My Photos in Song Protesting Child Separation Policy

Hard to believe that we’re a nation that puts children in cages. But we do every day at the border.

The Trump administration tried to hide the child separation policy from the public, knowing that it was cruel even for this cruel age. Despite statements from the Department of Homeland Security, families are still being separated.

Americans have hit the streets in protest. With my camera, I’ve documented those protests in Washington, DC, from the White House to DHS headquarters. I want future generations to know that we protested this crime against humanity.

Now, my photos have been put to music in a new song called Cages by Flo Anito and Seth Kibel.

A rough version of this song received an Honorable Mention from the Mid Atlantic Song Contest. This version was recorded at American University and Asparagus Media and will be released on an upcoming EP of original protest music.

Flo Anito has toured Europe and appeared on DC’s biggest stages: Strathmore, Wolf Trap, Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Birchmere, Blues Alley, the Fillmore, Hamilton Live, and Bethesda Blues & Jazz. She’s a clever songwriter with a unique voice and a sense of social mission.

Seth Kibel has been wowing audiences on saxophone, clarinet, and flute for more than a decade. Winner of 28 Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies), his most recent recording, Seth Kibel Presents: Songs of Snark & Despair, features an all-star cast of vocalists and instrumentalists from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

I first met Flo playing soccer. When she asked to use my photos for Cages, I was glad to help. It’s a beautifully moving song written to protest an inhumane policy, one that was done but can be undone. As the chorus goes:

Children and hearts in cages
One by choice, and the other by force
You’ve locked up what’s left of your conscience
You’ve jailed all regrets and remorse
Children and hearts in cages
One of these is an easy fix
Fling open the doors to these prisons
Let parents be with their kids

Letter from Washington: The Cruelty is the Point

Nathan Phillips leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March
Nathan Phillips leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March before the MAGA teens showed up.

When video surfaced of Covington Catholic teens mocking a Native American at the Lincoln Memorial, I realized that I had missed the encounter by just a few minutes.

After work on Friday, I biked to the Lincoln Memorial desperate to see some sun after days of gloom.

At the memorial, I saw Native Americans (including Nathan Phillips) leading everyone in a giant dance with people holding hands in an ever-expanding circle. Pictured above, it was a beautiful moment seeing how everyone came together.

And a respectful one. Non-natives watched the dance from a few feet away. When invited to join, they did so, the dance expanding outward to accommodate newcomers on the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial. A drum played and Phillips sang as I watched this impromptu community demonstrate how we are all one people. Lincoln would be proud.

With all the museums closed due to the Trump Shutdown, there’s not a lot to do in Washington. The outdoor monuments and memorials are some of the few things that are open. The tourists who took part in the Native American dance circle were happy to have this unique experience of a different culture in an iconic setting.

After I left, the Covington Catholic kids came along. While there are innumerable videos and Rashoman-like confusion, one thing is clear: the MAGA teens mocked Phillips. You can see and hear them laughing at him and doing tomahawk chants while surrounding him on the steps of the Lincoln. He’s one elderly man faced off against a sea of youths in Trump gear.

Ironically, they were in Washington for the March for Life. But rather than showing respect for the lives of others, they mocked a Native American elder.

Where were the parents? Supporting them. In the video, you can see the chaperones on the sidelines enjoying the humiliation.

The cruelty is the point is the theme of a great essay by Adam Serwer on the Trump movement. A party that believed in limited government now operates a gulag system across the Southwest for immigrant children.

The Covington Catholic kids chose to wear Trump hats to the March for Life. The purpose of the march was secondary. If any of these callow youth got a girl pregnant, their beliefs would change pretty quickly.

Rather, the march was an opportunity to show the power of the Trump movement in the nation’s capital. With their uniforms and crowds, it was meant to intimidate.

But Nathan Phillips didn’t back down, even as he was jeered. He stood up to hate.

Their behavior exposed, the Covington kids face online humiliation. It won’t last. Like other wealthy men, they won’t suffer for their transgressions.

Ironic that this confrontation occurred under the watchful eyes of Abraham Lincoln. He did more than just free the slaves. He freed all of us from an evil system that poisoned this country, crushing an earlier version of Make America Great Again.

But he is just marble now, his faith and goodness forgotten by a Republican Party that has embraced cruelty.

Trip Report: Orlando Urban Trail

Orlando Urban Trail

Only three miles long, the Orlando Urban Trail packs in art, history and food  as it navigates a city few tourists see.

