My journey from social justice protester to independent journalist

By CARISSA DEZ

Balancing a passion for social justice and equality as well as the commitment to bring honest and unbiased stories to the public can be a challenging task.

My path to becoming a freelance journalist without experience or formal education has been quite the adventure, and has convinced me to pursue journalism as a career.

The beginning

I have been leading a double life. By day I run a small business. By night, I suit up for war-like conditions and film police and protesters going head-to-head. Juggling all of these responsibilities hasn’t been easy, but the experience has been fulfilling in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.

Getting to this point has been a truly strange and exciting journey. A fervor for equality led me to protest, but it was a thirst for knowledge and truth that led me to journalism. I started down a rabbit hole when I began filming, not knowing where or what it would lead to.

My Journey started at the end of May, after the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Like many other people, I watched with horror as Floyd struggled for and lost his life on camera. I was struck by the unnecessary and brutal treatment he received as a result of institutional racism and militaristic police tactics.

I felt compelled to do something about it. This feeling grew into a burning desire to go out and protest— even though I’d never marched, chanted, or waved a sign for a cause in my life.

After a couple of weeks of daily protesting, I started to keep a video and photo journal of the events I was witnessing. More and more, I saw this documentation becoming a way to record important events occurring at the protests that weren’t getting fair representation in mainstream media.

I took a video journalism class in high school and have dabbled in photography where I have enjoyed capturing intense and beautiful moments in life. However, livestreaming was something I had never done before May 2020.

When it became apparent that people were interested in watching my live videos in June, I made it my mission to film as often as I could so viewers could see what was happening with the Portland protests.

A 30-second video of a fire doesn’t tell a complete story. Many people watching from home wanted to make up their own minds about the protests that were happening in their cities, rather than solely listen to what mainstream media was telling them. So, I equipped myself with ballistic gear and set out with my new gimbal.

A chaotic scene

My first experience with the police declaring an unlawful assembly over the LRAD (long-range acoustic device) was on June 26, 2020.

I started the night off at the Multnomah County Justice Center where arguments were happening between groups. I was trying to decide whether I should go home or not when someone in my livestream comments let me know that I was needed to document at Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct.

I was still planning on going home, but at the last minute decided to drive to the precinct out of curiosity.

Upon arrival, the scene was like that out of a movie. I saw large barricades in the streets that were on fire, a line of cops, and a line of protesters. I started filming as law enforcement officers shot pepper balls and flung gas canisters into the crowd.

Hiding behind trees and a bus shelter was working just fine for me until I saw Mid-K Beauty Supply store start on fire. I then heard someone yelling into a megaphone. They were asking why someone would light the building on fire, and told others to put the fire out.

I ran over and helped put out the fire by kicking pieces of garbage away from the Black-owned business. After myself and several others extinguished the fire, we walked off into the tear gas smoke.

Objectivity and action

June 26, 2020 was also the day I decided that I would work on being more objective in my commentary during my live videos.

While at the Multnomah County Justice Center (JC), I defended a young Black protest leader who was being yelled at by another group leader. Later in the night, I defended a protester when a woman came into the crowd and began yelling racial slurs at them.

I was getting threats throughout the night, and was almost jumped by an opposing group. By nature I am protective of others, and have found that there is a way to de-escalate a situation without being unprofessional.

A certain level of street smarts are necessary when filming at protests. There are certain things that you just can’t do if you want to stay safe as a livestreamer. I don’t get in protester’s faces with my camera unless they request an interview, I also don’t throw objects at the police.

My main goal has been to show people the truth. Focusing on the facts allows me to build trust in the community and allows my audience to come to their own conclusions based on facts.

Pursuing journalism

I recently realized that I am not only passionate about social justice, but that I am also passionate about journalism.

I have read up on things such as journalistic integrity, and have listened to many podcasts about what it takes to be a great journalist. For me, it is important to stand up for what I believe in, but also make it my job to show the truth without adding too much of my opinion into the story.

Any good journalist is an activist for truth. We choose what to focus on, what to amplify, what to investigate and examine. The purpose of journalism is to raise the voices of people who may not have a voice. This doesn’t mean that a journalist should inject their personal views into a story.

For now, I am happy being an independent journalist while I learn and hone in on my strengths. I have found community within the group of livestreamers that cover the protests, and we all learn from each other.

We all have different styles, and look out for one another when we are filming. I have had offers to partner with teams and to sell my videos to mainstream media, but prefer to work independently so that I can have freedom to make my own decisions with how my work as a journalist develops.

Trip to the Nation’s capitol

A peak event from my journey was being a part of the March on Washington 2020 at the end of August.

I woke up a few days before the event knowing that I had to make the trip. I was able to raise funds with the support of my community to film the event and related events in Washington D.C.

