Where other media feared to go

Like the imprisonment of Josh Wolf, the death of indie photojournalist Brad Will has roused activists around the world

click to enlarge Brad Will, camera in hand - Courtesy The Brad Will Foundation
Courtesy The Brad Will Foundation
Brad Will, camera in hand

Brad Will spent his life fighting power. Whether it was at the WTO protest in Seattle in 1999, the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, defending the environment or the rights of squatters, Will put his passion on the line.

But Will didn't just organize or participate in protests, he documented them. Reporting for Indymedia, a worldwide network of independent journalists, Will traveled to protests and chronicled the causes he believed in. On Oct. 27, while filming a teachers' strike in Oaxaca, Mexico, Will was shot and killed. News accounts reported that the killers were local police officers, and many have speculated that the attack was directed specifically at media — another photographer was also shot during the protest. The following day, using Will's death as an impetus, President Vicente Fox ordered in federal troops to put down the "radical" rebellion.

Though Will's death got little mainstream media coverage, the Internet has taken up the slack. Several memorial sites have popped up, and Indymedia and other left-leaning outlets have covered the protests in Oaxaca, America and abroad that followed his murder. Message boards and photo-sharing sites have been covered with tributes; letters to Congress and the ambassador to Mexico have gathered hundreds of signatures.

"He was one of the most dedicated activists I ever worked with," Brooke Lehman, a co-owner of a radical book store in New York City, told the Village Voice as part of an extensive profile of Will earlier this month. "You could pretty much guarantee if there was a cause or an action, Will would be there. He felt a tremendous responsibility to do media where other media outlets wouldn't go, or were afraid to go."

The Voice story details a restless life. Will grew up well off in Evanston, Ill., (his family has set up a foundation at bradwill.org), took classes at Allen Ginsberg's Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., traveled to Europe, South America and around the country, following the pulse of dissent. Perhaps his most well-known moment came in February 1997, when he stood on the roof of a Lower East Side building where he and others were squatting as it was demolished.

"Determined to stave off the destruction of what private engineers had told residents was a still salvageable building, Will somehow snuck through the lines of riot police and got back inside," Sarah Ferguson wrote in the Voice. "I recall him waving his arms frantically from the roof as the wrecking crane slammed into the cornice, sending a cascade of bricks to the street." In part because of Will's actions, the city eventually settled with the squatters for $120,000, setting a new precedent in New York City for squatters' rights.

But, after last month's shooting, Brad Will's legacy will be forever linked to journalism. His final video — a 16-minute clip of the Oaxaca protests — shows interviews with people denouncing their governor, young men with bandanas over their faces throwing rocks, trucks moving through the small town. Then shots ring out. Will screams. The camera rocks, catching footsteps, cries and more gunfire, before it falls to the sidewalk and finally goes black.

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