Since arriving to COA, I have had the privilege of attending numerous demonstrations near and far; from the infamous People’s Climate Marches in New York and Bar Harbor to the D12 civil disobedience in Paris.
Many may see these demonstrations as a nuisance because we create traffic, we make a ruckus, and no one important really hears about us or our movement.
However, I see these demonstrations as beautiful reunions of activists, frontline communities, and curious wanderers. After being to a couple demonstrations, you get to see similar faces from not only around the country but also from around the world while simultaneously having the opportunity to meet new activists.
I see this beauty through photographs: a second’s moment captured into a pixelated image.Photographs can lead to both questions and answers. By looking at a photograph of an event I attended, I can remember exactly what was going on. I am able to tell multiple stories based off one image.
However, if the photograph is of an event I missed out on, I like to figure out what was happening at that moment. It encourages me to research what was going on. It’s a feeling I hope many people feel as well because photographs can depict a lot:
1. They show diversity
People come from all over the world in desperate times to show solidarity. In every demonstration I’ve attended, I’ve heard countless languages – from Spanish and French to Belarusian. I’ve met people of numerous ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds – from those suffering from floods in the Fillipines to students attending Yale studying climate science. It’s the epitome of a mixing pot. Photographs that demonstrate this diversity show that everyone is ready to take a stand against injustices.
These photographs show that it’s everyone’s responsibility to take action regardless of their background.
2. They display creativity
Where else are you supposed to show your creative inner 5-year old self without having to become a well-known artist? Prior to every big demonstration, there are massive poster and banner-making parties.
In these spaces, you get to convey your message in any way you deem necessary. It may seem like a restricting canvas because you can only say so much in one piece of cardboard. However, it’s an opportunity for the creative mind to craft quick messages, like the one depicted above.
You have the power to say what you are most affected by. No one speaks for you.
Photographs capture these moments of creativity. They archive the power and thought-process of the banner-holder and maker. They have the power to remind people of the emotions when rallying. In this poster alone, there’s a mix of anger and frustration, but also of empowerment. The granddaughters of witches who survived have the power.
We determine how our future plays out. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
3. They prove solidarity
I am one of the lucky people who has not been severely affected by the catastrophic impacts of issues like climate change. However, I also know that my community in developed New York City has also been hit by some hardships, such as socio-economic and racial discriminations.
Therefore, I know that I am obliged to empathize with those who are being disproportionately suffering due to climate change.
Many of us recognize our privilege by being able to attend these demonstrations. We try to show solidarity with our presence and by helping out these movements any other way we can, whether that’s raising awareness of a problem or sending along people to attend demonstrations.
The picture above is of a march in Albany, NY. Last year, we organized three cars to drive down to Albay in solidarity of communities who are in danger of being hurt by “bomb trains.” These trains pass through low-income communities with large loads of oil that can expose them to major risks of derailment, oil spillage and explosion.
Despite our geographical distance, the group of us who went felt it was necessary to show solidarity by showing up, attending the training, and if necessary risking arrest to make a statement to the local politicians.
After all, there is power in numbers, right?
4. They tell a story
Whenever I look at photographs like these, I start questioning every single aspect of the day, event, or moment in general.
Did these activists know each other prior to the march? Did they all just meet in New York? Why do they all look happy? Aren’t they supposed to be mad and frustrated? Aren’t protests usually depicted as violent and disturbing?
It sparks curiosity. And to me, that’s the beauty of photographs. You can retell a story if you know what was happening or you can make something up based on what’s captured.
5. They are beautiful
Seeing the streets of Paris full of people, banners, and “carbon bubbles” on D12 was breathtaking. The picture above sums up my favorite part of this unexpected rally.
This photograph gives me hope in people because they care – at least enough people to cover the walkway leading to the Eiffel Tower. It reminds me that not all people have bad intentions. Some actually do want to help others. Some are committed enough to risk arrest for the problems of others.
To be honest, these photographs are one of the reasons I continue to fight towards social justice, whether that’s immigration rights or resistance against climate injustice. These photographs are a source of empowerment.
I wish everyone could see their power and beauty.