I’ve always liked going to rallies and protests, because the energy created by direct citizen participation is so raw and genuine. In the age of constant media filtering and digital middlemen for so many of our interactions, being in the midst of chanting, laughing, and singing people makes me feel alive and human.
My earliest memories of rallies were the anti-nuclear and anti-nazi protests I went to in the mid-80s in my native Germany. I took my first protest snapshots at the mobilizations against the first Gulf War and then again in the lead-up to the Iraq War in early 2003. But it wasn’t until the tea party induced “Obamacare” disinformation wars in the fall of 2009 that I began to be more deliberate in my documentation. Paying witness to the energy and creative genius of activists pushing back against the inane death panel meme, I began building an archive of people who engage directly in democracy.
Around the same time, I was excited to finally see public outcry over what I consider to be the most consequential issue we’ve ever ignored, climate change. The nascent climate movement was providing me with amazing material to visually support the storytelling. Shortly thereafter, the Occupy movement arose to give voice and canvas to the inequities at the heart of most problems in the modern world.
I realized that a handwritten sign passionately held by its creator — if captured at the right moment — was a powerful tool for documenting social change for the same reason it tickled my soul: it encapsulates art, the written word, and human connection, three of the most essential and timeless ingredients for our cultural and spiritual survival.
Since then, displays of public participation seem to have been finding me. Whether it’s stumbling upon a human rights rally for Tibet or an anti-eviction demo in my neighborhood, it has become part of my DNA to be roaming in large (and sometimes small) crowds of animated (though always friendly) people.
Nothing though could have prepared me for the outpouring of public expression set off by the “election” of Donald Trump. Since that fateful day in November 2016, I’ve felt compelled to document — as well as participate in — rallies of all stripes, at a rate appearing too fast to even count. Roughly falling under the umbrella of “The Resistance”, these incidents of organized mobilization have spanned a wide array of concerns, commensurate with the breadth of atrocities committed by the wannabe autocrat and his minions who are currently occupying the People’s House.
As I was uploading the photos for my most recent street report chronicling the young activists calling for Senator Feinstein to support the Green New Deal resolution, I not only counted 22 folders of protest photos that have accumulated in my activism vault over the past 2 years but noticed that the themes since the 2018 midterm election — itself the result of nationwide acts of direct democracy — have been shifting from pure resistance to a more proactive, visionary energy. It occurred to me that these bold new forward-thinking demands like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or expanded voting rights that are now under serious consideration would never even have made it into mainstream debate if it weren’t for all the activists whose outrage over a flood of regressive Trump policies not only stopped the most egregious overreaches but unleashed a thirst for change not seen in this country since perhaps the civil rights era in the 1960s.
With history unfolding at a breakneck pace, I thought this might be a good moment to take a breath and pay tribute to the people and organizations whose spirited resistance and tireless advocacy have helped bring us to this point of renewed hope.