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With flag tattoos, D.C. residents seek representation in Congress

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 Click on photo to enlarge or download: A District of Columbia flag flies outside the city’s municipal center. Proponents of congressional representation for the city are getting tattoos of the symbol to promote their cause. SHFWire photo by Rebecca KoenigClick on photo to enlarge or download: A District of Columbia flag flies outside the city’s municipal center. Proponents of congressional representation for the city are getting tattoos of the symbol to promote their cause. SHFWire photo by Rebecca KoenigWASHINGTON – District residents are saluting Washington’s campaign for congressional representation in a permanent way – with tattoos of the city’s flag on Flag Day.

The District’s nonvoting Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and House Shadow Representative Mike Panetta, D- D.C., will attend a D.C. Flag Tattoo Day event Tuesday to promote the cause.

“This is the best kind of movement action, spontaneous action by people in the community on their own,” Norton said. “I particularly like it because different people will express their views in different ways and you have to accommodate and encourage those different ways.”

Though not as ubiquitous as the city’s “Taxation Without Representation” license plates, District flag tattoos are the newest symbol of Washington’s representation movement.

Among the latest city residents to be inked with the three stars above two stripes are Panetta and Bryan Weaver, a former Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, who received their tattoos Saturday. Norton said she has not considered getting a tattoo.

“For many people, it’s been a lifelong campaign to get us represented,” Weaver said. “No better way to commemorate that than to make a statement that is going to last for life.”

Panetta agreed.

“The tattoo is something I had been thinking about doing for a while,” he said. “The D.C. flag is a symbol that has two meanings. As the official flag of the District of Columbia, it symbolizes our disenfranchisement.”

Washington has an elected mayor and city council, but the Constitution gives Congress the power to legislate for the city, an arrangement many residents resent. In 1970, Congress gave D.C. the right to elect a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, an office Norton has held for 11 terms. The city also elects a shadow representative, currently Panetta, though Congress does not recognize the position.

Allyson Behnke, 26, a community activist, said she got the idea for the Flag Day event while documenting the May 11 arrest of eight women near the Capitol who were protesting Washington’s lack of congressional representation.

“I was with some of my activist friends, and we were sitting outside the D.C. jail,” she said. “I thought, I have a D.C. flag tattoo, how cool if we celebrated D.C. flag tattoos on Flag Day?”

That demonstration was preceded by a larger sit-in April 11, when 41 city residents, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, were arrested. Panetta, a proponent of Washington statehood, said his new tattoo commemorates that experience.

“It was time for action, an act of civil disobedience,” he said. “I never thought I’d get a tattoo, and I never thought I’d go to jail, but I did both this spring. They’re for a good cause, so I’m proud of both of those.” 

One tattoo artist, who goes by the name Is Real, 41, has worked at Top Notch Tattoo Studio on U Street for six years. He said that at least one customer a day requests a District flag design. About 50 people received a tattoo of the symbol from the shop in May.

“People love the D.C. logo,” he said. “We’re known for that. We keep it coming.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Koenig at shws6@shns.com or 202-326-9867

SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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