News & Politics

DC’s Pro-Statehood License Plates Are Getting Even More Aggro

The city is planning new plates reading "We Demand Statehood." Subtext is for cowards!

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles is designing a specialty license plate with a slogan reading “We Demand Statehood.” Reportedly available by October, the new plates represent a verbal escalation over the city’s current standard plates, which read “End Taxation Without Representation.”

The planned plates also come at a time when the DC statehood movement figures to make little progress on Capitol Hill. Bills to make DC a state have been introduced in both chambers of Congress, but neither the Republican-controlled House nor the tightly-divided, filibuster-lovin’ Senate figure to pass a measure that would essentially give Democrats two additional Senators and extra Electoral College votes.

House Democrats passed bills to make DC a state in 2020 and 2021, but Senate did not follow suit.

“‘Taxation Without Representation’ was a good slogan, but since then we have passed the DC Statehood bill twice in the House and it has had a hearing in the Senate,” says DC House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a longtime champion of DC statehood. “So I think this is nothing more than an update on the progress we have made in getting full and equal representation for the District of Columbia.”

Norton also believes that the new plates will help publicize the DC statehood movement–something she says has extra value in “a tourist town.” “People come [here] from all over the country, not to mention the world,” she says. “And as the pandemic lessens and we see more people coming to DC, this license plate is nothing more and nothing less than an advertisement for DC statehood. So I think it will be very helpful.”

Josh Burch, a volunteer with Neighbors United for Statehood, a local grassroots organizing and Congressional outreach group, concurs. “We went from ‘Celebrate and Discover’ to ‘Taxation Without Representation,’ which was more of a statement of fact, to ‘End Taxation Without Representation,’ which was a little bit more of a battle cry,” he says. “I think ‘We Demand Statehood’ is way more succinct.”

Will that support translate into popularity for the punchier plates, which almost certainly will cost drivers extra? In a 2016 referendum, 86% of DC voters opted for statehood. “We know people of DC support statehood,” Burch says. “That’s crystal clear … I think provided the plate looks good, I think people are going to be drawn to it.”

Burch would like to see one DC resident in particular adopt the new plates: President Joe Biden, who says he supports DC statehood but whose limousines have not opted to use “End Taxation Without Representation” plates—a decision Axios DC recently described as a “snub.” Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama deployed plates with that slogan, while Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump did not.

“It’d be important symbolically for the President to reiterate his support for statehood,” Burch says. “He has been a supporter, so I’d love to see it on ‘The Beast’ (a nickname for the president’s limo) as well.”

The new plates are a long time coming, first mandated by a DC Council bill that became law in 2017. (The same bill required the addition of the word “End” to “Taxation Without Representation” on standard plates). Fees collected from the new plates will be added to the New Columbia Statehood Fund, which supports DC statehood initiatives.

Katie Kenny
Editorial Fellow