"Us Kids Know"
Early in his remarks this past Saturday in Washington, D.C., Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior Cameron Kasky, proudly exclaimed, “Welcome to the Revolution.” Two generations ago, the late Gil Scott-Heron warned, “The Revolution will not be televised.” Make no mistake: This past Saturday’s March for Our Lives was designed as a television spectacle, which raises the question of whether it will result in the sort of revolution Gil Scott-Heron had in mind.
I spent Friday watching the Verizon, sound, and assorted other construction crews assemble the infra-structure that would support the event, including the media’s coverage. The sheer amount of cabling was astonishing. I could only wonder who designed and coordinated the installation of the speaker towers that lined Constitution Avenue. While the stage was under construction, the media was converging, with the major cable news networks building sets for remote broadcasts two blocks away and satellite transmission trucks moving into position along 3rd Street.
For those who would attend Saturday’s event, the sight lines were terrible, but proximity to the speakers and performers was not the issue. This was no party. It was no disco. It was serious business.
I recognized the problem Friday as I scouted photographic vantage points. When I arrived on Saturday at 7AM, the problems were even more apparent. Even though I could have been in the first five or six rows made available to the public, the sight lines were blocked by a television camera tower, as well as by a crane holding a second camera. Within 20 minutes, I knew this was a trap. Once the crowd filled in, there would be no escape and essentially only one photograph to be had.
I left, walking against the crowd that was beginning to trickle in. Within an hour or two, those assembling on the street would become a frozen tidal wave of humanity. Serving as props, those hundreds of thousands would be penned in like cattle by a combination of plastic and cement barriers lining the street. The result was an empty lane that provided access for emergency vehicles, alongside a sea of spectators running from 15th to 3rd Streets.
The question remains: Who is correct, Kasky or Scott-Heron? The answer is both. The March for Our Lives certainly served as a sledge hammer, driving a gigantic stake in the ground while millions of people watched the foreceful down swing on television, but marches will not result in meaningful gun control. Instead, the effort requires a membership organization that rivals the NRA in terms of money, lobbying, and headcount. Such an organization will need chapters in every state. It will need to create legislative scorecards and an effective means to communicate with its membership. Most importantly, its membership must consist of registered voters who vote. No small task, nor one that is telegenic. There is good news, however. Stoneman student David Hogg and a number of his fellow students have formed Never Again MSD, an “American student-led gun control organization that advocates for tighter regulations to prevent gun violence.”
Let me be clear: Like many others, I have been impressed with how articulate the students from Stoneman have been from the outset. I still recall the first Sunday morning following the shooting. Five kids seated on stools that lined a street, laying down the ground rules that the media would be required to abide by: "You will deal with us on our terms, not yours." All five Sunday morning news shows came to that site to conduct interviews.
So here are some of my other observations and experiences:
The Students. After watching David, Emma, Cameron, and the others over the last month or so, I was not the least bit surprised that all of the speakers were so articulate. I suspect that those who will be applying to college next year will have no problem getting into the schools of their choice, with the ability to upgrade. That may sound a bit cynical. I suspect all would have preferred not to have been thrust front and center. Yet, chance plays a big role in how people's lives unfold. I suspect we will be hearing about these students for some time to come as they pursue their lives and pursue the opportunities that will inevitably present themselves. I have no doubt David Hogg will be on the other side of the camera if he decides to pursue television journalism.
I did have the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the Newseum involving the Stoneman student journalists. It was moderated by Margaret Brennan, the host of CBS's Sunday morning show, Face the Nation. The students were treated like rock stars. Afterwards, I spoke with one of the chaperones. She told me that one of the students had confessed to being very nervous about meeting some of the singers that would perform Saturday afternoon at the March. The chaperone assured the student that the singers are the ones who are awestruck.
The Crowd. The crowd was a very friendly one, filled with lots of families. As has become the custom, people had put a lot of work into their signs and placards. Some were ROFL worthy, There were very few counter-protesters. I saw only one sign that objected to infringement on Second Amendment freedoms--Justice Stevens reminded us today that it is seriously open to question whether there are Second Amendment freedoms anywhere as broad as the NRA claims. There were a number of pro-lifers in the crowd. One of those folks was very good at baiting the crowd, which resulted in a life lesson for one teenager. She really got in the guy's face. She was either pushed or she slipped, but either way she ended up on the ground in tears. Her parents provided calming support, and then told her that next time she shouldn't take the bait.
