OCEAN CITY — The beach and Boardwalk became unlikely locations for a peaceful demonstration for statehood for the District of Columbia on Wednesday afternoon.
A couple dozen members of DisruptDC, a new student advocacy organization calling for statehood and everything that implies for Washington, D.C. The organization set up camp on the beach at 1st Street and handed out fliers and literature explaining the cause to anyone who would listen. Some members of the group also took to the crowded Boardwalk under the banner of a D.C. flag decorated with its “Taxation without Representation” message.
District of Columbia voters have already approved a referendum calling for the creation of a new state called New Columbia, although federal lawmakers have not approved it.
The DisruptDC organization is taking the message to anyone who will listen, including residents and visitors to Ocean City on Wednesday afternoon. Spokesman Dan Lewis said the group did not intend to disrupt the daily activity on the beach and Boardwalk, but merely wanted to teach and raise awareness about the inequities for D.C. residents.
“This is not a protest by any means,” he said. “It’s more like a demonstration. We’re canvassing this area because of the access to so many people and such a diverse population. We think we can reach people from all over Maryland here and from all over the country really.”
Lewis said the message was clear. The residents of D.C. have a municipal government, but do not have any representatives in the U.S. Senate or Congress. Literature distributed by the group on Wednesday points out the city is home to over 600,000 people, which is more than the states of Vermont and Wyoming. Washington, D.C. also has a higher GDP than 16 other states and pays the highest tax rate.
“We have over 600,000 people in D.C. without any representation in Congress,” said Lewis. “We send our kids to war and pay more in taxes than any other part of the country, but we don’t have a say in our federal government.”
The catalyst for the demonstration in Ocean City on Wednesday and the recent spike in popularity for the movement was fueled by a recent video produced by John Oliver for his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” calling for statehood for D.C.
“That John Oliver piece got 2.6 million views,” said Lewis. “We knew there would be an influx of energy on this issue from that. We wanted to get something going before that energy dissipated again.”
Lewis pointed out Ocean City was chosen for several reasons, not the least of which is it is the summer playground in U.S. Congressman Andy Harris’ backyard. Maryland’s 1st District Congressman has been criticized in the past for intervening in D.C.’s affairs. Most notably, last summer just before the Fourth of July, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray called on his constituents to boycott Ocean City because Harris was able to get an amendment attached to a House budget bill, which, if approved would have reversed D.C.’s marijuana decriminalization law.
Lewis said on Wednesday Ocean City was chosen for the demonstration in part because it was simply a beautiful beach destination, but also because of the perceived slights by Harris in the past.
“We chose Ocean City for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, it’s beautiful here and it’s a perfect beach day, and secondly, and more importantly, it’s in Andy Harris’ district. Harris has a history of meddling in D.C. issues even though he doesn’t represent the district. No one does, which is kind of the point.”
As the DisruptDC organizers passed out their literature and extoled their plight to anyone who would listen on the beach and Boardwalk, they ran into some support and a lot of indifference, but no real naysayers.
“Most of the people we’ve talked to are supportive,” he said. “Many are ambivalent, and no one has expressed any opposition.”
Ocean City police became aware of the planned demonstration as early as Monday and made efforts to determine the size and nature of the demonstration. OCPD spokesperson Lindsay Richard said on Wednesday the department was cognizant of the group’s First Amendment rights to assemble and petition their government and no additional police response was required for the peaceful demonstration.
“The rally did occur in today in town,” she said on Wednesday. “As always, we encourage citizens to practice their constitutional rights and protest peacefully in Ocean City. Similar to the many special events we host in town, our officers conducted normal checks of the area. At this point, the protest has been conducted in a very peaceful manner and no additional patrols have been assigned to the area.”