These Historical Protest Photos Feel Incredibly Relevant Right Now

Pro-choice rally. NYC 1992

Last weekend, millions took to the pavement as cities around the nation hosted Women’s Marches and peaceful protests. It was stunning to see the images of the hundreds of thousands of people, crowding the streets, chanting and holding signs. Already, the day has gone down in history as the largest protest our country has ever known.

For many young people, Saturday’s march and 2016’s Black Lives Matter rallies have offered an intro-course to the power of resistance. But for older participants, the sight may have been all too familiar. One popular sign from the rallies was, “I can’t believe I’m still fighting this shit.”

Looking at history, it’s clear that our ability and right to protest is an important part of our American heritage. And given the current political flux, the new photography exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center entitled, “Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City: 1980-2000” couldn’t be more fitting.

The show includes images from 38 different photographers, exhibited together for the first time. They chronicle the protests and social movements that took place in New York from 1980-2000. It’s a powerful collection — one that feels rich with history and incredibly urgent at the same time.

Demonstration in Wall Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange asking for the indictment of the four policemen who murdered Amadou Diallo.

While a reminder of how social movements are intertwined with acts of civil disobedience always seems relevant, the exhibit feels particularly important in the early days of 2017. Though this connection between the current protests and the installation wasn’t the original plan. The idea actually came in 2014, when Tamar Carroll — a historian and co-curator of Whose Streets? Our Streets! — began looking for photographs for a new book she was writing.

“I was contacting photographers to license photographs to use in my book, which is called “Mobilizing New York AIDS, Anti-Poverty, and Feminist Activism,” Carroll says. “I reached out to Meg Handler because she had taken some really powerful photographs of protesters at ACT UP demonstrations. It’s the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Meg and I started corresponding, and she was like, “You know, Tamar, this would make a fabulous exhibit.”

Handler was immediately on board.

“We started these conversations about who photographed what, and what she was looking for and, we just got inspired and thought, wow, I think this is a photo exhibition,” the photographer/ photo editor explains. “And I thought, the Bronx Documentary Center, being that it’s a community non-profit space in an under-served neighborhood, not a commercial gallery, would be the perfect place to have it. So, we pitched it directly to BDC, and it’s the only place we pitched it to, and they accepted it.”