In a tradition almost as time-honored as the inauguration of a new president itself, throngs will descend upon our fair city for a round of protests this weekend. In a sense, we have seen it all before. In fact, many of the organizers of these rallies were responsible for the World Bank-International Monetary Fund protests in April. This time, the anti-globalization forces have united with civil rights groups and others, in an effort to add more clout to their message. And this time, the groups actually have an expressed message. A major failure of the April protests was the lack of cohesion. Clearly, there was, and still is, widespread discontent amongst a significant part of the population, a discontent which gave rise to the Seattle protests of 1999 and the District protests of April. But without a list of demands, it was hard to really take the protesters seriously.
Depending on whom you asked, the rally was about relieving third-world debt or abolishing the death penalty or freeing Mumia or returning to a barter economy. This time, organizers have tried to avert that problem by drafting a “Voters’ Bill of Rights,” and District voters would do well to support it. Among other demands, the organizers are calling for strong enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the abolition of the Electoral College, a ban on “soft money” contributions to political campaigns, proportional representation and statehood for the District.
Although certainly not every protester on the Mall this weekend will be united behind this platform, it is an encouraging step for the nascent culture of protest in this country that its leaders have finally created a document to organize around. The installation of George W. Bush as president concerns many of our nation’s citizens, and increasingly, groups that feel marginalized by the proposed policies of the new administration are speaking up. The Justice Action Movement, a loosely organized group representing diverse interests opposed to the policies of the president-elect, has taken the lead in creating this “Voters’ Bill of Rights.” Many of the problems that plagued this last cycle of elections are addressed within it, and District voters should be especially encouraged by the placement of statehood for D.C. as an issue on the national stage. This weekend’s protests should serve as an important step in the reform of our nation’s elections system.