The trail starts at the edge of downtown Orlando, just off Magnolia Avenue and Lake Ivanhoe.

From there, it follows the path of an old railway, the Dinky Line, which used to ferry students to Rollins College in Winter Park. This green corridor is preserved because the line was used into the 1980s, not by students, but by businesses, including a lumber yard on Mills Avenue.

After going by a brewery, the trail parallels Mills, which is Orlando’s hipster district, home to the once-and-future dive bar Wally’s and the excellent Pig Floyd’s, where I had a pork bento box for lunch.

Pork bento box at Pig Floyd's

Around mile 1.5, the trail reaches Loch Haven Park, home to museums including the Orlando Science Center and the Mennello Museum of American Art.

You cross Mills Avenue, ride along the sidewalk a bit, and then there’s a brief section on neighborhood streets where you wind your way between lakes and by some expensive real estate. Lots of signage – it’s impossible to get lost.

Mead Garden bike sign

The trail ends at Mead Garden, a green spot in Winter Park which offers walking paths and a range of programs, including yoga.

With nearly the entire trail protected from traffic, the Orlando Urban Trail is  ideal for people of all ages. And with museums, parks and restaurants along the route, it makes a great urban adventure.

Safe Streets Needed in the Nation’s Capital

Man blocks traffic to protest city's negligence in protecting people

“A tragedy,” you hear on the news but when you encounter real grief it’s almost impossible to process. You look away from the mother alone in her pain. She lost her son doing something that should be safe – riding an electric scooter in Washington, DC.

And here she was, days after his death, on the spot where he was killed, as cars honked and drivers cursed.

This was the scene at the memorial ride for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, who was run over by an SUV in a Dupont Circle crosswalk. A white ghost scooter was erected to memorialize him, placed at the spot where he died. We then occupied the street for ten minutes, placing our bikes and our bodies on the asphalt for safe streets.

Drivers couldn’t wait ten minutes. Someone died here and they couldn’t wait ten minutes. They honked and honked and a couple even got out of their cars to confront us, a situation thankfully defused by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Ten minutes. Drivers won’t even give ten minutes for someone that they killed. This is why we need safe streets in the nation’s capital.

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After the ten minutes were up, we left the intersection. Drivers poured through, nearly hitting people in the same crosswalk where Carlos Sanchez-Martin was killed. Drivers ran red lights despite the presence of uniformed officers. No tickets were issued.

Rachel Maisler organized the memorial ride. It has become her sad duty to coordinate these events, having brought mourners together for cyclist deaths on H Street and M Street.

And there will be another one, on Thursday, for Thomas A. Hollowell, who was hit by a red-light runner at 12th and Constitution, just off the National Mall.

If you’re murdered by a gun in this city, the police flood the neighborhood. Lights are put up. Squad cars are posted on corners to reassure people that they’re safe.

But if you’re a murdered by a car, nothing is done. I visited 12th and Pennsylvania the day after Hollowell’s death and cars were still running red lights. A more enlightened city would make physical changes to the intersection to make it safer and crackdown on red light runners.

But not the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Safety is not a priority for this unresponsive bureaucracy.

At the memorial for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, a man sat down in the street. This wasn’t planned – no one even knew who he was. He sat down in front of four lanes of traffic with his scooter next to him.

DDOT does so little to stop rampaging drivers that ordinary citizens are willing to put their bodies on the line for safe streets.

The memorial rides are grassroots affairs. Organized by Rachel Maisler, they have forced the city to make changes that keep people safe, like removing parking spaces on the M St bike lane. Negative media coverage is the only thing that DDOT responds to.

The memorial ride for Thomas Hollowell is Thursday 5:30 PM at Farragut Square. People on bikes, scooters, rollerblades or even just walking – anyone who believes in safe streets is welcome. Wear white. It will be a silent procession to where Hollowell lost his life. Follow Rachel Maisler on Twitter for more details.

Chasing the Great American Eclipse

Chasing the Great American Eclipse

Watching the sun go dark in the middle of the day will change how you look at the world. Suddenly, everything you thought of as permanent seems transitory, made even more precious by the idea that the world we know could disappear in an instant.

That was my experience seeing the eclipse last year in western North Carolina, a moment that was both humbling and inspiring.

I was delighted to see my essay and photos in Chasing the Great American Eclipse, a new photobook that documents last year’s epic solar event. This gorgeous tome follows the eclipse as it darkens the United States, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, with stories and images from a nation brought together, if just for a moment.

