“America, Again” | Chapter 7: American Hope, American Fears

“America, Again” is a year-long project by the photographers of VII, an exploration of some of the most important issues facing American voters as they head to the polls on November 3rd. This is Chapter 7: American Hope, American Fears, which includes an essay by Alexis Okeowo as well as photo stories by VII members Ed Kashi, Christopher Morris, Maggie Steber, and Danny Wilcox Frazier, VII Mentor Program photographers Nolan Ryan Trowe and Christopher Lee, and guest photographer André Chung. We welcomed Dudley M. Brooks as photo editor for this final chapter.

© Christopher Lee / VII Mentor Program.

Essay by Alexis Okeowo

he purgatory Americans have found themselves in this year has been unrelenting, a limbo that burns and chills. First came a global pandemic and lockdown, then an economic recession and a racial uprising, all amid a political horror show. The spread of COVID-19 took the United States by surprise, but the ways in which it devastated American lives in its wake shouldn’t have. The pandemic bankrupted uninsured or under-insured families whose members became sick or died, pushed people onto the street when they lost their jobs and could no longer afford to pay their rent and bills, and left children and their parents hungry. Its ongoing aftermath was destined in a country where the inequities were never truly in the background. The surge of homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles, tent cities sprouting in parks and in front of high-rise buildings, has long been a steady phenomenon. In the Black Belt, the rural poor got sick with COVID-19 and died more frequently than their friends and family in the cities, but were already facing high rates of diabetes and other chronic illnesses as hospitals closed around them.

In New York, for months the center of the American pandemic, I and millions of other privileged residents quarantined in our apartments, terrified and anxious, the silence of the streets outside interrupted only by ambulance sirens and the engines of delivery trucks and buses. For millions of other city residents, life went on as before: waking up, taking the subway to work, interacting with bosses and customers, hoping for kind treatment and fair pay — but all under a cloud of ever-increasing precarity, the threat of sickness, the promise of nothing. The lockdown further revealed the unfairness of belonging to what we would soon call the “essential worker” class, utterly needed and unprotected.

The limbo continues: the confirmation of a new conservative Supreme Court justice weeks after the death of a much-admired progressive one, an uncertain presidential election that will determine the American landscape for decades to come, and future legal battles over the rights of our most vulnerable muddy the horizon. Yet, at the same time, a profound racial reckoning has finally begun. So has a deeper consideration of what kind of country we want, and deserve; beyond suppressive bureaucracy, hours-long early voting lines show that reflection, too.

These photos do many things. They document life across the country during the pandemic, memorialize the protests and federal militarized crackdown in Portland, capture moments in the days of politically mobilized Americans and immigrant Americans and joyous Americans and suffering Americans. Americans still living during what many of us can recall as the most tumultuous period in our lifetimes. The images are riotous and beautiful, startling and haunting, evocative tributes to the work and pleasure of surviving in the most free and arrogant country in the world. Pundits like to say our country is “on the brink,” or “at the edge” — of more unrest, of armed conflict, of chaos. But these photos remind us that we are still trying to do our best, still living.

Scenes along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif., on July 19, 2020.

The Divided State of America

Photos and essay by Ed Kashi

This summer I had the privilege to work with Jyllands-Posten, one of Denmark’s major daily newspapers, on a 30-day road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The mission was to work on a series of stories about the state of America, as our nation approaches the 2020 election. In this particular moment, the United States can more accurately be known as the divided states.

This is Trump’s America, not mine. As with my work, I try to keep an open mind and heart, and through decades of working across all 50 states and over 100 countries, I’ve learned that America is a magnificent composite of diversity and quirkiness, a massive spectrum of both wealth and health; but at its core, there is a rot. The rot of racism and genocide. The cancer that was embedded in our founding has never entirely been eradicated. While we have made tremendous progress and continue to do so, we are still hurting and bleeding from our endemic racial injustice. With the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, after far too many other unnecessary deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers, this rot has been exposed for a new generation that has taken up the call to make change.

What I documented during this journey is a country and people divided in the midst of an evolving spirit of protest. This set of images does not claim to capture the microcosm of America in 2020, but the breadth of stories and images represents a country at a crossroads, grappling with a severe wealth gap, continued racial injustice and a body politic that for some are itching for civil conflict to justify their positions. I continue to ask myself, a child of the revolutionary America of the 1960s and 70s, how have we gotten here.

