The jury is still out. In other news, this past Saturday, I covered a large demonstration/march from the base of the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon. The march was organized by a national group called the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). They have a broad mission statement, as evidenced by their name, but I learned from speaking with the organizers that they believe they can achieve greater success by appealing to many different groups. Their approach appeared to work on Saturday, when over 10,000 people are estimated to have marched against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other causes. I've never covered any sort of protest before, and I figured my time in DC would not be complete without at least one large-scale demonstration. I met with the organizers a few times before Saturday to try and get a sense of just what goes into planning and carrying out an event of this scale. I will say, I was really impressed with how everything turned out. People came from all over the country to march, and it was refreshing to me to be surrounded by so much energy. Washington is full of a different type of advocacy: just about everything here is political, and social change is enacted in offices and behind podiums and bodyguards. Maybe I just haven't been here long enough; I am still kind of a visitor in this city. I just get the sense that people here are generally more conservative when it comes to activism. But I could be totally off. Anyway, so I covered my first protest, and it was exciting. I don't think there was that much mainstream media coverage of the event, but being on the ground and among the protesters, I was struck by their passion. Even in the midst of a new administration that has billed itself as the "Change we need," people are still willing to stand up and make themselves heard.
*check back soon for a link to a full-scale multimedia Thang I plan on putting together.
President Obama (center), flanked by Nancy Pelosi on his left and the Taoiseach of Ireland Brian Cowen on his right, visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 17 for a St. Patrick's Day Luncheon with a number of others. I was on the other side of the lawn on the West Side of the Capitol Building, watching Obama as he ascended the steps with the help of some festive and timely tunes.
I don't know if you can really tell from this photo, but the White House fountains were dyed green in honor of St. Patrick's Day and the various visiting Irish dignitaries.
Aside from the sort of weird paeans to "Irishness," there wasn't really any sign of typical American St. Patrick's Day revelries. Compared to Boston and Chicago, where I have spent my last few St. Patrick's Days, it was downright tame. Yes, they dyed the two White House fountains bright green... Well, Chicago dyes their entire river. Come on now. But I suppose it is reflexive of the atmosphere of this city, which I think I am beginning to get a better sense of now, after being here for nearly two months. Washington is driven by the political scene. It is suits and heels and commuters in office buildings. This city is its own strange world, and everybody here is something. You are a politician. You work for a politician; a lobbyist; an NGO; the media. There isn't anything wrong with that either. There is a very interesting dynamic here, and if you are interested in politics or policy in any way, this is certainly the place to be. I don't think, though, that this is the right city for me right now. I am struggling to figure out what I am, or rather, what I will be once I am no longer a student. Photojournalist? Honestly, not really. I'm not that great a photojournalist. I suppose I am a decent photographer, but there is a distinction. Now my question is where can I go, having made that distinction. Well, I've got almost exactly two months to decide, I suppose. No need to rush it... Ha.
$7. Seven dollars. Seven dollars!! To one of the greatest music festivals of our time. Just for comparison's sake, tickets to this summer's Bonnaroo festival cost nearly $275.00. Somewhere in the past 40 years, I get the sense that musicians' priorities shifted somewhat. How strange to consider that this summer will be the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. How strange, also, to consider just how much society has changed in those years. I went to the National Museum of American History this afternoon, which is where this photo was taken. This was part of a "Science in America" exhibit, in the section on "the pill." I'm not really sure how the Woodstock ticket fits in with an explanation of the history surrounding birth control, but my guess is the museum had the ticket, wanted to stick it somewhere, and figured there was probably a good enough connection between the values and ideals espoused by attendees of the festival and women who used the pill. Sure, why not.
Anyway, I thought it was exciting. It still boggles my mind that I am working in this city. There is so much history here, especially from the past 50 years. Some of the most important social changes of our time began on these streets. The various marches and protests, assassinations, government neuroses, trials, impeachments. Sometimes I wish I had been me forty-ish years ago. Everything that happened in DC at that time seems so important, in retrospect. At the time, I'm sure it was frightening and exciting, but I don't know if people knew they were in the process of changing the world. I guess it is a little bit of the same thing going on now, with the war and Obama and the economy... It will be interesting to see where we end up forty years from now.
