March for Our Lives demonstrates in San Jose

Demonstrators nationwide called for universal background checks on gun sales.

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An unidentified figure wearing their hair in a ponytail holds a black sign with orange letters that read,

Gun violence and legislation revolving owning a firearm has been a hot debate after two key mass shooting events: Las Vegas and Parkland High School. Both incidents involved weapons with the capability of delivering high capacity rounds. Parkland High School students took to the media and their local politicians to push legislation on gun control. The March for Our Lives campaign proclaims that now is the time to have this conversation.

March for Our Lives descends on many cities

A woman holds a sign that reads "No more silence. End Gun Violence." The crowd in the background are crossing Third Street and there is a Starbucks in the background.
A woman holds a sign that reads “No more silence. End Gun Violence.”

The student led-initiative, March for Our Lives, sparked a movement that culminated in a nation wide participation with over 800 incidents (New York Times). Here are the key initiatives the movement is interested in accomplishing:  

  • “Universal and comprehensive background checks” 
  • “Bringing the ATF into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database 
  • “Funds for the Center for Disease Control to research the gun violence epidemic in America”
  • “High-capacity magazine ban”
  • “Assault weapons ban”

The counter arguments to an assault weapon ban, according The Hill, include:

  • Defend the 2nd amendment
  • A ban would make schools an easier target
  • Weapon confiscation violates rights

The main counter solution, echoed by President Trump, is arming teachers and provide increased cash compensation and training as incentive.

I attended the San Jose, CA March for Our Lives demonstration. The weather played a contributing factor in participation. Half way through the event the rain caused a majority of the crowd to disperse. Some of the signs consistent with the movement were present. A forum held expressed the disappointment of some Americans defending assault weapons rather than defending the innocent lives that were lost. According to the speakers and the March for Our Lives movement, the next step for those influenced by the movement is to attend town hall events and vote.

How to cover demonstrations as a photojournalist

Demonstrators march in heavy rain down the street in San Jose, California. A sign for San Pedro Square is in the background. An unidentified figure in the foreground looks down the street toward the park.
The weather played a contributing factor in participation. Half way through the event the rain caused a majority of the crowd to disperse.

From a photography standpoint, this was a very easy event to document. All demonstrators were open to being photographed and proudly displayed their signs. The biggest obstacle was the rain, which made for a chaotic end to the march. I shoot with a weather sealed Fuji XT2 and a weather sealed lens so the equipment was solid, however I really should have dressed for the weather. Next time, I’ll bring a rain jacket that doesn’t obstruct my field of view when shooting.   

Street scene in San Jose with demonstrators crossing San Pedro Street. It is raining and many people carry umbrellas. In the immediate foreground is two people in bunny suits, holding signs around their neck that reads "buns not guns".
Check the weather and dress appropriately and make sure that all of your gear is up to the task.

All of the same photographic rules apply when documenting an event like this, framing, rule of thirdscompositional lines and make sure the subject is kept in focus. Continuous auto-focus, faster shutter speeds, and proper exposure will help. From a preparedness and best practice standpoint, here are my recommendations:  

  • Check the weather, and dress appropriately. Don’t be like me. Dress for the event and be prepared.  
  • Ensure your gear is prepared for this event. Bring an all-around zoom lens such as the 24-70mm. This helps you focus on the things happening around you rather than switching primes. You’ll be prepared to capture the right moments. A smartphone is also great if you don’t have a DSLR, here are some tips on taking good smartphone photos.
  • Document everything and be objective. This will help you tell your story and reach a wider audience that is interested in seeing how the event transpired. Regardless of the protester’s affiliation, give equal coverage.

What’s Next?

The March for Our Lives movement urges that this is the first of several steps. The second step is to attend town hall meetings with local politicians and the final step is to vote.  An assault weapons ban has never been threatened as it is now and early polls show Democrats with a lead in securing Congress in 2020. This movement was made possible by the survivors of the Parkland shooting. Their persistence and courage to challenge the status quo keeps the gun control debate alive and a hot topic for the 2020 primary elections. March For Our Lives is the biggest movement against gun control and it was made possible by a new generation unwilling to accept current legislation for gun control in America.

This movement offers a series of opportunities for photographers to document political climate and change in America. Get your gear, check the weather, read through our tutorials and document.

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