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Protest fashionista…

February 19, 2013, 10:22 PM

I went to the 350.org Forward on Climate rally in DC on Sunday.  That was quite an event.  Good to see so many people interested in preventing manmade climate change and green issues.  I had the polarizing filter attached to the camera, and I was out photographing (though I was wearing a shirt advocating a ban on fracking).  I’ve been involved in various activism for about ten years now.  My first demonstration was April 12, 2003, about the Iraq War.  Since then, I’ve been to demonstrations on a number of different issues, including antiwar, globalization, organized labor, environmentalism, religion, food safety, whistleblowers, sexuality, and public television.  I’ve participated in many ways.  I’ve done straight photography, I’ve done black bloc, I’ve done public education, and I’ve even trolled (i.e. Internet-style trolling in real life).  And I’ve always presented my views when I get back to the computer.

This time, I really got into what I will call “protest fashion”.  I really got into the handmade signs and the various outfits.  Preprinted signs are great and all, but a homemade sign or a unique prop is going to get my attention more because it’s one of a kind.  And likewise, a fancy costume is going to catch my attention more than whatever someone just happened to pull out of the closet that morning (which makes me think of the Limozeen line, “And the lead singer wears glasses!“).

Now the challenge with Forward on Climate was that it was the middle of winter.  It was below freezing and quite windy.  Translated, it was really bloody cold.  And I mean really bloody cold.  Thus not freezing was of top importance.  I wore the anti-fracking shirt, and kept my coat open on purpose to accommodate that.  Thus I layered up under the frack shirt.  And I wore gloves, which unfortunately didn’t do much (note to self: I need new winter gloves).

One of the more memorable outfits was the person who was dressed in a Lorax walkaround costume:

The Lorax as a walkaround character

I also really enjoyed the woman in the bird costume:

Bird costume, behind a wildlife banner

And then possibly my all-time favorite big costume for this one, considering that it’s February and not really in my mind this time of year… Santa Claus:

Santa Claus: "I AM PRO SNOW"  Santa Claus: "COAL IS NAUGHTY"

I especially loved the “COAL IS NAUGHTY” sign.  After all, coal is not exactly a clean fuel.

Then there were also a number of smaller embellishments that I really enjoyed.  A lot of people were wearing green noses with an “X” painted on them, like this:

Green nose with an "X" on it

And unfortunately, I have no idea what these signified.  Can anyone help me?  (Leave a comment!)

I also enjoyed seeing someone use their face as the canvas:

"OCCUPY NATURE"

I enjoyed that one enough to make it the Photo Feature this week.  That was an unusual case where, as soon as I took it, I immediately knew I had my next Photo Feature.  And I took that photo within the first twenty minutes after arriving.  Usually I don’t “know it” right away like that.  I usually sift through things and settle on one to use after some consideration.

Then there were a few people wearing respirators, or some form:

Respirator simulation out of posterboard

The real deal

Then my pals at Code Pink went with hard hats:

Alli from Code Pink in a hard hat

And then there was this guy:

This guy.

Loved the headpiece, though I have no idea what it was supposed to signify.

And then of course, there were the masks.  Now for a demonstration like this one, where it’s below freezing and windy (note my characterization of the weather above as “really bloody cold”), there is a distinction between people who were bundled up for the cold, and people who were “masked up”.  In other words, knowing who would still be masked if this had been a warmer day.  My usual metric is that if it’s a Guy Fawkes mask or a bandanna, they would be wearing it even if it were 70 out.

First of all, Guy Fawkes:

Since when did they make a white Guy Fawkes mask?

Since when did they start making a white Guy Fawkes mask?  I asked this person about his mask, and yes, he bought it that way.  This was not a retrofit like when someone painted their Guy Fawkes mask brown for an Anon raid.  This was white out of the box.  I was previously only familiar with a yellow Guy Fawkes mask.  This white version seems to leave out some of the detailing.  But it still looks pretty good.

And then there were the bandannas:

Bandanna masks with "OCCUPY" signs

Bandanna masks with drone signs

Now for this demonstration, there was no organization to the masks.  In other words, no black bloc.  These were just masked individuals in the crowd.  And that’s fine.  Not every rally needs or should necessarily have a bloc.  I don’t know why the people with the Occupy signs wore masks, but I definitely liked the colors on their bandannas.  Very festive and eye-catching.  And as long as they kept their masks on the whole time (doubtful), the masks probably served their purpose well enough.  Now for the folks on the bottom with the sign about drones, I am guessing that they are wearing their masks because of the message on the sign.  And I will give them that.  Sometimes a viewpoint will set one up for potential retaliation, just or otherwise.  Case in point is when a group’s chant will become something more controversial or edgy, and people will pull up their bandannas during that chant (and then pull them down again afterwards – go figure).

Now for the people who make efforts to conceal their own identity at protests and such, I do try to educate a little so that I may help.  You may remember that I wrote a bit about negating one’s mask early in the Funk the Weekend photo set (towards the middle of the first page).  That was written with black bloc in mind, and assumes that the look one is going for is what I call “full black bloc“.  But what about for an event like this, where one does not necessarily want to let one’s identity get out, but it’s not a black bloc?  In other words, it’s not about being in a formation and looking like a unified mass, but just about making sure that you are a faceless John Doe or Jane Doe vs., say, Tommy Oliver and Kimberly Hart from Angel Grove, California (just go with it).  The trick is to make sure that one’s anonymity is complete, and that there is no chance that one will associate you with the event later.

If that’s what one is going for, then a number of points from the earlier discussion still hold.  For one thing, cover your hair completely.  If your hair is visible, like with this person, then forget it.  Likewise, cover any tattoos and/or other distinctive body marks.  If these aren’t attended to, the possibility exists that someone will connect your real life identity and the alternate identity that you’re building for the demonstration.  And in that case, just untie the bandanna and yank it off – you’re done.  Secondly, wear an outfit that is completely out of character for your normal self, making sure that it conceals face and hair.  It’s okay to not wear black in this case, and even to wear an outfit that works with and calls attention to your message, but just remember that the goal is to make sure people don’t know that it’s you under all of it.  If you’re just throwing a bandanna over your face and wearing one of your normal outfits, don’t waste your time.  And if anonymity is your goal, put your disguise on before you arrive, and leave it on for the entire time.  No one should see you wearing the outfit in an incomplete state, and don’t remove your mask.  The guy in the lower photo shows up later on in my photos with his mask down, and I found that he has a beard.  I would not know that if he had kept his mask on like he was supposed to.  And you wouldn’t know that he had a beard from the photo I showed you.  I would have guessed that he didn’t.  And lastly on that point, don’t remove your disguise until you’re away from the demonstration and out of view.

Here’s an example of a pretty good disguise.  Who is that person?  We’ll never know.  You could also just wear a zentai, with something over it to stay warm.  Same rules still apply, though.  And end of tangent.

And then last but not least, this wasn’t a costume, but it was still pretty awesome:

The Statue of Liberty, with a sign saying, "It's not easy being green (but we must)."

Yes, it’s a Statue of Liberty street puppet, with a spin on Kermit the Frog’s “It’s not that easy being green” saying and turning it into an environmental message, plus playing on the Statue of Liberty’s greenish color (though she’s green because of copper oxidation).  All in all, I like it.

So there you go.  Look for more complete coverage of this event in Life and Times, eventually (this makes five photo sets in the queue).  Something tells me that I need to take a vacation from work some time soon in order to catch up on Schumin Web…

Categories: Activism