DC Statehood – How to Bungle a Rebrand

DC Statehood

 

This here’s a fun marketing case study on How Not to Rebrand:

News broke last week that the District of Columbia (aka DC) is launching its greatest push for statehood in decades.

But, the complex politics of the DC statehood efforts aside, the powers that be are already bungling the rebranding effort from its very starting point – the proposed new name:

New Columbia.

Ugh.

Background

Statehood would do several things, not the least of which is give the city – currently home to more than 670,000 residents – official (and expanded) representation in Congress.

It’s no small irony that DC is the seat of U.S. government, home to thousands of workers who lead the federal government yet cannot themselves vote on how their tax dollars are spent, let alone have a national say in laws effecting critical economic or social issues nationwide.

Further, ours is a government that arose out of a war with the British over unfair taxation. Hence, a major slogan of the U.S. Revolutionary war: “Taxation without representation is tyranny” (James Otis, 1761).

For those of you who don’t know, a modified version of that slogan has appeared on DC license plates for more than a decade.

DC License Plate

Arguments for Statehood

Put another way, DC boasts a greater population than Vermont or Wyoming, so why should it not receive the representation those states do?

As it currently stands, DC itself has little control over its own budget, which is instead allocated by the federal government, despite the direct taxation of its residents.

“Even though we pay federal taxes, fight courageously in wars, and fulfill all of the other obligations of citizenship, we still have no voice when Congress makes decisions for the entire nation on matters as important as war and peace, taxes and spending, health care, education, immigration policy, or the environment.” – Wade Henderson, President, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Sep. 15, 2014.

Another argument was put forth in that hearing by DC Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, who noted the original concern of the tension and conflict of interest posed by federal government workers also having a vote in Congress no longer exists.

Rather, as D.C.’s population continues to increase, the “presence of the federal government in Washington continues to decrease.”

“If Congressional control is so important to the federal government’s ability to protect its interest, why do so many of our sensitive institutions exist comfortably and without interference in so many fully sovereign states? Whatever issues we may have with the functioning of the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, no one seems to suggest that their placement in the Commonwealth of Virginia adversely impacts the important federal functions that they serve.”

Add to this that many Congressional senators, representatives and Hill staffers actually live in Virginia or Maryland (rather than DC proper) and you see the original stated reason for denying DC statehood no longer exists.

The true reason DC has not been granted the right of statehood is purely partisan with racial overtones – it’s a solid Democratic stronghold, and has historically been home to a majority of black residents.

In fact, the last time a DC statehood bill got even close to passage in Congress it did so only because it proposed a compromise – granting DC voting Congressional representation (presumptively Democratic and black) but balancing it out by increasing the Congressional representation of Utah (presumptively Republican and majority white).

But even the racial aspect of the DC statehood argument is diminishing, as DC lost its traditional black majority in 2011.

How Not to Rebrand

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet”

Romeo & Juliet

The pro-statehood faction of the DC government proposes re-naming DC “New Columbia,” although according to Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, it would retain its “DC” postal code.

Huh?

Astute observers were quick to point out that:

  1. Why call it something that changes the centuries-old abbreviation of DC?
  2. “New Columbia” would abbreviate to “NC,” which is already taken by North Carolina
  3. Why New Columbia when there is no Old (or even original) Columbia?
  4. Keeping the Columbia name is inherently racist, as it comes from Christopher Columbus, the European explorer who essentially aided the settlement of the New World by pushing out the indigenous tribes who, you know, actually lived here.

Better names put forth include:

  • Potomac
  • Anacostia
  • Douglass Commonwealth (after Frederic Douglass)

Other options abound, but I can’t write anything here that wasn’t already more masterfully covered by The Washigtonian in their brilliant piece 34 New Names for DC Better Than New Columbia.

The Point?

Shakespeare was wrong – Names have power.

And the best way to ensure defeat in a battle that already has long odds of success is to needlessly confuse the issue – in this case, by lobbying for DC to now be known as NC (or something).

 

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