It is currently acting like actual winter here in Washington, DC. There is snow sticking to the ground, accumulating even. Schools have closed for the day; offices have closed; even some federal employees have been granted a "liberal leave," whatever that means. It is funny to see people's reaction to snow here. A few weeks ago it hit nearly 70 degrees, and this coming Saturday the temperature is supposed to bound back up again. I get the sense that "real" winter is a bit of an anomaly here. Coming from Chicago, northern Indiana and Boston, this milder climate has been fantastic, but I will admit I have missed the snow. Well, grin and bear the 60 degree days, I guess.
In photo news, I finally finished, after many failed attempts at different gallery formats, my story on Senator Jeanne Shaheen. I won't post all of the pictures here, but I will direct you HERE, to my website where I have uploaded the photos. There have been some recent technical difficulties with my site, but hopefully those should have disappeared. So, browse away and enjoy! I think they turned out fairly well. Tuesday was an absolutely insane day, between following around the Senator and then Obama's speech that evening. I did not actually get to see the speech because I was standing in Statuary Hall, which is just down from the House Chamber, taking pictures of the important Congressmen, judges and guests who processed into the Chamber. Unfortunately, Obama didn't walk through our hall, but I did manage to get a shot of the back of his head as he walked into the Chamber. Awesome.
Why yes, that is the back of our President's head.
The ever-popular Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank in Statuary Hall.
Of a sort. I am alive, and I am blogging. What an absurd and ridiculous day on Capitol Hill. Currently (live), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is speaking on MSNBC about his earlier conversation with the other Illinois Senator, Roland Burris, in which Durbin called on Burris to resign his Senate seat. In case you haven't been following this whole Illinois debacle, in brief, there has been some grumbling about Burris' acceptance of the Senate appointment from our dear, old guvn'r, Rod. Now there is more confusion about Burris' initial testimony that he never talked to Blagojevich about the seat. Apparently they did chat about it, or Burris at least spoke with Blago's people about it, and now Durbin's telling him to stop this farce and go back to the Chi-town (my words, not his). This is important to the blog because A: Durbin and Burris are my senators, and B: I was just in the Capitol and opted not to go to the photo op with Durbin following his closed-door meeting with Burris. So I found out about this whole business on MSNBC, while I was scarfing down a delicious turkey burger.
I did not photograph Durbin because I was otherwise indisposed when he was posing for the cameras. Not eating, that I am doing now (live!). No, I was in the midst of my stealthy senator-tracking. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has graciously allowed me to follow her around today for a photo story for class and hopefully for the New Hampshire Union Leader. Let me tell you: if you want to talk about a busy day, spend some time with a Senator. Not to give away my whole story, but Senator Shaheen gets in to work around 8:30 a.m., goes right into meetings, and keeps on traveling all over the Capitol for meetings and hearings and votes for pretty much the rest of the day. Today, as well, she was the President pro tempore of the Senate, which is the honorary Senate President for the day, so she called the Senate to order in the morning and listened to debate over whether or not DC should have Congressional representation (it's looking good for DC, incidentally). I left her office around 3:30 because she was going to be in closed meetings for the rest of the day, at least until the event tonight.
As for the event tonight, the Senator's day is nowhere near over, and neither is mine. I just desperately needed some food and outside time, so I found a delicious burger place. But anyway. So, Obama is speaking to a joint session of Congress tonight. I have heard it called his State of the Union, but I am unclear whether that is technically correct. Either way, it is a big deal. The Capitol is all a-bustle with press and camera crews and security. So much security. I was walking around some of the halls, and there were a surprisingly large number of policemen with German Shepherds - and one poor schlep got stuck with a Golden Retriever. They are all over, sweeping the building, making sure no one has managed to sneak in any explosives or heroin. Obama is not speaking until 9 p.m. tonight, but I am pretty sure press are already lining up and getting ready. Unfortunately, I won't be able to watch his speech from the Gallery. The Press Photographers Gallery had a limited number of photo passes, and they were all distributed about two weeks ago. Apparently they have 12 passes for 41 people, so the photographers are going to have to go in in shifts anyway. My game plan for the evening is to stalk around in Statuary Hall and get the pack of Senators as they make their way over to the House side. Afterwards, I am also hoping to get some shots of Senator Shaheen who is speaking with a DC TV station, I believe. So. Like I said, long day. It's awesome though. I'll post photos when I can.
