D.C. Activists Pay Boehner a Visit

Demonstrators stake out Speaker's apartment

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Friday, Feb 18, 2011  |  Updated 7:18 AM EDT
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About 20 protestors organized by D.C. Vote gathered outside House Speaker John Boehner’s basement apartment on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, using the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement against the House Republican leader.

Wearing Revolution-era tricorn hats, the demonstrators chanted that the GOP is “treading on D.C.” by intervening in local policy on education, health, and guns in its first weeks in power. The protest was specifically focused on two riders within a congressional spending resolution that would impact District spending on abortion and needle exchanges.

D.C. Vote’s Ilir Zherka said it was only fair to hit Boehner where he lives (during the congressional session, anyway).

“He’s coming into people’s homes here in Washington, D.C.,” Zherka told DCist. “This is our home, he comes here and tells people what to do here -- they should come to his house. … He is an inaccessible person, except that he lives in our midst. If we don’t have opportunities to meet with him, then we have to go where he is.”

The Hill said the protest reflected “a new, more aggressive approach to objecting to congressional influence over the city. Last week, nearly a dozen demonstrators were thrown out of a House hearing on an abortion measure after staging a silent protest.”

Boehner came out of the apartment after about an hour, but he was quickly whisked into his vehicle and driven away without a word to the activists. D.C. Vote says police kept them from approaching the Ohio congressman’s door.

Though Thursday’s event was sparked by recent congressional action, there was a strong pro-statehood theme to the proceedings, with protestors carrying “D.C. Statehood” flags. But while there is a place for political theater, activists risk losing sight of their goal. Deborah Simmons wrote in the Washington Times last week that “instead of keeping their eyes on a political prize, advocates indulge themselves in gimmicks” like renaming streets.

“There is no ‘fight’ going on,” Simmons wrote. “What we have here is a debate among ourselves over whether our delegate to Congress should have expanded voting rights or whether another state should be added to the union. In today’s political climate, one can say only: Good luck, but fat chance.”

As Simmons noted, there is only one route to improvement of the District’s lack of representation: amending the Constitution. Whether the goal is full statehood or just the granting of seats in the House and Senate, it cannot be achieved through simple legislation.

Some legal scholars have argued otherwise, though their reasoning is dubious. But the problem with a non-amendment route is that it is not in the hands of legal scholars -- it’s in the hands of politicians. As Eleanor Holmes Norton knows well, what one party grants in terms of privileges can quickly be snatched away by another.

A constitutional solution will be an uphill fight. But right now, any fight for D.C. rights is uphill. Why not do it right?

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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