“Single-file! Whoa, buddy, back up. Around the barrier. Everyone, Single-file!”
The line captain herded us like cattle, directing traffic toward four separate sound stages. I didn’t expect a mixed team of volunteers and police to handle such a diverse crowd of thousands at the Houston rally.
“How did they organize all this in three days?” I asked my friends, who had talked me into videotaping the event. Justine and Paula showed off for the camera, blowing kisses in full body paint. Justine flashed her body, covered in an ocean of metallic blue with white stars. And Paula boasted patriotic red and white stripes from head to toe.
“What are YOU supposed to represent?” A precinct guard barked at Justine, while men in tactical gear whistled and howled their catcalls at them.
“We’re with Antifa!” Paula taunted back. She shuffled Justine away from the line of ogling fans headed the other way, toward the Veteran stage. The men hooted and waved their MAGA hats from across the roped off barrier, saluting the two gorgeous girls wearing nothing but red, white and blue.
I caught the chaos on video: Trump supporters waved their flags, chanting “Trump 2020!” Crowds of marchers touted signs that covered all colors of the political spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter. While punks and anti-racist skinheads took the “Free Speech” stage across the street.
Separated by ranks of National Guardsmen, officers in uniform ushered the Patriots away from the Anarchists. Yellow police barricades marked the thin line between civil protest and World War III.
I only came to videotape the Art Memorial, taking place behind City Hall. But Justine and Paula planned to be part of the action.
“Don’t you dare mess with those maniacs!” I called to them, unable to hold back my best friends, and capture the crowds at the same time. I couldn’t care less about mobs of militants and anarchist trolls, threatening each other online, or on the streets. Any fool can wage war!
I cared more about real leaders who could make peace. They impressed me more. True community leadership inspired me to film this circus. Not for the show, but the greater message taking shape.
I was proud to hear how volunteers teamed up with BLM and ALM to create a historic art project. In total, they collected ten thousand cans for spray painting a 100-foot portrait of George Floyd to send to the White House as a national tribute.
I searched the grounds, hoping to interview the mural artists, Ronnie and Rena Allen. These artists in residence designed the panels, numbered by color for the crowds to fill in, signing their names and messages of peace from the Third, Fourth and Fifth Wards of Houston.
My camera panned the park of peaceful artists, painting side by side, while music blasted from the stage. I turned toward the direction of “World Wars III and IV,” brewing across the street from City Hall.
And ran smack into someone’s fist.
“Ow! FU--” I almost cussed. A black eye was the last thing I needed. From my own camera.
“Watch where you’re going!” A teen punk in a black mask yanking the scope from my grasp. And slapped the daylights out of me, with all the weight his masculinity could muster. 140 pounds?
“You watch it, Pee Wee!” Paula jumped out of nowhere, as Justine wrestled with him for my camera.
“No cameras past this line!” The tattooed punk yelled at us. “Can’t you read the signs?”
“Or what?” Justine laughed at him. “You’ll call the cops? While you hide behind your mask?”
His jaw dropped when he realized Justine and Paula weren’t wearing anything at all!
“We’re not taking pictures of you. Don’t worry!” I grabbed my camera and ran. “C’mon!”
We quickly dodged across the street, behind the barriers surrounding City Hall, where Veterans and Patriots flocked to rally for police, Trump, and everything great about America.
“You’ll be safer on this side,” I pleaded with my friends. “Promise me you’ll stay out of trouble! You can’t afford to get thrown in jail. With nothing on you but body paint!”
“You’re no fun!” Justine laughed in my face. “Those Antifa guys? Under their masks, they’re all pussies!”
Paula chimed in, “We’re not scared of cops. We have nothing to hide!”
They high-fived and ran off to join the patriotic crowd.
I imagined I’d see them later. Stage-diving on the eleven o’clock news. I shook my head and sighed. Couldn’t wait to see that story!
I adjusted my settings and panned past the flags and fanfare, across the steps of City Hall. And back to the teams of artists, on the ground, working diligently to meet their deadline.
Eight hours and forty-six minutes.
That’s all the time they had to finish the portrait, in honor of Floyd and the eight or nine minutes he took his last breaths, caught on video that made history.
The footage incited outrage across the nation. But inspired me to spotlight the positive side of history in the making. I wanted my message to be uplifting.
To focus on creative solutions, and the impact of art on rebuilding communities. I wanted to capture the artists at work.
“There you are, Congratulations!” I startled Rena and Ronnie, both flustered. He gestured wildly and walked off, to finish a clearly urgent phone call.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” I apologized for the bad timing.
Rena turned to me, “Do you have a cell phone I can borrow?” She looked worried.
“Sure.” I was glad to help. I put down my camera and handed her my phone.
The project was running two hours behind. Depending how dark it got, the team might not finish.
“If the driver can’t leave until 2 p.m., that’s too late. It’s cutting too close!” I overheard Ronnie, asking to bus in art students from his Fourth Ward magnet program.
Rena tried to contact the stage manager for the “Free Speech” rally. If they could announce over the speakers for artists to come paint, a few dozen more hands might save the day.
Unfortunately, nobody answered their calls for backup in time. Rena handed me my phone, and waited to see if Ronnie had better luck.
“Let me call some friends,” I offered, “at the other stage.”
Rena looked at me strangely, with no idea what I was thinking.
Apparently, I didn’t know what I was thinking either!
Justine and Paula answered the call within minutes. Bringing over seventy men in uniform, including police, riflemen in camouflage, Trump and MAGA diehards. And maybe some Antifa.
Rena’s jaw dropped. And so did Ronnie’s phone.
“We heard you needed help to finish the painting to send to Trump at the White House?”
The Chief of Police asked the artists in charge where to station his men, while a patriotic crew of volunteers followed their instructions. As if they were on military time.
I couldn’t believe what my camera lens captured.
Side by side with the other painters, the Patriots filled in the blank panels to complete the picture.
“You mean we can even sign: Go Trump! God Bless America!” asked one older Veteran, expecting firm rejection.
“Yes!” A little girl in braids joyfully pointed to the canvas. “Just check the number on the puzzle piece. It has to match the number on the can.” She instructed the old man she took under her wing.
“You can spray whatever you like, as long as it’s the right color. See, my panel says, Umoja. That means Unity!”
The man’s scowl turned to a smirk. Then a smile, despite himself. Others joined in the effort.
Even the teenage punk, who followed Paula around out of curiosity, decided the concept wasn’t complete without his gang to add their signs to the masterpiece.
By 8:46 p.m., the portrait of George Floyd was finished.
Together, we made a statement. Between the canvas, and the crowd.
And my camera.