I was surprised how quickly the crowd dispersed once the event was over. They were extremely creative in how they disposed of their signs. Many were used as wallpaper, placed between iron fence polls in front of museums on the Mall and the temporary barriers in front of the White House fence. Others carpeted the street in front of the side entrance to the Trump International Hotel. I came across another cardboard carpet at one of the entrances to the Metro Center station.
Organization and Security. It comes as no surprise that the D.C. and federal governments know how to manage large scale public events like the March, but their efforts were nevertheless impressive. Streets were blocked; an emergency path ran the full length the route; medical tents were clearly visible; marshals were marked by their florescent green vests; the Metro was readily accessible, running extra trains; the street closures were well managed by traffic cops; helicopters regularly passed overhead; food trucks lined several streets adjacent to the March's route; and there were some very high-tech monitoring stations. Well done.
Canadian Embassy. Our friends to the north are great people. Their embassy was located about two blocks from the stage. Many countries would have closed the gates and posted guards, but the Canadians allowed hundreds of people to hang out on the staircase and in the plaza. I have no doubt that there is a detailed legal memo somewhere in a Canadian file cabinet (more likely on a server) concluding that making such allowances is not a violation of U.S. law. Unfortunately, the Canadians did not open their balcony space to the public which is understandable, but which would have been great for photographers.
The Elusive Film Crew. The March organizers applied for a permit for the Mall, but were turned down because some college group was filming some sort of video or film highlighting college activities. Media reports indicated that the production involved a very small number of people. I and others were suspicious that someone wanted to impede the March. Maybe Trump was concerned with unfavorable crowd size comparisons. Whatever. Sometime around 2:30PM, I headed over to the Mall. I didn't see any film crews, but the Mall was lined with Port-a-Potties, which would have made for a nice backdrop to Frisbee frolicking. One of the major media outlets should have investigated.
The Heartbreak. There were a number of participants who were celebrating the lives of close relatives and friends who had died from gun violence. Their presence brought the cost of gun violence home. I watched CNN interview Andy Parker, who is the father of Alison Parker, the reporter who was shot to death while broadcasting live on television. Afterwards, he spoke with a number of people in the crowd, and posed for photographs. I felt bad about this and other similar situations -- people who regularly appear on television whenever there is a mass shooting. I certainly admire Parker for continuing to speak out on behalf of his daughter. And I imagine this is one way to channel ongoing grief. Nevertheless, it strikes me as somewhat of a trap for these individuals.
I also wonder about the Stoneman students. Organizing and participating in the March and other activities ways to channel and sublimate grief. I can't help but wonder, however, how these students will deal with their feelings once the school year comes to a close and many head off to college, where they will not have each other's collective support.
Funding. The students are obviously the story, and a good one at that. I, however, would have liked know much more about who was funding the March. The students have entered the political realm, and as a member of the public, I would like to know which special interest groups are funding that effort. Do not take that as a criticism of the students or the funders.
Toward the end of the weekend, some reports about funding did come out. For example, television reports indicated that New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, had made the team's plane available to the Stoneman students for transport back and forth between Florida and D.C. A foundation associated with Gabby Giffords, the former U.S. Congresswoman who was shot in an assassination attempt in 2012, provided some resources. Yet, I would like to know more about who paid for the staging and security, as well as who helped organize the event.
Hotel. During the four days I was in Washington, D.C., I stayed at the Watergate Hotel. The price was right, and the karma seemed appropriate.
The Photographs. There are additional photographs on my portfolio website, and I will be posting more over the next several days, so check that site if you want to see more photographs than I have posted below. Give me a day or two to sequence them. http://jacksiegelphoto.com.
