A Camera: His Weapon vs. Injustice

November 3rd, 2006 - by admin

Juan Gonzalez / New York Daily News – 2006-11-03 23:15:22


(November 1, 2006) — When the bullets started to fly, New York photojournalist Bradley Will was clutching a camera, doing what he loved most — filming a group of downtrodden people fighting for respect in some forgotten corner of our world.

This was last Friday, on a narrow street on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico, where Will, 36, a longtime member of New York’s radical IndyMedia Center, had gone in early October to document an amazing story. It is one our own national media somehow managed to ignore for five long months.

Since June, residents of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico’s poorest region, have been in open yet relatively peaceful rebellion against the abuses of their governor, Ulises Ruiz.

Thousands of teachers have shut down all the public schools throughout the state. Their supporters in the student and trade union movements, numbering in the tens of thousands, occupied the grand old central plaza in the capital city.

The protesters chased Ruiz and his administration out of the state capital. They took over the radio and television stations and organized spontaneous so-called Oaxaca People’s Assemblies in dozens of smaller towns across the state. They vowed to keep up the protests until Ruiz, a leader of Mexico’s corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party, resigned.

Not since China’s Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 had a Third World nation witnessed such a massive and intractable public protest. But you couldn’t tell that by watching network news reports in this country or reading the national press. Here was Mexico, our next-door neighbor and one of the world’s most populous nations, in the throes of a huge crisis, and the big American media paid no attention.

So Jenny Smith, Will’s close friend for many years, wasn’t surprised when she heard he was heading for Oaxaca. Smith first met Will back in 1993, when she was 19 and they were both budding poets in Boulder, Colo., enrolled in something called the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

“Every issue that involved people being oppressed or needing help, Brad wanted to be there,” Smith said yesterday. “He was just fearless.”

For a few years, Will wandered the country, first as a tree-sitting environmental activist in the Pacific Northwest, then as a squatter and defender of community gardens on the lower East Side. At some point, he picked up a camera and turned to documentary films.

He took his camera to Ecuador and Brazil to do stories on peasants fighting to recover their land, and to Prague to chronicle protests against the World Trade Organization.

Wherever there was a cause the big commercial media ignored, Will headed there to tell the story. “He went to places where popular movements were trying to create direct democracy,” said Eric Laursen, another longtime friend. “Sometimes, he seemed to defy gravity.”

There are more than a few in our modern media who desperately want to dismiss social activist-journalists such as Will, the same way that a hundred years ago others sought to discredit muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair.

Last Friday, Will was filming on the outskirts of Oaxaca in a place where no other American journalist had bothered to go. His film, available on YouTube.com, shows a large red dump truck drive onto a narrow street. A few dozen protesters start throwing rocks at the men in the truck, who are supporters of the government.

Suddenly, men in plainclothes from the truck begin to fire guns. The crowd retreats. Another shot is fired and Will is heard crying out. His camera, still running, falls to the ground. Will, shot in the stomach, would die minutes later.

Initial press reports in this country claimed he died in a crossfire. His 80-second film clip, however, shows no crossfire. All the shooting came from one side.

The next day, thousands of federal police moved in and retook the city’s downtown in a show of force. Early this week, Oaxaca’s governor refused a request by both houses of Mexico’s congress for his resignation, so the crisis continues.

Maybe now it will get a little more attention.

(c) 2006 Daily News, L.P.

My Friend Brad Will Has Been Shot to Death in Oaxaca
David Rovics

For more information on the death of brad will and the circumstances surrounding it, check out
www.indymedia.org and www.narconews.com.

(October 29, 2006) — brad will was a dear friend, and a true revolutionary. he died the way countless and uncounted numbers of beautiful people have died in recent centuries — he was shot in the chest by rightwing paramilitaries.

he was filming the scene around one of thousands of barricades that have shut down oaxaca city since last june, when the governor there tried to ban public expressions of dissent, thus throwing one more historical spark into one more historical powder keg.

brad embodied the spirit of indymedia. he was not just covering stories that the “mainstream” press ignores, such as the exciting, violent revolutionary moment which has gripped oaxaca for several months now. brad was not risking his life to get a good shot of a confrontation at a barricade because he might get a photo on the cover of a newspaper, get some (perhaps well-deserved) fame and money — he was posting his communiques on indymedia, for free.

