“I knew the second that I started filming that this would be a powerful event and something that people needed to see, something that would inspire them,” Andrea Desky said Saturday night in a phone interview. “But I didn’t have any concept of the scale of it.”
Indeed, since the video of Bree Newsome taking down the Confederate flag was posted on YouTube, it has racked up nearly 1 million views (as of Sunday morning) and been viewed by scores around the world. Network television news outlets and other major media companies also used Desky’s video in reporting the story. The hastags #freebree and #keepitdown began trending worldwide. An indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise bond money for Newsome established Saturday has raised more than $96,000.
Newsome’s “direct action” follows the June 17 massacre of nine African-American members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston, who were gathered in a church meeting room. The shocking attack has triggered a wave of national debate about the meaning of the flag’s symbolism, with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley calling for the removal of Confederate flag from state Capitol grounds in Columbia. The flag flies there as part of a Civil War memorial. Alabama’s governor ordered the removal of the flag from Capitol grounds there. Here in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory has said he wants to change state law to stop the Division of Motor Vehicles from issuing specialty license plates emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Companies such as Amazon and Walmart have said they would stop carrying Confederate flag merchandise.
Desky is a UNC Asheville graduate of the college’s mass communications department. After graduating, she began working as a freelance cinematographer and video editor, and set up her own video services company, K23 Media.
“It’s a reference to Tom Robbins and his book Jitterbug Perfume. The simplest way to explain the reference is that it refers to the quest for living the most fulfilled life,” Desky said.
Desky was on the road with members of the Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville-based environmental that works to save Southern forests. On Friday the group was in Savannah, where Desky worked in 100-degree temperatures to film a human S.O.S. as part of a Dogwood Alliance campaign called Save Our Southern Forests. The project calls attention to the affects of the biomass industry.
Desky got a call Friday night from the group organizing the direct action in South Carolina. A friend of a friend of a friend had recommended her, she said. Desky said she did not now Brittany Newsome or exactly who was organizing the action.
“They couldn’t give me any explicit details. It was delicate and low key,” Desky said. “One false step could have blown the action, so I snuck away from the Dogwood Alliance.”
Desky drove through the night and arrived in Columbia at 5 a.m. “I found someplace inconspicuous to hang out until I saw the action starting to happen. I really didn’t know what to anticipate,” she said.
Desky was traveling with all kinds of gear, but she decided to got light in Columbia. She set up her Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera body with a 70-200mm lens atop her Manfrotto tripod, pointed her directional microphone and prepared to film.
Nobody from an official media outlet was on the scene, so Desky said she just tried to blend in with the crowd. “I was certainly concerned about any kind of brutality. Tensions are thick, especially in South Carolina,” she said.
“Once Bree was up on the poll, it was on. I was filming, and I was surrounded by other people will cell phone cameras and passersby.”
“I could pick up Bree and the officer and the crowd chanting. It gave me chills,” Desky said. “I have to say it really made it difficult to film with tears streaming down my face.”
“Just Bree being so strong and calm and coming not from a place of anger but of love, that resonated with the crowd,” she said. “I felt honored and humbled the entire time. I thought the entire experience was really beautiful.”
Police arrested Newsome and her spotter, and about an hour after the event, the Confederate flag was raised again and a white supremacy group held a planned rally at the flagpole.
“They had about 20 big trucks and were waving Confederate flags, being hateful. It made my stomach turn, but I don’t feel it affected our event. I think they would like to think that, but it was just a poignant reminder of why we need to do what we did,” Desky said.
After 48 hours of no sleep and the rush of adrenaline, Desky admitted she was still processing the event and her role in witnessing it. She said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is the work that I think truly matters,” Desky said. “If I can use my craft and merge that with my passion and make an impact, then I’ve been fulfilled as a professional and an individual.”