The District’s only true local holiday is also its most conflicted. Emancipation Day, the occasion celebrating the 1862 act that freed 3,100 enslaved persons in the District with a parade, is also a day used to advocate for statehood and congressional voting rights.
The juxtaposition of protesting taxation without representation and a celebration of freedom perfectly defines the city’s complicated history.
While groups march yelling “Free D.C.!,” symbolizing the city’s lack of ability to truly self-govern, Miss District of Columbia rides by in a luxury car waving to the crowd. After school bands show off their latest steps and numbers, candidates march in an attempt to gain visibility right before the election. Indeed, it’s a fun time.
But the parade’s schizophrenic nature probably explains why most people don’t even know it exists.
For my money, with the Capitol as a backdrop, the parade should be a focused, determined push for voting rights and budget autonomy. As it stands, the random free-for-all nature of the event, although festive, dilutes the message.