WNW MEMBERS HEAD TO PROTESTS TO GET THE STORIES BEHIND THE SIGNS
It's easy to think you've got the whole story just by zooming in on the bright, bolded, and often clever signs that stand out above the crowd of protesters. But WNW Members Ivan Cash and Michael Reiner recognized that there's a much more accurate portrait of America to be heard by handing the mic to the person holding the sign. Below, we interview Ivan, who along with Michael set out to get the stories behind the signs. So far, they've attended two protests, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento. The video above gives a voice to several different individuals in the San Francisco crowd, capturing a wealth of personal experiences. But there is also a recognition that these protests are about the overall community: "One question we asked that didn’t make the cut was 'What gives you hope?' and it was inspiring to hear people talk about how meaningful it’s been for them to find community through social action. There’s a sense of unity and belonging and connectedness that’s otherwise often lacking in our digital 21st century."
Now, they've set their sights on raising funds to go to a conservative rally elsewhere in the country. Ivan, whose work has always been socially charged, offers some great advice on the balancing act of giving yourself fully to what you believe in, while also taking care of yourself: "My one piece of advice is for people to take care of themselves and not burn out. This is a long haul. Life is a long haul. While there may very well be more to feel upset / frightened / scared about now than ever, the only way to make sustainable positive social change is by first taking care of oneself. That’s my mantra these days. Take action. Take solitude. Take a day off social media. A day without the news. Go for a walk in the woods. Then go protest! Balance is key."
Tell us a little bit about your latest project Signs of the Times. What was the impetus behind it and what do you hope to achieve?
In these adversarial times, protest signs have become works of art. They have come to represent the single idea people want to share with the world. And they’re being held up by all types of people––children, men, women, transgendered folks. From Jews and Christians to Muslims and atheists— all connected by having an important message to voice to the world.
WNW Member Michael Reiner and I wondered what it’d look like to document a diverse collection of protest signs from all types of people and cultures, interviewing the “sign holders” amidst the passion and chaos of the protest, to learn the story behind the sign. We specifically sought out signs that felt personal rather than coming from internet memes.
We thought an added twist of never seeing the person’s face (only their sign) could be powerful, and allow viewers to focus on their single message they wanted to get across without inherent bias or judgement based on appearance.
We’re hoping this San Francisco version is just episode 1, and that we’ll be able to make (either on our own or with partners) a larger series of films documenting the art of protest both nationally and worldwide.
And while we most certainly have strong opinions about the current state of affairs in America, we tried our best to walk a fine line of simply capturing people’s stories, rather than serving an agenda. We’re currently looking for a pro-Trump rally to do a companion piece, which we’d hope to make in an equally compassionate way.
How many protests or rallies have you gone to thus far to document the signs and the people behind/underneath them? Have you picked up on any differences in the signs at each protest?
We’ve been to many protests before the project, but since deciding to do the project, we’ve been to two protests/rallies. The second was in Sacramento, which we assumed would be more conservative, but it wasn’t. Now we’re trying to raise funding to go to a conservative rally elsewhere in the country.
These are very polarizing times. What steps are you taking to keep Signs of the Times somewhere in the middle?
We’re trying to keep this about people’s unique, personal stories, rather than dogmatic or ideological narratives. I think that helps. It also helps to stay curious and open minded, meaning I don’t rule out “the other side.” I think this compassion to both sides shows through in the final edit.
What have been a couple of the early realizations you’ve discovered thus far?
One question we asked that didn’t make the cut was “What gives you hope?” and it was inspiring to hear people talk about how meaningful it’s been for them to find community through social action. There’s a sense of unity and belonging and connectedness that’s otherwise often lacking in our digital 21st century.
People only have so much physical space to get your attention and their point across with their signs. Can you share a sign or two that caught your eye and stuck with you above the rest?
To me it’s more about the stories than the signs. That’s the beauty of it. The sign might be duller but the personal story could be extraordinary.
One example was at the Pro-Life Protest / Planned Parenthood rally in Sacramento. A woman had a sign that said “Honk if you’re Pro-Choice” which was visually simple and generic looking, but her story was pretty touching. Essentially, her mom became pregnant when she was 46. Everyone urged her to get an abortion, but her mom decided to have the baby. And that baby was that woman.
Your work is always socially charged, but do you feel a certain added immediacy these days?
Yes and no. There’s always immediacy to be socially active and so while it’s great that it’s becoming more popular, that doesn’t mean there weren’t things worth fighting for before.
My one piece of advice is for people to take care of themselves and not burn out. This is a long haul. Life is a long haul. While there may very well be more to feel upset / frightened / scared about now than ever, the only way to make sustainable positive social change is by first taking care of oneself. That’s my mantra these days. Take action. Take solitude. Take a day off social media. A day without the news. Go for a walk in the woods. Then go protest! Balance is key.
What’s next for Signs of the Times?
Hopefully covering a pro-Trump rally.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We made this video in 3 days. We honed in on the idea on a Friday, shot on a Saturday, and then edited on Sunday. It always inspires me to work on projects that can go from concept to creation so quickly! And whose to say what actually makes a difference, but Chelsea Clinton tweeted the video, which was impressive and powerful!
This is a collaborative piece that wouldn’t be possible without writer Michael Reiner, producer Janice Echevarria, BEAST editor Blake Bogosian, and the encouragement from M ss ng P eces (who represents me as a director).
Director: Ivan Cash
Produced by M ss ng P eces
Writer: Michael Reiner
Editor: Blake Bogosian
PA: Janice Echevarria
Music: Goldmund & Helios via Marmoset