Living the Dream

_C1_6474Martin Luther King, Jr. was 26 years old when he helped organize and lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott and brought nonviolence and civil disobedience to the nightly news. He was 34 when he described a dream of racial equality to 250,000 people. He was 35 when the Civil Rights Act outlawed segregation and he marched from Selma. He was 39 when he was shot down.

In other words, he was young. He wasn’t even middle-aged when he built those bridges to a better country.

Yesterday’s march, vigil and banquet in downtown Fayetteville focused on today’s 20- and 30-somethings. The push for social and political equality isn’t over, marchers said again and again, and it’s going to need new Kings. Hundreds of people came out. I wrote about it all for today’s paper.

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_C1_6471I was thrilled for the chance to cover this day — the timing was perfect.

Nationwide protests against the deaths of people of color at the hands of police continue. This year is the 50th anniversary of the push for voting rights in Selma. A movie dramatizing the marches from that Alabama town — and the sometimes deadly police and civilian brutality that met them — is out this month. Marchers of every age and color Monday chatted and laughed together, then joined in hymns and chants that rang out during demonstrations decades ago.

Our history and present feel particularly connected these days. It’s an amazing time for a journalist to dive into these complex, immensely important issues. I was glad to be there, and I hope my story did the day justice.

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_C1_6555The University of Arkansas hosted the post-march vigil, and in a speech there, Arkansas State Rep. Eddie Armstrong of North Little Rock addressed the students directly. He called on them to use their education to keep building those bridges to a better country, as a 26-year-old did a generation ago.

“The leaders of tomorrow are sitting here in this room,” he said. “You have to take charge of the life that’s in front of you, because if you don’t, the bridges stop getting built.”

Thanks for looking,

Dan

A Line Down the Block

_C1_9167Fayetteville’s City Hall is packed tonight as hundreds of people line up to give their opinions on a civil rights proposal that has stoked controversy for weeks.

The situation essentially is this: It’s not explicitly illegal to fire or evict someone for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Arkansas (and most other states). The ordinance would change this in Fayetteville by treating sexuality and gender identity as a protected class, like race or religion. You can sue someone who doesn’t hire you because of your race, for example. Many people, in Fayetteville and elsewhere, oppose protecting LGBT people in this way.

Fayetteville’s City Council unsuccessfully tried to pass a similar ordinance back in 1998; tonight, the council is trying again. At previous meetings on the topic, comments from the public have been overwhelmingly against the new protections, with many people calling it an attack on religious freedom. Tonight, the crowd appears to be more even, with supporters of the ordinance in red and opponents in blue or purple.

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_C1_9199Inside, the council chambers are so packed that the line stretches down the block to the town square — I went on my own after work, so I didn’t even attempt entering. As soon as someone leaves the city building, someone else takes his or her place. It’s as exciting as city meetings get, and my colleague Joel Walsh will be covering it through the night as every person in line gets a chance to speak.

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We likely won’t know how it turns out until very late this evening or sometime tomorrow morning.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

UPDATE: The ordinance passed 6-2, but its future is definitely up in the air. Several candidates for City Council this November are running specifically in opposition to the ordinance. Signatures from only 4,100 people, or one in 20 Fayetteville residents, are needed to bring the ordinance up to a public referendum. Stay tuned.