sure, brad was filming in order to cover history. but he was there also to make history. brad knew that a camera is a weapon, or hopefully a shield of some sort, and sometimes can serve to de-escalate a situation, to protect people from being violated, beaten, killed. and brad knew that if the independent media didn’t document history, nobody else would.

brad deeply appreciated the power of music and culture. if he didn’t have a camera in his hands, he often had a guitar. during some of his many travels around latin america he wrote emails to me about the musicians he met, with whom he shared my songs and recordings. he particularly liked my song “saint patrick battalion,” and reportedly shared his rendition of it with lots of people. he would not live to know just how much his life and death would resemble the san patricios, who died fighting for mexico during the first u.s. invasion of that country in the 1840’s.

through all brad did and saw on large swaths of three different continents, he somehow continually brought with him a boundless enthusiasm and obvious love of life, love, a good party, or a good riot.

he was my favorite kind of person, my favorite kind of revolutionary — the sort who is just as comfortable talking about revolutionary theory, current events, music, relationships or smoking a bowl on a manhattan rooftop at sunset. the kind of person who is alive, in mind, body and spirit, in equal proportions.

brad became a radical long before it was briefly fashionable in the u.s. (with the wto protests in seattle), and long since it became unfashionable there (september 11th, 2001). the kinds of tactics and politics that the global justice movement became briefly known for were practiced by people like brad in the squatters’ movement in new york city and the radical environmental movement on the west coast in the 1990’s.

brad was in both places and many more. brad was somewhere near the ground floor of many other more recent anarchist institutions — food not bombs, critical mass, reclaim the streets, guerrilla gardening, indymedia. he saw the connections, deeply understood the concept of “the commons,” and went for it, as an activist, a videojournalist, a musician and a cheerleader.

i never knew brad’s last name until he was murdered. for me he was just brad. in my cell phone he was “brad nyc” (to distinguish him from another good friend named brad, who lives in baltimore).

i don’t remember talking with him much about his past, where he grew up, how he became a revolutionary, though we may have talked about that sort of thing. but generally i saw him in the course of events, whether it was a film showing/concert on a brooklyn rooftop, a land occupation in the bronx, or, just as often, a large demonstration against an evil financial institution somewhere in the world.

i’ve sung at many such events, and brad has been at most of them — and he’s been present at many which i didn’t make it to. they’re all such a blur, i don’t remember which ones anymore. but the many encounters always start out with a warm smile and a hug, and usually involve some kind of chaos going on, with brad comfortably in the middle of it.

sometimes — all too rarely, i suddenly realize — the encounters would continue after the chaos subsided, and we could be in a quiet place with a small group of people, chilling and talking about life, my favorite bits.

there have been many debates about whether it is more useful to organize large events or to focus on community organizing locally. whether to focus on recording history or making it. whether to educate or to act. whether to have a party or have a meeting. brad clearly decided that the correct answer is “all of the above.”

the reality of this is easy to demonstrate — talk to anybody in new york city involved with just about any aspect of the progressive movement. it’s a city of 8 million people, but if they are serious participants in the more grassroots end of the movement, they know brad. though they may not have known his last name. he’s just brad, the tall, thin guy with long hair who is often flashing a warm, gentle smile with a compassionate, intelligent glint in his eye. he’s often described with a connector like “brad from indymedia” or “brad from more gardens” or “brad the musician.”

i haven’t seen him in a while. several months at least. but suddenly i miss him so much. i miss hanging out with him in the lower east side, chilling at his place there, swapping stories. i miss the rejuvinating warmth of his presence. i miss the unspoken, mutual admiration. i miss the feeling that i was in the presence of someone who so deeply felt his connection to the world. the feeling that here was someone who would die for me, and me for him, no questions asked. and now, like so many others before him, he’s done just that.

like all of the rest of us, over the generations his memory will fade and eventually disappear. but for those of us alive today who had the honor of being one of brad’s large circle of friends, his memory will be with us painfully, deeply, lovingly, until we all join him beneath the ground — hopefully only after each of us has managed to have the kind of impact on each other, on the movement, and the world that brad surely had in his short 36 years.

David Rovics
(617) 872-5124
P.O. Box 300995
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130