Little Person Speaks


root - Posted on 25 September 2000

by Anna Morrow

Red heads have a reputation for being hot heads-outspoken and opinionated. I’m constantly aware of the way my, very visual, reputation proceeds me. I’m always wanting to disprove this myth, but much to my chagrin it’s true.

When I learned that we would be staging a protest at the NAB conference 2000 I had a surge of anxiety, uncharacteristic of my red headed temperament. Here was my chance to speak out against the corporate greed that systematically squelches my existence at every turn. One would think I’d be foaming at the mouth ready to tell those fat cats just how I feel. On the contrary I had suddenly become shy and withdrawn and desperate to avoid my turn at the mic. The whole thing just seemed too important to be putting together at the eleventh hour which is the typical pace of news media. Was it the hasty preparation or something a little deeper causing my hesitation?

Being poor has its ups and downs. The fascinating thing is that many people who have money and power often misjudge the hardships of poverty and overlook the greatness. I often enjoyed being a catalyst for identifying hypocrisy in an unsuspecting adversary. And sometimes I am so much the underdog that I actually feel as little and insignificant as corporate suit and tie money tycoons might consider me. I am somewhat of a chameleon. You would not necessarily know that I’m homeless and living well below the poverty line unless I told you. This dynamic of big and little pretty much sums of the entire event in my eyes.

The protest itself was much less pressure than I had anticipated. It was comic relief for this decidedly unfunny event. A comedic demonstration was staged for the all important eye of the media . Ironically we were all looking to make our point into the microphone or the eye of the camera hoping that the corporate news channels would record our protests and grant us access over their air waves. The very reason we were there. What do we want? Access ! When do we want it ? Now!

Cars were flying by on the one way street in front of the Moscone Center. Every once in a while an enthusiastic supporter would honk on the way by. Poor magazine was there en masse holding signs and yelling Boooooooo or yeaaaaaaaaaa in response to the comedians portraying the bad guys – NAB and allies. The sound system failed to provide sound about half way through, so in the spirit of the original protests, we turned to the use of bullhorns. The skit about big corporate mergers and little independent radio went well but I couldn’t help feeling like the whole thing was a bit too benign. We amounted to only a handful of angry voices compared to the busload after busload of NABies arriving to fill up Moscone Center. The end of the rally was just the beginning. I was about to find out just how little I really am.

We decided to go into the conference hall as a group, using our press passes to gain entry. We were joined by a Civil Rights attorney and advocate Martha Bridegam…just in case.(I would later be very grateful that she had volunteered to escort us.) Inside we were immediately swallowed up by the enormity of the Moscone Center. A humongous hollow converted to appeal to the members and groupies of the NAB. There were advertising banners hanging that must have been as big as our entire group of protesters – and there were hundreds of them! We took the escalator down one floor to the exhibit hall level in search of the registration office for official press badges. The event reminded me of traveling to seminars for corporate America. Suddenly I wanted to take off and grab some food and rent a car.

My friend Leroy waited for me while I bought a banana and some water. It took me awhile at the cashier because I had to search my bag for an additional two dollars. The total of the purchase was $3.95. What a rip off. But I was hungry. By the time Leroy and I made it to the first security guard check point she was expecting us. The others had told them we were coming and asked her to point us in the right direction. How nice, I thought, to be greeted personally and given directions. What I did not know was that this same nice woman had radioed ahead to the registration people alerting them that “ some sketchy people” were heading in their direction.

We must have walked about a quarter of a mile past the security guard to get to the registration desk. Down a long corridor filled with behind the scenes props – hand trucks trucks, dolleys loaded with rolled up carpets, and towers of cardboard boxes- we finally arrive at the make shift registration room. This is where the real fun began.

We met up with our cohorts and they told us about the whispering and pointing and radioing that had taken place. We were apparently not welcome and the official corporate communications managers were trying to figure out some way to deny us access and decline our registrations. Unfortunately for them we had all the necessary documentation and so even though they were “not familiar with POOR magazine”, we showed them the web site and there was not much they could do but grant us our passes. While were waiting in line I’m asked to take some picture and so I do. I whip out the ole throw away camera and get busy. Shots of the never ending backstage corridor, the registration booth, the important news bulletin board, the flyer on the wall, the SFPD who has arrived in response to the huddle taking place regarding us. That last picture might have been a mistake. At the very least it changed the entirety of my trip to the conference.

