Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Atlanta: The way I experienced it.

  The other day I looked up "Occupy Wall Street" on Wikipedia after I kept on hearing about it and was surprised to read the protestors, or "99 percenters" as they call themselves are "mainly protesting against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government." I had a hard time wrapping my head around this one sentence. How could the protesters not realize that social and economic inequality is simply a part of life, and history shows that it has always been that way? To me they may as well have been protesting against the laws of physics -- something that simply can not be, or never will be. They are protesting against the influence of "lobbyist" on the government -- but couldn't the protesters technically be considered lobbyist themselves?  

  I decided after a couple of days that I just had to go and check out the Occupy Atlanta location at Woodruff Park with my camera. I went with the idea of doing portraits of some of the protesters and asking them one simple question, this being: "What is your purpose or hope by being here?" I truly wanted to get a better understanding of who they were, and why they were participating in the event. I took the following photos Friday afternoon in the span of of about two-and-a-half hours. They are all uncropped -- and you are seeing them in the order I took them. The captions below each one is from the notes I took while talking to that particular individual, and their statements/comments to me have not been altered to fit my particular views at all.

Click on each image to see a larger version of it.

At least I know that somebody out there loves me.
99 Percenters

This is Andrew. When I asked him what his purpose or hope behind being there was he asked me if I wanted to know the truth. I told him of course I did. He then went on to tell me that he was 48 years old and that there was a bunch of 19 year old girls running around down there. "I'm here to get laid man -- and stay drunk." You just gotta respect that kind of honesty. Andrew is from Savannah and told me he had been living on the streets since 2002. 
He's a 99 Percenter too.

This is James. When I asked him what his hope or purpose behind being there was he said, "I'm here just because I can be." He had nothing to add to that. James is 23 and just hobos across the country.

This is Janis. When I asked her what her hope or purpose behind being there was she didn't really have an answer for me at all. She finally just told me that she was there to support the people that were there. Janis is 22 and also hobos across the country. 

This is Oppie. When I asked what his hope or purpose behind being there was he told me that he was there to fight for the homeless and education rights. He was just a little bit drunk I think, so I pressed no further with my questions.

This is "Slidell". I asked what his hope or purpose behind being there was -- his response: "I don't like what's going on."  I tried to get more details from him about that but he really only seemed interested in talking about how much sex he got back in the 70's in his home state of Louisiana. Slidell was most certainly drunk when I spoke to him. 

This is Diallo. Nice guy. He's from Atlanta, he is 20 years old, and plans to attended UGA next semester for  bio-engineering. When I asked what his hope or purpose behind being there was he said: "I'm here to fight for equality. The one percent take the majority and leave the 99 percent at poverty levels." He then went on to tell me that he is a socialist and that he feels that America would be better off with a socialist government." I held off on mentioning to him that a socialist government would put him in jail for protesting like he is. I've seen what East Germany was like as East Germany -- before the wall came down -- and I assure you that "Occupy Wall Street" type protest would have been strongly frowned upon. It wouldn't happen. Think about how Kim Jong-il would deal with an Occupy Wall Street type protest in his country. Meanwhile we have people here in America, like Diallo, saying that's how they want things to be. It blows my mind.

This is Cailyn. Her response was the most thought provoking answer I got from anybody while down there, and she didn't stumble around with her words at all in giving it to me. It was almost like a breath of fresh air after getting some of the answers I did prior to meeting and talking with her. She said:

 "I'm here because our government treats corporations better than our own people."

She is 20 years old and is a anthropology / archeology major at UGA.

There was a panel of wood planks put together there with "What's Your Story" painted on it (see the last photo in this blog post) where people could write what their beef was with our government, or simply just tell their sad story. Above you can see what Cailyn wrote, which was one of the more intelligent stories on there that I saw. It reads: "I've worked hard all my educational career. I know that achievement comes from work and effort, but these days that is not enough. I'm graduating a year early because of my hard work and move into the scariest job market in my living memory. My sister is going to college next year. Things have to be better by the time she gets out. I AM HERE FOR HER." So she is not expecting a hand out from our government -- she just wants the economy to recover. Amen sister! Don't we all.

Some guy named Daniel Wise needs a job apparently. I guess this might be his cover letter and resume?

So I'm trying to wrap my head around this one. It doesn't quite make sense, or add up to me for a few reasons.
Some of the people were apparently mad about life in general.

It's pretty sad to hear about anybody losing their home over circumstances that may have been beyond their control. What stood out to me here was the writer ended it with "We are some of the lucky ones." I feel that way about America in general. We are so very lucky as a country and society in comparison to many other countries in the world. 
A girl named Kimlee that was there, and is supposedly a media coordinator for Occupy Atlanta ask me to photograph this particular one, claiming that it was a really good thought. I'm not too sure I agree with her on that. It reads: "I think the US should split up. I'm homeless and I think it is just wrong that someone is homeless."  

