Residents Keep D.C. Vote Fight Brewing
Tea Party Protest Evokes Famed Boston Revolt

By David Nakamura
Published December 17th 2007 in The Washington Post

At the Boston Tea Party 234 years ago yesterday, angry colonists sneaked aboard three British import ships and threw 45 tons of tea overboard into the harbor to protest taxation without representation.

At the DC Vote Tea Party yesterday afternoon, the Young Suffragists, a group of girls ages 4 to 12, sang a little ditty: "Do you have a senator, who works all day for you? Please give us a senator, so we can be heard, too!"

It might not have been as memorable as such Revolution-era phrases as "Give me liberty or give me death," but the protest staged by DC Vote, an organization dedicated to winning congressional representation for the District, included its moments of impassioned oration.

Braving cold temperatures, about 80 residents showed up at Georgetown Waterfront Park to reenact the famous protest. Eli Zigas, a DC Vote coordinator, and Aviva Kempner, a documentary filmmaker, dressed in Colonial-style clothing, complete with three-corner hats. Organizers doled out hot cups of orange pekoe tea and doughnuts and called on Congress and President Bush to support the D.C. voting rights bill, which would give the city a full voting seat in the House.

" 'Taxation without representation is tyranny' became the underlying cause of the American Revolution," said DC Vote director Ilir Zherka. "We're here to say the American Revolution is still brewing."

The rally drew a number of city leaders, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the city's nonvoting representative in the House; D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large); and the District's "shadow" delegation to Congress: Sens. Michael D. Brown (D) and Paul Strauss (D) and Rep. Mike Panetta (D).

The voting rights bill, which also would have given predominantly Republican Utah another House seat, was approved by the House in the spring. But it stalled in the Senate in September, falling three votes short of even winning consideration. Norton and other congressional leaders have said they will try again next year.

But some seemed to be growing impatient with the slow progress.

"Give me a vote, or give me death. Or at least give me a vote before I die," Kempner joked.

The tea party was one of several ways DC Vote is trying to make its voice heard. Council members have introduced legislation that would attach electronic message boards to the John A. Wilson Building and the new baseball stadium to show the amount of federal taxes paid by city residents. And DC Vote leaders are planning trips to New Hampshire and Montana, where Republican senators who voted against the bill are facing stiff reelection campaigns, to try to raise the issues with voters there.

Zherka said that an organization known as Worthy Foes, which made a nine-minute documentary about the cause last year, is expanding it into a full-length feature to debut next year.

Still, Zherka acknowledged in his remarks to the crowd, "there is a lot of work to be done."

Amit Malhotra, who lives in American University Park, said he and his wife Jane brought their three children -- Zoe, 10, Helen, 9, and Albert, 2 -- to the protest because they have been angered by the city's lack of congressional representation since moving to the city in 2002.

"I don't think it's fair because all the other states get to vote," said Zoe, who, along with Helen, is a member of the Young Suffragists, founded by their mother.

After the speeches, Zherka and his aides grabbed two wooden crates filled with crushed leaves that symbolized tea and, as the crowd cheered, attempted to dump the leaves into the Potomac.

Unfortunately, they had not counted on the stiff breeze that immediately blew the contents back on shore.