Tom Austin is a CEO and venture capitalist from the tony Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. He's tired of being “bullied” by the “elites.”
His descent to victimhood began two years ago when his fellow Minneapolitans decided to change the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska. We probably shouldn't be honoring John C. Calhoun, advocate of the genocide and serial rape that was slavery, they reasoned.
It was like having one of your finest streets called Hermann Goring Boulevard.
Austin wasn't hip to this turn of events. So he surveyed his neighbors, finding most in opposition. “The name Lake Calhoun represents absolutely nothing more than a beautiful lake,” he wrote in the Star Tribune, encapsulating their sentiment. “It never represented an endorsement of slavery or an endorsement of genocide.”
He's probably right. There's little chance Linden Hills is loaded fans of organized homicide. Yet there appear to be a good many who suffer from the very human affliction of reflexive opposition to change. And when you live in Linden Hills – and you just might be a CEO and venture capitalist – you're used to getting your way.
The great rabble of Minneapolis thought otherwise. They decided to go with Bde Maka Ska, the lake's original Dakota name. After all, it seemed better to honor our own guys than some degenerate from South Carolina. Austin was run over by the lingering remnants of representative democracy.
He did not go down without a fight. He sued based on an age-old law that said the DNR couldn't sanction changes to lake names that had existed for more than 40 years. Only the legislature could.
Minneapolis' own lawyers had been warned of this technicality, but the city had gone ahead anyway. No one willingly deals with the Minnesota Legislature unless they absolutely have to.
They also don't fancy Native culture. Senate Republicans voted to gut funding for the Minnesota Historical Society over the gravest of trespasses: Using a Dakota word on a sign at Fort Snelling.
Yet on Monday, an appellate court ruled in Austin's favor. Legally speaking, Bde Maka Ska was gone. Lake Calhoun was back in action.
Austin wasn't gracious in his Star Tribune victory dance, “Why I funded the lawsuit to save the name Lake Calhoun.” His pent-up “disgust” at being trampled by the hordes was clear:
“Everyday Minnesotans just want to be left alone and not bullied into changing the names of our lakes, our streets, our schools, our landmarks and our cities,” he wrote. “We’re sick of the 'holier than thou' morality tone coming from politicians, media and activists.
“Everyday Minnesotans are tired of being demanded by the elites (media, activists and politicians) that we change our beliefs, our values and our thoughts in order to conform to their worldviews. We take offense to the threat of being called a derogatory name merely for having a difference of opinion.”
Forgive Austin for not seeing the irony in a CEO and venture capitalist as official clarion for “everyday Minnesotans.” Or that he and a few of his neighbors might be the most “elite” of us all. Victimhood has a way of ravaging one's sight.
So it was only fitting that his triumph was short-lived.
Last night, the Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board voted unanimously to keep Bde Maka Ska. Board President Brad Bourn likely spoke for far more everyday Minnesotans when he announced, “I think the lawsuit was just a slap in the face to a lot of people who do not think the legacy of John C. Calhoun represents the values of the people of Minnesota.”
The case will now go to the Minnesota Supreme Court. And Tom Austin will keep fighting for the everyday Minnesotans of Linden Hills.