“I learned so much from living on the streets, and all too often I feel guilty for not remaining that way. I do hope to get out of the city and begin to maintain a very simple life of self-sustainability and sharing,” says Greg Straight Edge who is a raw vegan, animal and human rights activist and an amazing photographer.
Recently, Global Looking Glass sat down with Straight Edge to ask him a few questions about his activism and trip to the Galapagos Islands.
What is your photography background?
I started taking photos at the age of 9. I just liked to capture things but not disturb them. In my early teens I began going to punk and hardcore shows and no one was photographing the action on stage or the vibe of the shows. I felt capturing the feelings of a show helped communicate the message and unity that exist in those music scenes. I was also in to BMX and would photograph friends riding ramps, street, or dirt jumping. Together BMX and music helped me to learn more about photography, capturing action and showing movement in a still image.
In college I majored in Art History, but had no plans of doing anything with it. I have no real formal training as a photographer.
What does protesting mean to you?
Since my teens I have been a part of protest and demonstrations in some form. Either as a silent observer (photographer) or as an actual participant I have taken part in anti racist demonstrations during KKK parades, fur demos in which friends U-Locked their necks to fur store gates, tax resistance demos in front of the IRS, and many other forms of demonstration. The current government crack down on everything from food to bailouts has given a call to more people who are out on the streets and saying what they feel is just. To protest against not just the government but anything we feel is inputs is a birth rite. Their is no reason for us to participate in a system that does not allow dissent.
You mentioned you choose to live homeless for two years, can you explain that and how has it change or challenged your view of the world and people?
Circumstances made me homeless for a few years when a roommate stole a lot of money from me. I had no money for rent so I moved in to my school bus which I owned. I soon got rid of the bus and began living in a mostly abandoned building. The process of becoming homeless and the many processes of how to live day to day have really changed me for better and worse.
Homelessness allows you to look at yourself, how you are treated daily and how the world sees you. You literally have nowhere to go, so the world sees you all day all the time. Where to go to the bathroom, where to store your food, you often see homeless people eating from a Styrofoam container and not very healthy food, and it’s simply because they have nowhere to store food, nowhere to prepare food. Its a choice of necessity and not of convenience, and it is for so many others. Cleanliness is another issue which is on full display all day all the time. Public restrooms do exist, but are not the cleanest and not the most private for one to maintain hygiene. Once one reaches a certain level of uncleanliness it’s downhill from there as far as respect from others and yourself goes. It truly is a vicious cycle, and too few are willing to see past an appearance, and see that homeless people only want communication and respect. They are alive just as you and I, and it’s as simple as that.
Homelessness gave me a new perspective on other animals and how we so dearly think we are helping them. If we wanted to end suffering, we would. We would not create organizations or extravagant homes and such, to house ourselves if we really looked into the eyes of a suffering animal and felt empathy. True empathy goes beyond your daily life and tells you to sacrifice privilege. Give up that $1000 a month apartment and give up that cell phone and truly show you give a shit by reaching out a hand and helping others, no matter how one moves or thinks, and giving them all you’ve got and more.
Have you ever been detained by the police for protesting?
On May 12th of 2011 Unions around NYC decided to march on Wall Street in attempt to shut it down in an effort to voice their feelings on the bailouts. Since this was a union demonstration it had permits and full police escorts. I wanted to participate not to support the unions but to express my feelings of dissent for the financial institutions and corporations that control so many lives.
Wall Street was heavily guarded and barricaded, so a few of us sat down in the intersection of Water and Wall Streets. The first gentleman who sat down quickly got up after a detective spoke to him. Three others remained, one was a friend who I have participated in anti death penalty events, and another who was a college student and an undocumented citizen. Police told us we had 5 seconds to stand and leave. We remained seated and police grabbed each of us by the arms and took us separate directions. I was handcuffed and questioned, after the required information I was released back into the streets which the three of us found each other again. By this time police had begun to block much of the demonstration with police trucks and people were quickly dispersing into the subways.
September 17th of the same year was to be another demonstration that I was hoping would be so much more than what the May 12th demonstration was. Adbusters magazine was publicizing the event as Occupy Wall Street and I knew I had to take part. The Event had a great feeling and attitude, but the demonstrations started to lack emotion and soon it just became a large sit in. Then comes May Day of this year. May Day is an international day of solidarity for freedom amongst workers. With the Occupy movement still going in NYC, May Day was certain to be a huge event.
