Against my better judgment, I attended a Defend Your Vote rally I found out about at the last minute here in Milwaukee. I recently had surgery for a slight malformation of my heart and seeing as COVID attacks the cardiovascular system…I really should have stayed home. Especially given what Wisconsin’s numbers are like.
But the calling of the photojournalist runs deep in my veins, even when I’m risking my life for free. So I masked up, topped off the hand sanitizer, and went before I could logic myself out of it.
(Incidentally, nothing about this post is a documentary take. I’m just showing you what I saw and giving my opinions this time around because I didn’t take good notes or do any interviews. So don’t take this as some sort of true news. It’s not Fake News but…Well, maybe it is.)
I arrived right as the event was starting up. It always takes me a few minutes to warm up into shooting candids. So I ease into things by shooting the scene, asking for portraits, and that sort of thing.
Also in doing so, I enter what I can only describe as “Stealth Mode.” As a documentary photographer, while I hold my own opinions, I can’t let that intrude into my work. There’s a tacit assumption that people tend to build when they watch me work that I’m part of the crew and therefore approve of what’s going on.
At Trump rallies, I get a lot of “thank you for being here”s, especially from the older 60+ attendees. As a black man, this is intensely interesting to me. While popular media paints broad strokes of everyone, there’s quite a bit of diversity within the MAGA-crowd in terms of ideology.
When I listen to what’s said by the main speakers, I can absolutely hear the race-war that’s being dog-whistled and occasionally bull-horned. Yet many folks aren’t what you’d classically think of as “racist.” More like they look at me and say “you’re so very well-spoken!” Unintentionally (I assume) hinting at the black men that aren’t, by their definition, well-spoken. I sound very “white.”
It’s a banal sort of racism, the “we’re all a little bit racist” kind, but very much at odds with statements made by people they share seats and votes with, such as “what about black murder rates? You’re all a bunch of animals.” I heard this gem today as well. Not speaking to me but to a BLM activist.
I had a front-row seat to an event reported on by local media. Not sure if it’s made national news but from the images I caught, I’d say my photos are the best. During Sheriff David Clarke’s speech (a very controversial Wisconsin figure), the owner or someone who works for the Serb Hall (Nick Alioto) took a microphone and announced that the Health Department was going to shut down the rally unless people sat down.
I’m not sure why; maybe because the seating was socially distanced enough but standing encouraged crowds that broke the established rules. But Clarke riled people up with “the health department and their rules,” and told them not to sit.
The Serb Hall manager tried to talk over the yelling when a man came and snatched Nick’s microphone. Then Nick snatched the guy, only to get punched for his trouble. After that, things got a little crazy.
As you can clearly see, someone who may be an event organizer showed up to try and block my view. As a documentarian, this is almost as good as the main event, so I just kept on shooting until she decided to turn and help Mr. Alioto find his feet.
Things were a bit ungrounded for a few minutes as people discussed where to take things. Finally, the keynote speakers brought people back on track and announced that they’d be taking to the streets. That like MLK and the WWII generation, they needed to take back their freedom that was being stolen. That the past four years have been hell for Republicans unable to show their support for their President thanks to the scorn of Democrats, ANTIFA, and BLM. That masks, lockdowns, and political correctness are just a few of the erosions of freedom that have taken place but they needed to fight for Trump as much as Trump is fighting for them.
I paraphrase a bit; I really should get an audio recorder…
Once the rally took to the streets, there were regular Biden voters, BLM activists, and other folks waiting to counter-protest. Things definitely got heated and there were some arguments and even some swings as people violated each other’s personal space and traded insults.
Far too much happened for me to explain everything so you’ll have to take the majority of these images as they are. I did my best to work the crowd, capturing portraits, group shots, engagements, arguments, and everything else I could.
I did have to tell a adult that no, he couldn’t start a fight with a 14-year old. Teenagers are hell; I should know, I’m a teacher. But getting in one’s face itching to fight isn’t okay, and I had to put the camera down and step in at that point.
The rally was set to end at 1:30 but ended going over by quite a bit. As people started to trickle away, I finally wrapped things up and hopped on a bus back home.
It was a decent day of shooting; I don’t have anything portfolio-worthy, but I’m glad I attended. I’m really worried about COVID exposure as it was really packed despite being an outdoor event. But so far, I feel fine.
If you liked what you read and love my shares in general (as many folks have over the years) I’ve started up a new way to support my work! I’ve struggled with the idea of Patreon and other outlets because I’m not super into promoting myself through social media and being beholden to some kind of schedule.
Instead, I came across this, which leaves things up to the whims of Fate (and your generosity, of course)! If you feel so inclined, I have a donation page now for future coffee (and battery) purchases for my posts. Thanks for reading this far!