An indigenous people’s protest against the federal agents and police in Albuquerque, N.M., on July 31, 2020.
Barbara Perez, 18, is an American citizen but her parents are undocumented. She lives in Oxnard, Calif., and was photographed at home on July 21, 2020.
In front of a friend’s house with Aryan Nation graffiti in Rose City, Texas, on Aug. 11, 2020.
Ted Kuzdrowski, 71, a volunteer with the state Republican Party in Truth or Consequences, N.M., on July 31, 2020.
Ann Olsen, 60, a physical therapist who volunteers for the Maricopa County Democratic Party, in front of the Democratic Party headquarters that was fire bombed 24 hours ago, in Phoenix, Ariz., on July 26, 2020.
An indigenous people’s protest against the federal agents and police in Albuquerque, N.M., on July 31, 2020.
Lydell Grant, 43 , was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 9.5 years in prison before being released because of DNA evidence that was uncovered by the Innocence Project of Texas. He now lives with his mother, Donna Poe, 63, in Houston, Texas, photographed on Aug. 8, 2020. His aunt is Kitsye Grant. His family never gave up on him, sure of his innocence.
Siouxsie Q, a porn podcaster, actress, and activist for the porn industry, on her at-home set filming a segment with her partner Michael Vegas, 36, in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 25, 2020.
Pastor Tim Thompson of 412 Church in Murrieta, Calif., on July 23, 2020. He is a former Marine who has been a pastor for 17 years. He holds church services in violation of the California mandate to not hold public gatherings during the pandemic.
Norma Chairez, 45, has worked at Ramada in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., for four years, but these days she lives in fear of catching COVID-19. Her sister has already gotten it. Here she is working in the hotel on July 29, 2020.
Views of a homeless enclave on Venice Beach, Calif., on July 19, 2020.
Sharon Lavigne, 68, who lives along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, has become a vocal activist for her community fighting against the petrochemical industry’s environmental abuse, in St. James, La., on Aug. 12, 2020. She lives in the heart of “cancer alley” or “death alley” where more than 200 industrial facilities have polluted the local environment for decades, and where cancer, asthma, and other ailments are some of the highest in the country.
Glenn Spencer, 83, a self-proclaimed guardian of the border with Mexico is a systems engineer who lives near the border, at the border wall near Sierra Vista, Ariz., on July 30, 2020.
Guatemalan field workers harvest cantaloupes on the outskirts of Maricopa County near Aguila, Ariz., on July 29, 2020. They are here on work contracts and in America legally.
Natural gas fields outside of Pecos, Texas, on Aug. 3, 2020.
The reverend Michael Cooper, 54, president of the Beaumont NAACP Chapter, recently led a Black Lives Matter protest in Vidor, Texas, a former “sundowner” town, photographed in Beaumont, Texas, on Aug. 11, 2020. And at the MLK memorial.
Wedding party of the Bells on the Steamboat Natchez in New Orleans, La., on Aug. 15, 2020.
Ismail Bronson raises his fist in solidarity with others after arriving at the Lincoln Memorial. In Washington, D.C., protests were peaceful a day after President Trump had federal police clear Lafayette Park with tear gas and rubber bullets for a photo op. Protesters marched throughout the city, stopping for nine minutes every nine blocks to mark the time George Floyd spent with a knee on his neck.

We Keep Us Safe

Photos and essay by André Chung

At the beginning of the summer of 2020, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest police brutality, I did so as well. This wasn’t the first time I witnessed protests against the barbarity of the state, but as we’ve seen, this time was different. As the movement coalesced, protesters in my hometown of Washington, D.C. have been out in force every single night. When news cameras leave, the cops move in with pepper spray, gas, and munitions. They arrest people en masse to clear the streets, only to release them the following day with “no paper,” the term they use when there are no charges to file. They continue to kill Black men. All over the country, every week, there’s another Black life lost at the hands of police and another community demands an end to the wickedness. In D.C., two more young men have died during police encounters since protests began. Deon Kay. Karon Hylton.