Just in case you were wondering. My mind was blown once again yesterday afternoon by the spectacular range of opportunities offered to photographers and photo-enthusiasts in this city. There are miles of interesting-looking buildings; there are politicians all over; there are rallies and protests and hearings and news events galore. Washington, I am learning, is almost like a kind of photographic Mecca. Obviously there is the political side of everything, but there are also lots of different organizations, including National Geographic (!). As a result of all these awesome opportunities, there are also a huge number of photographers working in and around DC. I'm sure there were even more before most newspapers cut their DC bureaus, but that is a whole different ball of wax. Anyway. There is an organization here, the White House News Photographers Association, whose mission is "to protect and promote photographers' interests in pursuing their mission," which was originally to cover the President and the White House, but it has expanded to include Congress and different political events (www.whnpa.org/about/index.htm). Basically, it is a group of photographers from different news outlets who all cover the news in and around Washington.
Its significance for me is that they host an annual competition for photography, video and multimedia projects. I have seen the winners online over the years. The photos were one of my favorite ways to spend my time when I probably should have been doing homework. But the images from the contest were always just sort of There. I never really put much thought into the submitting or the judging or even, I'm sorry to say, the photographers themselves. So you can imagine my disbelief and overwhelming excitement when I found myself at the National Geographic building yesterday, sitting in a large auditorium, looking at the submitted images on a huge screen along with the three judges and a number of the photographers themselves. I basically just had a moment of, "Wow, this is real. This is how things actually work." When they announced their Photographer of the Year, some people were wondering if she was in the room, and one woman across from me replied, "No, she's in Baghdad right now." (I'm fairly certain that's what she said anyway). It's just so absurd and so awesome and inspiring.
So that was yesterday. Today I internshipped and walked some more around the city. And tomorrow: Tomorrow I am shadowing New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen for a photo-story on the day of a freshman Senator. In the evening, President Obama is speaking to a joint session of Congress, during which I will be in the Capitol, although I probably won't actually get to see the speech. Either way, it is going to be a super busy and extremely exciting day. Hopefully I will get some good photos. My strategy is just to remind myself that I do actually know what I am doing. Yes, there are better, more experienced photographers all around me, but I deserve to be here; I am not out of place among them. It doesn't matter who or what I am photographing. I know how to take pictures, and I know I can take good pictures. Just look through the lens, focus, release the shutter. Go.
I do not live in a war zone. When my president was elected, there were no angry riots, no cries of "fraud" from the losing party. Ours was a peaceful transition of power. My parents have not lost their home, and I am not starving or persecuted. Compared to most of the people in our world right now, my life is on the better side of things. And yet, I am not without my fears and problems. While they may not hold as much clout as the globally significant issues - war, poverty, famine - they are still important to me. Every person is entitled to his or her own little bit of selfish concern, every once in a while. In my world, for some reason I keep thinking I can separate different parts of my life into tidy little independent sections, with one never having to come into conflict with any other. Unfortunately for me, I am not one of those people who can separate their selves so easily. I spill over into different parts of me, and nothing is ever easy.
I am a student. I am also a recent cancer survivor. There are a number of irreconcilable differences between the two, but I have learned (the hard way) how to strike something of a balance. Ah, but the wrench: now I am also a photojournalist. Unpaid and kind of unemployed but still a photojournalist. The final twist: I am graduating in less than three months, after which I will no longer be a student. Among my many remaining "me's," I will still be a cancer survivor, and I will still be a (probably) unemployed photojournalist. My dilemma can be summed up in two words: Health. Insurance. The day of my graduation, once I am handed my diploma and throw my cap in the air and cry like crazy because it's Finally over, once the pomp and circumstance fades out and the champagne wears off, I will no longer have health insurance. And because I could not possibly imagine having studied something practical like economics or political science or even sociology, I will probably not have a job either.
Unfortunately for me and my friends who will have degrees in journalism, the news industry is going through a bit of a sea change right now. The other journalism students here and I got to go to a National Press Foundation awards dinner last week, and while the food was amazing, the tone of the evening was notedly somber. The journalists at our table were discussing their friends who had been laid off, and the speakers all included cryptic references to the not-so-great "state of the news media." Good times. Even better times trying to find a steady job in this business. Even best times trying to find a steady Photography job. With health insurance. So that's what's up and what's freaking me out. As previously mentioned, I would really like to pursue this journalism thing, but I really need health insurance right now. I don't know what is going to happen with journalism; everyone can really only guess and postulate as to where the industry is going. And as to where I am going? I gave up on guessing where my life was taking me when I first got sick and realized that plans change. You just have to roll with it. And hope something amazing comes your way. Like a few-billion dollar bailout.
February 10, 2009 - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speaking at a Senate Banking Committee oversight hearing on the present and future state of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Dear Mr. Secretary, how 'bout sending a bit of that cash my way? I swear I won't spend it on a jet...