WASHINGTON – Voting rights activists dressed as hippos crowded in front of the Barbara Jordan Conference Center downtown to protest Republican Sen. John McCain's speech at the Healthcare 2008 Presidential Candidate Forum Wednesday.
“Trick-or-treat,Democracy is sweet! Hippos follow hypocrites!” chanted the protesters of DC Vote,an advocacy organization working to obtain voting representation in Congress for D.C. residents.
The District of Columbia – along with Guam,the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories – does not have a vote in Congress. Unlike the other territories however,D.C. residents pay the same amount of federal income taxes as residents of the 50 states. Hence,the organization's banner: “Taxation Without Representation.”
Advocates for DC Vote waited patiently outside,passing out candies in the spirit of Halloween and hoping to confront the senator,even for a moment,on his way out.
“It's a hypocrisy,” said Kevin Kiger,explaining why members of DC Vote were dressed as hippos and carried signs calling McCain a hippo-crite. “While these people are out promoting democracy,they won't even allow a discussion of it here in the United States.”
Kiger,DC Vote's communications director,said that in September McCain was in a minority of senators who succeeded in blocking the DC Voting Rights Act,which would have given D.C. residents a vote in the House.
According to the group's Web site,this was “the first filibuster of voting rights legislation in the Senate since the days of segregation.”
Some of the same senators support sending troops to Baghdad,Iraq's capital,to spread democracy there,Kiger said.
The nonprofit organization plans to follow eight of the major presidential candidates who they say are dishonest about their political views,when they traveling to other states,such as New Hampshire and Oregon.
The Arizona senator,who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination,was the fifth candidate to speak in a series questioning presidential nominees' views on health care issues. The forums are co-organized by Families USA,a nonprofit organization that promotes affordable health care,and the Federation of American Hospitals.
Four other Democratic hopefuls have spoken to the groups – Joe Biden,Hillary Clinton,John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. On Thursday,Chris Dodd will appear. All of the candidates have been invited.
McCain said the United States has the best medical facilities and licensed doctors in the world.
“The problem,” McCain said. “Is the cost of health care. Our main objective is getting health care costs under control.”
McCain promised he would provide cheaper generic versions of pricey drugs,reform the tax code,make public medical information “transparent,” educate people about “wellness and fitness” and make it possible for all Americans to purchase health care.
Alas for the hippos,the senator sneaked out a back door after his speech to his car waiting in a small alleyway.
Eli Zigas,program associate at DC Vote wearing a hippo costume,chased the SUV. He caught up with the car at a red light and waved his sign at the window. McCain waved back.
“He definitely saw me,” Zigas said. “Now he knows we're out here and following him.”