I first heard about the We The People DC’s instagram account from my friend Christina of Just the Bottle. It’s been one of my fave account on the social network ever since! In a nutshell, it’s a community photo project that looks at the nation’s capital from the eyes of Washingtonians by handing over the instagram account handle to a different person every day. The project begun in February with a countdown featuring some of Washington’s most famous residents – or at least their statues 😉 Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson and FDR urged followers to “see what DC is all about through the eyes of its humans – and Abe.”
So who are the people behind We the People DC? Meet Macon Lowman and Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, two UNC Public Health Grads and recent DC-transplants. Inspired by the RDU Baton (and the NYC Baton), they launched We the People DC on Instragram one cold winter day. Six months and one picture of Obama later, the account has been in the hand of some 200 Washingtoniens and Washingtoniennes and now has close to 7,000 followers. Macon and Katelyn were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project. In a follow up post, my friend Christina will also describe what it was like to hold the handle for the day!
Let’s start with what inspired you to start We The People DC and how you came up with the name of the project. Why play on the government petition system instead of just going with DC Baton?
Macon: “Though our inspiration came from the RDU & NYC batons, there are many similar photo projects (ilovetexasphoto to name one) and each had taken a slightly different approach. Some featured community members, others only featured professional photographers, some let handle holders have the reigns for a day or a week, etc… When designing this project, we really wanted to focus on the diverse range of people that make DC a unique city. Given our focus, we thought why not add a clever twist to the name, and that’s pretty much how We The People DC was born.
You held the handle when the account first launched, when you were still trying to drum up attention for the project. Would your “typical” day be any different if you held the handle this week?
Macon: “At the time, I featured a very authentic day in my life. We weren’t really sure if the handle would take off beyond our friends so there was no intention to feature certain places that might drum up attention. All in all, I’m really happy with how it has organically grown through the community and I’m not sure my day would look much different than the original day I held the handle.”
Katelyn: “I agree with Macon, my day wouldn’t look much different! I did try to go to some of my fave spots the day I held the handle (ie: the Raven, Well Dressed Burrito), and while I may not always go to my those on the same day, it was a nice excuse to schedule some fun things that I may have let go to the wayside if I weren’t holding the handle.”
Initially, you only handed off the handle during weekdays, then you added weekends. Do you think people who have the handle when they’re tied to their desk from 9-5 are at a disadvantage?
Macon: “Logistically, it made sense to only do weekdays at first. We had a small amount of followers and hadn’t yet figured out scheduling handle holders efficiently so we needed to get those details under control before expending to weekends. On a week day, holders can really break down stereotypes the public has of DC. We’ve seen a lot of non-traditional careers featured outside of the political spectrum. Additionally, I believe it forces the handle holder to be more aware of their surroundings and take initiative to do things that they might not do on their typical work day. Maybe you’ve been wanting to try out a new restaurant on your lunch break, had your head buried into your phone on your commute to work instead of noticing art around town or you’ve just gotten used to a unique aspect of your job that you become more appreciative of when you get to show it off… all of these examples and more really force the handle holder to be present on their day and I don’t think that is a disadvantage at all.”
Katelyn: “I agree that forcing people to be present is one of the best parts of the weekday handle holders. Even the view from your front door shows off a side of DC that people may have seen before, and you don’t even have to go to your 9-5 to capture that! And while WTP is not meant to be a networking instagram (we’re trying to break DC stereotypes here), we have had non-profits get volunteers from seeing descriptions of their work on the handle, and I’ve personally learned a lot about careers I would have never thought about just from watching people’s days while holding the handle.”
Other than someone whose last name is Obama, is there a prominent Washingtonian you’re DYING to hand off the handle to? Why?
Macon: “As many Washingtonians know by now, Mei Xiang just had a baby boy. I’ve been fascinated with following the Smithsonian Zoo’s #PandaStory. They’ve showed everything from transporting artificial sperm across continents to acquainting Mei Xiang with ultrasounds, and her actual birth. I think it would be really neat to have one of the baby pandas veterinarians hold the handle for the day”.
Katelyn: “I would love to see one of DC’s celebrity chefs hold the handle. We’ve seen their food displayed already, let’s go in the kitchen and see how it’s all done!”
I LOVE both of these ideas!! I also loved it when the handle was held by The Capital Area Food Bank. Were you approached by an individual? By the organization? What’s the process if a DC non-profit or business wants to be showcased?
Macon: “Perfectly timed question. CAFB signed up to hold the handle just as any community member would. They followed up with us to share that they saw an increase in their social media followers and volunteers following their day with the handle. After sharing that information, one of our friends (s/o Laura Bach!) suggested that we feature a non-profit regularly on the handle. We loved the idea and will now be reserving the 1st of every month for a non-profit to hold the handle. We really hope this helps the community to develop relationships with organizations doing great work in the district.”
Macon – I adopted my best furry friend, Chloé, from the Washington Animal Rescue League. You adopted yours, Porky, from DC’s first cat café Crumbs & Whiskers, which I think is awesome. How fun would it be to have either of these organizations hold the handle?!? (Please tell me that’s in the work!!).
Macon: “I don’t like to ruin surprises, but I will say that if you are a cat cafe fan and/or animal adoption supporter– we may have a treat in store for you come October.”
OMD, can’t wait! My friend Christina held the handle a few weeks ago, which happened to be the day of Diner en Blanc. She’s got some tips for those handling the account in a separate post, but what would be your recommendations? What are some of the guidelines and best practices when you’re We The People DC for the day? (I’m taking notes since I’ll get the handle in November…)
Macon: “I dare you to find a coffee shop that has yet to be featured! All joking aside, I’d encourage people to show off unique locations or facts about DC that you wouldn’t necessarily find with tour guide. Also, create an inviting conversation around your photos. I’ve seen some great dialogue go on between handle holders and followers on every topic from best appetizers in town to race relations. These community conversations are much more likely to happen if you share photos you feel strongly about and describe to people why you selected them. Lastly, just have fun with it! It’s exciting to be a bit of a celebrity for the day. As far as sign-ups go, there is a link to our tumblr page in the Instagram profile. Once on our tumblr page you can follow-up the sign-up link to fill out our short survey. We’ll let you know within a few days that your entry was received and your place on the waiting list.”
Katelyn: “I think another tip would be posting often! We suggest a minimum of 5 posts, and people vary between about 5-10 per day, but I think the people who post a lot and create those opportunities for conversation get good engagement with community members. One of my favorite parts about the handle has been the historical facts that people post with their pictures. I feel like some of our handle holders could be professional DC tour guides! While you may not be able to do that for every post, it’s definitely an added bonus if you can!”
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Hopefully, this post has gotten you stoked about this awesome and fun local instagram project! You can learn more about We The People DC by visiting its tumblr. And if you’re interested in holding the handle in the future, sign up right here. Though be warned, following a DCist article in July, the waiting list is about 200 people long… so it might take a while 😉