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DC Mayor Vincent Gray marches with DC rights activists in front of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in this April 11, 2011, photo. He was there to voice opposition to DC being used as a bargaining chip in the budget deal on Friday.
Leaders in D.C., including the mayor, took to the streets to protest congressional control of the nation’s capital, blocking traffic and getting arrested over a federal budget deal expected to impose renewed restrictions on the city.
Angry that Congress appears ready to take away autonomy granted to the city in the last several years, Mayor Vincent Gray and six Council members, including the chairman, were among 41 people arrested Monday outside the Capitol while protesting the changes. Seven hours later, they were released from jail.
D.C. has a city government, but its budget and laws are subject to Congressional review. Congress has had control over the city since it was founded. District officials say Washington was used as a pawn in last week’s budget bargaining, with new restrictions part of the price of a deal.
On Tuesday, Gray called on civic associations, religious groups and other organizations to make their voices heard. He made an analogy to the protests in Egypt and Libya, where he said citizens’ voices led to change.
“Why are we the sacrificial lamb?” Gray asked.
The district restrictions that were part of the budget deal reached Friday were “completely unacceptable,” Gray said.
“We needed to make a statement,” Gray said after his release from jail.
The city will likely be unable to spend its own tax dollars on abortions for low-income women. It may also be banned from spending city money on needle exchange programs believed vital to curbing the spread of HIV in the district, where the disease is considered an epidemic. Also back: a school voucher program favored by Republicans.
Washington had enjoyed more freedom in the past four years when both the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats, the party traditionally more friendly to pleas of autonomy from the heavily Democratic city.
When Republicans took control of the House in January, the city readied for changes. Still, city leaders said they are outraged that Washington appears to have been used as a bargaining
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