Kids March: PA Speaker Delay Tower 6
Why We March
Constructing the Main Stage Friday Mid-Day (Photographed from the Roof of the National Gallery--Modern Wing)
Keeping Them Safe
On the Air: Craig Melvin of MSNBC, 7AM
The Peaceful Exercise of Rights Guaranteed to All Citizens
"We're With the Students (Future Leaders)"
Part Voter Registration Drive
Part Merchandising Opportunity
Part Protest Opportunity
Andy Warhol Lives: 15 Minutes of Fame
A Second Confrontation
After the Confrontation
Part (Large) Anti-Trump Rally
The Multitudes Gather
And in the Other Direction
"No More Dead Kids"
Explaining Why She Marches
Sorry Brian, I Love You, But This Was the Best Photograph of the Day
No More Silence or Violence
CNN's Alisyn Camerota Interviews the Father of Alison Parker (Who was Gunned Down During a Television Broadcast in 2015)
Unfortunately What It Is All About
Actually, Many On the Right Are Trying Their Best
A Sea of Humanity
Let's Play Hardball
"Teach Your Parents Well, and Feed Them on Your Dreams" CSN
One Way To Dispose of the Signs
Another Way to Dispose of the Signs
And Still Another Way To Dispose of the Signs (Federal Triangle Metro Entrance)
Some Still Going Strong
And Some Going Not So Strong
In Front of the White House
Photographer's Notes: I normally shoot in full manual mode, but I did something stupid. I left home wearing a pair of glasses with Transition lenses. To assure proper exposure, I decided to shoot in Aperture priority mode, which is the first time I've ever used that mode. It worked nicely, but I still prefer full manual. I will not make the Transition lenses mistake again.
Nobody is going to win a Pulitzer Prize for any of the photographs that were taken at the March for Our Lives. That thought came to me as I enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs on exhibit at the Newseum. Most of those photographs focus on individuals in perilous situations or conditions. Saturday's photographic effort was fun and the event was worthy of documentation, but the photographs are pretty plain vanilla.
Planning played a large part in my effort. By examining the environment the day before, I was able to develop a list of shots. I knew I needed a rooftop, and once I saw that the Newseum was open, I purchased a ticket for Saturday admission. I didn't want to be frozen out. I also decided to head to its rooftop on Saturday before anyone took to the stage. That turned out to be a good decision. By 1:30PM, the crowd on the roof was 5 to 10 deep, so photographs became impossible. When all is said and done, a street full of people looks pretty much the same whether you make the photograph at 11:30AM or 1:30PM, so lock in the shots while you can.
On Friday, I did scout the roof of the National Gallery's modern wing. Unfortunately, it was closed to the public the day of the March. I would have to say that museum's development office fell short. They could have easily sold a limited number of tickets to photographers and news crews.
I applied for a press pass two or three days after the event was announced. I never heard back from the organizers, which was not a good sign. I still paid the press tent a visit in person on Friday. I knew it wasn't going to happen. Space was very limited. I listened to a conversation between two professionals about their experience at this year's Oscars. I knew then that I was in real trouble. I did get turned down, but if you don't ask, well you don't get the pass.
I did manage to get into one closed event. After three individuals referred me to a higher authority, the Newsuem's head of media relations let me into the panel discussion of Stoneman journalists after I presented one of the my press credentials. The light was terrible, but I did get to see some Stoneman students.
It becomes increasingly apparent that I should have been a director. Photographing a march or demonstration is akin to "street" photography, whatever that is. Yet, I want clean backgrounds, free of baby carriages, water bottles, and extraneous and unattractive body parts in the wrong part of the frame. I also don't like Port-a-Potties in the frame. Well, with 800,000 people milling about, that's a tall order. Can be frustrating, but I made the necessary adjustments.
As for iPhone photographers, get the fuck out of my shot, assholes. I loved the two women who saw me in a good position taking photographs; then walked in front of me, saying, "That's a great angle you have;" and then proceeded to take selfies for five minutes blocking my shot. You wait them out, but GTFOOMSA. And then there was the woman in red who was filming a video, and kept obliviously walking in and out of my shot. No photographer worth his or her salt would pull that crap. Here is what is so frustrating about these folks: One study showed that people don't even bother looking at 90% of what they photograph or film with their camera phones.
As is usually the case, I had some nice conversations with members of the brother- and sisterhood, including two photographers who had a combined five Lecia M class cameras hanging from neck straps I used two Sony A7riii, and I was impressed with the autofocus in high speed mode. The G Master lenses are great (16-35, 24-70, and 70-200). It's a good kit, but I am thinking of pulling my Lecia M out of the drawer. It's a fun camera to shoot with.
Post Script. Photographers should print every photograph that they plan to post online before posting it. As I began to print my photographs from the March, I realized I needed to make some major adjustments to the files, and then reprint them. Online is great, but a physical print is where you see that shadows are too dark, certain colors are oversaturated, and the overall tonal range requires an upward shift in the curve or more contrast.