το μεγάλο συλλαλητήριο – the big demonstration

on saturday, more than 900 groups (allegedly) convened on syntagma square, in front of the parliament building, for an anti-austerity demonstration. demonstrators called for increased employment, a living wage, income support, and free education, among other issues. i went down to take photographs with the expectation that there would be a sense of electricity and maybe danger in the air, tens of thousands of protesters just one provocation away from starting a massive brawl in the city center. my initial impressions didn’t disappoint me: certainly, the students’ union group promised a high degree of theater as they mustered outside the square.

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top, the student fighting front (rough translation) on the march; bottom, the panhellenic musicians’ union prepare to play “of struggle”, and the marchers’ flags were on staves thick enough to beat someone’s head in.

some of the other groups also had an ominous cast to them, such as the infrastructure workers’ union:

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soon, however, i got the sense that despite the size, this protest was not going to be particularly confrontational. yes, it was crowded, and yes, there was political theater (including the folk singers and che guevera posters) that you expect at demonstrations …

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… but the marchers included the press and social media professionals’ union, who just didn’t seem like the rock-throwing types, and also the old age pensioners (who might have been rock-throwing types at one point, but weren’t now). throughout the morning, the crowds grew thicker, but the energy didn’t grow to match: the demonstration leaders on the stage began calling out slogans in between snippets of protest songs, but the response was pretty tepid.

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play the video
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for the first hour, the dogs couldn’t even bother to move themselves out of the square.

in the end, the local new york times affiliate only gave it two paragraphs, which suggests to me that for a lot of people, after seven years of crisis, this was nothing new.

the fourth post about ladakh

our last full day in leh coincided with al quds day, which falls on the last friday of ramadan. al quds day originated in iran in 1979, and its proponents hold demonstrations to show solidarity with the palestinians. naturally, a protest in favor of the palestinian people wouldn’t be complete without anti-israel and anti-america rhetoric and signs.

i came across the children first. they were sitting in neat lines behind a banner that read “we must all rise, destroy israel and replace it with the heroic palestinian nation.” some of them carried their signs with conviction while others looked like they were dutifully attending a school field trip. a few of the boys acted embarrassed when i raised the camera, so i decided to tease them: “if you’re going to carry the sign, be proud of what it says. don’t hide behind it.” a few of the girls sitting near me quietly called across, “yes, don’t hide, be proud.” it probably wasn’t the most politic thing i’ve ever done, but i was annoyed by my suspicion that at least 20 percent of the kids in the demonstration couldn’t have cared either way about the palestinians.

the adults – overwhelmingly men, of course – seemed committed to the cause, yelling along with the megaphones and raising their fists. a small number smiled for my camera as they passed, but the majority either ignored me or looked warily. (by contrast, when i photographed political marches in tirana, the demonstrators threw themselves in front of my lens with huge grins and thumbs up.) the women who watched from the sidewalks and balconies, on the other hand, regarded the whole thing in relative silence.

there was a significant police presence, so i felt no sense of danger, although i did get the sense that if i’d identified myself as american and jewish(ish), it wouldn’t have earned me any brownie points. there was something thrilling about the experience, although it wasn’t a fun thrill – more of a sense that this was real work in real time, and i had to move fast. in terms of the mechanism of photography itself, i used only two lenses – a 35mm and an 85mm – and there is something liberating about going old school and not worrying about how far to twist the zoom, but the accompanying challenge was to frame the shot with a fixed focal length. picking the right depth of field wasn’t always easy, either, and half the time everything was on manual. i’m not ready to go to aleppo yet, but it beat shooting conferences for usaid.