I Filmed A Year’s Worth Of Anti-Trump Protests. Here's What I Learned.
Isabel Castro, producer of the new documentary series America Uprising, breaks down how the simple act of storytelling can bridge what seems like an impossible divide.
There is an immigration rights activist in Florida named Catalina Santiago. She has DACA, but her parents are undocumented. They work picking okra. It’s so hot in Florida that they have to go out into the fields hours before sunrise. When it rains, they have to work in inches of mud. Hunched over, they methodically walk up and down the rows of okra until the sun comes up.
Some of that okra ends up on plates at local restaurants in Florida, a state Trump dominated, winning all but 9 of its 67 counties.
The people who are being threatened with expulsion by the Trump administration are the ones doing the dirty work that supports the businesses of the very people who want them out. But a connection between the two is one that is rarely made, and this disconnect in narratives is causing anger and antagonism.
I wasn’t active in politics before the election. I posted selfies on Instagram with my “I voted” sticker. I was interested in specific issues and policies, like the struggles asylum seekers face in the United States, which was the subject of my first documentary, Crossing Over.
As the election neared, however, I was drawn into the energy around political and civil discourse. The ways that US citizens were actively participating in politics was inspiring to me, and I wanted to better understand it.
At the time, I had been working at VICE for about three years, and was ready to do something different. So I went to work on what would eventually become America Uprising, a documentary series about protest under the current administration, which seeks to explain the reasons some feel motivated to channel that anger into political dissent.
America Uprising tells stories of protests organization post-election through first-person perspectives. Through short documentaries and sit-down interviews, we follow activists, politicians, and historians—people like iconic environmentalist Bill McKibben, the Founder of 350.org, but also people like Catalina, who’s launching strikes among farmworkers to remind communities of the importance of immigrant labor.
Our primary aim is to launch a discussion about what works, what doesn’t, and to illuminate the broader political context of civil unrest in our current political climate. And we’re seeing how violent tactics on both sides only serve to further galvanize the opposition.
Working on this series has also illustrated the threat being posed to people’s livelihoods. People like Catalina are having to fight for their right to be here, and to work. Undocumented members of Catalina’s community like her parents are considering going back to their home-countries after years of contributing to a nation that isn’t supporting them in return. From both an economic and cultural perspective, that’s a loss.
This can feel demoralizing, but then my mind goes back to a diner, only a few miles away from the okra farm: My co-producer and I stopped for breakfast after we had been filming Catalina and her family at work. The waitress asked us why we were covered in mud and, when we told her that we had been in the fields filming the pickers, she exclaimed that farm labor was such hard work—work she’d never be willing to do, and that she had so much respect for those who did it.
There was, in that moment, a glimmer of a way to bridge the narrative disconnect. Storytelling had brought about the possibility of spanning the chasm between two sides of a polarizing debate.
Conversation and storytelling force people to wallow in the grey, which is uncomfortable, but the comfort of polarity isn’t going to move us forward. Protests are powerful. Going out and surrounding yourself with tens or hundreds, or thousands of people with whom you share at least one struggle is empowering.
But one of the best solutions to the clusterfuck of a dumpster fire we have right now is to tell stories. So listen to them, really truly listen to them, learn from them, amplify them, and tell some of your own.
Words: Isabel Castro as told to Pippa Biddle
Photos: Isabel Castro//Catherina Scarpellini (photo 2)