On January 21st an estimated 3.3 million Americans grabbed signs, started chants and attended either the Women’s March on Washington, or the satellite marches around the country. For those who couldn’t make the marches, there was a free live stream of the DC event. That live stream was filmed and produced by HeadCount Board Member, independent music and film entrepreneur Peter Shapiro. Our director of communications Aaron Ghitelman (who was in DC shooting videos for HeadCount from the Inauguration and March) sat down with Peter Shapiro to find out how everything went down.
All the photos in this interview were taken by Peter Shapiro, but unfortunately he was so busy making sure everything happened right that he forgot to pose for any shots himself.
HeadCount: How did you get involved in the Women’s March on Washington?
Peter Shapiro: I’m friendly with some of the women that were involved in organizing the march, Ginny Suss and Vanessa Wruble, who are very much part of The Roots crew, and they are the founders of OkayAfrica. I’ve done a lot of events with them over the years, maybe back since the Wetlands days. They do the Roots Holiday Jam and they were involved in this.
And several weeks ago, we were talking about the streaming of it. There was a crew of 15-20 women who organized the March on Washington, there is an article in Vogue about them. They knew I had streamed big events and put on concerts in D.C. like Earth Day on the National Mall and reached out for advice. I was honored, I wanted to assist these amazing women whatever way I could.
I had a feeling of how important the event would be, and the scale would be massive. So I jumped in and volunteered. We have a lot of experience from all the streaming, from the venues, from doing Fare Thee Well, and my background is a lot of filming, and Jonathan Healey, who works for me, doing streaming from The Capitol Theatre and Brooklyn Bowl.
So many of the people putting on the event volunteered, the organizers, the logistics teams, so it felt great for me to jump in and volunteer too.
We put together a team to film it,seven cameras. We started and it was going to be five Jumbotrons, then 6, 7. Finally we got to 9. Which is a lot of Jumbotrons, but we could have even used more. They went all the way down Independence (ave), we helped place them. Check out this shot of us placing Jumbotrons at 2 in the morning.
I’m really glad that when I saw an opportunity to help, I just dove in and spent a lot of time in the last three weeks helping to make this happen. To do whatever I could. I took the lessons I learned in the past. When there are big events they are usually sh*tshows. This was a sh*tshow, it was an awesome and incredible sh*tshow. And I’ve got experience in sh*tshows, being in a bunch of sh*tshows. That’s funny. Maybe use an asterisk when writing out sh*tshow.
So a thing I’ve learnt about how to deal with sh*tshows, is it’s better when you’ve dealt with that before, and I’m pretty good at dealing with sh*tshows. That’s a skill set.
How did streaming and social media shape this protest?
This thing got so big because of social media. That’s how it grew, how it was organized. And then everyone got to experience this event live and maybe it got some people to go to their local marches. No chance this would have been the biggest protest in American history without social media and the stream was part of that.
How many people tuned into the stream?
Millions. We put it on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and also we took the feed of the show, the multi-camera shots, and we coordinated to give it to the New York Times, to give it to other media outlets, so they could show it. It was open-source, anyone could take it and run it. A lot of people told me they watched it and saw our edited product.
We worked with nugs to do the backend, so we kept it home team. We’ve worked with them a lot, on Fare Thee Well (The Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary concerts) and we went satellite. It was so important, we were worried, and we were right, that the internet would crash. And even if we got wifi to send the feed to the media tent, that sh*t would go crazy if there are 500,000 people. Which is what happened.
Then we got a call beforehand that said we have to watch out, there are going to be people trying to hack into the stream, don’t let that happen. So we went satellite truck to protect it, and we didn’t give out the satellite code to anyone because we were nervous.
And the stream went smooth. It was a little nerve-wracking, the order of the show kept changing, behind the stage you couldn’t actually get to the entrance it was so crazy.
Yea, I couldn’t even get to watch a screen.
You couldn’t even get to the screens and we had nine of them. Wow. I wish we could have had even more!
It was unbelievable, we covered all of Independence in screens, it went all the way over to the Mall. Did you see on 4th St. or 7th St. shooting to the mall?
Nah, I couldn’t get anywhere.
Check out the photo we took from the truck, the crowd was frozen. You couldn’t even move.
It was insane. My siblings were there, I was trying to text them to find them and there was no service anywhere.
Yea, we also couldn’t do a lot of things because the Mall was the site of the inauguration the day before. That’s why we were putting stuff up on Independence Avenue. A week ago today I went to DC to help the planning, where to put the stage, all this, it was on the street.
Everything was set up after 12:01 AM, it had to be set up that day. So we got there, set it up, you gotta see this photo of me, getting one of the screens ready. It was cool to see the empty street. That’s Independence, middle of the night, no one was there. Then it got full, all the way back.
One of the things I’m proud of, I really pushed, we had tons of delay towers, again not on the mall, all the way down Independence. One mile from 3rd St to 14th. It was a mile of people, way wide. We shot towards the Mall, on 4th St and 7th St there were 7 Jumbotrons, and tons of sound all the way down.
How did this happen in just few hours?
So there was a woman named Janaye Ingram, one of the key women in planning the march. She was the head of logistics for the whole thing in DC. I was so incredibly impressed with her, just her keeping her head on, keeping it straight, mine would have exploded trying to put that on. So much coordination from her.
Usually for events like this, the builds start way before. This was next level.
What was the most powerful thing you saw?
Alicia Keys, when she did the poem. It was great. That was really powerful. The combination of normal people and celebrities, there was an energy in the air. I also loved Senator Kamala Harris’ speech.
In a way it didn’t really matter what was going on the stage, the energy was so great. If you pulled out a match and held it into the air it would catch on fire.
Honestly, It felt like Fare Thee Well a little to me. Just that energy. I actually met Katy Perry at the march and we talked about Fare Thee Well a bit, she did both Santa Clara and Chicago, she said she liked the rainbow roses.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It was one of the best days of my life. Really great sign of what’s about to come for folks like HeadCount with involvement and activism. The energy, the vibes, wow. At 8am I was afraid, maybe it wasn’t going to be so big. Then by 9 AM, I was on the TV truck behind the stage, I looked up as you can see in the photo, and thought, “Oh sh*t!” That image never changed all day, from 9AM to 2PM, incredible waves of people, it never stopped coming, it just never stopped, I’ve never seen anything like that.