Election Day

I stare at the naked eyes
And I hear the hollow, hungry cries
And the streets are full of empty energy
And naked eyes have never seen a dream,
Without eclipse

And the poet leans to kiss her lips
But his work is just a frozen tear
‘Cause shell-shocked ears refuse to hear the cry

Children play with grown-up’s toys
And a full-grown man is just a boy
And he listens to a neon troubadour
and there are 30 silver pieces, scattered
On the ground
And a gun explodes, but makes no sound
Another dream is dead
But no one turns his head to hear the cry

~davidcherry 1985

Occupy Denver, November 2011:

I was lying in a fetal position on Colfax, clutching my video camera and trying to cover my head.  The red glare of brake lights reflected from a black, spit-shined, steel-toed, military style boot, which was inches from my face.   I was grinding the edges of the rubber soles of my sneakers on the porous asphalt, trying to gain traction, desperate to push my body out of reach of the cop’s nightstick.

Ugh!  He hit me again, connecting with my ribs and sending a searing signal of pain and fear.  My mind was immediately flooded with images of my wife and kids. I imagined my wife’s red toenails on the carpeted steps, chasing our little girls up the stairs, pinching their tiny butts as they ran ahead of her in their holiday-themed feet pajamas, the smell of thanksgiving pie in the air.

I rolled away from the cop. Still clutching my camera, I got to my knees, then my feet, and I ran, stumbling, fingers touching the asphalt in front of me, to far side of the street.

There was no badge number.  Dressed in black riot gear, he wore a chest protector with a cloth facsimile of a golden badge embedded on it.  His face, if he had one, was hidden behind the smoke, the red glare, and the crystal blue, flashing, cop-car lights that reflected off his Plexiglas face mask.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my wife wasn’t chasing the kids up the stairs or baking pies.  She was feverishly dialing my cell phone.  She was frantically following her twitter feed, trying to get something, anything that might indicate that I was safe.  She learned, through Twitter, that things had gotten out of control.  She knew I was down there with a camera.  There were reports of arrests and injuries.

I grew up believing that cops were the good guys, the ones who helped you if your car broke down or if you needed directions.  They kept the bad guys away and swooped in to save the day if you found yourself in trouble.  I knew that violence existed, but I had never experienced violence first hand.  I’d never been afraid for my life.  I’d never felt as though my immediate safety was at the hands of another man.

And though I’d heard stories of police brutality, it always existed in some other place.  I had always assumed that the victims of police brutality were somehow at fault—that they were bad guys that had pushed the cops over the edge.  They were part of a subculture that had waged war on the police and would gladly slit a cop’s throat given half a chance.  I had no empathy.

Lying curled up on Colfax with a cop standing over me changed my life and my politics.  It took something that had been the stuff of cop shows, movies, and TV news and made it personal.  And though I walked away with no permanent injuries, I grieved, quietly.  I grieved over the loss of innocence, the belief that if one is innocent he has nothing to fear from his government.  I grieved because I knew what was like to feel vulnerable.  I was afraid and there was no one around who could help me.  I was in danger and the people who I had trusted to protect me were the very ones who were threatening me.

I had started that day on a positive note.  I wanted to interview some of the people who were participating in the Occupy Denver movement.  There was a rally that afternoon and I wanted to get some shots of that as well.  The people were friendly, cheering and chanting, singing and holding up signs.  They had some tables set up where they were feeding the homeless.

Despite some of the stories I’d heard about Occupy, I never felt threatened.  That is, I never felt threatened until the sun set behind the great Rocky Mountains and 200 cops, with riot gear and smoke grenades, bullhorned their way across the street and into Civic Center Park.

I was not there to protest.  My goal was to document the event.  I asked the cops where I could stand to film.  I stood where they told me

I was standing 100 feet from the action.  Some protesters had blocked the street in an act of civil disobedience.  As the riot squad moved on them, a cop left the pack, came over to me, hit me with his nightstick, and shoved me into the street.  It happened fast and set my heart racing, like hitting a sheet of black ice on the highway and spinning out of control.

I often wonder if that experience changed him as much as it changed me.  I wonder why he did it.  Some say he didn’t want the event to be filmed.  I suspect that, in at least some case, the clothes really do make the man.

