Today 750,000 people marched in Los Angeles to protest. Many records were set: it was the largest march in Los Angeles in over a decade and the largest amount of people marching in any city across the country, including Washington, D.C. and New York. Intensely moving speeches were delivered by a number of our city's most powerful community organizers, politicians and activists. We’re talking about WeHo Mayor Lauren Meister, Senator Holly Mitchell, NCJW’s Hillary Selvin, Supervisor Hilda Solis, activist Jerilyn Stapleton and, of course Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, among many others. The celebrity matriarchs of Los Angeles showed up: Barbra Streisand, Natalie Portman and Jane Fonda. But none of that can truly convey what it was like to be in the middle of it. I got up early so that I could get downtown before it all started and watch and feel it. I can at least describe what it was like through my lens:
The speeches were good. Very good, in fact. But you assumed they would be. There was a comforting tone of strength, passion and protection that permeated every sentence. It was Los Angeles telling its people that it was going to do what it had to do to protect, honor and help them. One speaker told us to ask our neighbors, “What can I do for you?” Another promised that whatever D.C. took away, Los Angeles would replace. But it was how the crowd reacted to the speeches that really moved me. Like ocean swells, the sounds of hundreds of thousands of people accepting the job of resisting hate was a palpable and visceral tide that lifted everyone.
I’m not a documentarian, just a straight up photographer, so I’m less drawn to trying to capture the event through images so much as just observing and seeing what captures my attention. Usually, if I concentrate hard enough, I will see things that feel to me like humanity and that’s what I will aim at. For me, on this day, it felt like it was about the girls. It seemed like all 750,000 people were there for them. To hold them up, to build them up and to make our promises to protect them. I felt that every sign was drawn for them and that made me feel proud. I think it made all the parents proud. We spend so much time in our own little worlds — to come out en masse and have our children understand the force that is here for them. It was something to behold.
People were also angry. Peacefully angry, but angry. And they used their creative voices, in all our city’s varied languages, to express themselves. They were yelling, they were teasing, they were arguing, they were warning — and it had the effect of placing voices back in all of us. Voices that have felt unheard, of late. The march gave it back.
I was right up near the stage by City Hall. A lot of the speakers asked for a call and response from the crowd: A chant of “Stay woke!” or “Fists up!” by a someone at the mic would be immediately echoed by the crowd, in unison. But there was one man who was right behind me, he was holding tightly to his daughter and he was visibly upset. It felt like the kind of upset that he’d been feeling for a long time, maybe holding it inside and finally just now feeling that he could release it. Instead of responding to the calls of the speakers, he just would yell out: “FUCK TRUMP!!!” And then maybe realizing that his booming voice might be scaring his daughter, he would kiss and squeeze her. This repeated numerous times throughout the speeches. I felt for him. And for her.
Despite the anger, there were zero arrests on this day. And for Los Angeles, that’s really saying something. LA has never been afraid to act out in disruptive and violent ways, but not for one second did it feel like that was going to happen here. I would venture to say that this march actually felt more powerful in that respect. Violence has the effect of dividing people who should be on the same side — here, the peaceful demonstration felt heavy, forceful, real.
As someone who was looking forward to a woman in a leadership position, I happily saw, and felt, the hole of that hope replaced by half a million of them.
There was also something very beautiful about this march. I don’t know how to describe it, other than that: beautiful. I suppose the easy answer is that this is Los Angeles. The new, well-constructed, “floating cube” courthouse building stood prominently, kitty corner to City Hall, surrounding us with great light and impressive, stabilizing architecture. People dressed well and creatively. Warm smiles reflected the warm light and the city lit up the shadows in a way that is distinctively Los Angeles. We even had a reprieve from the rain and so with all this and the car-less streets, it all felt just a bit movie-like. But I don’t think anyone was surprised.
Los Angeles is also not going to be out-weirded by anyone. We’re the creative capitol of the country and that’s not just artists, musicians, actors, writers and directors… it’s a place that promotes freedom of expression in all its forms and the line between creative product and creative lifestyle is neatly blurred, accepted and adored here.
Sometimes a fist in the air feels contrived to me, but not today. Today, that was the gesture that felt the most appropriate. It was the thematic thread that ran through the t-shirts, the protest signs, the speeches, the conversations, the chants and the defiant looks. It was all one giant, powerful, impressive, meaningful, defiant fist. All at once a symbol of strength and solidarity for the largest county in America.
I felt proud to be in Los Angeles today. The city turned out, more than anywhere else in the whole country. It felt special to be here. Historic. People got up at 5am and took busses from Santa Barbara and beyond. They got on city transit and waited hours to get downtown. Many who wanted to come couldn’t make it. I saw people walking through the toughest areas of Los Angeles, too, and it made me feel part of a place that is coming together and becoming something stronger than it already was. A collective of intelligent, motivated, active, strong voices that can not only speak out for moving forward, but will fight hard not to go backward.
It was a special day. I think a lot of us felt some semblance of okay-ness for the first time in a very long time. And I think a lot of us realized that, in fact, this is exactly why we live here. You imagine that a city will hold you up in times of need. That a community is somewhere beneath all the distractions and daily life, just waiting to act, when it’s necessary. It became necessary. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It appears to be the same measure for a city.
It became clear today — Los Angeles will lead the resistance.
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