Next, I had to do some research to make sure it was okay to transport a gas mask and ballistic gear through airport security. I was worried about being in a dangerous situation after getting threats from viewers, so thought they were necessary for the trip.

It was so important for me to be a part of this historical moment that celebrated the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, at a pinnacle moment in the current social justice movement.

I had planned to livestream the entire event including speeches and the march from the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed everyone there had the same idea, and my cell service did not allow me to livestream for long.

I even ended up at the very front of the crowd with a close-up view of those giving speeches, but was disappointed that I couldn’t livestream so my audience could be there with me.

Luckily, I was able to take several photos and short videos to show what was happening around me. I soaked in the amazing speeches by Reverend Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and more.

The sun was blasting down on the crowd that entire day, but I was determined to stay until the march ended at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I ended the day with heat exhaustion, so I slept until the protest the following night.

Another life changing moment that occurred in D.C. was when I met Frank Nitty, the activist who walked with a group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Washington, D.C.

Frank Nitty and Carissa in Washington D.C.

The stars aligned and I was able to do an interview with Nitty and the family. After filming a historically Black colleges and universities march, a friend said that I could go and find Frank Nitty with him at a hotel.

Frank let us up to his hotel suite and started off by playing some piano for us on the baby grand piano looking over D.C. Frank told us about his travels and let us know about his thoughts on being an activist, and on the current protests happening on our streets.

Near the end of our interview with Frank, we were getting reports that D.C. cops were throwing munitions at protesters, so we headed down to the protests.

This was a normal sight for those down there that were from the Portland area. Officers were shooting munitions and were throwing smoke canisters at non-violent protesters.

Those there that I knew from Portland gladly stood on the frontlines of the protest, while locals didn’t seem to know what to make of the situation. This was only the second time in recent history where D.C. law enforcement have used munitions for crowd-control purposes.

While I was filming the D.C. protest, I was getting news in my livestream comments that someone was shot and killed in Portland near the protests.

Myself and others in D.C. from Portland were feeling guilty for not being there in Portland, and were emotionally distraught over the news. We didn’t know who had been killed, but we were all affected nonetheless.

New perspectives

Being in Washington D.C. for that whole experience allowed me to see everything that I had witnessed in the past couple months at protests and in social situations in a whole new light. Sometimes it’s nice to travel outside of your bubble to gain a broader perspective, and I’m glad that I took the trip.

One thing I realized was that it’s okay to stand up for one’s rights, even as an aspiring journalist. I accepted the fact that I am an advocate for social justice, as well as a reporter of truth. I stand up for civil rights, for press rights, for racial justice, for gender equity, and against economic inequality.

My goal has been to tell stories, and to be good and fair. Focusing on stories of marginalization, injustice, and oppression is crucial in creating an accurate depiction of the world.

As the movement has evolved and gone on for months in Portland, It has been more important for me to have a neutral voice in my reporting by not giving a political slant to the message. I don’t 100% agree with everything anyone is doing. There are so many voices out there, and like I’ve mentioned already, it is important to paint the whole scene instead of working to deepen the divide in our global community.

***

Carissa Dez is new to the journalism world, but is learning quickly as she works in the field. Carissa live streams events, edits video, writes, and uses photography to tell a complete story.

Connect with Carissa:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/CarissaDez
Twitch: https://twitch.tv/dvmedia_pdx
Twitter / Periscope: https://twitter.com/CarissaDez
Follow my Facebook page: DVMedia
Follow my Instagram: https://Instagram.com/carissadezlive
Visit my website (in progress): https//:dvm.media
Email me: info@dvm.media

17 thoughts on “My journey from social justice protester to independent journalist

  1. Black Lives Matter is based on a fundamental, wilfull math error that the press typical ignores.

    Being so obsessed with being oppressed, they ignore the sheer rate of black crime that puts more of them in the path of police than other races (per capita). More police contact means more arrests. More arrests create more chances for resistance. More resistance gives more chances for injury and death when cops protect themselves. You don’t need “racism” to finish that equation.

    A number of studies bear this out (Roland Fryer, Manhattan Institute, etc) but protesters just keep going with their overblown premise and cities burn. It’s a waste of time and just gives blacks a worse reputation, largely thanks to overzealous white guilt.

    1. Don’t worry about your typos, worry about your logic!
      The BLM movement is about fixing inequalities in our systems, with the *current* movement focused on police accountability for the disproportionate number of blacks killed, and for police training to emphasis de-escalation.
      The statistics for black/minority deaths by police, and POC incarcerations are the math *you* should review.
      And I can’t even believe your *audacity* to imply that blacks and POC are suffer discrimination because they got “a chip on their shoulder.”
      Now, step outta the way with this nonsense, I’m reading about a journalist’s awakening to the Truth here.

