As both a photographer and someone who tends to view issues from a liberal lens, photographing Occupy Wall Street has been an ongoing struggle between trying to remain as an unbiased observer, yet agreeing with many of the issues that are at the focal point of this grass roots movement. Not being part of the story is generally essential to documentary photography, but this inner conflict has allowed me to capture a unique and intimate perspective into OWS that might otherwise not be told. This frame of reference has drawn me to the human element that often gets brushed aside by the talking heads of the political spectrum. Hippies, deadbeats, tree huggers, you name it, these people have been called it to diminish their message and marginalize them as individuals. How about "American citizens" who care deeply about the plight of a society whose current political and economic system does little towards insuring a more perfect union: establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare?
What I have hoped through my photography of OWS is for people to connect with the shared struggle, the shared humanness of those on the front lines. In engaging with them, I have found that those who are willing to sleep overnight on cement through adverse conditions to take a stand for what they believe is right are not much different at their core than you or I, nor from those of previous generations who sought to break down social barriers that long divided us as a nation. Love, joy, pain, and suffering are all visible within the confines of the Occupy movement, which is parallel to what I photograph daily from all walks of life here on the streets of New York City. What these encampments have done is strip away all the non-essential conditions we think we need to sustain life and put our human fragility on display, very nakedly for public consumption.
Given this human connectedness, OWS allows for the inclusion of all voices to be heard with equal importance. Race, gender, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status are not impediments to having your point of view recognized, which is in stark contrast to today's structure where only money equals free speech. This is true democracy in action and something I feel can be learned from and emulated on a wider scale.
Yet, despite the virtues of the movement, the sheer level of opposition from authorities on local, state and federal levels has surprised me in covering OWS. Numerous times, I have witnessed unnecessary violence towards those peacefully protesting under the pretext of "protecting and serving," leaving me to wonder just exactly who is being "protected and served." On the legislative level, municipalities have scrambled to find ways to silence their voice, using laws unintended for controlling protests to force them out of the public view. To me, this is a sign that while the Occupy movement isn't as well-oiled as, say, the Tea Party, its core message of equality and opportunity is pure and true and is ruffling the feathers of the power establishment enough that it is being squashed at all costs, even if its methods resemble images of a police state. Out of sight, out of mind.
Where this movement goes, I don't know, but as a photographer and one who cares about the whole, it inspires me to continue to cover it. In-turn, I hope my photographs inspire you to question what is important to you in regards to the way our society is run and what you are willing to do to achieve it. This movement will not be able to sustain itself just by those, who at-least by appearance, look like they've already had enough of this current version of the "American Dream."
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