Then she heard about the website Public Public Address on Instagram. The project accepts video submissions of people protesting wherever they can — in their basements, bedrooms or garages — before an algorithm incorporates the clips into a “live” feed broadcast online around-the-clock.
Duggan uploaded a video of herself walking with a sign that read “Say her name” above a picture of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police during a drug raid in March that found no illegal substances. A few weeks later, Duggan appeared amid a colorful montage of other solo protesters who had done the same thing.
In a year that includes a pandemic and widespread calls to end social injustices, those who have health concerns and political opinions can’t always put their bodies where their hearts want them to be. Public Public Address founders hope the outlet offers an opportunity to protest for a group that’s been accustomed to sitting out.
Online, images of the marchers fold into one another in layers that are infinitely unspooling. People from around the world bear messages from “Only you and I can end racism” to — in the arms of one person with what looks like a firearm in her waistband — “More POC should own guns,” referring to people of color.
They are no longer protesting alone.
“I felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential on what I could be doing,” Duggan said. “It’s mine and every person’s duty to work as hard as they can to work against these awful things. It’s a great opportunity for me to join in on that.”
Jason Lazarus, an assistant professor of art and art history at the University of South Florida in Tampa who co-founded Public Public Address, didn’t just have an aesthetic interest in the project. He suffers from arthrogryposis multiplex congenita — the same condition a New York Times reporter mocked by President Trump in 2015 suffers from, he said. (Reporter Serge F. Kovaleski previously worked for The Washington Post).
Though Lazarus said he is “relatively able-bodied,” he has limited range of motion and chronic pain, and participating in demonstrations demands some “problem-solving.” Public Public Address offers a safe protest platform for some who wouldn’t otherwise have one, he said.
“When I was young I was often relegated to being a witness rather than a participant,” Lazarus said in an email. “For every irreplaceable street protester there are hundreds and thousands of others actively working in myriad ways separated by ability, proximity, and/or access — we need, whenever we can, acknowledgment and visibility of the larger scope of participants.”
Stephanie Syjuco, an artist based in Oakland and another co-founder of the project, said she thinks of Public Public Address as a “digital billboard” that opens up a conversation about protest and visibility. It’s not just sick people who may need to avoid crowds during a public protest, she said, but those who are caring for sick people or are undocumented or who simply don’t have child care.
“Right now, being outside is a privilege not everyone has,” she said. “Public Public Address is not meant to replace street protest, but exists in parallel. … [It’s] a way to make visible other voices and create a different form of gathering.”
Gina Osterloh, an assistant art professor at Ohio State University, can’t venture out to protests because of the pandemic. Around the time nationwide rallies began, her 87-year-old father was recovering from brain surgery, and she’s helping to guide him — and her 80-year-old mother — through his recovery.
To prevent exposure to the coronavirus while letting her voice be heard, she wrote “BIPOC SOLIDARITY,” referring to Black, Indigenous and people of color, in black marker on a pink sign and filmed herself marching in front of a white wall. Even the different handwriting on the signs in Public Public Address, Osterloh said, shows “something related to our personhood.”
“As protesters and as citizens, if we put issues of accessibility first and foremost, that can really shape the way we interact with each other,” she said. “That speaks to a world that is not Trump’s world.”
Though Public Public Address’s message can’t be heard without a digital device, some engaged in analog protests are listening. Donna Davis, a Black Lives Matter organizer in Tampa, said she spread word of the project on social media “because it was beautiful.”
With confrontations between protesters and police around the country in recent months, Davis said the public can easily forget that protest isn’t just about dismantling oppression, but about building something new.
“Art is part of protest,” she said. “People have gotten it into their heads that we’re just here to riot. … This project is good for people’s hearts as much our dissent and disruption in the streets is good for the ballot box.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.