The streets of the District are blocked and filled with bodies, once again. It’s only morning and there is already a colorful blur of counter protestors milling about Lafayette Square (and a number of other spots around the city, but this was what I saw firsthand). The plan is roughly to spread the message that alt-right attitudes are not welcome here. The energy is vibrant and kind.
Machi and I move to the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where the alt-righters are scheduled to arrive. We wait for a few hours as the crowd grows. Police draw lines in caution tape designed to keep both groups safe and separate.
Several hundred members of various alt-right affiliate groups were predicted to be at today’s rally. When they finally ascend the Metro escalators, we count a little over two dozen.
Within moments, the caution tape is broken and a swarm of people surrounds the alt-right group. No violence, but too much motion in too tight a space for my instincts. Machi and I slip out of the mob and jog some side streets to try and get some shots from a new angle.
We enter another mass of people (estimating over a thousand) near Lafayette square. We are circled around a group of dancers led by Black Lives Matter. The energy is once again vibrant and I remember why I love these events. We follow this crowd back to Lafayette Square and explore the demonstrations here. Lots of conversations happening, everyone friendly. A black man stands and stares straight ahead with the American flag hanging from a rope over a tree. I ask if he minds if I take a picture, his eyes are kind and he signals me to go ahead. A small group of us intersect for a moment around him, musing on the power of his statement.
This part of protests I love - the use of art to express. The humanity that allows us to connect and trust instantly.
But that same humanity has tribal roots. I am so grateful for the show of solidarity, but I am humbled by the reminder that people with the best of intentions can devolve...myself as no exception.
A couple wearing Trump 2020 shirts were spotted in the city, and a group of hundreds formed around them. When police saw cause for alarm and began escorting them to safety, a handful of people started throwing water bottles at the couple. Someone punched. The Trump supporters walked, eyes ahead, passive.
I watched, leaning on Machi, while people shouted and cursed at the police. Chanting who do you serve, and other harsher things that don’t need repeating here. A black officer stood with his head down in front of us, the verbal attacks happening directly in front of him.
The officers worked tirelessly, many pulling overtime to ensure the safety of all citizens present. All citizens, not just one side or the other. Please don't get me wrong: police don’t always protect the people as they should, especially people of color. Reform is necessary. But in this moment, I am not sure where the line is.
I feel physical pain when I think of our president. That someone who hates so openly, who lies so frequently, could be leading our nation humbles me. He tells it like it is, and that bothers people. I have heard this sentiment from numerous Trump supporters. He tells it like it is? Whenever I hear this I find myself shaking my head in disbelief. Does this person know that he has boasted about assaulting women, called black countries ‘shitholes,’ called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers (among many other less publicized comments)? Is this person ignorant to the countless, documented, proven lies that he tells? The morning after he was elected I woke up feeling hungover and unsafe in my skin, and I had been half-expecting him to win. I know that as a woman I am less safe in this country than a man; I have been reminded of that just about every year since puberty. But at least we had pretended like we cared as a nation...we’d held up certain ideals even if we knew a lot of folks didn’t abide by them. But President Trump didn’t even pretend to hold up those ideals. Sure, he tells it like it is alright, as he sees it in his bigoted closed mind.
I have empathy for the anger of the people throwing water bottles and punches. I am very aware of my white privilege but as a woman I know what it is like to experience bigotry time after time, until one act tips the scales and all your pain is released into one moment. I empathize fully with disproportionate reactions; I have had them. But how often do those sorts of actions effect change? Humans don’t learn well when they are humiliated, they tend to get scared and go into relative fight or flight mode.
The good I saw yesterday was vast and healing but the violence was grounding. There is a lot of work to be done.
Recent events have me musing on the idea of being welcomed. I can’t conceive of anyone not being warmed by the feeling; even the most introverted introverts know what I mean.
To me, welcoming feels like the harmony that comes from a group of people trusting that their story reads better with you in it (mirrored by you trusting the same of them).
Last month, a high school friend from photo class (coincidentally now also a photographer) invited me to shoot on her team for her cousin’s wedding. We met in a beautiful hotel tucked away in the verdant hills of Pennsylvania the night before the event. On the surface, it was like any other wedding I'd shot. Charge gear, check gear, study the shot list and check gear again. But from the moment Sophia answered the door, it felt different. It had been nine years since our graduation and we’d seen each other once, early on, in that time span. Sophia is grown now; a radiant, brilliant woman confident in her craft. But she is still the girl I used to trade mix CDs with, who shared my youthful obsession with horses and art and is always game for an adventure.
The wedding day was a series of warming moments:
Sophia was the only person I knew before that wedding but it quickly became obvious that I was among friends. Everyone in the wedding party acted as if they trusted my judgement, rolling with any shot ideas I had with enthusiasm and flexibility. My photos reflected the comfort their trust gave me - I felt like I could start to see the progress I’m working towards.
a few more images from that night that are less technical but more fun:
Another series of events prompted these thoughts. I have spent the better part of the past year working full time at my family’s vet clinic and building my photography business on the weekends. Making my work financially viable has proved challenging, but far less so when you have a family that has opportunities and chooses to share them with you. Just before Sophia’s cousin’s wedding, I was told the new housing I’d been counting on had fallen through (twelve days before move-in day). I felt scared and frustrated, and loathe to tell my family lest they feel like I was asking for more from them. They found out anyhow, and quickly made it very clear that I was safe and welcome with them until I sorted things out. It took them one moment of kind and concise speech (and sweeping generosity) to alleviate my fear and present me with an incredible advantage. Now, instead of having under two weeks with a full plate to find affordable housing, I was free to continue my work and begin a far more thorough, thoughtful approach to choosing a living situation. My gratitude was so big it searched for any avenue of expression - cooking, gardening, kitchen tidying; anything to bring a tiny piece of the love back around.
Because I was treated as if I belonged, as if I were welcome, I found it far easier to be my best self.
True, we can overcome being unwelcome with resilience and patience, but what a brilliant thing to be loved in the first place and be saved the trouble.
I could go on about this topic, as it is near to my heart and (I think) relevant to events currently circulating within the political sphere, but I think this is where I’ll leave it today. Thank you for reading and be well.
Special thanks to Shay for taking the time to lend his valuable editing suggestions.
Thanks to Sophia and everyone present at the Davis wedding, and my family for their incredible support and kind patience.
All photos in this post were shot for the SOBED creative (owned by Sophia Bednarik), you may enjoy their work by clicking here.