In response to the delay from the U.S. Department of Treasury, Watershed owner Ashley Cake decided to change her own bills.

Olivia Weinberg / Sun Staff Writer

In response to the delay from the U.S. Department of Treasury, Watershed owner Ashley Cake decided to change her own bills.

February 27, 2020

Watershed Owner, Ashley Cake, Stamps $20 Bills with Harriet Tubman as a Form of Protest

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An ink-stamped portrait of Harriet Tubman slides over the bar at The Watershed. Ashley Cake, co-owner of the bar, has been distributing the bills in protest of delays from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The campaign to change the face of Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill started in 2015 with the Women on 20s organization. The final round candidates to be the face of the redesigned twenty-dollar bill included Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Wilma Mankiller and Harriet Tubman.

The redesign of the Harriet Tubman twenty-dollar bill, though, has since been delayed. During a congressional hearing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the delay was due to looking into potential counterfeit issues and that the bill would not come out until 2026.

In protest, Cake produced her own Tubman bills by inking Harriet Tubman’s portrait over Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill with a stamp.

When Cake first started depositing the inked $20 Tubman bills to her bank, the Alternatives Federal Credit Union, she found out the bank was sending the bills back to the treasury department to be replaced, removing them from circulation.

Cake also later found out that certain machines at banks or stores could not read the inked Tubman bills. This poses a problem to people who do not have access to bank accounts and bank tellers — typically marginalized groups of people from lower incomes that work exclusively with cash, according to Cake.

As a result, Watershed has decided to stop distributing the inked bills, unless customers request them. As of now, inked Tubman bills are accepted at AFCU.

“Banks could set their own precedent on whether or not to accept the inked Tubman bills and if they classify as ‘mutilated,’” Reiley Schoen, AFCU chief operations officer, told the Sun. If a customer asks to exchange the Tubman bills for the non-inked version, the bank will do so with no questions asked.

Schoen noted that the AFCU’s choice to accept the inked Tubman bills is an individual choice for their organization and does not set a standard for other institutions.

The principles of why Cake wants to see Tubman on the $20 bills are reflected in her business model.

“Watershed is an actively anti-racist, genderful and extremely political space, perpetuating certain values,” Cake said. Watershed workers participate in frequent equity training, reading and learning about microaggressions, issues relating to race and gender.

The campaign to change the $20 noted Andrew Jackson’s involvement with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 – resulting in the forced relocation of Native Americans through the Trail of Tears – as one the primary reasons he should not be on the currency.

Cake believes Jackson’s history as a slave owner and slave trader doesn’t align with the values of the United States that figures on a nation’s currency should symbolize.

Likewise, the campaign believes the Tubman twenty-dollar bills “speak powerfully to the values of inclusion and equality upon which [the U.S.] was founded.”

Cake believes Tubman being on the $20 bill represents the inclusivity of women and people of color in U.S. history. As Cake continues to reflect on her own privilege, she points out that the four co-owners of Watershed are white, three being male.

The inked $20 Tubman bills are still in circulation in Ithaca — Cake calls them her “personal political project.”