Just somebody else telling their story...

The protesters marched down Peachtree Street, protesting against Emory shutting down its homeless shelter.

They were chanting. Beating on the bottoms of buckets. Just making a racket anyway they could in general. I just stood in front of them and let them march all around me, photographing them as they passed by.

This is probably my favorite shot I got while down there. I love the intense look the guy in the bottom right is giving me. He looks very unhappy with life. It sums up the protest to me in one shot. The diversity of the people / protesters you see in the shot. All of it.

I was not aware that there was "Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialist of Atlanta" here in town -- or that Emory hated poor black and white homeless men.  

This is James. Interesting dude. He said he retired as a Master Sergeant from The Alaska State Defense Force. I had not heard of the Alaska State Defense Force before I met him so I looked it up online. It appears that it's a volunteer organization that supports the Alaskan National Guard. I'm trying to figure out how you "retire" from a volunteer organization? His comment to me was that the "corporations destroyed the buffalo herds, and they made us dependent on corporations for jobs and to stay alive." I asked what his hope was by being there and he said, "I hope for permaculture communities and that we could be independent self sufficient people like the Indians were. Live as hunters and gathers -- and artist." James is 68 years old.  

James has issues with smokers according to his sign.

This lady was something else. Her name is Bernadette Glenda Allen. She handed out the flyer that I've posted below and had the crowd repeating everything back to her as she read it out loud over her loudspeaker.  
This was the front of the flyer she handed out.  Notice it says "Locked up over 15 times in the past six years for speaking truth about the foreclosures. "  I don't think I've ever seen somebody so proud of how many times they've been "locked up". She even included her booking number and mugshot. I guess that maybe it gives her some street cred with the 99 Percenters? 

And this is the back of the flyer that she was reading out loud over her loudspeaker that a whole crowd of people was repeating back to her with real conviction. I was waiting for her to start passing out Kool-Aid to everybody, but she never did.

Maybe they weren't buying it since they were not acting like robots and repeating everything Ms. Allen had to say. 

Most everybody else around her was all about it though.

I think these two might have found it as amusing as I did.

This is Cailyn again. She was the one person there that I somewhat could identify with that I met. She seemed to really know what she was doing there. "I'm here because our government treats corporations better than our own people." I just about felt like clapping for her when she said that to me. Not because I totally agreed with her on it, but because she seemed to actually be somebody I could sit down and have a intelligent conversation about it all with.
This is Ray & Betsy. When I asked them what their purpose and hope behind being there was  they really didn't have an answer at first other than "We came down to support the occupation." I expected more from them given their older age. I think they realized I was not impressed with their answer after I just kinda looked at them, so after a minute or so they said this: Betsy "We are here to support participatory democracy." Ray "...and we hope that this is the beginning of a reversal of passivity of American people in the face of three decades of corporate rule and inequality." Not so sure why he said it's only been three decades of corporate rule, but I was not there to question or start a debate with anybody, I was just writing down what the people had to say and taking photographs. I love this shot of the two of them. They've been married for 55 years -- you gotta respect that.

This is Danny. He told me his daughter was 25 years old with the mentality of a  ten year old. I about wanted to comment back to him that she was better off than some of the people out there in the park, but I decided he may not like that too much. I joke, but the sad thing is that is the truth based on what I saw. I do wish his daughter the best though. Routinely having seizures has to be a tough way to live in itself -- an then add in being stuck emotionally at ten years old when you're 25. It's gotta be tough for her and her family. 

This is "Ink". She is a 24 year old busker that describes herself as  revolutionary artist that is out there "basically just fighting for what she believes in -- less capitalization." She does all her music impromptu and sounded pretty good at it as she was doing it. I was impressed with how she sounded when I took this shot. I was blown away when she told me she was just making it up on the spot. 

Some of the downtown skyline as seen from Woodruff Park as it was getting dark.

How silly of some of us to be out working for a living, when we could just live in the casinos? On a more serious note, I assume this is supposed to be kind of a tongue-in-cheek comment from whoever made the sign. I think the signs creator is accusing all the corporations, banks, business owners, and politicians of gambling with our money -- sometimes making money off it, and sometimes failing miserably. In some ways I agree. Our government has gambled with our money -- foolishly. And it was a foolish gamble for banks to give out a bunch of home loans to people that were not able to show reasonable proof that they would not default on them. Gambling is part of business and life in general though. It's part of living. The trick is too gamble in a intelligent and informed way, and even then the gambler may still lose. I can go on giving my thoughts on this one sign and what it's about -- it inspired more thought out of me than any other I saw down there. I wish its creator would have been around when I took this so I could have met and talked to them.  
I saw lots of MacBooks out there. So I guess Apple is one of the corporations that the protesters are okay with. 