Letter from Washington: The Choice

U Street Metro

The second cop was serious.

I had been stopped within minutes of crossing the border, my rental car with out-of-state plates a magnet for Kansas police looking for drug smugglers from pot-friendly Colorado. The first set of officers were in a black SUV. I was speeding, as was everyone else that morning on I-70. The officer wasn’t even in a police uniform I recognized but, instead, clad in black from head to toe and wearing body armor, as if he was about to engage heavily armed terrorists on the burnt plains of western Kansas. He peered into my car and told me to slow down.

The second cop was alone. A state trooper. I had slowed down after the first encounter. This one said I had swerved in my lane.

“I’m just going to give you a warning,” he announced. “Where are you coming from by the way?”

“Colorado.”

“What you doing out there?” he asked, pretext blossoming in his mind.

“I went to bike around,” I said, pointing to my bike in the back. I had spent a couple days biking around Frisco and then visiting friends in Denver.

He chatted me up, asking about Frisco and sharing how he had visited there with his son for a baseball tournament. Then he took my license and returned to his car for a very long time.

A good ten minutes passed, more than enough time to write a warning. I realize now that he was watching me to see my reaction. Would I squirm? Toss something out of the car? Fidget nervously? I just sat there, wondering how long it would take me to get out of this flat state full of aggressive police.

Then he returned.

“You don’t have any drugs or guns in the car do you?” he asked.

“No.”

“Do you mind if I search your car?”

It’s a good thing that I’m from Washington, DC, and have dealt with security theater for years. I’ve removed my belt to go through metal detectors, been prodded by rent-a-cops in dimly lit lobbies and had a suspicious granola bar removed from my backpack at the Capitol. I’ve been yelled at by the Security Service for the crime of riding my bike in the street and ordered off the Ellipse during the government shutdown by the Park Police.

“Sure,” I said.

Leaning into my front seat, he zipped open my backpack and peered into it. Then he opened the backseat and did the same to my suitcase.

And then he let me go. Quite the clever little operation he had going – promise just a warning, watch to see if the suspect does anything suspicious and then ask to search the vehicle. How could you refuse?

If I had been an immigrant, a person of color or anything other than a white man with a spotless record, I’d be in jail right now. Guilty or not, he would’ve found a pretext.

A few days later, I was back in DC. Glad to be out of a car, I returned to my auto-free lifestyle, making my way around the city by foot, bike and, occasionally, by Metro.

Metro was a wonder a decade ago, an essential piece of the city that you just assumed would work and always be there. Now, neither guarantee is in place, as we’ve let this vital piece of infrastructure decay and collapse.

But, occasionally, you get glimpses of its past glory. Yesterday, there was a photo exhibit opening that I wanted to attend in Crystal City. It’s an easy bike ride, less than thirty minutes, but on Friday the skies opened up, a week’s worth of heat ending in monsoon rains.

I took the Metro, prepared for the worst of rush hour. But I waited less than a minute at Dupont Circle for a Red Line train. And no wait at L’Enfant Plaza, as I switched trains. The train emerged from a tunnel on a bridge over the Potomac, the skies dark, the 14th St Bridge bright with red taillights of Virginia-bound cars. A couple more stops and I was in the underground warren of Crystal City, as traffic in the city ground to a halt due to flooding. Returning home was equally easy.

Cities need subways. A nation’s capital especially needs one for the thousands of federal workers that rely on it every day. And god forbid there’s an actual emergency in Washington – you’re not evacuating the city on streets that gridlock during mere rain.

We’re told there’s no money for a working Metro. No money for health care. No help for the poor. That’s socialism.

But there’s plenty of money to patrol the wastelands of Kansas. Cash grants are available to outfit corn-fed yahoos with assault weapons, body armor and gas-guzzling SUVs. Federal funds flow out of Washington, where they are needed to fix the Metro, to the empty quarter of America.

It doesn’t have to be this way. To quote Barack Obama’s recent speech, the upcoming midterms offer us, “one of those pivotal moments when every one of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine just who it is that we are.”

Are we a nation that jails immigrant children, punishes the poor and wastes billions on a vast security state or are we a people that invests in a future that we can all share? Find out on November 6.

Capital Bikeshare Plus: First Impressions

Capital Bikeshare Plus

Capital Bikeshare goes electric!

