It is a murderously muggy Sunday morning at Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, yet hundreds of people (mostly women) are massed for a #StopKavanaugh event.
She carries a $4,000 camera that she bought with money from a GoFundMe page after she broke her old one at the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rally.
Video journalist Sandi Bachom is equipped with her standard “covering a protest” gear: brimmed hat, long-sleeve high collar shirt, vest, $4,000 Canon XF400 (a replacement via a GoFundMe page after she fell on the old one last summer during the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi rally), replaceable batteries, sensible shoes, and Depends.
About the last item on the list: Running around for hours at a stretch isn’t made easier by a nearly 74-year-old bladder, even when the bladder belongs to a self-described “war baby who came out of the womb looking for a fight.”
Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney addresses the throng from atop the steps of the New York County Court, saying, “A vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court Justice is a vote to destroy Roe v. Wade.” Bachom moves through the crowd filming close-ups, panoramic views, and zooming in on signs like KAVA-NOPE and SUPPORT PLANNED KITTEN HOOD (carried by a woman in a cat outfit).
At a table manned by three 20-something moveon.org members, Bachom adds her signature to the banner beseeching the Senate to SAVE OUR SUPREME COURT. She takes a swig from her water bottle and tells the young women, “In the ‘60s back in Hollywood where I grew up, you had three choices—you knew a Beverly Hills doctor, you went to Tijuana, or you gave your child up for adoption. Oh, or you died.”
Sandi Bachom: How Her Style Was Shaped
A few days earlier I’d gotten a taste of Bachom’s raw emotive style during a noontime chat in the elegant, dimly lit lobby lounge of the Algonquin. The historic hotel was once home to the famed Round Table, where acid-tongued literary lights like Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, and Robert Benchley lunched and spat out verbal grenades daily.
She’s a self-described ‘war baby who came out of the womb looking for a fight.’
During our conversation, Bachom and I sipped coffee and satisfied our mutual love of people-watching with darting glances at the smattering of singletons on laptops and a rowdy (by the current low-key Algonquin standards) group of six drinking in the corner.
Bachom comes by her war-baby rep honestly. Her parents divorced when she was three and gave custody of their daughter to the girl’s maternal grandmother.
When I theorize that this trauma led to Bachom’s fighting spirit, she said, “Well, it definitely encouraged my 30 years of drinking.”
Living the Mad Men Life
In the ‘60s she moved to New York to live with a guitar player and launch a career in advertising in the Mad Men era, making $50 a week as a junior producer. During her 40-year career Bachom worked on commercials with folks like Robert DeNiro, Madeline Kahn, Joe Louis, Buster Crabbe, and Mr. Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller.
At age 57, considered too old to be hirable in advertising, she was forced to start over.
Perhaps her most cherished memory was working on commercial shoots with her idol Albert Maysles. She became friends with the famed documentarian (Gimmie Shelter, Grey Gardens), who planted the idea for her current solo career. Bachom recalls, “Commercials were like film shoots. We’d spend millions of dollars with teams of people involved. Albert said, ‘You don’t need a big crew. You just need a real camera.’”
In those days she was making six figures, living in a $1.6 million apartment with her husband and son, wearing a closetful of Prada, traveling the world on an expense account, and winning awards, including a gold Cannes Lion for a Pepsi spot with MC Hammer that ran in the Super Bowl. In 1987 she got sober, subsequently writing three books about the experience, including The Wrath of Grapes: Packed with Recovery, Insight and Humor.
When Everything Changed
Then in September 2001, three profound events occurred. Obviously, the 9/11 tragedy that affected all of us, and two that mainly impacted Bachom: She was laid off, and her marriage of 20 years ended. “I was an alcoholic the first six years of our marriage. I don’t know how he stood me. We’re still best friends.”.
At age 57, considered too old to be hirable in advertising despite her decades of success, she was forced to start over. But first she had to learn how not to be derailed by fear.
She accomplished this partly through phone sessions with a teacher who helped Bachom see the abundance life can provide once you stop bemoaning what you don’t have. “If you keep crying to the universe, ‘I’m so broke, I can’t find a guy, I have no money,’ you’ll get more of the same failure,” Bachom says.
Building a New Newsy Life
These days Bachom asks the universe for what she wants. “Sometimes you don’t achieve your dream no matter how hard you try. That can be liberating. Other times it’s like when you drive at night and it’s green lights the whole way!”
To help grease the wheels for success, she writes down her wishes on waitress guest check pads—“I call them ‘Yes Pads.’” One of her biggest orders to the universe was requesting a meeting with Michael Moore. In 2012, out of the blue, the documentarian/provocateur invited her to his Traverse City Film Festival to screen My #Occupy, Bachom’s short film about her 240 days covering the Occupy Wall Street Movement. My #Occupy was honored with a jury mention for citizen journalism and activism. “Michael called me the oldest first-time filmmaker,” she recalls proudly.
Since Trump’s ascension, Bachom, who lives on Social Security checks and bunks in a small apartment (“you have to go out into the hall to change your mind”) on the Lower East Side with four seniors, a golden retriever, and three cats, has dedicated herself to filming every local protest and demonstration for an ongoing documentary project. Her videos, many shot for the Now This News service, have garnered millions of views.
‘Michael Moore called me the oldest first-time filmmaker.’
Covering the Neo-Nazi marchers last year in Charlottesville, she was pepper-sprayed, hit with a “urine bomb,” cracked her head, and suffered a broken wrist—and yes, breaking her precious camera as she fell. She has met the Parkland activists and filmed in the Trump Tower press pool, netting footage of Don Jr., Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen. Perhaps most poignantly, she is documenting the reuniting of immigrant children with their parents: “I see the eyes of the little ones, and it brings up a lot of childhood pain. The damage of abandonment is irrevocable.”
At almost 74 (hold the birthday wishes until October 14th), why does she keep putting herself through this turmoil? “I can’t sit and throw things at the TV anymore.”
A few days after our Algonquin conversation, she’s still going strong after two hours of documenting the #StopKavanaugh rally at Foley Square. Me? I’m wilting in the heat. I won’t be joining her tonight at the Gays Against Guns protest.
Heading home to an evening of air conditioning and a nice Chardonnay, I remember something Bachom said during our Algonquin interview: “I represent the power of one person with a camera!”
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a NYC-based therapist, author of three relationship self-help books and editor of the anthology How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch. She has contributed to many publications including New York, Washington Post, This Week, Reader’s Digest, Observer and vox.com.
Top photo by Nina Galicheva.