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Calls for D.C. Rights Mount on Tax Day, Emancipation Day

Protesters attach themselves to a "liberty pole" as part of a vigil to draw attention to D.C.'s lack of full representation in Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

While April 15 might just be a filing deadline for most Americans, for D.C. residents, it's a day when the words that adorn their license plates hit home.  

"The slogan ‘taxation without representation’ is something you would hope had perished with the end of the Revolutionary War, but it still applies today to the 650,000 Americans who call the District of Columbia home,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement Wednesday. “We feel our status as lesser citizens especially on April 15." Norton said D.C. residents pay higher federal taxes per capita than any state in the nation. As she took her impassioned message to the House floor Wednesday morning, D.C. activists were making moves in and outside the Capitol.  

Inside, representatives from DC Vote, a group advocating for D.C. autonomy, and members of the D.C. Republican Party visited several Republican congressional offices, including those belonging to the top GOP leaders of each chamber.  

"Tax Day is a great opportunity to urge Congress to end Taxation Without Representation and needless interference in DC’s local government,” DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry said in a statement. “It is important for key Republicans on the Hill to know that DC’s fight for equal rights and local autonomy has strong support from their fellow Republicans in the District.”  

Outside the Capitol, about a dozen protesters stood around a 50-foot "liberty pole" planted across from the West Front of the Capitol on day one of the DC Democracy Vigil. The five-day, around-the-clock vigil is part of an effort to raise awareness about D.C.'s political status and channel the excitement around Initiative 71, which legalized possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana in the District, to the statehood movement.  

D.C. officials clashed with Congress over the initiative when Congress attempted to block it from going forward through an appropriations rider. For D.C. activists and officials, this was an affront on democracy, and they cited the 70 percent of D.C. voters who supported the initiative, and highlighted how Congress can wield its power over the district.  

“We want to draw attention to the fact that D.C. has no consent in Congress. We have never been able to give consent to the Congress to do what they do to D.C. because we have no voting rights.” DC Cannabis Campaign Chairman Adam Eidinger told CQ Roll Call. "We’re trying put all of the energy that was put into the marijuana movement into statehood, because that’s the only thing that’s really going to get us more rights for cannabis."  

The central structure of the vigil is the liberty pole, made of wood and aluminum and adorned with pennants and a red cap at the top. Protesters donned the red caps, also known as Phrygian caps, which were worn by freed slaves in the Roman Empire and were a liberty symbol during the French Revolution.  

The protesters set up the wood base and the pole around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, and after a confrontation with U.S. Park Police a few hours later, Eidinger secured a permit to remain in the spot  perhaps fittingly  until April 20. Eidinger said 100 people had signed up to lock themselves to the liberty pole over the next five days.  

Protesters will continue to keep watch over the liberty pole as D.C. Emancipation Day festivities kick off Thursday. The District holiday commemorates the 1862 act that ended slavery in the District, and includes official events such as concerts, a parade and a fireworks display. It is also a day for statehood activists to call attention to rights that are still not granted to D.C. citizens.  

"Freedom from slavery did not give residents freedom as equal citizens," Norton said Wednesday on the House floor. The D.C. delegate was set to take to the floor again to argue for full voting rights.  

D.C. statehood activists will be in the Capitol Thursday. Josh Burch, co-founder of Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood, has organized 13 meetings in the Senate to garner support for the New Columbia Admission Act, which would make D.C. the 51st state. This is the first time the group is heading to the Hill in the 114th Congress.  

Though the New Columbia Admission act has yet to be introduced in the Senate, it reached a record number of 113 co-sponsors in the House last week, all Democrats.  

Related: Civil Disobedience: Shaken, Not Stirred Norton Introduces D.C. Statehood Bill Despite New Hurdles Muriel Bowser, D.C. Reps Focused on Statehood Despite GOP Congress D.C. Statehood Activists Looking Toward GOP Congress The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.