Yesterday’s Justice for George Floyd Glasgow anti-racist demonstration was a totally different experience for me than the Blue Wave that also took place on the steps of the Clyde Amphitheatre, but before the COVID-19 lockdown.
We heard people chanting through the open windows of our lounge. John stayed to watch from the balcony and I grabbed the longest telephoto lens and rushed down to bear witness and engage in some urban photojournalism. There were more than than two months of self-isolation broken by daily walks along the river Clyde.
Amid the global pandemic there were no hugs, no face painting and shared lunch boxes, invitations to bring along dogs, friends and family. No densely packed amphitheatre steps, no activists travelling from other parts of Scotland or any marches on the streets.
Instead, only the core participants were present, with just a handful of on-lookers who happened to be on the Clyde walk at the time. All protesters wore masks and kept the 2 meter distance from each other to respect the safe physical distancing measures.
It was the same space, but the world had changed, and my best telephoto lens did not feel not long enough anymore.
Glasgow protest was one of the nation-wide coordinated series of 6pm actions, organised by Stand Up To Racism, in solidarity with ongoing demonstrations in the USA over the death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. UK specific issues, such as racially motivated police brutality and the disproportionate amount of deaths in the BAME communities, were also brought into the spotlight.
Although it was publicised in the local press Glaswegians were urged not to turn up in the city centre for the demonstration over the fears that large numbers of attendees mingling could cause a second wave of coronavirus infections. Black Lives Matter activists could join the protest and voice their message virtually, by “taking the knee” at home or on their doorsteps and posting the images on their social media channels.
As Stand Up to Racism organisers shared,
The action to take the knee is inspired by American quarterback Colin Kaepernick bending to one knee during the National Anthem in 2016 to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality.
It was the first public event I witnessed since the Blue Wave on 29 Fenruary and since the lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020. It was such a striking change of paradigm!
Instead of the physical unity of a crowd,formerly a visual signifier for the political unity, I photographed a new, physically safe ritual of protesting, born out of the fear of being close, of touching, of spreading the disease.
It was a contained ritual where discrete masked individuals were united by the long strips of banners they held and the invisible #stayedhome virtual activist community they embodied.
I felt this was important enough to capture as a social document…