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Behind This Photo Is a Woman Crying

A writer joins a protest against a proposed Walmart in L.A.’s Chinatown.

By Melissa Chadburn

Some of you may have read before how I feel at protests:

I felt my heart pound the first time I saw someone stand at a podium, fist in air, microphone against mouth chanting “Si Se Puede! Si Se Puede! Si Se Puede!” And then there were claps that were slow to start with spaces in between like the clap that a kid makes when he’s teasing another kid. The clap of humiliation but it gained speed faster faster faster until the whole crowd was lifted up by this clap and my heart was catching up with the clap. I felt it clanging against my chest. I felt my nipples hard against my shirt. I felt my hands tight. I wasn’t a person; I was part of this big giant super fast heartbeat. And everything in the vehicle formerly known as my body screamed “SIGN ME UP! SIGN ME UP MOTHERFUCKERS!” And so it began.

The truth is they make me incredibly sentimental. I get on an activist’s pink cloud and at almost every action I go to there’s at least one moment where my eyes tear up. I cry a little and try to cover it up by clearing my throat or putting a camera in front of my face. I try to look tough and mean but really my heart is bursting and the only other thing I can compare it to is the ecstasy and terror of falling in love. Recently I joined thousands of protestors against a proposed Walmart in L.A.’s Chinatown. We met at the cornfields downtown. The entrance was lined with motorcycles (Teamsters against Walmart), and the park had giant paper-mache puppets that were made by KIWA (the Korean Immigrant Workers Alliance). Every labor union and community organization was present and joined together with one common goal: to preserve historic Chinatown and denounce the bad labor practices of Walmart. Captured here was my heartthrob moment. As we marched from the park to the main Chinatown shopping area, I looked around and saw gleaming, bashful, happy apple faces; lining the sidewalks were grateful workers and residents all holding up signs. I had to quickly shove my phone in front of my face to take a picture or they would know that yes, yes I was crying.