Mr. SFPD apparently was not too happy about having his picture taken because next thing I know he is inches from my face pointing at my nose saying “don’t ever take my picture again” followed up by about 10 minutes of intimidation and scolding telling me there is a rule written in the southern station that says it not ok to take pictures of police officers. When I say I have never heard of this and ask for more information this just makes him madder. "Why are you taking my picture?” he demands “because I’m taking picture of the event and you’re part of it” I say. To which he counters “I am NOT a part of this event”

We are clearly having a difference of opinion . I am feeling a little afraid as he is talking into his shoulder radio requesting back up. Then he says “lets take this outside”. Unfortunately at this point my intrinsic nature as a red head has been ignited and the last thing I want to do is back down or show fear. Thankfully the news director from KZYZ, (public broadcasting in Mendocino County) who has been standing in line, shoulders up to me and says to the officer “I've taken lots of picture of cops and not once have I been told not to. I just got back from LA and took 100’s of pictures!”. I’m very grateful that she has appeared to take up part of this conversation because my voice is beginning to betray me and is sounding a little shaky. Together we agree to step out side with officer Simmons. As we move towards the fake door Benny reminds me that Martha is here just for these types of situations. He motions her over and I've never been happier to see anyone. Martha immediately take charge - all calm, cool and collected (a posture I’ve been loosing hold of since the beginning of our exchange). “What’s happening here” she says clearly into the pocket recorder and then moves it towards the mouth of officer 1460.

Eventually nothing happens. Martha is able to articulate that there has obviously been a misunderstanding. Mr. policeman is backing down now saying he never said I couldn’t take his picture that all he said was that it is common courtesy to ask permission first. That’s not how I remember it. But my memory is pretty fuzzy by now; I wouldn’t put money down on my objective account of the events. What I remember mostly is the feeling of fear. Of being intimidated by an authority figure for some reason I could not comprehend that was clearly beyond just me and my camera. Why was he so vehemently opposed to having his picture taken that he needed to threaten me with some (fictitious) rule that I and fellow reporters had never heard of? And why was it necessary for him to use the power of his uniform, badge and shoulder radio to belittle me so fiercely and publicly? Was it a personal thing or just some macho way of sticking up for the corporate fat cats in opposition to the opposition – us.

Either way it was a weird exchange and I was happy to take my press badge and get the heck out of there. I actually considered the consequence of being hauled of to jail as I stood defiantly unwilling to buckle under pressure when I knew I had done nothing wrong. Thankfully I did not get myself into too much trouble.

I left skipping down the hall (or was I floating?) holding my press badge- my reward- up to the security guard and slipped into the exhibit. I was completely ready to blend into the sea of faces and high tech products and sales pitches. I was overtaken by a strange mixture of needing to be treated with respect and a long undernourished shopping addiction. The exhibit hall was the perfect solution to both.

I used that official press badge to flirt with all the vendors who were wanting to sell me their services or machinery. My need for retail therapy was satisfied exquisitely by all the free candy, pens and prizes. I was enjoying a momentary slice of bliss. On my way through I had a small conversation which was worth all the discomfort it had taken to get there: at one of the dot com booth I was leaning over to check out their CD’s when the suit and tie sales rep tilts his head to the side studying my pass and inquires:

“Which press?”

“Poor Magazine “

“Poor? What do they do?”

“We provide media access for low and no income folks.”

“Who buys that ?”

“No one.” I say

“You mean it’s free?”

“Yeah.”

“Really.”

“Really.” I turn away, smiling to myself- another tiny bit of hypocracy – exposed to the perpatrator.

I take my bag of free stuff, grab a cup of free coffee and head for the promenade. The escalator chugs back up to the surface slowly as I glance over at the white middle aged men heading down. I study them wondering who they might be, who they might think I am. I wonder if they see my press pass and mistakenly think I’m one of them. They smile and stare so I assume that I’ve passed some unspoken, intangible test; slipped in under the radar. For the most part, no one here knows that I am homeless and beyond broke.

PNN RADIO

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