As the police have historically resisted reform, there have been calls for police to be defunded and even abolished. Protesters believe that police, entrusted to protect and serve, do neither, and ask, “Who keeps us safe?” The response, “We keep us safe!” They protect and defend each other, not just from police but from opposition activists, the media, and anyone who would do harm. A man on an electric scooter, who disrespected some of the Black women at a march, was run off the plaza by protesters but brandished a knife and menaced himself and the crowd. A protester disarmed him while Metropolitan Police stood by, only to tase him after the man was subdued. At Black Lives Matter Plaza, the focal point in D.C., protesters set up food tents, medic stations, and give each other haircuts. At a tent city occupation of the Department of Education, protesters watched the presidential debate on an inflatable screen and settled into games of chess and spades to pass the night. The dedicated group of several dozen activists has been hardened by the protests but have become close. The movement is not only about rage, it is about love as well. It is about love for Black lives and the love and respect for those who would acknowledge that Black lives matter. They determine the community here, and it defines a generation.

Aja Taylor of D.C. reacts as libations are poured for Deon Kay and others who were killed by police. Family, community members, and activists attend a vigil for Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used.
Community residents ride by the vigil saluting Deon. Family, community members, and activists attend a vigil for Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used.
Sharece Crawford, At-Large Committeewoman, addresses activists and community members outside 7th District headquarters. Residents and activists react to the police slaying of Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used. Activists rallied at 7th District headquarters where they were met by a phalanx of officers who stood sentry at the entrance to the precinct.
Haize (no last name given), a community leader in D.C., reacts as libations are poured for Deon Kay and others who were killed by police. Family, community members, and activists attend a vigil for Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used.
An elderly woman and a police officer exchange looks as marchers pass by a busy intersection, choking traffic. The graffiti is a succinct and definitive message directly to police.
Tasia Montiel, of Fort Washington, Md. (center), and other protesters take a knee in front of police guarding Trump International Hotel. Protesters march from the newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House to Trump International Hotel as Day 12 of protests continues after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery by law enforcement and white supremacists.
Mike D’Angelo addresses other protesters about the police brutality and the death of his brother, Fred Brown, killed by Las Vegas police on April 23, 2020, from his perch atop a stop light at Black Lives Matter Plaza.
A protester flips off DHS police stationed near Black Lives Matter Plaza. Protesters gather at the newly minted Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House as Day 12 of protests continues after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery by law enforcement and white supremacists.
Police retreated inside 7th District headquarters after activists and community residents confronted them. Residents and activists react to the police slaying of Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used. Activists rallied at 7th District headquarters where they were met by a phalanx of officers who stood sentry at the entrance to the precinct.
Sekayi (would only give her first name), a protester from D.C., shouts in response while marching to Trump International Hotel.
On a quiet day of protests at Black Lives Matter Plaza, Daraile Cunningham of D.C. cuts a Black Lives Matter design into the hair of Jamie Monroe, also of D.C. The pair see the act as protest. “We’re standing for something and when we unite and put it out in our artistic way… this is how I’m part of the movement,” says Cunningham. Monroe says, “I think the little bit of fuel he’s using will spark the flame for others. Then we can all push this thing forward.”
Activists march from the vigil to 7th District headquarters to protest the killing of Deon Kay. Family, community members, and activists attend a vigil for Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used.
Kira X, with Untold Freedom DC, and her friend, Nonso X (neither would give their last names), relax as they watch the presidential debate on an inflatable screen at the tent city. Activists from the Live Movement, Palm Collective, and others occupy the terrace in front of the Department of Education after repeated attempts to meet with top officials at DOE were ignored. They are demanding a cancellation of student debt, increased Pell grants, a meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, establish a task force to eliminate systemic racism, a national plan for high school to HBCU’s, and a COVID school plan for reopening.
After screening the presidential debate, activists get game night going with a few rounds of chess. Activists from the Live Movement, Palm Collective, and others occupy the terrace in front of the Department of Education after repeated attempts to meet with top officials at DOE were ignored. They are demanding a cancellation of student debt, increased Pell grants, a meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, establish a task force to eliminate systemic racism, a national plan for high school to HBCU’s, and a COVID school plan for reopening.
Tight-knit protesters at Black Lives Matter Plaza ejected a man who had disrespected some of the women there. He resisted being put out and after facing a large group of angry protesters, pulled a knife and menaced the group, even holding the knife to his own throat at times. A protester disarmed the man by knocking him down and wrestling the knife from him. Police intervened after he was subdued, tasing the man before arresting him and putting him in an ambulance.
Family members pour libations in memory of Deon Kay at the memorial after the vigil. From left: Nick (no last name given), an uncle, Moe Lee, a cousin, and Chris Brown, an uncle. Family, community members, and activists attend a vigil for Deon Kay, 18, who was shot by MPD officers who say that Kay was armed and had a weapon at the time of the shooting. Body cam footage corroborates the officers’ version of events, but family and community leaders and activists demand to know why non-lethal methods were not used
Wide-eyed, a police officer struggles to retain order after activists respond to a man who walked through Black Lives Matter Plaza in blackface by punching and slapping him. Police tried to make arrests but ended up clashing with activists who wouldn’t stand for it. Activists and police battled for several minutes, but two arrests were made. Activists and protesters have adopted a tactic of de-arresting people who are caught by police. Protests after the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have continued unabated in the district, with a dedicated group of activists who have been showing up nightly since the end of May.
A young Haitian woman talks on the phone as an encroaching storm tried to defeat the joy and power of a rainbow on one of the back streets in Little Haiti in Miami, Florida.

