This New Photo Book Documents The Chaos And Joy Of D.C.'s Go-Go Activism A new book of photography documents Washington, D.C.'s #Moechella movement.
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This New Photo Book Documents The Chaos And Joy Of D.C.'s Go-Go Activism

Crowds celebrate during a Moechella rally and dance party in 2019. Akil Ransome /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Akil Ransome /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

Over the past two years, D.C.'s go-go scene has grown from a hometown music genre into a key element of local social justice activism. Go-go bands have performed at some of the biggest rallies and marches in recent history, from the anti-gentrification protests in Shaw in April 2019 to last year's Juneteenth celebration and the protests against police brutality at Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Many of those events were fueled by the organizing power of one man: Justin "Yaddiya" Johnson, a Silver Spring rapper, band manager and the founder of Long Live GoGo. The project is the force behind a series of go-go-infused events branded as Moechella (a portmanteau of the D.C. slang "moe" and the California music festival Coachella).

Johnson's newest project attempts to explain and promote the movement he's helped establish. He teamed up with six local photographers and the Baltimore-based publisher NoMüNoMü to create Long Live GoGo: The Movement, a photography book featuring more than 90 images from the 2019 Moechella protests.

"We use go-go music to create a space that's inclusive and diverse," says Johnson. "Moechella is the intersection of culture and politics."

Washingtonians at a 2019 Moechella event. Akil Ransome/Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Akil Ransome/Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

Johnson founded Moechella in response to the silencing of go-go music at a MetroPCS store in Shaw in April 2019. Don Campbell, the owner of the store, was forced to turn off the go-go music he'd been playing from stereos outside the store since it opened in 1995. He told DCist that T-Mobile, which owns Metro PCS, instructed him to stop playing the music because a nearby resident had threatened the company with a lawsuit.

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The incident became a flashpoint in the longstanding debate over gentrification, both in the Shaw neighborhood and across the city.

The following month, Johnson organized a Moechella rally at the intersection of 14th and U streets NW to support go-go and speak out against the ways newcomers were changing the city. Johnson told Washingtonian he chose that intersection because his own family had to move out of the 14th Street Corridor as a result of gentrification — or, as he put it, "cultural genocide."

"They always say, never let a good crisis go to waste," he says today.

A four-wheeler at a 2019 Moechella event. Dee Dwyer /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Dee Dwyer /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

The rally stopped traffic. Thousands of community members showed up to protest and dance to local acts like Backyard Band, DJ Domo, and DJ Kool. A fellow activist, Ron Moten, successfully coordinated with the police to avoid any dangerous confrontations.

"The past 10 years have been stressful and tense because of gentrification," says Joseph Orzal, the NoMüNoMü creative director and one of the book's co-editors, along with Fanna Gebreyesus. "Moechella has brought a reclamation of home to people in D.C. And I think you see that conveyed in the photos."

Johnson and Orzal sorted through more than 500 images together, trying to find the right way to portray the celebratory yet intense nature of the go-go events. When asked for one word to describe the feeling of being at a Moechella event, Orzal offered up "joy" while Johnson chose "chaos."

Washingtonians at a 2019 Moechella event. Akil Ransome /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Akil Ransome /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

One of the most striking images in the book shows four teenage girls dance on the side of a parked cop car. The photograph captures both the joy of dancing and the girls' concentration.

"It reminded me of myself when I was that age, being rebellious" says Kyna Uwaeme, the photographer behind the photo. "Go-go is so freeing. You can do whatever you want and nobody's going to judge you."

Young girls dance on a cop car at a 2019 Moechella event. Kyna Uwaeme/Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Kyna Uwaeme/Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

A native Washingtonian, Uwaeme jumped at the chance to be one of the book's six contributing photographers. She says the injection of go-go into protests has helped bring out more Washingtonians who might otherwise feel apathetic about politics.

"Go-go bands have an audience. They bring out everyone who you wouldn't normally see. I think that's great. You see people having a good time, regardless of what else is going on," she says.

The book's creators decided to work only with local photographers who repeatedly showed up at Moechella events, rather than photographers who came out on one-off assignments. They selected Harry Bushrod, Paola Calderón, Dee Dwyer, Akil Ransome, Uwaeme and Viva Ventura. (Disclosure: Dwyer is a photographer for DCist.) Orzal, Johnson, and Kymone Freeman wrote short essays contextualizing the music and the movement.

Washingtonians at a 2019 Moechella event. Viva Ventura /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go hide caption

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Viva Ventura /Courtesy of Long Live Go-Go

Johnson hopes the book serves as a physical reminder of the power of go-go music and community activism for its local audience. But he's betting it will have an appeal outside the Washington region too.

"I can only imagine how an outsider would look at the book," he says. "They'd be curious. I think that's what's special about it."

The book Long Live GoGo: The Movement will be on sale at the Moechella pop-up shop in Union Market through February 17

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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