We The People

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society…

Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”

-U.S. Congressman & Civil Rights leader, John Lewis

 

In 2015 I attended my first Black Lives Matter rally under a looming statue of Robert E. Lee. A group of Black activists who called themselves Take Em Down Nola were giving speeches, and as members laid out a long-term vision of what then seemed like radical reforms, I remember thinking, “it will never happen. Not here.”

It being the removal of confederate iconography across the city of New Orleans where plantation culture seeps through the cracks of every broken sidewalk and crumbling building.

Of course I was wrong, and since then the city has been steadily working to remove monuments and street names that glorify revisionist history. On May 19th 2017, I watched a crane dethrone General Lee as a divided crowd both cheered and wept.

Yes, wept.

You see, I ended up on the “wrong” side of the statue where Confederate supporters gathered. It occurred to me in a moment of vulnerability that perhaps I could actually talk to someone by appealing to their grief rather than taking a political stance. My intuition proved right as I found a man who seemed grateful to share what I can only describe as ambiguous loss, and while my own beliefs remained unwavering, it served as a connecting point between us.

Since the recent shootings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others, I’ve documented numerous rallies and protests led by local organizers in New Orleans, including Take Em Down Nola, The People’s Assembly, City Waste Union, Southern Solidarity, and New Orleans Worker’s Group. This small body of work barely captures the heart of our current movement, so ablaze in spirit and courage; aptly depicting what John Lewis termed “good trouble”.

We are living in morally complex times. The chaos of our current administration has all but numbed us with daily assaults on our freedoms. And yet, these cracks in our society have given us an unprecedented opportunity to catalyze institutional change.

While some mourn and others celebrate the end of a dream which only served the white American individualist, we now push forward with a more inclusive vision fueled by one simple organizing principle- that of caring for one another.

Isabelle Guzman

August 2020

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