Thursday, 16 April 2015 00:00

D.C. Statehood Activists Raise A Liberty Pole, Set Up Camp In Front Of The Capitol (UPDATE)

Written by Rachel Sadon | DCist
D.C. Statehood Activists Raise A Liberty Pole, Set Up Camp In Front Of The Capitol (UPDATE) Rachel Sadon

Update: The National Park Service has granted the activists a permit to keep the liberty pole on the Mall through 6 p.m. on April 20. "This ensures that while they are exercising their First Amendment rights, they are doing so in accordance with the requirements for public gatherings within National Mall and Memorial Parks," wrote NPS spokesperson Mike Litterst in an email.

Original story:

What appeared to be a band of merry, tool-wielding gnomes descended on the Mall under the cover of darkness early this morning.

The group of about fifteen men and one woman erected a liberty pole—a tall, wooden beam topped by a Phrygian cap—and set up camp across the street from the Capitol.

"We didn’t ask permission, we’re mad as hell," said Adam Eidinger, the head of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign. With this protest—and more to come, he promises—Eidinger is hoping to harness the energy of the very successful effort to legalize marijuana in D.C. and steer it toward the statehood movement.

"People are really into cannabis for personal reasons, but they are not necessarily making the connection to statehood. But Congress can still overturn it," he said. "I could do a seed give away on the Mall and get thousands of people there. But I don't want this to be about giving away pot on the Mall. All groups are affected by this lack of representation."

So instead of raising a marijuana banner as the emblem of the fight for statehood, Eidinger has turned to new—but very old—symbols to give energy to the cause. And he will give you a very animated history lesson about them, if you ask.

“During the Revolutionary War, colonists wore Phrygian caps and built liberty poles as acts of defiance against the British government’s unethical taxation of colonies without representation," he said. "We want to force Republicans to stare in the mirror and see they are not different than the British oppressors."

The conical beanie has its origins in the ancient state of Phrygia, and came to be associated with the pursuit of liberty after being conflated with the red hats worn by freed slaves in Rome. Also called liberty caps, they have been reappropriated for various causes, including the French Revolution. During the Revolutionary War, the hats were placed atop liberty poles as an act of defiance against the British.

Though they've been largely forgotten about today, they make an appearance in many places in the U.S. Capitol Building, including the seal of the Senate, as well as on a number of state seals and flags. Spend some time looking at the coat of arms for a number of countries in the Western hemisphere, including Haiti and Argentina, and you'll find it there, too.

"It is so obscure yet so crucial to the creation of this country," says Eidinger. So he started making the caps himself, turning the D.C. Cannabis Campaign's headquarters on Embassy Row into a makeshift sewing studio.

A group of people with a variety of interests—including voting rights activists, D.C. NORML's executive director, GMO-labeling activists, and one guy marketing his vaporizer company—joined in, sleeping over and driving over to the planned site on 3rd Street NW at 4 a.m. They set up the pole, a tent, speakers, fire pit, and stage in remarkable time and then marveled that the cops hadn't shown up yet.

"The push for legalization definitely made me feel good, but that is only part of it. We're not Americans until we have what the Constitution promised," said Kevin Keefe, a "mostly retired" bike courier who helped set up the pole.

To make it harder to be forcibly being removed, they added metal tubes for two protesters to be chained to the pole at all times.

"It is industrial chic," joked Nathan Ackerman, with the soon-to-be-launched D.C. Voting Rights Project, about the uncomfortable-looking contraption keeping his arms around the pole. "I feel like it is oppressive, but its not nearly as oppressive as living in this city for so many years and not being able to choose a representative."

As confused, early morning runners jogged by, the protesters began what they plan to be a round-the-clock, six-day vigil (yes, it will end on 4/20). Around 6:30 a.m., the U.S. Park Police showed up and "informed superiors" that the group refused to leave.

After an NPS official came down to the site, Eidinger agreed to go down to their office and submit an application for a permit and make some of the changes that they requested, like adding a red light at the top for passing aircraft. "But we aren't compromising on the pole," he said. If they don't approve the application, they plan to keep the protest going without it.

"This is a chance to explain to the nation that this is about liberty and freedom," he said. "This is about basic tenets of American democracy not applying to 650,000 people and it doesn’t matter what your cause is," Eidinger said.

In colonial times, the British would cut liberty poles down only to have the colonists put them right back up. That dynamic may well play out again. "This is just the first of the liberty poles you'll see," Eidinger said.

Link to original article from DCist

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