The Theatre, the Wall, and Shaw


In Ruben Castaneda‘s S Street Rising, Shaw is described as “a vibrant cultural center” (50). I wanted to explore what Castaneda meant by this, so I set out into Washington to research the area myself. He was right. It is a cultural center and it is quite vibrant. But I feel there’s more to that.

For the first portion of my project, I look at the Howard Theatre and the general history of Shaw. I look at the past and the present. My research had no clear goals in the beginning because I wanted to see where this journey would take me. It took me on a path that explored how Shaw changed over time and whether these changes were as good or as bad as people of the community said they were. The Howard Theatre became my commonplace and it was my entry point into Shaw.

I soon discovered that the image of Shaw was gilded and presented as an up and coming neighborhood. I think there’s some truth to that, but I began to give commentary on the consequences of Shaw as well. I began to give commentary on the plight of older residents and what can be abstractly defined as a “violent” takeover. Ultimately, this shifted my perspective of Shaw and led me on another path to explore how gentrification affected the people of Shaw.

As I delved deeper into my project, I realized the importance of moving out of my entry place and exploring the environment around it. This led me to a quaint little cafe called Uprising Muffin outside of the Shaw-Howard U Metro Station. Well, to be truthful, my friend did because she wanted a smoothie. Upon entering Uprising Muffin, I had some sort of epiphany. I saw a mural that I felt best condensed what I came to learn about Shaw.

This website is the home of all of my findings for my research, and then some. I have attached links below that will make it easier to navigate this site and understand the factors at play in Shaw.

Surprisingly Unsurprising Elections

The first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday has been considered a rejection of the mainstream parties, and a surprising victory for the two political “outsiders” who will move onto a second round in May: the centrist Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (Onward!) and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. The New York Times, for example, called it “a full-throated rebuke of the mainstream parties” and The Economist warned that the “first-round result could also presage the break-up of the French party system.” Although the results certainly indicate a historical ousting of the Socialist and Republican Parties, which have been governing France for most of the past 50 years, the results were hardly unexpected, and the two leading candidates are not political outsiders.

In his article “A Historic But Unsurprising Election In France – Why It Was a Long Time in Coming,” Martin A. Schain suggests that the recent French election round isn’t all that it’s made out to be. The first paragraph, written above, explains exactly what he means by this.

The election has been seen by many as the “rejection” of mainstream sentiment, the “victory” of “outsiders,” and a fight for the right to rule. It’s the same fantasy that gripped American elections in November of 2016. The outsiders defeat all odds pit against them and they win because they are the true representation of the people. To have this representation is the foundation of a strong republic. However, if Schain were to provide commentary on the nature of these elections, he would likely agree that this is isn’t true, especially for the French election.

Schain seems very doubtful of people who feel this way, because to him, this was a story too good to be true. The last sentence of this paragraph begins with the world, “although.” That immediately refutes the beautiful imagery of struggle and success (although that’s debatable depending on who you ask) that came immediately before. It turns out that the outcome of the election was “hardly unexpected” and that the candidates were not “outsiders” at all. Heartbreaking. Shattering. Devastating.

So, why this? I think I’ll leave it to Martin A. Schain himself to explain.

The Geography of Politics, the Geography of Civic Identity

David Fleming, in his City of Rhetoric, claims that civic identity and interaction are more closely linked to physical locations than one might think. This claim is grounded in “Part One” of his book which is titled, “The Geography of Politics.”  Fleming further splices his argument into two chapters named “The Placelessness of Political Theory” and “A New Civil Map of Our Time.” In order to make his argument, Fleming first defines the complexity of civic identity and then how it fits into various environments ranging from enormous nation-states to local neighborhoods. In full, his claims speak volumes towards the polarization of the American political climate and the change in day-to-day interactions between American Citizens.

“The Placelessness of Political Theory,” before addressing contemporary political beliefs, aims to first define what it means to be a citizen. Fleming first introduces a standard definition posed by the federal government linking meaning to citizenship, but the definition forces us to “bracket our most fundamental worldly differences when we enter the political arena, our identity there independent of, even transcending, our otherwise divisive particularities” (page 20).

In other words, we are stripped of all of our differences, all of our experiences, and all of the characteristics that govern the way we live. Once we are separated from our uniqueness, only then are we citizens. Fleming then points out how problematic this is when applied to contemporary political beliefs all around the country. The latter half of this chapter focuses on the differences in beliefs of different political parties and how experiences can vary among demographics. If we all followed the same definition posed by the federal government, is anyone in the United States really a citizen?

In the second chapter, “A New Civil Map of Our Time,” Fleming develops his argument by illustrating the way that the unique traits that make up who we are play out within the scope of a specific environment and how physical space can ultimately transform citizen interactions. He argues this by saying, “Territorial publics can be distinguished by how much we know about and are familiar with them; the extent to which we have affinity for and derive emotional sustenance from them; how likely we are to have a voice and be heard in them; how open they are to our differences and conflicts; the extent to which they are independent of other publics; and how effectively they solve their own problems” (page 38).

And thus, we project ourselves a certain way in a certain place and that place affects us in a similar fashion. Once we understand this, we can begin to imagine how different spaces of different physical capacities affect us differently whether positively or negatively.

If people never leave a location where they have spent most of their life in, if they don’t meet others that come from a different walk of life than they do, then what is the point of anything? What is the point of this country? What is the point of democracy? We live in a unique country that affords us the right to speak for or against anything and anyone. If we don’t wish to fracture the republic further, if we don’t wish to destroy our democracy and everything that makes it work, we should at least consider what Fleming is trying to pose.