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Published: August 26th 2004
Tomorrow night I will be sleeping in Manhattan as I prepare for the Republican National Convention. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I've felt led to be there. I've often regretted not being in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention in 2000. I'm certain that I would feel far more regret if I did not head up to New York for this year's convention. I hope to be able to post some of the photographs I shoot next week on my website: WesCheney.com .
I'm not going to New York to commit acts of civil disobedience or anarchistic violence, nor am I going as a convention delegate. Rather, I want to be in New York as an engaged observer, a participatory witness. There are no uninvolved, passive observers- merely be observing an observer participates and influences the observed events, and all the more so when the observer is almost six and a half feet tall and carries a couple of cameras. I plan to be on the streets and in the midst of the people. I will not wear "press credentials," as I do not need any goverment's permission to exercise my First Amendment rights. I will openly express my sympathies with my "Veterans for Peace" ballcap and Quaker t-shirts.
I travel to New York to bear witness and record witness. I believe that my presence on the street will be an affirmation of nonviolence and an act of faith. I hope that my presence in the midst of tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of like-minded, conscientious citizens will inspire tenfolds more to have the courage of their convictions, both in their daily lives and in the voting booth. Moreover, I will be in New York with my cameras, creating a record of a moment in history.
Catholic friends of mine occasionally speak of the "cloud of saints," a term that I find unfamiliar, given my protestant background. I only know that the term has something to do with our Christian brothers and sisters who have gone before us and continue to surround us in the spirit. As I prepare for the Republican National Convention, I have found myself surrounded by a cloud of friends. Several people have called me to say that their prayers go with me, and my co-workers have expressed their support as well. One co-worker even offered to bail me out, although my fiancee will doubtless be happy if I am not arrested and never find the need to post bail. But I was still moved by the offer.
I cannot in any way gauge the efficacy of my participatory witness. But I am often reminded of a quote from a long-forgotten photographer that I xeroxed out of a magazine almost a decade ago, and have re-posted again and again while settling into new abodes,
"Do photographers make a difference? I don't think so. Doctors and social workers make a difference. I think the role of a photographer is to rock the boat."
Well, there's a whole lot of rocking to do in New York next year, and I'm going to be there.
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