You can’t be what you can’t see. – Marian Wright Edelman
On Sunday, January 27, 2019, California Senator Kamala Harris officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf introduced Harris in front of City Hall. According to various reports, the Oakland Police Department estimated more than 20,000 people attended.
Harris established herself as a leading candidate, but it’s early. The evening that Harris launched her campaign, Howard Schultz (almost) announced that he was running as an Independent. A few days later, the federal government reopened. President Trump finally delivered the State of the Union address. By the time the first votes are cast next February in Iowa, Virginia might… I don’t know about Virginia.
I attended the event with two student journalists. In the photo above, high school student Ivan Garcia is photographing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. Libby introduced and endorsed Senator Harris. I talked with the Lt. Governor and her husband Markos Kounalakis, but I didn’t ask them who they were endorsing. Instead, I asked the Second Gentleman if his title changed when the Governor and the First Partner were out of the state.
In 2011, California’s current First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newsom released a documentary Miss Representation. The Marian Wright Edelman quote at the top of this post appears in the film. It’s a main theme of the documentary. I wonder if it influences how I document events.
I often take different pictures of different people at different places doing different things. I try to help some people be seen.
Having worked on campaigns many years ago, I know that campaign staff are hustling during a big event. Having grown up with a father in law enforcement, I know that police officers appear calm, even when working. Both groups are focused and working hard, even if they appear different.
The people behind the camera are rarely seen, but I see them. Sometimes I forget that I am a photographer, and yet I wonder how photographers do it. Who are these people? Why do they arrive early, stand in one place and wait for hours?
I can’t stand still, so I need to keep moving. I also loaned my telephoto lens to the student photographer so that he could have some better shots and stand in the same place.
While the crowd was walking into the seated area, a reporter asked me what I did. At first, I didn’t have an answer. I almost never have an answer. Then, State Senator Nancy Skinner walked up to the Lt. Governor. Soon, Libby Schaaf and the Lt. Governor visited, and I photographed both of them. I turned to the reporter and said something like, “There, that’s what I do. Some of the leading women politicians in California are talking to each other in front of us, and I photographed them and talked to them. I helped the student journalist meet another leader. That’s what I do.”
And I asked the Second Gentleman a question he had never been asked.
I will remember the Marian Wright Edelman line in the future, because I need it to remind me that I am doing something useful. I am helping document future leaders and future storytellers. I have a purpose.
Sometimes I go crazy when I am at a large event like this, but not because I am in a crowd. I wonder why I am the only person talking to California’s first woman Lieutenant Governor. I start double checking the internet, even though I met her the previous week. (Is she really our Lieutenant Governor?) Are reporters uninterested? Are they unable to see that women can be leaders? Do I see something that others don’t?
I often fear that I am missing something. At an event like this, I start searching for Jennifer Seibel Newsom and Jennifer Granholm (both Californian’s who have an acting history, if my internet searches are correct.) Are they in disguise? While I think that is possible, they could probably appear as themselves and be still be ignored.
Change takes time AND effort. Political rallies are not often portrayed realistically. For many people, the rally was memorable; for some, it was boring. For many people, it was memorable and boring. That’s normal.
It’s also normal that I keep documenting these stories, even if I am only writing for my mom and my children. It’s important that they know I can see what is possible, even if others don’t believe it yet. Anyway, if only for my daughter, that is enough. Today she turns 15. It’s important that she can see what she can be.