The square

_MG_2352.JPGThe Columbine High School shooting happened when I was 8 years old. I heard somehow that 12 students and one teacher were killed and remember immediately going to my bunk bed and crying for a while. The event was such a horrifying shock for the country that years later we watched a documentary about it in history class during my freshman year of high school. It’s not the same now. The country has experienced several mass shootings in schools and other places during the past few years with more victims than Columbine, sometimes several times more.

One of those shootings killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Several of the school’s surviving students have since become a political force, pushing Florida to tighten some laws for purchasing guns and calling for marches around the country and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in them yesterday, including several hundred in a couple parts of northwest Arkansas.

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_MG_2332.JPGMy coworker Ashton Eley reports in today’s paper that more than 400 people gathered for the demonstration in Bentonville’s square, where I took these photos. (And if you want to see more photos, our photographers have a gallery of great stuff.)

Teachers, students, parents, grandparents and others together demanded such policies as providing more complete mental health services in schools, supporting research into gun violence, banning assault-style rifle sales and confiscating guns from domestic abusers (which has some conservative support and happens in several states). Volunteers helped people register to vote, and teenagers coming of voting age swore they would soon wield their votes for the gun-control cause.

Police and sheriff’s deputies meanwhile paced around the square and watched from the surrounding buildings. A few counter-protesters came out, too, including black-clad members of a white nationalist group started by an Arkansas neo-Nazi. Other counter-protesters, including a group in blue called the Freedom Crew, vehemently distanced themselves from such racism and said they were there simply in support of the Second Amendment. Folks on this side of the debate generally see tightening gun laws as burdening a constitutional right or a dangerous limit to personal liberties.

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_MG_2505.JPGThe debate’s an old one, but it does seem different after the Parkland shooting. I’ve seen veterans and doctors speak out about the unique devastation assault-style rifles can inflict on a human body, which I don’t remember before. Others rightly point out complications: School shootings are still rare, and most firearm deaths in this country happen because people turn their firearms on themselves. Many of the youngest among us say they won’t just go to their rooms to cry, that their voices will be part of the debate. We’ll see what happens next.

Dan

In the wind

IMG_2872.JPGHappy Hispanic Heritage Month from here in Fayetteville. The city’s Chamber of Commerce marked the occasion with a two-parter festival. The first part yesterday brought sunshine and Argentinian dance. The second part today was cut off by blustery winds and a strong afternoon downpour, but not before its parade had a chance to circle Fayetteville’s square.

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IMG_2924.JPGThe event was officially apolitical, but celebrating Hispanic heritage almost seems like a political statement in itself these days, given the intense focus on immigration and policy and our president. I wrote up an article for today’s paper about how deferred action for childhood arrivals, the Obama-era protection from deportation given to hundreds of thousands young immigrants, stands a decent chance of becoming a law in Congress now. We’ll see what comes of it.

IMG_2943.JPGThanks, as always, for looking.

Dan

One day, two cities

_C1_9596.JPGNorthwest Arkansas on Saturday hosted two very different displays of pride in identity and in community.

The bigger and flashier of the two, as you might’ve guessed, was the annual pride parade in Fayetteville, a rowdy celebration of the diversity of human sexuality and gender identity. You can always count on this march to be overloaded with cheers and hugs, and this year seemed particularly extravagant.

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_C1_9734.JPGOne intriguing part of the occasion came after the parade itself, when the column of participants and onlookers marched back to the Fayetteville square and flooded the simultaneous farmers market, taking some couples dancing to live music by surprise.

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_C1_9797.JPGAnother party was getting started around the same time on the other end of northwest Arkansas. Sulphur Springs, a town of a few hundred people just south of the Missouri border, celebrated Independence Day a week and a half early.

I wrote about Sulphur Springs back in April and how it has shrunk while the rest of the region explodes. The locals blame small-town politics and drug problems in recent years and an unlucky location for the loss, but they’re also trying to breathe new life into the place, and recent Census numbers show it might be working. This weekend was the fourth annual Sulphur Day, an all-day festival that brings in several hundred people for a parade and fireworks in the park that dominates the town’s center. I’d been looking forward to going since I first heard about it.

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_C1_0122.JPGNow, Pride and Sulphur Days clearly have a lot of space between them in more ways than one. The crowds at each probably didn’t overlap much. When I told one Sulphur Springs resident about Fayetteville’s parade, she said simply, “Well, it is what it is.” The distance between the groups shows itself in, among other things, a presidential administration that’s taken a very different approach gay and transgender issues than the last one.

The distance is complicated and serious, more so than I can adequately address here. But I hope it isn’t for nothing that the two cities are in the same metro in the same state in the same country, and they both found some reasons to be proud of it. I’m more of a city guy, but it was a lovely evening in Sulphur Springs with some nice people, alligator tacos and thousands of lightning bugs.

Thanks for looking,

Dan