Sarah Mason, TIME's Protester of the Year: More Photos, Details Behind Occupy L.A. Cover
Update, December 28: Occupy L.A. photos by Ted Soqui, the LA Weekly photographer behind the TIME cover, are going on exhibit at the gallery where Sarah Mason works.
Updated on second page with even more up-close shots of Mason -- these ones taken by Soqui. Originally posted December 15 at 4:40 p.m.
Ah, the elusive Sarah Mason -- she of the knit yellow cap and 99 percent bandana, gracing TIME's already iconic "Person of the Year" cover for 2011, yet turning her face from this new spotlight and returning no press calls (that we know of).
Just as any good, principled occupier would do. However, because we're mildly obsessed at this point, we spent the day ravaging the Internet for photos, videos and stories that could fill in the holes behind Mason's cover shoot.
(Which was, as we already told you, shot by LA Weekly freelancer Ted Soqui and cartoonified by L.A. street artist Shepard Fairey. See right.)
Mission accomplished. It appears the dreamy-eyed 25-year-old was among 20 Occupy L.A. protesters who linked arms in a circle around a pop-up encampment at the center of Bank of America Plaza on November 17. That day's march had begun at a downtown intersection, where LAPD riot cops arrested various protesters for failure to disperse, and ended at the B of A.
Mason -- a Highland resident who works at a Santa Monica art gallery -- was arrested at sundown, as was the rest of the elbow-linked chain. The bandana she wore was reportedly soaked in vinegar, "just in case the police sprayed them with gas or pepper spray."
Mason, second from right.
(Occupy factions across the country held demonstrations on the same date -- a "National Day of Action" meant to remind Wall Street and the 1 percent that the Occupy movement was still alive and growing on its two-month anniversary. A massive march and police crackdown likewise took place in New York.)
Back in L.A., Occupy was hoping to set up a mini camp outside the Bank of America to supplement their sardine-packed encampment on the L.A. City Hall lawn.
But police officers (and the banksters in the B of A high-rise) weren't having it. Tension was high between cops and protesters as rubber-bullet guns were cocked and tents ripped from their stakes. And at nightfall, 20 arrests were made -- nothing like the eventual raid on the City Hall encampment, which ended in almost 300 arrests (some allegedly brutal), but the biggest clash up to that point.
On the night of the final raid, Mason explained to the Los Angeles Times that she could no longer stand her ground because of the jailing on the day of her cover shoot.
Protesters Sarah Mason and Scott Shuster did decide to leave, because both said they couldn't risk arrest.
Mason, who was arrested during a protest at Bank of America this month, said, "There's no curfew on the 1st Amendment."
Shuster, the guy she was apparently hanging with that night, now tells the Times that Mason "was surprised and a little embarrassed to see her picture on the cover of Time." However, he might be a little biased:
He said she had earned the honor for her work at Occupy, where she is known as a consensus builder who once taught police how to participate in the protest's nightly general assembly meeting. Shuster said Occupy had helped Mason grow politically and personally.
"She found her voice," he said, and then paused. "I'm probably not the best person to ask, though. I've had a crush on her since the moment I met her."
A little awkward, but by all accounts, she was a magnetic person to be around. Soqui, the photographer behind the TIME cover, tells the Weekly that he was immediately drawn to her as a subject, though "when I was taking the pictures, she was real nervous, and I was just trying to calm her down." (He eventually did so by telling her he worked for this newspaper. Boo-ya. Soqui has also spoken with Mason since the TIME issue came out, and says she's "truly humbled by it. She says, 'It's not about me.'")
More fawning: A couple days before the Bank of America action, NPR called her a "tall, 25-year-old [who] could be a GAP model." She was having a bit of an existential crisis at that point:
SARAH MASON: I am here because I feel a moral obligation to speak out against injustice.
NPR: Mason has been camping out here a few weeks, but leaves each day for her full-time job at an art gallery in Santa Monica. She admits to getting weary, and lately has been thinking...
MASON: What are we doing here? You know, what is - what is the point of this? You know, can't we be doing this at home? Can't we be doing this somewhere else?
The most thorough character profile of Mason we've seen so far is by Cady Lang, for 360 Magazine. Some fun facts from the exhaustive piece:
- Though Mason's small gray tent was unassuming from the outside, the inside was "a bohemian paradise, complete with tapestries, blankets and pillows in rich earthy tones, candles and picture frames" and "a cozy haven where one can hide from the chaos of a bustling day in downtown Los Angeles."
- Mason has "inky dark hair and bluntly cut bangs" and a "straightforward, frank attitude." She also has a "girlfriend" named Meagan.
- A dark, telling moment in her past: Mason accrued massive debt on a credit card issued to her by Bank of America, because of what she calls "pressure to look a certain way" -- perhaps contributing to her participation on November 17, and her current discomfort with all this celebrity. More from 360:
Mason is quick to assess that weakness though, noting that she still struggles now with spending. Her current job is at an art gallery in Santa Monica, where she's felt the pressure to keep up appearances.
"Being in Southern California, being around people where image or being on the cutting edge is priority puts me in a situation where I feel more conscious of myself; now, I'm working at an art gallery where image is very important, and I struggle with it still," she divulges matter-of-factly. "I frequently find myself walking around stores in the mall, ready to make big purchases, and buy impulsively just because I feel insecure. I make myself reflect, and then I'm like no."
OK, now that we know more about Sarah Mason than we do our own grandmother, we can get back to stalking nobodies like Lindsay Lohan and appreciating Occupy, instead, for what it needs to be -- a sea of discontented faces, not one beautiful set of eyebrows on the front of TIME Magazine.
However, we do wish TIME and Fairey would stop pretending its cover art isn't a single person existing in a single moment. From their "making of" story:
As the artist behind our Person of the Year 2011 cover commemorating this year's pick, The Protester, Fairey says his cover image is based on a composite of 26 different photographs of real protests from around the world. "These organic protest movements have arisen around the globe and a lot of it was fueled by social media, but it was a pervasive phenomenon," he said. "It wasn't one specific movement but general unrest. I wanted to look for ideas to represent that." ...
Though the protests themselves have been anything up light, Fairey didn't want the image to feel menacing. "A lot of these people are not threatening," he said. "A lot of them are just regular folks who feel dissatisfied." Instead he wanted to create something that "meant business, but wasn't scary." He used a collage of scenes from the Arab Spring to Moscow to Occupy Wall Street as a backdrop, images he said shows the dramatic accumulation of these global protests rather than displaying them as isolated events.
BS. We found the soft-lidded, isolated one, and her name is Sarah Mason. "The spirit is definitely Sarah's," Soqui tells Metro. "The other 25 images wouldn't really support it." Watch her sing a solidarity song to riot cops with hundreds of her comrades, below. (She's the one in the yellow hat. Obviously.)
Soqui's entire November 17 photo shoot of Mason, on second page.