Education is a right, not an investment -- according to this sign and some of the protesters like The Georgia Students For Higher Education. See the flyer below:

"Radical Childcare" Hmmm? I'm not too sure what to make of this. I guess everybody needs to know how to take care of their kids if they're gonna be living out of a tent in a major city park though right? I assume that's what they mean by "movement spaces". These flyers were being handed out too. 

This was the saddest part of the whole experience for me. The guy with the microphone at the center of the image was going on about something or another.  The crowd was repeating what he was saying verbatim -- and I mean verbatim. At the end he introduced himself "I'm _______ and thanks for listening." The crowd actually repeating that as a group. Take a minute and imagine how dumb it would sound to you if you heard a large group of people all repeat "I'm _________ and thanks for listening." at the same time and all saying that guys name. It just kinda made me think, "WOW!"

It seemed to me that the protest was just an excuse for some people to whine about anything that's gone wrong in their life. Rather than choosing to be happy with the good things they've got going in life -- they were choosing to dwell on the negative. "We tend to seek happiness, when happiness is actually a choice." -Rodney White  

So what's your story? I really wanted to put that Santa Claus had not brought me what I wanted one Christmas as a kid, and that it just wasn't fair. You know, fuss about the inequality of what he brought me in comparison to the Joneses kids --  but I decided it would not be right to belittle some of the very serious comments on there by doing so. 
Just another one of the flyers that was being passed around.

   So I can't begin to explain how glad I am that I went down there to see for myself what the Occupy Wall Street protest was all about rather than just depending on the news for information on it. I was disappointed with a lot that I saw. It was not organized at all. There was a lot of drinking. I did smell people smoking weed. I even caught, or saw, one homeless guy with his hand down the front of another homeless guys pants in broad daylight. They were laid down in the park grass not even twenty feet from Peachtree Street (which is the main strip through Atlanta for those of you not from here). Some of the people were in bad need of a shower. Some of the protesters had valid concerns though -- and those were the ones that made my time down there worth it to me.

  Well, I guess when I think about it, everybody I spoke to down there made it worth it to me. I'm a big believer that we all should be willing to open our minds to those that are different than us. Open your mind to those that are from different walks of life that have different viewpoints than you do. You don't have to agree with them -- but you can try and understand them better. That is what I was doing by being down there.

  I love stepping out of my comfort zone -- going up to strangers, doing a portrait of them, and then talking to them and finding out who they are. Where do they come from? How did they get where they are? What do they believe in? It makes me realize just how much I love photography and people in general. People and their intricacies (or lack of intricacy in some cases) fascinate me.

  This has been my best and most honest interpretation of The Occupy Wall Street movement / protest based on what I saw in the short amount of time I was there on Friday evening. I tried to be very diverse in the people I chose to go and speak with and photograph -- not just looking to speak with those that seemed to be the most oblivious. I also have not picked certain events to share and left others out to fit my own personal viewpoints. I simply documented what was going on while I was there.

  I can't explain it, but I could not get my mind to stop racing after I left the other night. I may not agree with the movement or what they were fighting for in general, but I swear, the other night I felt better than I recall feeling in months (years maybe) when I got home. Jason Brown, thank you for encouraging me to go down there and do this.


Don said...

What a fantastic post, Keith. Great photographs and excellent commentary.

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks Don! I appreciate you taking the time to check it out.

Jennifer said...

This is a very fascinating project, Keith. Thank you for sharing.

Keith Taylor Photography said...

Thanks Jennifer. I appreciate you taking the time to check it out and comment on it.

Anthony said...

Excellent and fascinating stuff, Keith.

Brandon Barr said...

Just FYI, the repeating what the speaker says is in homage to the protests in NYC, where sound regulations keep the PA quiet and a "human microphone" instead projects the speaker's voice.

Of course, any "occupation" of any major urban area is going to attract the homeless from that area. And Atlanta has a large underserved homeless population.

Your criticism that the movement is somewhat directionless is pretty fair even at the main one...and they get more unfocused as they extend out.

Thanks for documenting it.

Keith Taylor Photography said...


Yeah, one of my friends told me that is known as the "peoples mic" last night on Facebook. And It is a pretty smart way to make it where the speaker can be heard when there is a ban on megaphones -- but there is no ban on them here in Atlanta. So it made the speakers sound pretty clueless to me. Like they were repeating it all without thinking about what they were saying first. And the fact that they all were saying it in unison lets you know that all the listeners heard the speaker the first time. It just made them sound like puppets or robots to me. Robots that was following or repeating whatever random thing the person up there had to say.

And yes, I did expect to see some of the homeless people there as well as the drifters -- but after talking with a few of them I began looking for people that may have had more of a purpose there. I was just trying to be as fair as I could be in my representation of what was going on down there.

I really appreciate you checking out my blog post on it man -- I have much respect for your work that you post on Instagram. I'm so glad I went down there myself to see what it was all about.