A Photographer’s Perspective of the Boston March for Our Lives Rally 2018

The complete archive of my photos of the march can be found here.

This isn’t an intentionally political post, but I don’t like guns. I had one opportunity to fire a gun as a ~14-year-old in my uncle’s backyard. I declined the offer. I understand the issue is more nuanced than a single Facebook one-liner saying the world is safer/less-safe because a gun is or isn’t present. This post is about my photography experience, and because I’m human, my thoughts about the march.

I’d like to thank Denise O’Brien and Jeff Hall for providing me with a press pass for the march. While I never saw the need to stand on the podium, I appreciated the security it provides when photographing an already-emotional group of people. I do not represent a media outlet, so I like to think it’s my body of work that makes the organizers agree to my requests. I realize it’s largely due to my last-minute pleading, and the fact that this isn’t an in-demand music festival. Everyone is volunteering.

I knew I had to get to Madison Park is Boston/Roxbury at around 10AM. I wasn’t too familiar with the area and the last time I was even close was likely when I visited my to-be-wife at Northeastern. It had been 15 years, and even the Northeastern campus didn’t look familiar. The park was large, though the dot on google map was very specific. I could see helicopters nearby, so I knew I was close, but I wasn’t seeing the conglomerate of people I was expecting. While I was a quick walk from the affluent South End, and not far from the even more affluent Back Bay, it felt I was in a world away. I was surrounded by condemned buildings, and lots of weeds and trash. I researched this when I got home and came upon this story describing the years of delay with this development while projects like Assembly Row and the Seaport District seem to explode with new buildings and developments overnight.

With the help of some helpful police officers, I was eventually directed to the front of the high school, and the anticipated collection of huddled protesters.

I walked up to the small media table and let the two nice ladies know that I was on a list of media pass recipients. I responded affirmatively when they asked if I was ‘Jason’, but immediately questioned how they knew my name. Were they so obsessed with my site and photography work that I achieved a low-level of celebrity in their minds? No. They said it was because I was the only freelancer on the list, but I didn’t question how they knew I was not otherwise associated with a news outlet. I suppose I could have worn my  April O’Neil, Peter Parker, or Jimmy Olsen outfits to fit in (and yes, those are the only fictional photographers I can think of right now).

I politely asked if there were bathrooms available and was instructed to enter the vocational school while it was still unlocked. The nice man inside instructed me to go through the teaching salon for the bathroom, which I at first assumed was a mistake. He told me it wasn’t. As I waited for the bathroom I was surrounded by mirrors, mannequins, and stools in various forms of disarray. It looked very dated, like something out of an early 1980s movie. It did not look like this. The colors and overall atmosphere of the entire school seemed dated, and I felt both out-of-place and out of present-time. This boring anecdote would help shape the foundation the day’s lesson that the students (and organizers) were likely trying to teach.

After the quick school tour I was presented with the first opportunity for photography. Marchers were putting final touches on signs, listening to the marching band, and getting started on some familiar chanting. There was a nervous excitement in the air. It looked like people could burst into laughter, hugs, or tears at any moment. I overheard a women tell her friend that she’d never seen so many white people in Roxbury before. I chuckled to myself, but didn’t know enough to share in her observation. I had never been there before.

A woman with a megaphone called for the march to start and repeated a set of constraints for participation. If you were under 25, you couldn’t participate in the march and needed to be on the sidelines. Or, get to the end of the march. This was a rally for the youth by the youth, and the youth needed to be the front and center for both the audience and media.

Anyone can have a quick naive, dumb, and ignorant thought that flashes in the brain for a short second before being flagged as ignorant and disposed of. I had mine at this time. The march was already exuding the same power as the women’s march in 2017, and due to my gender I wasn’t directly the target audience for that march. This march was for those under 25 year olds. Where was my march!?! I quickly remembered my privilege. I should be happy I don’t need a march today. It would be like entering the March for Hunger on a full stomach and wondering why you were being excluded.

The frontline of the march was powered by the screaming of emotional teenagers. When I was in high school I was emotional over the storyline for Earthbound, the chorus of Megadeth’s A Tout Le Monde, and why Metallica’s Load didn’t sound as good as their older stuff. I can’t relate to these kids, but I can respect them for what they’re doing.

Armed with only my zoom lens I was at a significant disadvantage as I followed in front of the very slow-moving parade of marchers. I needed at least 10 feet of space between me and my target, and fellow photographers with wide-angle lenses stayed right in the kids faces. I was able to get some good shots, but it was more of a challenge than it needed to be.

