I have been covering demonstrations, protests and sit-ins as a photojournalist for many years. Documentation of protest was part of my work as the coordinator of the East Timor Alert Network between 1986 and 1992.
One of the salient features of the modern state is the disconnect between the centralized bureaucracy of government and its largely fragmented citizenry, who have very little influence on decision-making between elections. Western liberal democracies in particular, while championing individual liberties, have no concept of collective rights and feel threatened by large groups of people organizing to oppose government policies. Whatever form they take, whatever the issue, mass demonstrations are a unifying experience in a culture that thrives on feelings of isolation and powerlessness.
In addition to telling those in power that we disagree with their decisions and want them changed, demonstrations raise our spirits and bind us together as human beings. There is an energy and a synergy that arises when large groups of people get together. Demonstrations empower us with their potent physicality and assure us that we are not alone; that many, many others share our convictions, our beliefs and our hopes for a better world.
In June 2002, just before the G8 summit in Kananaskis, I was put on a non-accreditation list by the RCMP. I have never been able to find out why. This means I cannot be employed to cover international conferences and events such as the climate talks in Copenhagen and the upcoming Olympics.
In retaliation I am working on a book of photographs and text about the importance and limitations of demonstrations as a means of social and political change.