CaBi has added electric bikes to their arsenal, as part of a pilot program that runs through November. Capital BikeShare Plus, they call it. These new ebikes are designed to be used just like the iconic red bikes, integrating seamlessly into the existing Capital Bikeshare system. There’s no additional charge to use them for CaBi members.

As a long-time CaBi user, I was anxious to try one. I checked the CaBi app and saw that one was available, delineated with a little lightning bolt on the map. Shazam!

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The electric bikes are black and easy to spot. I unlocked it from the dock the way I do with any other CaBi, with a fob on my keychain. Among the many things that Capital Bikeshare gets right is ease of use.

Pulling it out of the dock, I noticed it looks and feels almost exactly like the familiar red bikes. If it’s heavier, I didn’t notice, and it handles just like a CaBi, except faster.

There are a few key differences, however, the biggest being pedal assist. To activate it, you press a button on the battery on the bike. I expected a light or something to turn on. Nothing did.

But, after I got on and pressed down on the pedal, I knew: this is on! Almost too on, sending me flying down the sidewalk before I was fully prepared.

Capital BikeShare Plus bikes have three gears, just like the red bikes, and, like the red bikes, the first two gears are useless.  a variable transmission, according to the ever-knowledgeable Mr. T in DC. Like I do with the three-speed CaBis, I kept it in the highest gear.

There are a couple other nice additions to the bike too. The first being a functional basket, rather than the magazine rack on normal CaBis. The fenders are longer and more robust. The bell is better, too, built in to the handlebars rather than hanging off it.

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But you don’t care about that. How fast is it?

Fast. While the top speed is limited to 18 mph, you get up to that speed almost instantly. A couple turns of the pedal, the motor kicks in and you’re merrily racing along.

I tried not to be a jerk about it. I didn’t blow by cyclists going uphill, but instead let my speed drop, following them as they labored over the gears like factory workers.  On straightaways, I passed “serious” cyclists on road bikes, hunched over, sweating, lycra-clad, while I rode by, smiling, upright, in a polo shirt.

Speed is fun. Americans love speed and 18 mph in a world where everyone is going ten seems helluva fast.

But where e-bikes shine is going uphill. I had to go to an appointment near L’Enfant Plaza. With my speedy CaBi Plus, I got there early. With time to kill, I decided to test the bike by taking it up the steep slope of Capitol Hill on the sweatiest, hottest morning of September.

And it was no work at all, the bike climbing the hill almost effortlessly. If I had taken a non-electric CaBi, I’d be nearing a heart attack when I reached the top, but with CaBi Plus, my heart rate barely changed.

On the way back down Capitol Hill, I followed a guy in a suit on an electric scooter, a sign that e-transportation is the future. Electric bikes and scooters are ideal for short trips, particularly in cities. The coming decades may not belong to Tesla but to something much simpler: electric bikes.

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CaBi Plus, and electric bikes in general, are also perfect the vast majority of Americans who don’t feel comfortable on a bike. Pedal assist allows people with health issues to ride again, as well as people who don’t want to get sweaty. They also allow people to get up to speed quickly, which is useful when commuting in traffic.

I was sad to return Capital BikeShare Plus to the dock – that’s when you know it’s love. But there are eighty of them in the city so I’m sure we will meet again.

Media Appearance: Bike Angel

Think stories, not press releases, if you want media coverage.

As an avid Capital Bikeshare member, I was delighted to talk about their new Bike Angel program on the local CBS affiliate, WUSA9.

Bike Angels earn points for taking bikes from stations that have too many and moving them to stations with too few. Ten points and you receive a free day pass that you can give to a friend; twenty and you receive a one-week extension of your membership.

If you live or work downtown, it’s pretty easy to rack up points, since there are stations that always need bikes. At the start of the program, I was the #1 Angel in DC, a point of pride, but have since slipped way down the leaderboard (I’m JF002).

My braggadocio is what caught the attention of John Henry, a reporter for WUSA9. My name popped up when he searched for mentions of Bike Angel on Twitter.

He asked to interview me and I replied, “You mean on camera?” I prefer to be behind the lens, not in front of it, but will get on TV to talk about bikes. John interviewed me for about 10 ten minutes on a sweltering day at Dupont Circle. He was a one-man operation, with a couple of cameras and a mic.

It was fascinating to see the final result, which aired on the 11 PM broadcast, how he took quotes from me, shots of people on bikes, and his narration to tell a story. It’s a quality piece of video and a very positive representation of biking in the city.

