In September, a user on the Instagram account We The People DC posted a photo of the 14th Street corridor with a caption that, almost off-handedly, described the area’s past as “sketchy.”
Within moments of posting, the comment section below the photo flooded with comments. Some were accusing the poster of being insensitive to D.C. history and labeled the caption as “offensive,” while others sprang to the poster’s defense. The discussion wasn’t always pretty, but it did bring up a lot of tough, important issues about gentrification and change in D.C.
Given the readiness with which Katelyn Bryant-Comstock and Macon Lowman recall that post, perhaps that’s the moment the duo began to realize the power of the platform they’d created.
In under a year, the ladies behind We The People DC have managed to accrue a following that could be the envy of any engagement editor. The account recently surpassed 10,000 followers, but more importantly it’s starting conversations about the city.
We The People DC is a community photo project. “Everyday a different community member in D.C. holds the handle and shows us their perspective,” Lowman said. Bryant-Comstock and Lowman founded the account drawing inspiration from a similar project they encountered in grad school — the RDU Baton in North Carolina.
The idea? Show a community side of D.C.
The account launched in the beginning of February 2015, and since then it has, day in and day out, shown a random resident’s side of the city. The handle has been held by very new residents and long-term residents and even a dog resident. There have been posts about history and current events and that weird Barbie pond on Q Street.
But you could argue that beyond just showcasing community, We The People DC has actually managed to create community too.
It’s a community that a lot of people want to be a part of. Bryant-Comstock told Technical.ly that the waiting list for a day holding the handle is currently 7 or 8 months long. “I feel really bad when I send emails now,” she said. “I’ll be like, ‘I have you down for October 2016 — will you still live here then?'”
And it’s not only individuals who can hold the handle anymore. Shortly after the gentrification debate in September Bryant-Comstock and Lowman launched a “nonproft of the month” initiative — giving one D.C. nonprofit each month the opportunity to show 10,000 eyes the work they do in a day. Bryant-Comstock and Lowman both said they’re continuously looking for new nonprofits to showcase.
The nonprofit of the month project is one attempt to diversify the community shown in and served by the account. “For a while now we’ve had the goal of diversifying it more because we do tend to have a very specific target audience and we want to get outside of that,” Bryant-Comstock said. Essentially what she means is that the vast majority of people who hold the handle are the same type — young millennial transplants to D.C. And yeah, we young millennial transplants might make up a big portion of the population, but we don’t define D.C. Ideally, we won’t be the ones to define We The People either.
One idea Bryant-Comstock and Lowman have for expanding their demographic is expanding their web and social media presence. We The People D.C. posts can already be viewed on Tumblr, but the duo say perhaps a website, or even just a Facebook page, could increase their reach.
Something Lowman and Bryant-Comstock don’t do is market themselves as the founders. Barring a few pieces of local press (this profile included), these ladies mainly to stay under the radar. Sometimes, they told Technical.ly, even friends or acquaintances will be surprised to learn that they’re behind the account.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about and engaging with the account, though.
Both Lowman and Bryant-Comstock often use their personal accounts to comment on a photo they like or offer words of encouragement. And both can go on and on about all the things they’ve learned about the city through this forum — history and events and other hidden gems. At some level, a year after the launch of the experiment, We The People DC has a life of its own.
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