This was also the first time when the press badge gave me a bit of confidence. The aforementioned lady with the megaphone shouted at the crowd to get out of the way, unless you were staff or press. For the day, I was press, and those who were not were in my way and being yelled at with a megaphone.

After I felt as if I over-stayed my welcome in front of the frontline, I positioned myself in front of a medical building on Columbus Ave. A group of patients and medical staff lined the second floor, and through the glass, waved down at the march. This gave the crowd a reason to smile, and look to their right, making some interesting photos for me.

I believe that a 16 year-old can understand the weight of the situation. Just because years of rejection and gravity hasn’t crushed them yet, doesn’t mean they can’t be optimistic that they can influence a change that feels like common sense to them. That’s not the case for a 5 year-old, and there were plenty of little kids holding signs. While their terrified or stoic faces were likely nerves and shock for being around so many screaming people, the still photo told a sadder story, as if the kid was feeling every emotion of the poster that their parents gave them to hold. They’re training for the frontline, but hopefully that won’t be a role that needs filling in the future.

The sidewalks along Columbus Ave were crawling with congestion at around the halfway point and without a proper vantage point my zoom lens was unusable. I walked up the steps of one of the fancy brownstones in the South End to give me about 10 feet of elevation. I was joined on the stairs by a man and two woman, who were all drinking Bloody Marys in nice glassware so I concluded that they lived there. While they may have shooshed me off their steps on a normal day, they greeted me with some small talk about the impressive turnout. One of the women begged the man to go to their roof deck to take a picture, claiming she was too lazy to go up herself. It crossed my mind to invite myself up, but I didn’t gather the confidence before that window closed. With the friendly energy in the neighborhood I think there was a chance he would have agreed to let me into his house for a bit as I was wearing an official looking badge. The morning Bloody Marys probably would help loosen his guard as well.

After leaving the steps the sidewalks were so congested that they were moving slower than the actual march. I took a left on Dartmouth Street to catch my breath a bit, and meet the march on the Commons.

The gathering on the Commons was impressive. They had no idea what was coming towards them. I just hoped the kids had a voice left for their speeches.

The crowd was too dense for me to see the speeches. I think my press pass would have gotten me on the podium, giving me an unobstructed view of the stage, but it was crowded with a few dozen professionals with a zoom lens. I wouldn’t capture anything that they wouldn’t capture, plus, I think it would get a bit boring.

The speakers were all young people, I think. Again, I couldn’t see them. A Parkland survivor spoke about her experience, but the most impactful speech came from someone discussing the economic and racial disparities in reporting gun crimes. It’s expected in poorer neighborhoods like Roxbury, but it’s a national crisis when it happens in a more affluent Parkland, Florida.

There was criticism that the Women’s March in 2017 was largely suburban white folks with good hearts, but not necessarily the perspective or hardship needed to speak for over half of the population of earth. I don’t know why this march started in Roxbury, but I like to think it was to get some of these white suburban folk to a part of Boston they may otherwise never go to. I worked for me.

There were many people in tears during these speeches, and I didn’t see the need to stick a camera near their face.

I read criticism that the speeches were just anecdotes and personal sob stories, with no plan for actual change. I think those critics missed the point. The purpose of the rally was to get emotions and energy high so that change can follow. If enough of the crowd is convinced to vote, the change will come. These kids had more experience with gun violence than most elder newsmen on Fox News criticizing their wisdom.

In my opinion, the energy of the rally didn’t match the energy of the march. I think people got tired, and that’s understandable. It was a long day. It started snowing in the mid afternoon and there seemed to be large exodus away from the commons.

 

The counter protest was minimal, and expected. A group of 12+ police officers surrounded a few men and women to make sure no one treaded on them. The capes they wore said not to do that as well. One made the slippery slope argument that if we were to  ban AR-15s, what guns would we ban next. Where would we stop? Would guns get to marry horses? I stopped paying attention. People don’t go to a rally like this to have their minds changed.

One man held an error-ridden sign in the middle of the Garden-Common passthrough. My first thought was that he lost a bet. My second thought was that the order of words is important. I walked away and through, like everyone else.

Why do I bother with a media pass for these events when my photos ultimately just end up in a Flickr set and on a site that’s buried very deep in the web? It gives me a comfortable purpose and place in these events. It gives me a rewarding job that I take seriously, even if millions of similar photos exist. I can still be proud in my own work.

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