The other lesson I took from this experience: reporters want to find their own stories. I’ve worked in places that pump out press releases and then wonder why no one picks them up. It’s because a press release is not a story.

Capital Bikeshare announcing a new service is not a story. Local man inspired to move bikes around for points – that’s a story. My goal of being the #1 Bike Angel in DC provides a focus for viewers, someone they can identify with (or not). Rather than dryly describing how the Bike Angel program works, we see it through my eyes, with the built-in tension of, “Will Joe become the #1 Bike Angel in DC?” (No, he will not.)

In a city like Washington, reporters are inundated with press releases. The organizations that issue them wonder why media organizations don’t run them verbatim.

It’s because most press releases are dry recitations of fact. Instead, find a human that readers can identify with and tell their story to communicate your message.

Letter from Washington: Occupy Lafayette Park

Mariachi band performs at Occupy Lafayette Park

We’ve reached the banana republic stage of resistance to Trump, in which the United States has come to resemble a South American caudillo with pot-banging protests outside the Presidential Palace.

It’s Occupy Lafayette Park, a nightly happening that mocks Trump from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I was there at the beginning, when this home-grown event started up in the wake of the Treason Summit in Helsinki. The brainchild of Philippe Reines, a former Clinton staffer, the objective was a simple one: make some noise. Let Trump know that we object to whatever secret agreement he negotiated with his Russian masters.

Since then, I’ve taken photos and watched the protests grow and morph into a nightly celebration of opposition. There have been dinosaurs (Treason T-Rex), Pikachu, Michael Avenatti, Alyssa Milano, a Russian translator to speak Trump’s language, songs, chants, dancing, the woman who confronted Scott Pruitt at Teaism and a squad of folks carrying glowing letters that spell out TREASON and LIAR. It is Washington’s hottest party.

The most memorable night was when an 18-piece mariachi band showed up to serenade Trump as he tried to sleep. As the sky grew dark, the musicians launched into spirited versions of Cielito Lindo and Viva Mexico, the crowd singing along with them.

There is something incredibly moving to be with people united in song, a people that have been locked out of power, but united in a diverse and hopeful celebration of this country, an America that existed long before the Trumpkins, and will continue long after they’re gone. This country will endure the assaults on our liberty and ultimately emerge triumphant.

But it won’t be easy. “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” to quote Thomas Paine.

Occupy Lafayette Park continues, night after night, through the steamy heat and tropical storms of summer in Washington. Every evening, around seven, they begin their vigil, filling the street outside the White House with signs, songs and chants, a reminder to the very temporary occupant of the presidency that his days are numbered.

Note: the protests began with the Twitter hashtag #OccupyLafayettePark but have moved on to #KremlinAnnex. Follow them there. Or just show up outside the White House at 7 PM any night.

Letter from Washington: The Jericho Protest

The Jericho Protest

Small acts of rebellion, like the Jericho Protest, serve to remind others that they’re not alone.

On Sunday mornings, I like to go for coffee at Peet’s by the White House. Located on a sunny corner, it’s a good place to write in the quiet moments just after dawn. Inside, it’s usually just me, Secret Service agents taking a break and the odd jogger.

One of those odd joggers is the man from the Jericho Protest. I saw him a couple months ago. A runner with a vuvuzela. He stopped in front of 1600 Pennsylvania, blew his horn, and jogged off. Clearly, it was his Sunday morning routine.

So, when I saw a person with a horn in front of Peet’s, I had to stop and get his photo. He does seven laps around the White House, blowing his horn on each circuit, just like the Jericho legend.

The plaza in front of the White House is blocked off to cars. Located at the intersection of two major bike lanes, it’s the Mixing Bowl of #BikeDC. If you bike in this city, and are going east-west or north-south, it’s hard to avoid the Trumpian residence.

How do you respond?

Some go out of their way, not wanting to be reminded of the figure in the White House.

Others incorporate protest into their daily routine.

Flipping off the White House

There’s a cyclist who flips off the President every morning. For a while, I had the same schedule as her. I’d see her, the woman in the Ortlieb backpack, one hand held up in defiance as she pedaled by, her moment of protest for the day.

On Tyranny is a great little book on defending democracy. In it, Timothy Snyder highlights that tyranny is only possible through consent. Our actions, even small ones, matter:

The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote

Rites of resistance, from blowing a horn at the White House to flipping off the President, make a difference, for they signal to others that Americans will not give up democracy without a fight.