Waving Big Pictures of Yourself in Favor of Amnesty: Now A First Amendment Activity

by Betsy Woodruff

In a comparatively interesting day on Capitol Hill, hundreds of protesters descended on the Mall (It’s allowed! It counted as First Amendment Activity!) to protest for a comprehensive immigration bill. About 200 protesters (including eight members of Congress) eventually got arrested, but first, the interesting part: There were a number (at least half a dozen) of people hoisting signs that had huge pictures of human faces on them. At first I figured these must be mug shots. No: They were large images of smiling people against polka-dotted backgrounds, and the people holding the signs were the people depicted. The protesters were walking around with really big pictures of themselves.

This struck me as weird. The idea of walking around in public carrying a really large image of your face isn’t one that would have necessarily come to my mind if the aim is convincing your congressmen to pass immigration reform, so I did a little bit of Journalism with a capital J and asked these folk what this picture stuff was all about. A few of the people I spoke with didn’t speak English well enough to explain, which was problematic because college Spanish taught me to say “I like the food of Mexico” and “Please, my friend, where is the beer?” but not “Why are you carrying a bigger-than-life-size photo of yourself against a polka-dot background and what does it have to do with the Senate Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration-reform bill?” Luckily, I bumped into an 18-year-old who told me her name was Lily Sage (I am pure of heart; I choose to believe that’s her real name) and she explained her choice to carry an enormous picture of herself:

“Um, from what I know it’s, um, essentially an art project, um, public art, street art, I gotta go.”

How does it work?

“It’s free, they take your picture, they print it out really big and it promotes awareness that we are all inside out.”

“They,” I learned through some search-engine magic, refers to the Inside Out Project, which describes itself on its website as “a global art project transforming messages of personal identity into works of art.” Good news! If you like your face enough, people on the Internet will help you wave around a huge picture of it.

As it turns out, though, there’s a real connection between the Inside Out Project and the Gang of Eight bill. Per the same website, talking about what I assume is a sub-project of Inside Out project:

I HAVE A DREAM is a project that consist of portraits of young immigrants in the US that are fighting for the right of education for undocumented youth. Many young kids arrive to the US at an early age and consider themselves Americans. However, as they grow up they realize that they do not have access to higher education. This photographic project intends to speak up for their message and honor their fight.

Fair enough, makes sense. But the total effect of a bunch of people waving pictures of their faces at a rally seems more like unintentional self-parody of stereotypes about Millennials than a practical way to help get educations to the children of parents who came to the United States illegally. That said, I sort of like the idea of waving a picture of my face around and might start doing it just for fun, I don’t know. Public art!

Anyway, the main event was the arrest of eight sitting U.S. congressmen, along with upwards of 200 other protesters. Representatives Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.), Al Green (D., Texas), Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) John Lewis (D., Ga.), Raúl Grijalva (D., Ariz.), Joe Crowley (D., N.Y.), and Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) were all zip-tied and loaded into police vehicles. The arrests weren’t a surprise; along with the rest of the protesters, the soon-to-be convicts had gathered in front of the Smithsonian Castle earlier in the afternoon and, after an interfaith blessing, marched up to First Street NW, where they stood and sat in the middle of the road in front of the Capitol until police arrested them and loaded them, one by one (it took a while) into buses and vans.

Blocking traffic seems to be a preferred mode of civil disobedience for advocates of comprehensive immigration reform; a few weeks ago, more than 100 protesters were arrested for doing the same thing.

Lord knows what Congressional Republicans were doing during the arrests, but at least some very very big pictures of people’s faces were looking on.


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