic figure." Newcomers can look to Mr. Washington's work and build on it to achieve the elusive goal of self-determination.

"Walter Washington epitomizes a lot of the struggle for democracy [in the District], and he did so much to bring the city where it is today," Mr. Kiger said.

For his part, Mr. Olender told the crowd it should focus on getting out the vote for the fledgling D.C. primary because it presents an opportunity to raise national awareness that D.C. residents do not have a vote in Congress. D.C. Vote, a nonpartisan education and advocacy group, is one member of a loosely knit coalition of two dozen organizations called "Team D. …

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