I arrived in Union Square just after Tom Morello completed an acoustical set and people were moving towards the streets. The streets filled with people and began to move south towards the financial district. Many people were commenting on how it appeared the crowd was growing and not moving. Broadway was packed with people from Union Square to the Financial District, easily 100,000 people. Approaching Wall Street it was easy to notice police and private security were concentrating heavily on that area. I got to the barricades blocking Wall Street and again sat down. As soon as I touched the ground others began to sit and photographers convened like vultures on a carcass. Police started to pull the photographers away and grabbed me from my seated position. I looked to see the others had left the scene. I was taken to a truck and locked inside until the streets were clear and I could be taken to a precinct. Once at the precinct about 30 others were being booked, many were arrested very early in the morning. Each of us were given the standard disorderly conduct charge and soon sent on our way. I spent a few hours in jail and was released and given an arraignment date.
My arraignment date just passed and I must be on my best behavior for the next six months or the courts could prosecute my case.
Arrest from demonstrations are efforts to express dissent as well as efforts to complicate and fill the courts. If we have heros who have been or currently are in jail, why aren’t we filling the jails? If we want liberation and equality for all life on this planet regardless of how one moves or thinks why are we not willing to sacrifice our lives or at the very least put ourselves in the way of what harms so many.
Why did you travel to the Galapagos Islands?
Again, at age 9 a friend of my Mom’s went to Galapagos, and he brought back stamps which had etchings of the rare animals on the Galapagos Islands. I really wanted to see the tortoises and other creatures that only exist there. I felt it was a dream that was too costly and too damaging to the environment to actually achieve. A few years ago I met Tod Emko who is the co-founder of Darwin Animal Doctors. He came to a large open rescue I coordinated in the Bronx. I spoke to Tod about Darwin Animal Doctors and how I always wanted to go to the Galapagos. In a few years time I saved some money, packed my bags and went to Galapagos to assist with Darwin Animal Doctors Spay and Neuter clinic on the Islands.
For people who might not be aware of the importance of Galapagos and its history can you give us a quick rundown?
To most people Galapagos may be known as Charles Darwin’s discovery of evolution. Galapagos is also home to many other valuable lessons that we all should know. First, many animals exist only on the Galapagos Islands and nowhere else in the world. Why these species only exist there is not completely understood, and we should see that as a reason to protect the Islands from over population and greater tourism. The geographic location of the islands is also important. The Islands are located and exist because of tectonic plates underneath the sea which create volcanic activity, therefore forming islands.
What are some issues currently facing the Galapagos Island?
Invasive species are what most people hear of if they dig into the history of the islands. Goats, bores, dogs and cats are killing the species which are endemic to the islands. But the number one invasive species on the islands are humans. Many Ecuadorians move to the islands because employment is better on the islands than on the mainland. The better employment is due to tourism, which is also creating a burden the islands can not sustain. The more tourism grows, the more people want to live there for employment. This also brings more domesticated animals.
Since Galapagos is known for its diverse species, is there a particular animal you wanted to see while you were there?
Frigate birds are very amazing to see flying through the sky. Frigates can not swim or dive into the water due to their feet not being webbed. So to see them gently scoop down onto the surface to catch food was amazing. Blue footed boobies are just funny to watch, they are certainly the cartoon characters of life. Then there are marine iguanas which can just go anywhere they please. Just being around all the animals and seeing how they exist amongst humanity even at humanity’s worst was amazing.
Did you achieve what you set out to do there?
In some ways yes. I wanted to help others, others including all life, no matter how it moves or thinks. I’m certain I made a difference and some people to this day are thinking of the crazy tattooed vegan guy who they met. But more importantly I found where I need to be. As humans we do not need to be traveling all over the world setting a course for others as if missionaries for the animals. There is so much to do right here, wherever here may be and that is what is most important. Do all you can where you are.
What is the biggest threat to the Gagapagos Islands?
Overpopulation, which is directly caused by tourism. There needs to be a dead stop to the growth of population and tourism on the islands. In the short time since I have left the islands a new airline has moved in and has increased island to island traffic by plane. This should not have been allowed and cannot continue if the islands are to flourish. There is also talk of building a new “green” airport. The words building and green do not coexist. To build something is not green for it requires the destruction of something else. This new airport is to replace the existing airport which sees most of the traffic to the islands. Very few people travel to the islands by boat, so almost everyone has to go through one airport. Making that one airport “green” is only going to create more waste from the construction.