Making a New Life on Dreams and Fears in Little Haiti

Photos and essay by Maggie Steber

Little Haiti is a place about memory as much as anything. Even if their memories are fearful, as is the case for many Haitians, they are still memories of the homeland which they have tried to re-create in Miami, Florida. Every story here is a story of survival, about escaping violence, about winding one’s way through an impossible stacked-decks immigration system, and about keeping some vestige of culture, language, history, and dreams alive. If there were ever a prime example of the racism toward and hardship of being an immigrant in America, it can be found here in Little Haiti.

As with all cultures, the beating heart of Haiti is found in its history, which is singular. Enslaved Africans overthrew their French masters to achieve the only successful slave revolt in the world at a time when the world’s economies rotated on the backs of enslaved people. They beat back Napoleon’s armies and still had to pay reparation to France for taking over the richest colony in the French crown. Led by revered heroes, Haitians built a new nation, full of sophistication and intellectual abilities. But the world turned its back on Haiti and isolated it to keep news of a slave revolt secret. It retained its African heritage but also embraced a rich culture of art and letters.

The main street of Little Haiti is pretty with gingerbread features on colorfully painted stores and a large marketplace. Currently, it is holding off the invasion of gentrification. Important Haitian leaders and artists live here. Amid them is Jean Mapou whose bookstore sells thousands of books in Creole, French, and English and is a center of culture. He is considered to be a Poteau Mitan (elder statesman). Next door, internationally-known artist Edouard Duval-Carrié creates bodies of work that draw from the traditions of vodou and Haitian history, and down the block renowned writer Edwidge Danticat lives with her family writing books that break the heart and lift the spirit.

Isolated from much of Miami by culture and language, Haitians turn to local community leaders for social services and assistance. Two names known to all are Gepsie Metullus and Marleine Bastien. Gepsie is executive director of SANT LA Neighborhood Center where Haitians can go for help with unemployment payments, medical help, social security, and taxes. Marleine Bastien, a venerable political leader, is the executive director of FANM, the Haitian women’s agency, which provides women with help finding employment, domestic violence, after-school child-care services, and an annual health fair. Bastien also leads demonstrations against U.S. immigration policies and has run for political office.

At the heart of the community is Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church, overseen by Father Reginald Jean Mary. The church is a community center and hosts a school for children and adult Haitians who learn to write Creole and English, even in their later years. Haitian teens have access to computers and etiquette classes and seniors have morning exercise classes.

Over in the community garden, Prevenir Julien makes a living thanks to the non-profit that sponsors him. He and his son Belix, 12, have a nice one-bedroom apartment nearby. They came to the U.S. on a medical visa after Belix was critically wounded during the 2010 earthquake from which the country is still recovering. Belix recovered and is receiving a free education that Prevenir would have had to pay for back in Haiti.

As for street culture, Serges Toussaint paints murals around Little Haiti and takes visitors on tours of Little Haiti’s streets in an effort to grow appreciation for the neighborhood.

