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These May Be the Best Political Posters Ever to Hit DC Streets

A local activist is talking about a mayoral run. But first, some Peruvian-inflected posters.

Photo courtesy of Justin "Yaddiya" Johnson

Early Tuesday morning, DC commuters began seeing vibrantly-colored posters around DC, like this one my colleague Mimi Montgomery saw in Adams Morgan:

Photo by Mimi Montgomery

Sure, there are tons of posters on every corner in DC, but few are as eye catching as these, which feature jabs at Mayor Bowser (“What kind of dumbo doesn’t like mumbo”) and protest slogans (“Stop over-policing our communities”) in striking oranges, fuchsias, greens, and yellows.

It turns out, the posters have origins in Peruvian “Chicha” culture—centered around a genre of folk music looked down upon by Peruvian elites because of its association with the country’s working class. Artists in the Chicha community handprint the posters, inspired by the vibrant colors worn by their ancestors, and plaster them on city walls in the cover of the night.

In 2015, photographer Joshua Cogan filmed a mini documentary about Chicha culture for Smithsonian Folklife. Drawing comparisons between Chicha and recent fights to keep go-go culture alive in DC, Cogan reached out to local activists and artists, including Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson, one of the main organizers behind the #Moechella demonstrations. With the help of grassroots organizer Katie Petitt and artist Joseph Orzal, the team put together the People’s Platform Poster Project, which includes workshops on issues often raised in local debates, from affordable housing to statehood. The group is hosting a workshop Thursday night at the Festival Center.

The organizers sent political slogans to Cogan’s contacts in Peru—among them, folk curator Alfredo Villar and artist Ruta Mare—who handprinted and sent the posters back to DC over the course of two months. Johnson and his team, who received the posters last week, posted them in different neighborhoods overnight and plan to spread them across the District over the next few weeks. “Those colors don’t exist in DC,” says Orzal. “The whole style is completely new and we need that type of energy here.”

For months, Johnson has toyed with the idea of running for mayor, hence, the “Mayor, 2022, Yaddiya” posters.

“A lot of the youth have become disenchanted with politics,” Johnson says. “I’m basically looking to intertwine culture and politics to get people more interested again, and give them some symbols and jargon they can actually understand. I just want to speak the people’s language.”

Whether he makes a serious run for mayor or not, it’s clear the campaign would be colorful.

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Assistant Editor

Elliot joined Washingtonian in January 2018. An alum of Villanova University, he grew up in the Philadelphia area before earning a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, and DCist.com, among others. He lives in Bloomingdale.