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  • Writer's pictureTina Witherspoon

Documentary Photography: Peaceful Protests

The year is half over. This time during quarantine has both dragged and flown by. Summer is here and the days are already getting shorter. I haven't written anything in a month, because I've been engulfed in the civil unrest happening around the country. I've gone through all the stages: shock, sadness, helplessness, education, listening, reading, learning, absorbing, and understanding, ending in anger. I know that police brutality towards black people is nothing new, and I'm trying to figure out why this time feels different to me. Perhaps it is because there is a global pandemic imposing a stay-home order which has left me with hours of idle time to fully face what's going on. I'm almost grateful. In the past I would take notice of the horrible injustices toward black people, I would feel a lot of feelings, and then refocus on the hustle of my life. Now there is no hustle. Frankly, the hustle of promoting my business doesn't really even matter right now.

I quit my day job in December and was just starting to build a photography business when the Covid-19 arrived in Washington. The few photography jobs I had lined up for March were all canceled, so I kept myself busy making masks for the community. Mask-making made me feel useful, and listening to NPR 24/7 was keeping me informed. About a month ago, I was just starting to hear reports of how the virus was disproportionately affecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), and then George Floyd was murdered, and it all started to unfold in front of my eyes. How was I not aware of the depth of systemic racism that afflicts this country? How was I not taught real history in school, but only white history? How is that I never sought out the information myself? I've been selfish and ambitious most of my life, and my own path is all I ever focused on. And now I'm doing the work of learning everything I can to be part of the solution and generally do better in my every day life.

Vashon Island held a silent protest on June 12th and I went to walk with them, take photos and document what's happening and more importantly: share the images with the world, because silence is no longer an option. It was incredibly moving to watch 1,000 people walking in silence, kneeling and holding up fists, banding together for a cause. I'm late to the movement, and I will never understand what it's like to have lived as a black person, but I'm committed to change going forward.

I've had a complicated relationship with America since the last presidential election, and I think my anger and disappointment might have prompted me to distract myself from reality, and put my head in the sand, but that is not the solution during a crisis. We all need to play a part, have the uncomfortable conversations, educate ourselves, show up, and vote for a better America.

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