Occasional Moments of Brilliance

Photography that is always great, and occasionally brilliant.

Posts tagged ‘photojournalism’

Sunday Protest

It was already hot late Sunday morning as people began to gather at the Petrillo band shell in Chicago’s Grant Park when Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine began his set. Eschewing the stage, he performed on the more crowd friendly main floor as a group of veterans against the war held back the spectators. Beside the performance area, news media crews set up their equipment, each accompanied by at least two hired security guards. A handful of police strolled through observing the scene. As the temperature increased the protesters, now arriving singly and in large groups collected in the shade. Walking through the gathering groups it was difficult to get a sense for the overall message. Communists, the occupy movement, corn subsidy opposition, US veterans against the war, and anti-drone war activists (complete with hand made replicas) each set up meeting points one after the other with the songs of the Hare Krishna’s droning in the background.

As the sun beat down and the temperature moving into the 90’s, the march got underway with Rev. Jesse Jackson and the group of veterans leading the way. They were followed by each of the other disparate groups one after the other. The entire march was hemmed in on both sides by a solid blue line of police officers. As this river of shouting, flag waving humanity moved through the streets with chants and slogans filling the air…it seemed that for every heavily documented shoving and shouting match with police there was a joke or conversation between those in uniform and those without that went unnoticed and unrecorded. The march ended in front of a small stage set up at the nearest intersection to McCormack Center. During a presentation by Afghani women who had witnessed the horrors of war in their homeland, a local artist erected his portable easel and created an oil painting of the scene. Afterwards, groups of veterans came to the platform to share their stories and reasons for discarding their War on Terror campaign ribbons, which were then thrown over the police line towards the convention center. Only a few of these men and women had visible physical scars to match their fresh emotional wounds.

Quickly after the presentations ended, riot police moved in to clear the streets. They moved in to split the crowd into manageable sections. Bottles and sticks flew through the air towards the police as punches and batons were swung at the citizens. As the pockets of protesters shrank, the resistance became more passive and eventually evolved into police and demonstrators staring each other down over long rows of barricades. A national news reporter was broadcasting an exaggerated account of the violence and was quickly shouted down by the nearby demonstrators. The crew moved away to record their version in peace.

As the sequestered protesters and cops stared each other down in the heat, there began a conversation. A young demonstrator began chiding some officers for being on the wrong side of the protest. He argued that before too long, the police would feel the 1% reach into their lives and pocketbooks as well. Surprisingly, one of the officers responded. What unfolded was a dialogue between establishment and change agitator. As it turned out, they were both Chicago public servants. One was a police sergeant, and the other a public school teacher. These conversations are what many in the crowd possibly hoped for on some level…to be heard by individuals in the establishment, instead of roughed up, chased away or arrested. This continued for several minutes until another demonstrator happened by and saw an opportunity to verbally abuse the officer. At this, the others involved quickly lost interest and returned to their silent vigil. Which was how the event ended. Demonstrators moved away by twos and threes, while police descended on the nearby White Castle for sliders and Cokes.

Time for a Change

The mood that surrounded the Picasso sculpture was determined and hopeful around midday in Daley plaza on Friday. A sea of red t-shirted nurses crowded close to the stage to hear speakers, sing, and watch a skit parodying the G8 leaders. While on the periphery was everyone from Dr. Jill Stein, Green Parry Presidential candidate, and a suit wearing man in a skull mask to a woman dressed in revolutionary war costume with a sign declaring the right to peaceful demonstration. Mixed in were a few knots of Chicago police, and several news crews. Furthest away from the platform curious office workers and tourists paused or snapped photos on their mobile phones.

These men and women from around the world had filed out of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Tower just north of the river several hours before in a column fifteen feet wide and hundreds of feet long. In addition to the red shirts, many sported iconic/familiar green felt style caps complete with feather. They marched en masse down to Daley plaza, all the while being cheered on by observers, the odd encouraging horn honk and even a homeless man who had appropriated one of the group’s signs. They were advocating for a financial transaction, or Robin Hood tax on Wall Street speculation. Their goal for these funds is to wipe out some of the major health issues of American citizens, and people around the world. The event closed with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello playing a brief but energetic set, accompanied by enthusiastic crowd involvement.

As the nurses dispersed there was a brief, pregnant pause before a younger, much louder protest group emerged from the crowd, most wearing black masks, took to the streets of the Loop shouting slogans and stopping traffic. Once they turned onto Michigan Avenue, the police presence picked up including a unit of mounted officers shadowing from a distance. As they moved north of the Pritzker Band shell, some of the leaders were having animated phone conversations with what turned out to be members of another equal sized group which could soon be seen 100 yards to the right being held back by a squad of police bike units. Once we came into sight, the other group pushed through the bicycle line or jumped over medians and the groups merged in a rush of hugs and high fives. Now doubled in size, they continued northwards to the river. At this point there were a few instances of pushing and shoving between police and demonstrators. Each of these was recorded by an instant swarm of video and still cameras, as the rest of the group surged on. When the group reached the river abutment one man scaled the side and tore down half of a NATO banner before being hauled down by police, but soon escaping their clutches with assistance from his colleagues. Once the entire group was on the bridge the police moved in, closed the bridge and split the crowd into smaller sections who were dispersed with minimal violence.