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They’ve tried civil disobedience. They’ve tried legislative maneuvering. Now D.C.’s frustrated statehood activists are threatening to employ a new tactic: Cartographic sabotage.
D.C. Council member Michael Brown is holding a meeting this evening at the Wilson Building to ponder renaming the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in front of the city government’s headquarters. The idea is to pick a name that shames the powers that be by reminding visitors of the capital city’s marooned political status.
This isn’t the first time a government has used its thoroughfare-naming powers to tweak a rival. In the Indian city of Kolkata—long ruled by a Communist party—the road outside the American consulate had its name changed from from Harrington Street to Ho Chi Minh Sarani during the Vietnam war. Right here in D.C., Soviet diplomats during the Cold War suddenly found that their stretch of 16th Street NW had become Andrei Sakharov Place.
Vietnam won and the Soviets lost, right? Alas, Brown’s renaming ambitions have at least one problem: Other than Marion Barry—whose name would presumably not be helpful in winning out-of-towners to the statehood cause—the District doesn’t boast many household names among its political stalwarts. It’s a pretty good bet Brown et al won’t want to honor the local government veteran with the highest national Q ratings by turning the avenue into Michelle Rhee Boulevard.
Which means visitors will be puzzling over, say, Alexander Shepherd Place, Hilda Mason Trail, or Ron Brown Parkway—names that do little to insert Washington’s non-democratic status into the national conversation. Instead, they’ll smack of yet another lame statehood stunt.
Or worse: Out-of-town types regularly gripe about how frequently they get lost in D.C. after finding that a street’s name has changed. We locals laugh about the rubes’ geographic cluelessness. But when they panic after suddenly going from Pennsylvania Avenue to Mark Plotkin Boulevard, where do you think they’re going to turn for help? That’s right: To Congress.
Photo by Mr. T in D.C. via Flickr/Creative Commons