No matter what pressures Haitians face in the U.S., they continue to dream about a better and more peaceful life, free from political violence and crippling economics. Whatever their fears, they have learned to face them full on. It is still not an easy life, but they get up every day and do it all over again, in search of that elusive American dream that promises so much but often falls short for these immigrants.

These photos show how Haitians help each other to settle into a new land vastly different from their own in an area called Little Haiti in Miami, Florida, a vibrant immigrant community that struggles to recreate a part of their old country in a new land by maintaining cultural aspects of their lives and with the help of organizations in Miami, mostly run by members of the Haitian diaspora. Haitians come with dreams but live with fears of racism and discrimination and often temporary status that is constantly challenged by changing immigration rules.

In her botanica called Tipa Tipa Botanica (translated as Small Step, Small Step), Mammie Toyee, a Haitian vodou priestess, sells dried herbs, incense and candles, Haitian flags, and statues of Catholic saints who represent the Haitian vodou pantheon.
The Little Haiti studio of Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, internationally known for his work that depicts the history and culture of Haiti and its deep roots in vodou.
Haitians gather to parade with the Haitian flag to celebrate their homeland’s Independence Day. They may live in Miami, but their hearts still reside in Haiti.
A Haitian nun prays during mass at Notre Dame d’Haiti, the Catholic heart of Little Haiti. Mass is held in Creole and offers a safe and caring place in the community. The Catholic church, which raised money to build a new church, also provides school courses for young students and for Haitians who want to learn to speak and write English, as well as fitness classes for older Haitians.
Internationally renowned Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat and her family reside in Little Haiti. The author of multiple books on Haiti, Edwidge has won national and international awards for her deeply personal writing that weaves personal tales and magic realism of Haitian existence.
Prevenir Julien and his son Belix live in Little Haiti in a studio apartment. He is the gardener of the Little Haiti garden that provides residents with vegetables. Belix helps his dad load vegetables to clients. Belix suffered severe head injuries in the 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of over 350,000 Haitians. Prevenir was allowed to bring his son to the U.S. for multiple surgeries for Belix and was allowed to remain.
Gepsie Metellus is the founder of Sant La which provides Haitian immigrants with legal aid and job placement. She hosts a television show on Island TV that gives weekly advice to the community. She is now running for county commissioner.
Notre Dame d’Haiti is the heart of Little Haiti. Mass is held in Creole and offers a safe and caring place in the community. The Catholic church also provides school courses for young students and for older Haitians who want to learn to speak and write English, as well as fitness classes for older Haitians.
(Left) Little girls run up the art-lined stairs of Map Book Store on Little Haiti’s main street, a landmark that sells books on Haiti in English, French, and Creole. Upstairs above the bookstore, readings by Haitian authors are held on a regular basis. (Right) Children arrive for an after-school program sponsored by FAMN, an organization founded by Marleine Bastien to help women find work, offer child care, and regularly hold health clinics in Little Haiti.
Friday nights bring out rara band musicians who wind through the surrounding Haitian neighborhoods playing Haitian music with instruments that are used in vodou ceremonies, picking people up along the way until at the end there can be several hundred people dancing and singing. This is a tradition during carnival but also at funerals in the Haitian countryside.
Haitians gather on the steps of their apartment house in Little Haiti on Aug. 22, 2005, after police were called to flush out a man with a gun. Living in a country that guarantees freedom and safety, Haitians face some of the same dangers that drove them from their country along with continued racism and economic hardships, remaining in many ways as prisoners in a new country that is often unwelcoming but which still offers respite from the woes and violence they faced at home.
Haitian residents of Little Haiti in Miami, Fla., wave signs as they gathered to greet and celebrate Joe Biden’s visit to their community on Oct. 5, 2020.
The author stands for a self-portrait in his home in July 2020. His genitals and thighs are obscured.

Unlearning

Photos and essay by Nolan Ryan Trowe

Some people see me as a disabled photographer instead of a photographer. It’s true that many of my stories have focused on disability, as I am a person who happens to have a disability. However, when people choose to only see my work through the lens of disability, they miss out on a lot. On the surface it’s a disability, but underneath that, when people look beyond my wheelchair and leg braces and frailness, they would see that the work is about ideas that every human can relate to: fear, shame, masculinity, intimacy, anger, love, and family are just to name a few. And even more so it’s about learning to love myself so that I can properly love others.

