The week of protest

_C1_9503.JPGHave you kept up this week?

Millions of marchers took to the streets in all 50 states and around the world the weekend of President Donald Trump’s inauguration to protest sexism and sexual assault and shout a full-throated message of inclusion and diversity. A week later, thousands more have protested against the president’s plan to build a wall on our southern border and his Friday executive order that sharply curtails the acceptance of refugees and other immigrants, particularly from horror-filled Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, more people are fleeing war and persecution than at any time in recorded history.

The Trump administration said the order would help protect against terrorists who could be among refugees’ ranks, though this is vanishingly rare. (It’s worth adding the risk of being killed in a refugee’s terrorist attack is about 0.000003% that of dying in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council and the conservative Cato Institute.) The order certainly made a splash, slamming the door on students, families, allies of U.S. armed forces and others on their way to the U.S., earning bipartisan criticism and sparking worries over whether the executive branch would obey court orders against it.

_C1_9430.JPGOne of the protesters was this woman above, Simone, whose mother escaped the Cambodian killing fields, where more than 1 million people lost their lives at the hands of a dictatorship a few decades ago. She and a couple hundred others turned out in downtown Fayetteville with signs quoting the Statue of Liberty’s plaque and Biblical passages. They urged the White House to keep the door open for refugees and other immigrants no matter their religion or homeland.

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_C1_9488.JPGI’ll add one more thought: Support a newspaper, even if it isn’t the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I’ve written about the effects of refugee, health care, climate change and immigration policy and will do everything I can to keep doing so — and I’m just one reporter at one paper. This is shaping up to be a defining year of my lifetime and in the country’s history, and even if it’s exhausting for reporters and readers alike, we absolutely must keep trying to learn about what’s going on and what it means.

Thanks for looking, and keep your eyes open.

Dan

Who we are

t_parade-17.jpg“Our country has changed,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote three years ago in a majority opinion that found the landmark Voting Rights Act was being used unfairly against several states with histories of intimidation and violence toward black voters. Black voter registration has equaled white registration in many of those places and more have minorities in office, Roberts said, concluding the set of states covered by the act is based on outdated information.

The victorious lawyer for the Alabama county protesting the voting law took a more sweeping stance: “There is an old disease, and that disease is cured.”

There are plenty of things I could point to in order to show how wrong-headed this statement was, but this past week has been especially gut-punching. Following the presidential election, racial and religious assault and street harassment seem to have spiked. (Hate crimes last year jumped, too.) Black freshmen at Pennsylvania State University were unwillingly added to an online chat group about lynching. Groups of students across the country, including here in Arkansas, have led chants of phrases like “white power,” an American Nazi slogan. Speaking of Nazis: swastikas and other anti-Jewish nonsense are all over the place.

It’s all pretty nauseating and alarming and scary.

So I’m going to show a snapshot of the America I know a little better, the one that’s home to people who are black, Christian, urban, female, civilian, old, liberal, Jewish, transgender, straight, Buddhist, rural, military, gay, male, Native American, Muslim, conservative, white, atheistic, young, Asian, native- and foreign-born. I’ve seen them farming, dancing, building, worshiping, marching, laughing, crying, leaping, relaxing, serving and celebrating, among all of the other things we Americans do.

This is a tiny piece of who we are.

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_C1_6759.JPGStill, the truth is none of this is new. We’re the country that elected Barack Obama, and we’re the country that had several slaveholders among its founders. We’re the country that sings the praises of Martin Luther King Jr., and we’re the country that elected a successor to Obama who, despite his denunciation, is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and its ilk. We’re a country that holds up the immigrant or refugee seeking a new life as an idyllic symbol, and we’re the country that began by attacking the indigenous people and consistently treated each new wave of immigrants with suspicion or outright hatred.

All of this is who we are. We have countless things to do if we want to change it, but I think we can start with two: seeing and meeting and learning about each other a little more, and never saying or thinking that racism and other prejudices are “cured.” I know I’ll do what I can on those two things, at least.

These are just my thoughts, incomplete or flawed as they might be. Thanks for looking, and I wish you well.

The Life and Times

_C1_1448I like to joke that a journalist’s conversion to public relations – becoming a spokesperson for The Man, whatever form he takes – is like going to the Dark Side. Many give in to the temptations of better hours and pay and reputation among the general public. What losers, right? We might need to consult with our Dark Side brethren, though, because journalists these days aren’t doing very well in the public relations arena.

Presidential candidates one after another score points by bashing reporters’ questions and motives. Facebook and Twitter commenters every day lament that only a dozen or two dozen real journalists are left in the whole country. Activists in Columbia, Missouri, pushed reporters away from public and freely available spaces on Monday. And at the Veterans Day parade in Fayetteville this weekend, a Vietnam veteran speaker called it unfortunate that correspondents were embedded with the troops during that war. They sapped the United States’ will to beat its enemy, he said, by broadcasting photos of girls burned by napalm and men about to be executed or by reporting massacres.

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_C1_1456Journalists have slunk into undisclosed bias and have made mistakes, some of them fairly huge. We all absolutely should examine and criticize the news media and what they do and why, and I’m not grasping for sympathy. I’m not personally involved with any of those examples above and don’t know everything about them. The past few weeks just have been challenging and stimulating for me, a local newspaper reporter, to watch.

Here in town, Sunday’s parade was different from all of the others I’ve seen in the square – smaller, quieter, shorter. At least a hundred or so people came to show their support for veterans past and present. The light was slanted and sharp. The crowd cheered for a little lady who wore a red, white and blue knitted hat and served in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands during World War II. The high school marching band marched in and made me nostalgic for my trombone days.

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_C1_1517That speaker Sunday raised a significant point about how war has changed under the media’s watch. Around 4,500 Americans have died in Iraq in the last 12 years. About the same number of Allied troops died in a single day of WWII. I don’t know if we will ever again accept that kind of loss, and I dislike trying to imagine what it would take for us to lower our bar.

Our new conflict calculus seems at least partly to come from how we see every one of those deaths in photo and video and print and on the nightly news. There’s room for improvement in how we take care of veterans at home and how much attention we pay to other countries’ losses, but in the battle itself, there are few abstractions left. We learn about our men and women’s lives and loves and hopes. We see a little more of war’s cost.

Journalists don’t have a right to everything, but I like to think seeing and discussing where we as a people are going is worth our poking around. It’s an interesting coincidence that as reporters take so much flak, a movie showing what the job is all about comes out and earns critical acclaim. The best journalists are there to find and show what a war really means, and to ask where public figures came from, and to explore why people say and do the things they say and do. Reporters do important work every day. I hope we can prove it. I hope others can see it. Otherwise we reporters might all end up in PR.

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_C1_1557Thanks for looking, and happy Veterans Day.

Dan