Commitment March on Washington

5
9.3.20
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On June 9th in Houston, Texas, Rev Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy at George Floyd’s funeral.  At that time he also announced that he would plan a demonstration in Washington to rally for criminal justice revisions. Ever since that day, I kept my eyes and ears open for the information as it developed. I knew this was going to be a huge event that I wanted to attend.

The Black Lives Matter movement in Washington has been an eye-opening experience for me. In all my years living in the area, I’ve never attended any protests or rallies like this. So when I went to my first one, I knew immediately that I wanted to keep going back with my camera. I couldn’t help but be in awe of all the passion and emotions I felt while attending these protests.

But the day before Rev Sharpton’s Commitment March on Washington, President Trump accepted his Republican nomination for  US President and had a fireworks display at the Washington Monument. Since I missed photographing on the 4th of July this past year, I figured I would go to the Reflecting Pool and practice some of my night photography. Although there were only 3 other photographers at the Reflecting Pool, there was also a news crew right next to me who was listening to President Trump’s speech. I listened to every word and as soon as he finished, the fireworks went off.

I’m glad I went because they were very different from the previous 4th of July firework displays. You could tell that they were shot off with the White House as the main spectators so all of my images were a little skewed to the right. I should have thought of that before picking my firework location. Oh well. I also noticed how the Washington Monument was the centerpiece of the show. I had never seen rings of fireworks go around it before. It was pretty cool and I had fun photographing the show from a vantage point that was only seen by a few others.

But watching the fireworks from the Reflecting Pool also allowed me to see the set up of the rally the night before. It was interesting to see how the sides of the Reflecting Pool were gated off, the chairs for people with special needs were socially distanced, and there were so many lights set up all over the memorial grounds.

A little sneak peek of the rally set up from the night before

On August 28, 2020, the 57th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev Sharpton and the National Action Network held its rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with a march ending at the Martin Luther King Jr memorial.

I’m grateful to know this part of the city like the back of my hand so I was able to park my car as close as I could to the White House and walked over to the National Mall with ease. It was a hot, humid summer day and a little harder to breathe with a facemask on. With a water bottle in my backpack and my camera in hand, I was ready to go.

My game plan was to start close to the WWII memorial and walk down the Reflecting Pool to try to get as close to the Lincoln Memorial as I could. Other than that, I had no real intentions of what kind of images I wanted to photograph. I was just going to go with the flow and stay mindful of everything that was happening around me. That means I zipped my phone into my backpack and watched the people around me.

I have to admit, there were times where I felt like I needed to stop taking pictures and just listen to the speeches. I enjoyed listening to Yolanda King, the first and only grandchild of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. Being only 11 years old, I thought she was very articulate and enthusiastic. I also got emotional when Breonna Taylor’s mom stepped up to the podium to deliver a speech.

Yolanda King delivers her speech

I finally got to the front of the Lincoln Memorial around the time that the King family spoke. There were metal gates blocking some of the steps leading up to the memorial so I just spent time walking where I could, going from side to side, watching everything that was going on around. I was shocked to see so many people retreat to the Reflecting Pool on this hot day. This was definitely something I wanted to capture since you don’t see people doing that on a regular basis.

But the craziest part about the entire rally was that when Rev Sharpton began to speak. I saw a pretty significant amount of people being let into the gates. I was stunned but tried to squeeze into that crowd as quickly as I could. Wherever these people were going, I wanted to go too!

There I was, standing at the same exact spot where I captured the image from the night before. Except for this time, the seats were occupied by those who needed them, and all I could see behind me were the news media. I was SOOO excited. I don’t know why I was allowed in this area but I am so grateful.

I was able to use my 70-200mm to get some great shots of Rev Sharpton speaking.

The image above is at the point of time when Rev Sharpton was delivering his speech. He got distracted by this young girl sitting on the steps in front of him since there was security who was trying to get her to move. He stopped his speech and said something like “If the young lady wants to sit there with her fist in the air, let her”. Everyone started applauding and I’m glad to have captured this moment.

But this was also the time where I started to notice more and more people on the steps close to the speaker’s podium. I knew that these were these same people who were let in through the gate. I didn’t have any credentials or passes to get up there and I didn’t think those same people did either. So I just wanted to see how far I could get, I navigated my way through the crowd and somehow made my way to the very top of the steps. HOLY COW!

The first thing I could think of was the iconic image of Martin Luther King Jr standing, delivering his “I have a dream” speech to the crowd of people standing on the National Mall. This higher perspective really gives you a feeling of just how many people were there. Being on the ground, you have no idea. Just wow.

The one disappointing thing about being on top of the steps was that the audio for the speeches was muffled and it was very hard to understand.

So I made my way back down the steps. At that time, the speeches were running overtime and I know the organizers were trying to get everyone to march towards the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial at the Tidal Basin.

I took my time walking over there. I knew that there were so many people coming that I wouldn’t run out of subjects to photograph. Many people had megaphones and would scream chants through them. As different crowds walked passed, each of them had chants to recite. Some were even singing through the megaphone which was beautiful in its own way.

Once we got to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, people seemed to start dispersing everywhere. Rev Sharpton and the King family had another stage set up in West Potomac Park where the speeches continued. However, I just went to the Memorial.

After being at the Tidal Basin for a little while, I decided I would just walk back to my car. I left the rally feeling great. Everyone was peaceful and almost everyone was wearing a facemask. The universal feeling while in attendance was for social justice and the importance of voting this coming November. As much as I love photographing these events, I hope there will be no need for them in the near future. ✌️