Until I became disabled, I never had to worry about being put into a box based off of a physical immutable trait — you know, I had that privilege for nearly 23 years, and I’ve lost it for the last four and change; it’s shifted the way I navigate the world physically and mentally. It makes me question everything, because one day the world treated me one way, and overnight it treated me another. I never realized how much pain I was in, how much harm I had done to myself.

My personal journey, much like my country’s, is to unlearn most of what I was told about myself.

This project was produced with support from the Magnum Foundation.

A self-portrait of the author lying in a field of sunflowers in July 2020.
A double exposure of the author fighting himself.
A double exposure of the author in his wheelchair at his home in May 2020.
Ferns growing on the fence in the author’s backyard after a rainstorm in August 2020.
The author and his wife pose for a self-portrait in a park by their house in July 2020.
A flower bud grows on the fence in the author’s backyard after a rainstorm in August 2020.
The author and his wife sit for a self-portrait in June 2020.
The author performs a pull-up in his backyard after a rainstorm in August 2020.
A double exposure self-portrait of the author in his home in May 2020.
Waiting in line for entry, Costco was an early adopter of no entry unless with face coverings, while most other businesses did not have these requirements. April 4, 2020. Tampa, Fla.

America

Photos and essay by Christopher Morris

I’m struggling with what to write here, with the new reality of the country of my birth. I first was assigned early in the pandemic to go to the small Georgia town of Albany, where I spent several days with the County Coroner as he struggled with the surging deaths in his community, with this unknown new disease that was flourishing in his county. Racing through city streets with his sirens blaring and lights flashing, when we passed vehicles, the occupants would stare in pure horror, as if the Grim Reaper himself had just passed them by.

After this experience, the virus for me and my family became something serious that we needed to understand and to pay very close attention to. I’ve spent the past eight months now protecting myself and my family. I believe in science and could understand that simply wearing a mask whenever I go out into public was my best defense and protection for others with this new world we all live in. That brings me to today, after attending an extremely large Trump campaign rally here in Florida where I live. I’ve covered over 20 conflicts up close over my 30-plus-year career, and I have never been more shocked and more afraid at what I witnessed at this rally. Thousands of American Trump supporters crammed into an open field next to a stadium with over 70% of participants maskless, shoulder to shoulder. Blindly worshiping their dear leader, on cue screaming “lock them up,” and laughing and jeering at the mention of lockdowns and mask-wearing. It was extremely frightening, and I do not scare easily. But what I witnessed at this rally was a true “cult of death.” I fear for my country and what the months will bring.

Albany, Ga., where an increase of COVID-19 deaths surged in this rural, mainly African-American community. April 5, 2020.
Albany, Ga. Coroner Michael Fowler responds to a resident found dead alone in his apartment. The smell is what alerted the other residents. The Coroner was called in after confirmed COVID-19. During this call, another call came through of another death up the road at an assisted living facility.
Albany, Ga., where an increase of COVID-19 deaths surged in this rural, mainly African-American community. April 5, 2020.
Albany, Ga., where an increase of COVID-19 deaths surged in this rural, mainly African-American community. April 5, 2020.
American flag. Tampa, Fla., Sept. 7, 2020.
Florida teenagers during the pandemic. May 31, 2020.
Outside the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office. Tampa, Fla., June 5, 2020.
Biden and Trump supporters in Tampa, Fla., during a Biden event at Hillsborough County Community College on Sept. 15, 2020.
A scene from a largely maskless crowd where Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2020.
Pro-BLM protesters and members of the Wall of Moms are seen near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.

To Peacefully Protest in Portland

Photos and essay by Christopher Lee

In the early weeks of July, federal law enforcement from agencies such as Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Homeland Security were dispatched to Portland, Oregon, in the wake of the ongoing protests for civil rights shortly after the death of George Floyd. This was part of a mission called Operation Diligent Valor by the Trump administration. There, agents armed with less lethal munitions met peaceful protesters every night to “take care” of the activists that would congregate in front of the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse, according to the president. While the protests have been largely calm and nonviolent, federal agents would dramatically escalate violence during the demonstrations, discovered in an analysis by The New York Times.