Shortly after 9/11, when they reopened the Lincoln Tunnel, we drove through the security checkpoints and made our way into Manhattan. We checked into our room at the Hilton, across from Radio City Music Hall and my oldest daughter (who was 8 years old at the time) and I took the subway as far south as we could.  Then we hoofed it the rest of the way to ground zero.

It was dark by the time we got there.  Smoke was rising from the twisted steel and concrete rubble as crews worked around the clock.  Wooden walls had been constructed around the site.  The walls were filled with letters and cards to lost loved ones.  There were pictures of the dead, fathers who had been lost, sitting by the Christmas tree with their children on their laps, wedding photos of a husband’s first dance with his bride, who was now lying dead and dismembered beneath 10 million tons of I-beams and airplane parts.

There were postings with headshots. “Have You Seen This Person,” they would ask in desperate denial. And there were candles everywhere, burning.  Strangers would bend over a try to light the ones that had burned out.  We were among hundreds, maybe thousands, of people huddled around ground zero, weeping.  None of us knew why we were there.  We didn’t know what else to do.

War Photographer, November 2012:

Today I watched the movie “War Photographer, by Christian Frel.  It follows photographer James Natchwey as he documents wars in Kosovo, Rwanda and Indonesia.

There is no way for me to watch this movie without considering these events, not because I felt that I was taking the kinds of risks that Nachtwey has taken or because I believe that Americans have suffered injustices equal to the people of Kosovo, Rwanda or Indonesia.  To me, it’s about senseless violence committed by faceless people.  It’s about that part of the human condition that allows people with good hearts to lose touch with their humanity when they put on a uniform or become part of a group with a mission.

When I see a young boy who will spend the rest of his life without his legs or a mother from Kosovo crying over the loss of her son, I am unable to formulate any king of meaningful intellectual response.  When I see pictures of bodies being dumped out of the back of a dump truck like unwanted garage sale items or images of a man being beaten and killed in the streets while others cheer, all I can do is emote.

On a visceral level, I know Nachtwey’s work is important.  But I don’t know why it’s important.  I don’t think Nachtwey’s pictures are going to make the violence go away.  I don’t think they’re going to cause people to stop joining groups and relegating their consciences to their group’s ideals.  I don’t think his pictures will keep people from using thought-stopping platitudes to justify the destruction of innocent humans.

For now, I don’t have anything of value to add.  All I can do is think about the Kosovo mother.  Her grief…and her son’s life had an impact on at least one other person.  I’ve got nothing else to offer.

Election Day, November 2012:

From a single act of violence perpetrated by an anonymous cop with a stick, to single terroristic act by a handful of religious zealots, to years, even decades, of ongoing, daily, brutal death and destruction where the weapons are men and the victims are often children, there is a single unifying thread: us versus them.

The us vs. them mentality allows men to train and prepare themselves to board airliners and sacrifice their own lives in a single-minded effort to destroy as many innocent mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers as they possibly can.  It’s the kind of mentality that caused the beneficiaries of the greatest religious freedom in history to block the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center just a few blocks away from ground zero, a place that should be a beacon of religious freedom.

And today, it’s the mentality that causes some people to say, “If you vote for Romney, defriend me;” “If you vote for Obama you’re a last freeloader;” “If (place candidate’s name here) wins, I’m leaving the country.”

Us vs. them mentality shuts down the heart and halts one’s humanity.  And this vitriol scorches common ground, destroys all hope for prosperity and makes our world an ugly place.  From tiny acorns come great forests, lush and abundant with life, harmony, and diversity.  A tiny germ can snuff out an entire nation, destroying all potential.

Plant an acorn.

Love & Peace,
DC

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Comments

  1. ellyportnoy says:

    From one Mr. Gore, following his loss in the 2000 election: “Now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.”
    Way to embody that sentiment Mr. Cherry!

  2. You brought these points home, to eye-level. We can see it from our own eyes. Thanks for that.

  3. M. Steele says:

    I haven’t seen that video since you first posted it on Youtube. So well done. Outstanding post Dave.

  4. Nicely done. I remember the footage and the project for my class. It’s eye opening when it happens to you.

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