Pennsylvania Avenue By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet
Settling on the latest strategy for highlighting the District's lack of voting representation in Congress was easy: The D.C. Council wants to rename the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Figuring out what to rename the street, though, may turn out to be a little harder.
At a meeting in the Wilson Building Thursday night, Councilmember Michael A. Brown quickly moved past the ringing rhetoric about the symbolism of the stunt and got down to business.
"As you can imagine, our e-mail has been flooded with both inappropriate and appropriate suggestions,” he said.
Some of those “appropriate suggestions” presented at the Wilson Building last night include:
- Give D.C. Statehood Avenue
- Statehood for D.C. Avenue
- D.C. for Statehood Avenue
- D.C. Demands Statehood Avenue
- D.C. Statehood Now Avenue
- D.C. Demands Full Democracy Avenue
- Give D.C. Full Democracy Avenue
“These are just examples,” Brown added. “No one is wedded to any of these.”
Unfortunately, Brown didn't disclose any of the inappropriate suggestions.
The council is also considering a new message to accompany the “Welcome to Washington” signs along the D.C.-Maryland line. Suggestions included:
- Welcome to Washington: Unrepresented in Congress for over 200 years
- Welcome to Washington: Denied full democracy for over 200 years and counting
- Welcome to Washington: Where over 600,000 residents are denied full democracy each day
- Welcome to Washington: Where over 600,000 residents are tasked with all the responsibilities of a state but afforded few of the rights
- Welcome to Washington: Enjoy your stay and join our fight for Statehood
- Welcome to Washington: Ask your Representative to give DC a vote
- Welcome to Washington: Tell Congress DC residents deserve Statehood
For their part, members of DC Statehood—Yes We Can! said at the session they oppose any signage that doesn’t include the word “statehood.”
“We don’t need to say anything about voting rights,” said Elinor Hart. “Statehood includes voting rights.”
Ann Loikow, another group member, said she agreed calls for just “voting rights” have no place on these signs.
“We need to remove the references for voting rights... and talk about statehood,” she said. “We need a clear united voice saying we are for statehood.”
The group suggested renaming Pennsylvania Avenue “D.C. 51st Way.” They also called for South Capitol Street to be renamed “D.C. Statehood Now Boulevard,” and for the Washington gateway sign to carry the phrase “Welcome to the Land of the 51st State!”
Paul Strauss, the District's shadow senator, said any change must be easily understandable for visitors who don't already know the city's plight. He recalled often meeting tourists who believe D.C. license plates reading “Taxation Without Representation” are merely a patriotic reference to America’s independence.
“Street sign names can seem trivial,” he said. “But this is an important opportunity to get our message across.”
“Never underestimate the power of a good gateway sign,” Strauss added, noting Brooklyn’s welcome sign got prominent placement on the opening credits of the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.
Strauss also called for the District to rename other streets, as part of a continual campaign.
“Let’s think about renaming street names more strategically,” he said. For example, if a "certain Utah congressman” continues speaking out against D.C. voting rights, part of Utah Avenue should be renamed.
That type of move—cartography as vengeance—isn’t unprecedented. The Soviet Union’s embassy used to be located on a stretch of 16th Street called Andre Sakharov Place.
However, for Shadow Representative Mike Panetta, just renaming a street section isn’t enough.
“What’s missing here is the hook,” he said. “We need to find a way here to maintain sustained interest.”
Panetta suggested renaming most of Pennsylvania Avenue the “Avenue of Statehood” or “51st State Way.” It would be lined with plaques commemorating each state added to the union, along with its year of entrance.
The plaques would start with Delaware, the first state, and end with one reading “New Columbia—Yet to Be Admitted.” A flagpole next to the plaque would fly an American flag with 51 stars.
“I have long been a proponent of using the city’s names and street signs as a tool,” Panetta said. “This is not the time to be timid, but to say... clearly what we want.”
Brown said the council will keep the public record open on this issue for the next two weeks. All residents can submit their own ideas for both renaming Pennsylvania Avenue and adding a slogan to the “Welcome to Washington” sign.
Just don't count on getting immediate results, no matter what slogans win.