News & Politics

Living in DC “May Result in the Loss of Your Basic Civil Rights,” Says New Sign at Border

DC shadow US Senator Michael D. Brown erected a large "WARNING" sign in his yard.

Photograph by Karen A. Szulgit.

DC welcome signs are generally restrained, low-key affairs. That’s definitely not the case with a new one that greets visitors from Maryland in Michael D. Brown’s yard in American University Park: “WARNING,” it screams in large letters. It continues:

YOU ARE ENTERING THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, THE NATION’S CAPITAL.

CAUTION!

RESIDENCY MAY RESULT IN THE LOSS OF YOUR BASIC CIVIL RIGHTS.

BE ADVISED!

Revocation of Your Rights Does Not Relieve Your Responsibility for Obligations to the State for Which You May Be Liable.

TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!

Brown is one of the District’s shadow US senators and was elected to his third six-year term in 2018. The position is unpaid; Brown estimated last year that he had spent $60,000 of his own funds to perform his duties. Reached by phone, Brown says he paid for the sign himself. The pandemic has helped him save money that usually goes to statehood rallies and paraphernalia like buttons.

His motivation? “I want to get people fired up!” Brown says. “I want people to understand this is not an inconvenience, this is not an oversight. This is a suspension, a revocation of the rights that Thomas Jefferson said were given to us by God.” He compares the statehood debate to a house that’s been on the market too long—”market worn,” as he puts it. “I think the same thing goes for DC statehood—we just see [not having congressional representation] as something we have to accept.” Former shadow US Senator Jesse Jackson said the District’s status would change only “when it rises to the level of personal insult,” and so, he says, “I’m trying to insult the people of the District of Columbia.”

Brown says the info on the sign is something he could have used when he moved across the border from Montgomery County as an 18-year-old decades ago. “I had no idea [that he wouldn’t have a voice in Congress] until I got here,” he says. The sign is six by four feet, the largest reflective metal sign he could order, and Brown says he got the name of a sign installer from a real-estate agent he knows. It took a week to schedule the installation, because the housing market is booming.

Neighbors have been supportive, Brown says, and while his post on Nextdoor has caused something of a “firestorm”—”It’s always people in Maryland or Virginia who are telling you you should move,” he notes—he’s had plenty of positive reactions. He has given thought to sitting outside in a lawn chair during rush hours, wearing a straw hat, perhaps giving out lemonade.

And why not? Brown says he had to spruce up his yard to prepare for the sign’s installation. His wife, Brown says, suggested that the best headline for any headline about the sign would be “Senator Brown Finally Cuts His Lawn.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.