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 hasn’t happened under the current refugee application system, according to the libertarian 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 a lot to keep up with for all of us, 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.

No Union More Profound

_C1_8850Fayetteville’s Pride Parade couldn’t have had better timing.

A storm-carrying cold front yesterday left behind absolutely flawless weather for today. And you might have heard yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states’ same-sex marriage bans cannot stand under the 14th Amendment’s command of equal treatment by the law.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

I’d say the parade itself was two or three times as big this year as last, with people of every age and rainbow flags in every direction; organizers say more than 2,000 people attended, a record.

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_C1_8901Friday’s ruling means two non-related adults of any gender can legally commit themselves to each other and enjoy such rights and responsibilities as jointly filed taxes, shared child custody and unquestioned hospital visitation, medical and familial rights. As Kennedy said, it also means something a bit more intangible, right? The joy among the decision’s supporters was immediate here in Arkansas and across the country.

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_C1_8985Concern, anger, even fear quickly followed as well. The four dissenting Supreme Court justices gave grave warnings the ruling would be used to “vilify” the people who oppose same-sex marriage for religious and moral reasons, and other writers and public figures took up the alarm.

Their words and feelings are very serious, as is much of the history around issues of sexuality. For much of U.S. history, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and otherwise non-straight people have been bashed, killed, rooted out of government and private-sector jobs and kicked out of families, if they dared reveal themselves at all. These problems are less common, but they remain in some form, despite credible research that finds orientation isn’t consciously chosen.

Many conservative Christians (many Christians support the decision) see themselves as having lost some of their sway over policies like civil marriage as more and more people personally know someone who isn’t straight. The Supreme Court decision essentially says religious objections alone aren’t enough to justify public government’s marriage policies.

The U.S. is still mostly Christian, and discrimination based on religion in business or government is explicitly illegal except in limited circumstances. That’s not true in most states for LGBT people, including in Arkansas.

Anyway, on with the photos.

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_C1_9141I hope it was a happy and love-filled day for you, wherever you stand. Thanks for looking!

Dan

Vote and Wait

_C1_3842Well, it was a big night for democracy. I kept reading about how interest nationwide was fairly low, but here in Washington County we had the heaviest midterm turnout ever: 55,000 of 115,000 registered voters. With enthusiasm and excitement high, we should have known there would be problems counting all of those votes.

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_C1_3896The warning signs came early for the crowd of local politicians, reporters and other observers waiting in the county courthouse as the counting machines shuffled through stacks of ballots. We expected a preliminary tally from early and absentee votes around 8 p.m.; it never came. Soon it was 10 p.m., and the election officials said we’d get some results at 11. Then it was midnight.

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_C1_3853The fellow on the left, Pete Loris, is the chairman of the county election commission and gave us the occasional updates. All of the focus was on him. He told us about the problem: Essentially, a slight glitch on the first day of early voting meant officials had to individually enter in more than 800 votes. I’ve got a full story about it in tomorrow’s paper.

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_C1_3910Our editor sent us home at 2 a.m. with only partial results. Final results came about an hour later, more than three hours later than we hoped and needed for today’s paper. But we had everything ready for online! There’s a nice little vignette for you of what’s going on in journalism today.

Good thing we had that most treasured of Election Night traditions, newsroom pizza.

Whatever you thought of the election’s results, just keep an eye on what the people we give power do with it.

Thanks for looking!

Dan