      1. My “audacity” is based on evidence you choose to ignore because you think it’s unfair to point out that blacks commit huge amounts of crime, e.g. about half of U.S. murders (see FBI data). For that reason, Portland’s mugshots have a much higher percentage of blacks than the actual population. If that reality offends you, tough luck.

        Crime is the real problem, not the police’s fallible reactions to it. They aren’t robots. Anyone who resists arrests is endangering themselves and the cops. No cop is going to shake their hand and smile when they fear getting killed themselves. George Floyd’s case was an overblown fluke, but he put up a long resistance and the cops got increasingly annoyed, which is probably why Chauvin went to far (but still didn’t truly try to kill him in plain sight). See full Floyd bodycam video for context.

        Of the roughly 1,000 people killed by police each year, about 500 are white, 250 black, and 250 are other races. Unless you can prove that ONLY blacks are dying due to racism (not dangerously resisting arrest in most cases) you have nothing but an emotional argument that tries to merge historical racism with the fundamental hazards criminals face when they stupidly fight the police.

        I’ve seen a decent neighborhood ruined by the same blacks who keep blaming others for their woes. Adults with critical thinking skills understand that everyone needs to be held accountable for their bad behaviors. Criminals of other races don’t have an excuse to fall back on, nor should blacks.

        The police merely try to suppress crime, and it’s not “oppression” unless you spin it that way.

  2. Heather says:

    Carissa your journey is amazing! I enjoy watching you grow and get in the mix of it all to get the view of the truth. I have been following your stream since July. I find seeing front lines on the ground feed for journalists is important shows the truths on both sides. However for me on my end , the insane amount of snarling remarked in the chat, people are not watching and listening to what the streamer is showing us. Carissa fires a great job, she’s funny and positive she handles negativity in chat very well! Which I like, I can’t stand it when a journalist is streaming and they start arguing with the trolls (chat agitators) Carissa does a great job with it. I find that this live streaming journalism has a form of a mental strength. Carissa definitely keeps it 💯 she has improved a lot! Great Article
    Carissa AKA “Donut 🍩 Ninja”

  3. Great article Carissa! I have seen and met you in Portland during the protests as I am a live streamer as well. I too was compelled to start documenting after the death of George Floyd. Keep doing your thing, you’re good at it and like others, I enjoy your commentary and professionaliam. I’ll keep watching your feed, as long as I’m not out there also.

  4. Jay Michael says:

    Loved reading about your journey Carissa. I admire how your big heart and passion for social justice led you to also be a truth seeker and a liaison for those folks who support the movement but cannot be out on the streets and are forced to rely on mainstream media to know what is happening. I follow your live stream nearly every night that I am not out on the streets myself. Having had the opportunity to shadow you and watch your back one night, I know that each night you are putting your safety and security on the line to to deliver the truth to Americans watching from all over the country. The George Floyd murder was also what motivated me to get out in the streets and protest for Black lives.

    Thank you for doing what you do. You are an inspiration. Brush off the trolls that incessantly find it necessary to…well…troll. Focus on the majority of folks who follow you and support you. Keep it up Dez! DONUTS!!

    1. Rachel says:

      Carissa, it has been so great to watch these events with you. I believe you maintain a level of professionalism while on the streets that few others do. Professionalism doesn’t always mean unbiased, viewers know that your heart is with the movement. You will always talk with people who want to talk regardless of their stance on what is going on. You stand on the front lines, so the story can be told. You have the strength, courage, brain power, and willingness to do anything. I hope that you pursue your passion for journalism. Thank you for telling your story and for continuing to show up to help tell the stories of others.

    1. Cyndi says:

      Clarissa, I can not sleep good if I don’t not warn you to be careful with Frank Nitty! He is not who or what you think he is. He is a scammer hiding behind the “activist” title! Please please be careful!

  5. Dee Kearns says:

    Great read! Thank you for sharing your journey with us all Carissa. We are lucky to be on the receiving end of your unfiltered and unedited experiences!

  6. simonabearcub says:

    Absolutely one of my favorite streamers to follow. Thank you for taking the risks you do so that we all stay informed. Thqnk you for capturing the truth. You are appreciated!

  7. Your life experience has taught us what the real story is and not what the mainstream media wants us to believe as a veiwer on your streams I appreciate everything you do so unselfishly. Thank you for all you do your excellence has provided a great service to me and people around the world.Again ty for all of your time and hard work 💜🍩🍩🍩😊

  8. Richard Poor says:

    There is so “social justice” without “individual justice.”

    The BLM organization is, by their own words, an organization that is communistic, anti-American, anti-God, and anti-fathers.

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