In a letter written by Portland City Council Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, condemnation of the presence of federal law enforcement was outlined. There, Eudaly stated that Portland was a “test run,” saying “the Department of Homeland Security has openly stated that they intend to replicate these tactics in cities across the nation.” While we might not know what the November election will bring, one thing is for sure: the fight for civil rights in America will continue on no matter who sits in the Oval Office. My fears remain for the future of our rights as Americans to fight for what we believe in. Will this be a lesson that we will learn for how we as a country interact with demonstrations in the streets, or will Portland truly become a preview for what's to come?

Pro-BLM protesters and members of the Wall of Moms are seen near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Pro-BLM protesters and members of the Wall of Moms are seen near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 26, 2020.
Pro-BLM protesters and members of the Wall of Moms are seen near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Protesters are seen facing off against federal agents near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Pro-BLM protesters and members of the Wall of Moms are seen near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 26, 2020.
Protesters are seen facing off against federal agents near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Protesters are seen facing off against federal agents near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Federal law enforcement officers are seen making arrests near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Protesters are seen facing off against federal agents near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Portland police officers are seen holding down a woman after dragging her by her bicycle helmet as they spray her with a chemical irritant used in crowd control tactics near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 25, 2020.
Federal law enforcement agents are seen making an arrest of a protester near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 26, 2020.
Protesters are seen facing off against federal agents near the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on July 26, 2020.
John Neumann, Cactus Flat, South Dakota, 2008.

Cowboy John

Photos and essay by Danny Wilcox Frazier

I drove up to the Neumann Ranch after getting lost while on my way to Cactus Flat (population 12 in 2008). I drove past a Minuteman Ballistic Missile historic site and ended up on what Julie Long, John Neumann’s girlfriend, described as a “broke down horse and cattle ranch.” John and Julie took me in, years later joking over dinner that if they knew I meant it when I asked to move in, well maybe the answer would have been different. This photograph, the most well-known from my work on the Great Plains, is something John was proud of. It was recognition that his life, with all the rusty edges, broken bumpers, and pain was also beautiful. It wasn’t all polished up like a big city, but as he once told me, “We might be poor, but we still have fun.”

John took his life on June 9th, 2019. He left behind a 6-month-old son, Stetson, and longtime girlfriend, Tabatha Swartz, as well as many loved ones and friends. Tabatha continues to raise their son on the Neumann Ranch, fighting to maintain the operation for when Stetson takes over, John’s dream for his son.

Suicide is personal for me, a part of my life since I was a teenager. While trying to understand John’s death is a heartbreaking daily reality for Tabatha and all those who love John, there is a piece of this that must be spoken. John suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joints. “John was always hurting because of his joints,” says Tabatha. John and Tabatha tried to get John to specialists that could help, but the waitlist was a year long at the (one) doctor in their region. John was spending $600 a month for insurance so he could receive medical care that was then 12 months out of reach. “It was very physically painful for John and he had tried different ways to control the pain, but we weren’t rich. John was just waiting, just waiting all the time and he was tired of it,” Tabatha says. “There was no access to the care John needed. Maybe down the road (there would have been), but John didn’t wait long enough.”

Rural America is seeing a dramatic rise in suicides. Studies show the rate of suicide in rural counties is 25 percent higher than major metropolitan areas. Since 2000, the overall rate in the United States saw a 41 percent rise in suicide among people ages 25 to 64. Factors pushing the increase in rural communities include poverty, low income and underemployment, isolation, neglect, lack of access to mental healthcare, and the stigma mental health treatment has in rural culture.

In the remote communities surrounding the badlands of South Dakota which includes the Neumann Ranch, access to healthcare and the money to pay for it are real barriers. The system failed John. “It was all about pain for the most part, physical and mental,” says Tabatha. “John’s body hurt so much he didn’t want to be here.” Maybe if the care John needed was readily available, his pain could have been managed. Maybe if our society valued access to healthcare for all, no matter wealth, race, or location, suicides like John’s would fall in number. Until we work together to find solutions for those outside of the ultra-wealthy ranks, the impact of wealth consolidation will continue to take loved ones, like John, from us all.

