After ten days of witnessing a massive global reaction to George Floyd’s killing and realizing that the pandemic is no longer dominating the headlines, I wanted to experience or partake in some small and safe way in this extraordinary call for action. On a sunny Sunday morning, I checked the local New York news to see what was happening in the city that I may want to photograph. There was to be a Meditation Protest at the Brooklyn’s Fort Green Park at 10 am that was both interesting and safe. Actually, I never heard of a meditation protest, so I decided to check it out with my camera and personal protection gear in hand.
When I arrived at precisely 10 am, folks were beginning to enter the park keeping some social distancing bringing with them their blankets, children, pets, and handmade cardboard placards with a protest message for all to see. I was struck by the growing number of this simple yet powerful art form that we are witnessing throughout the country and was pleased to be able to photograph them to my heart’s content. Protest text messages have been a mainstay of Contemporary Art, although it has a longer history. Pop artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barabra Kruger and street artists like Banksy and Jean-Michel Basquiat have been using text messages as a form of “art protesting” both the irony and abuses of society. It remains an essential tool for activists who use signs, banners, posters, and, more recently, the cardboard placard to protest. A simple torn piece of cardboard using a marker or pen to awaken in us a much needed societal change…erasing systemic racism.
Deep in my heart as a Latinx, I want this movement to produce the actions that so many protests held since Donald Trump became president have yet to produce ….systemic change for people of color. I want to believe more than ever that these cardboard signs that speak about “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop Police Brutality” and “Silence is Complicit” are part of a revelation and a “Basta Ya” of how we as a nation can no longer endure the pain of inequality without it destroying our humanity.
By 11 am, the park was filling up, and social distancing was not being carried out by many, which concerned me. I mainly used my telephoto lens, which allows me not to get too close to folks. I very much loved the vibe of this peaceful experience. The protest represented folks of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds, including many interracial couples. The organizers offered masks, sanitizers, water, and snacks. I accepted a snack but declined the water as I did not want to be tempted to drink where there were clearly no public bathrooms on site. News reporters were present interviewing folks, and there were several photographers and a cameraman recording and taking photos. People did not seem to mind the photo-taking as they lifted their cardboard signs to make a point.
By 1130 am, the organizers stood up, asking for our attention to begin a short and enlightened program. This protest was about self-care and reflection, it was about thinking what’s next, reminding us that protesting was the beginning of a journey towards meaningful change. A young black man read an amazing poem about Blackness that was both positive and empowering. The audience was asked to stand and hold out their hands as reaching to each other for support and then holding their hearts. We were then asked to sit and meditate for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd. A moment of silent reflection on what is globally happening and why we are here. Like, many of the other photographers at the site, I was trying to respectfully take photos. It’s only then that you feel the impact of those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a considerable amount of time to know that this man was dying, pleading for his life, and crying out for his mom. How is this not a lynching?
By 12 pm, the meditation came to an end, and food was offered for those who planned to stay longer. It was time to head back with my memories and photos, reflecting on what more I can do to advocate for systemic change. What has continued to stay with me are those cardboard placards held by children and adults, pasted on walls, fences, and even on strollers. They are part of the “protest art” trend that represents not only an expression of anger but a conduit for change. These cardboard placards have become part of any photographer’s canvas…. recording a moment in time and a place in history that will forever change us.
Click the center of the photos to be able to see the full view.