More than a dozen D.C. statehood activists are headed to the beaches of Ocean City, Md. today, causing the local police department to issue a “situational awareness” alert.
Last week, members of the newly formed DisruptDC group (who call themselves DC Disruptors) announced via Facebook that they would be hosting a “Beach Party for DC Statehood” in Ocean City. It’s part of an effort to call attention to the congressional disenfranchisement residents of the District live with everyday. The group, formed by 18-year-old Georgetown Day School graduate Daniel Lewis, his sister Tessa, and a friend, is currently driving in a caravan of three vehicles to the beach. They’ll hand out fliers that ask “What would you do if you had no representation in Congress?” and will wave two “No Taxation without Representation” flags.
“The idea is to put the facts of how we live in people’s heads without mentioning D.C.,” Lewis, reached by phone, explains. “This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue; it’s a moral issue.”
While waiting to depart this morning from Freedom Plaza, across from the Wilson Building, the activists received a memo by the Ocean City Police Department from a Department of Homeland Security officer. The memo contains the schedule for the event and reads, “This event is slated to be peaceful and no violence is anticipated at this time.” The memo continues: “It should be noted that some of this information describes First Amendment protected activities. The Ocean City Police Department recognizes that Americans have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government.” (A public-information officer for the department, Lindsay Richard, said she would ask the chief and patrol commanders about their plans. We’ll update this post if we hear back.)
DCMJ, the folks behind D.C.’s legal-marijuana initiative, tweeted a picture of the memo:
— DCMJ (@DCMJ2014) August 19, 2015
Despite Lewis espousing a nonpartisan approach to the statehood question, the Facebook invite explicitly targets Maryland Republican Representative Andy Harris as someone who “loves to meddle in local DC politics.” It goes on to note that Harris “has supported crazy bills in Congress trying to deny DC women their family planning services, strike down our voter initiated legalization of marijuana and even tried to overturn DC’s gun laws. He’s not an elected leader but he sure acts like our hometown is HIS party playground.” Harris came under fire last year for stating that he would “consider using all resources available” to stop D.C.’s legalized-pot ballot from passing. (A spokesperson for Harris, Shelby Hodgkins, could not immediately be reached for comment.)
Adam Eidinger, who spearheaded Initiative 71, as the marijuana ballot was formally known, and is also headed to the beach today, says he’s pleased by the language of the OCPD memo, calling it “very respectful” for discussing the activists’ First Amendment rights. The local leader and co-owner of the recently reopened Capitol Hemp shop in Adams Morgan explains that John Oliver’s D.C. statehood segment, which broadcast on Aug. 2, served as a catalyst for the beach party: In the following days, he met Lewis at a discussion hosted by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton on statehood in the aftermath of the John Oliver bit. He’s bringing his daughter to the party.
“Since we had a boycott of Ocean City last year, this is an indication that we’re trying a different tactic,” Eidinger says, citing a protest against Harris’ home district. “We won’t be bullied either.”
“Andy Harris is not invited,” he adds. “We welcome any other Maryland resident or official.”
Lewis says he’s a little disappointed that the demographics of the group heading to the beach skew older, but hopes that more young people will jump behind the D.C. statehood cause once the Disruptors get the word out. “It can be very hard to get teenagers off their asses,” he admits. Lewis add that the group plans to start a Kickstarter campaign to fund a statehood event to be held next Tax Day.
The group’s biggest challenge right now, though, may not be potential police presence: They hit traffic heading into Md. and are expecting to arrive in Ocean City an hour or so behind schedule.
Says Eidinger: “Luckily, a lot of us are pale and we can’t spend more than a few hours at the beach anyways.”
Photos by Darrow Montgomery