John Neumann on his ranch near Cactus Flat, S.D., 2017. “When I first met John, he was the cute cowboy down the street,” says Tabatha Swartz, John’s longtime girlfriend and mother of their son, Stetson. “John wasn’t really that smooth around the edges,” says Tabatha, “but he had the biggest heart. He would take in any stray, whoever you were.”
Clay Pateneaude takes Stetson to his room for a nap. “I’ll do anything for that little boy,” says Clay. Clay and Tabatha began dating a few months after Clay started working on the Neumann Ranch after John’s death. Tabatha runs the horse and cattle operation with the help of several ranch hands, working to keep the business profitable for Stetson to take over and follow in his dad’s boots.
Tabatha was previously married and in an abusive relationship. “I think John wanted to save me, he loved my kids, he knew what my ex was, he wanted to do something about it.” — Tabatha, 2020
Ranch hands & Roany, a 5-year-old home-raised red roan gelding, 2017. John would give anyone a job if they wanted to work. “There was this old man John picked up on the side of the road and brought home. John gave him a forty and ten bucks a day. The old man just wanted that big bottle of beer and ten bucks, that helped him get on the road in a week. John said that old man was one of the best workers he ever had.” — Tabatha, 2020
Neumann Ranch, 2011. John Neumann struggled to survive nearly seven straight years of draught (349 weeks total) before rain finally came in the fall of 2008.
John and Julie Neumann talk finances at the kitchen table, 2013. John and Julie worked through the financial ups and downs of ranch life, the stress ending their marriage in 2015.
John performs, 2017. “Drinking helped John loosen up and be funny. John was crazy when he was drunk, everyone knew that. When he was drinking, he was the life of the party. John thrived on that attention. Everyone gave him attention when he was drunk, sometimes it was negative, most times it was good.” — Tabatha, 2020
Early morning, Neumann Ranch, Cactus Flat, S.D., 2020.
John sleeping hard, 2010.
Tabatha and Mackenzie, afternoon smoke, Neumann Ranch, 2020.
Tabatha and Stetson out to check cows, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, 2020.
Tabatha and Stetson riding Moonshine, Neumann Ranch, 2020. “It’s always a hustle. It’s extremely hard. You don’t know where your next money is going to come from. I gamble, I hustle. I go to the sale barns and bring home horses just like John did.” –Tabatha, 2020
Stetson Neumann (born December 19, 2018), Cactus Flat, S.D., 2020.
Mackenzie Word and Tabatha with Stetson, Neumann Ranch, 2020.
Lone Cowboy (Clay on a long ride to check cows), Buffalo Gap National Grassland, 2020.
Allie Knapp (impresses Stetson) on a rescue pony out of the sale barn, Neumann Ranch, Cactus Flat, S.D., 2020.
Mackenzie putting Stetson to bed, 2020. In the months after John’s death, family and friends including Mackenzie Word helped Tabatha with Stetson’s care and the running of the ranch. In remote communities during times of need, help only comes from those close, a reality that has made rural folk self-sufficient. There are times when the needs are great though, and access to important services like healthcare seem to have an impenetrable barrier.
Stetson and Diablo, 2020.

Contributors

Essay by ALEXIS OKEOWO, writer of A MOONLESS, STARLESS SKY: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa, which won the 2018 PEN Open Book Award, and a staff writer at The New Yorker and a contributing editor at Vogue.

Photo editing by DUDLEY M. BROOKS, the Deputy Director of Photography for The Washington Post, where he manages the creative strategy and production of photo-oriented content for the Features and Sports sections. He is also the Photo Editor for The Washington Post Magazine. Preceding this, Brooks was the Director of Photography and Senior Photo Editor for the monthly magazine Ebony and its weekly sister periodical Jet — both formerly published by Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago.

Guest photography by ANDRÉ CHUNG, an award-winning photojournalist and portrait photographer based in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area.

About “America, Again”

Exactly one year before voters go to the polls on November 3, 2020 — and three months before Iowans gather for their caucuses — VII launched the first chapter of our year-long collective election coverage, “America, Again.”

This project emerged among a few of the VII photographers with the intention of focusing attention on the issues that will dominate the U.S. election. The VII Foundation and VII Academy have stepped in to support the project in recognition of the importance of critical and independent storytelling in civic discourse. We will produce stories on material issues that people worldwide are wrangling with, not only Americans. We’ll cover issues that are used to divide us, and that allow populist politicians to undermine the values that are foundational to our societies.

VII is a collective of 29 visual storytellers dedicated to reporting on issues around the world.

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