District license plates get a face-lift

Tons of tea was thrown into Boston Harbor to protest it. The Declaration of Independence was written to challenge it. The Revolutionary War was fought because of it, and now D.C. drivers join the cause of Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams: to raise public awareness about and bring an end to taxation without representation.

Four sentences can make you famous. Foggy Bottom resident Sarah Shapiro, 50, would attest to this fact after one short e-mail brought her to the forefront of District and national media. Shapiro was the one who thought of replacing the District’s license plates slogan Celebrate and Discover with Taxation Without Representation.

Shapiro said she thought of the message when listening to the radio program Public Interest during the show’s D.C. politics hour on 88.5 FM WAMU last March. People on the show were discussing an ongoing lawsuit about obtaining voting rights in Congress for the District.

Shapiro e-mailed the station with her idea. She said she thought the message would help educate not only tourists, but District residents who may not know about their lack of representation.

Although D.C. residents pay federal taxes, D.C. has no vote in the House of Representatives or the Senate. One non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), represents the District in the House. District residents gained the right to vote in the presidential election in 1961, when the 23rd Amendment was passed.

The lack of representation outraged Shapiro.

What kind of democracy is this where the residents of the capital city don’t vote and people just don’t know, Shapiro said. Americans think (District residents) don’t pay taxes or don’t vote or they don’t think about it at all. As we drive around people would be aware of our status.

Two weeks after Shapiro sent an e-mail to the show, the show’s host and local political activist Mark Plotkin mentioned the idea on the air. Plotkin also suggested the idea at a meeting with Norton and Linda Cropp, D.C. City Council chairwoman.

According to Shapiro, Cropp loved the idea and proposed it at the next city council meeting, where it was unanimously approved. Cropp told Shapiro that she only received positive feedback about the slogan idea. Cropp had never received only positive letters and phone calls from the public on any other topic, Shapiro said.

Shapiro also sent an e-mail to D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams to let him know she was the one who thought of the license plate slogan. Shapiro said the mayor invited her to a meeting to discuss her idea. Williams was thinking about hosting an art contest in order to find a new design for the license plates.

Williams signed an executive order changing the message of the plates Aug. 15.

Shapiro said she was inundated by media after her name was mentioned on the radio show.

I was like Miss Celebrity, Shapiro said. It was all fun, all different reporters started calling.

Washington Post columnist Mark Fisher wrote a column about her, Shapiro said. Shapiro also said she received calls from friends all over the United States who heard about her on the news and read about her in their local newspapers.

The first 13,000 new license plates are scheduled to debut in early November, according to Jacqueline Stanley, senior manager for the vehicle control division of the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles. Every new D.C driver will receive the new license plate, and current D.C. drivers will be able to exchange their plates for a small fee.

Shapiro said she hopes the new plates will be out in time for the Nov. 7 presidential election so people will think more about the votes they are casting and the significance of those votes.

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