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Performances at Adams Morgan PorchFest. Photos by Philip Graulty.

Weirding The City

Can a deceptively simple slogan spark constructive conversation about the city we have and the city we want?

Erik Moe
Erik Moe
Nov 23, 2015 · 4 min read

I like language and nuance. I like arguments in long form that take time to consider. I tend to offer my support to those who I get to know and trust over time.

So, it is uncharacteristic and even a bit uncomfortable for me to be launching a seemingly care-free experiment in all-caps sloganeering. Slogans tend to hide nuance. They are direct, assertive, and confrontational. They force you to take a side: agree or disagree; join or reject. Yet, this week I launched just such an experiment with MAKE DC WEIRD.

I love friends who have heard those three words and jumped in with enthusiasm and trust. “Heck yeah! I’m in! Let’s go!” they say.

I’m not that kind of person. I’ve thought about this phrase for a few years. It has stuck with me not because it is an easy bandwagon to jump on, but because it provokes so many questions. MAKE DC WEIRD is not so much a movement as it is a conversation starter.

Make

…is a verb. You are the implied subject. You are being urged to step up and work towards the completion of something. To participate in an act of creation.

DC

…is the name of our home. It is a vibrant, rapidly changing home with a rich cultural legacy and plenty of problems to address. It is also a home that is often mischaracterized as a dull place filled with bureaucrats and transients who have no stake in the future of our neighborhoods. If you’ve truly explored DC, you might be deeply hurt by that characterization. You and I know that DC has an unending depth of creativity and passion.

Weird

…is an adjective and a chameleon. Its definition can change depending on the viewer, depending on what you bring to it in terms of lived experience. Weird necessarily represents an alternative, an opposition to some thing that is not weird. But, you’ve got to define it for yourself, along with its opposite. In this case, weird is positioned as a positive, as something to work for. Perhaps a definition appropriate for this context is but perhaps it also suggests (which you must also define).

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Writer Elizabeth Gutting climbs onto a dining room table in Truxton Circle to read from one of her short stories at Little Salon, a monthly nomadic arts showcase. Photo: Eric Krupke.

Putting it all together

String those three words together as MAKE DC WEIRD, and these are a few of the questions that come up:

  • Are there some people with less power to whom the making is imposed upon? And how can we call everyone to be involved in making DC into the inclusive city we want it to be?
  • It includes: residents and neighborhoods; politicians and the developers who fund them; institutions and their employees; built infrastructure and natural resources; diverse cultures and their national, global context.
  • To many long-time residents the city is unrecognizably weird already, and often not in a good way. While there may have been more crime in the past, the city may have also been more unique in the past.
  • With apologies to friends in Oregon and Texas, What does DC have in common with other so-called weird cities? Do we have shared values?
  • There are all kinds of examples of incredible arts and culture in DC (some cited on makeDCweird.com).
  • Surveys suggest crime and education are DC residents’ top concerns, not culture or “weirdness.” Might “Make DC Safe” or “Make DC Schools Great” be more important messages to put forward?

And finally,

  • I believe that the things that are “weird” (proudly unique and perhaps endangered) in DC contain and embody solutions to making our city all the things we want it to be: safe, equitable, livable, sustainable, smart, affordable, beautiful, joyful.

These are a few of the questions and ideas that come forward for me from these three words. Does this sound like a conversation worth having?

This is when I really hope you’ll jump up and say,

Pick it up

Make DC Weird is a conversation. I’d love your quick (or long and nuanced!) answer to any of these questions. Respond here on Medium (scroll down to start your own post), or use hashtag #makeDCweird on Twitter/Instagram.

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Make DC Weird sticker available at makeDCweird.com.

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