On the tradition of flowers as peaceful resistance

She was off to the side on the corner of 13th and I St. NW on Inauguration Day, barely visible as protesters swirled all around her.

She extended a yellow flower toward a line of cops. It might have been a begonia or a cheap plastic flower, it was hard to tell.

What was clear is that it wasn't so much an offering as one final, fed-up reminder that she was a better person than the riot cop who had just shot rubber bullets and sprayed protesters with something from a weaponized squirt gun.

The cops looked past her offering as if she wasn't even there.

I snapped a photo.

Since the '60s, when the hippies believed that love was the answer to state aggression and war, the flower has been a symbol of a quiet resistance along the protest line. It renders armed police absurd as they point their weapons someone who is not only unarmed, but gesturing kindly, peacefully.

Two famous photos from 1967's March on the Pentagon showed protesters offering flowers to the visibly nervous military police armed with rifles with fixed bayonets pointed at the crowd.

In the first photo, Magnum photographer Marc Riboud captured 17-year-old Jan Rose Kasmir in a gauzy, romantic light holding up a white chrysanthemum to her lips, gazing at the soldiers as they, in turn, avert their gaze.

In the second photo, nominated for a Pulitzer, photographer Bernie Boston captures a young man in a cable-knit sweater stuffing white carnations into the rifle barrels of soldiers. The photo is striking, iconic.

I also can't help but think that this kid would have been beaten or worse if he ever attempted to get that close to cops with guns drawn on a protest line these days.

Both photos foreshadow the chaos that would be unleashed a year later when protesters were attacked by Mayor Richard J. Daley's goons in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and in 1970 when the National Guard opened fire on unarmed student protesters at Kent State, killing four students and wounding nine.

"I was going back and forth, beckoning the soldiers to join us. It never dawned on me that I was in any danger," Kasmir told The Guardian in 2014. "This was before Kent State, so who would ever think that they would kill me?"

In some ways, the "flower offering" photos became a meme. They would pop up and over and over—a quick Google Image search of "offering police flower" yields dozens of shots of mostly white, smiling demonstrators giving up bouquets and stemmed buds to cops all over the world in hopes of some kind of peaceful message of hope among the protests. It's become a cliché but something that every photojournalist keeps an eye out for along police lines, because it makes for a dramatic shot and it links current protest to the long, storied tradition of protest in this country.

Last summer, a photo taken in Baton Rouge at a protest tied to the police shooting of Alton Sterling offered up a similar flower-versus-people-in-power contrast. It showed a woman in a flowing dress standing serenely as two cops in full body armor rush toward her ready to throw zip ties on her wrists and arrest her. She wasn't holding a flower, she just had her hands up in front of her; but the implication was clear. And the photo, shot by Reuters, went viral with references to a famous Tiananmen Square photo and to those flower photos.

So when I spotted a woman holding out a flower, I ran over to get a photograph like the rest of the crowd. But I also spotted what I thought was a variation on the usual protester and flower image. This time, it was a woman of color with a small, cheap bloom that was already wilting in her hand, maybe picked from some generic flower patch nearby. It did not seem to be a "peace offering." This was the gesture of a person who was fed up with the police and fed up with the incoming fascist government. Her body language seemed to say: "Here, this is all I can muster. I'm done with you. Take it at your own risk."

She was all but done, but also willing to make a final effort. The cops would get one last chance here.

They wouldn't take it.

Maybe it's time to leave the flowers in the garden where they belong.

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