Many colors

_MG_4524.jpgIt took only a couple hours in Minneapolis for the city to surprise me. There we were, strolling around downtown in the twilight, when the roar of at least 100 skateboards suddenly surrounded us. Dozens of their riders seemed to swoop out of nowhere to chill out at 20 Washington Square and watch each other attempt tricks. The lone security guard I could see looked a bit overwhelmed. My two local friends say the police support this youth flash mob, marijuana stink and all, because at least everyone knows where everyone is.

This odd coupling seemed an apt preface for downtown Minneapolis’s big event in the following days, the Twin Cities Pride Festival. Gay, bisexual and transgender pride events like this one grew out of protest and literal rioting decades ago. Now they have corporate sponsors and respectability and police escorts. The two poles still don’t always get along.

_MG_4579.jpgBefore I got to that, I explored a little more of this metropolis, home to more than 3 million people, than I had the chance to see last time. After the obligatory stop at the Mall of America, we got a taste of the city’s outdoors. The Mississippi River already flows huge and strong here, even just a tenth of its length downstream from its beginnings. Minnehaha Falls, meanwhile, strikes an impressive figure through a green-splashed bluff right in the middle of town.

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_MG_4701.JPGNone of these stops were strictly pride-related, but there was no missing that this was pride weekend. Target Field glowed in rainbow colors each night, and flags and banners and posters plastered downtown, uptown and several neighborhoods. The pedestrian crowd was just as colorful: perhaps tens of thousands of people with every color of hair and every variety of clothing. Couples of all gender combinations held hands as they walked. The official pride festival on Saturday and Sunday brought your typical fair foods and confections, drag shows, music, vendors and booths promoting dog rescues, political candidates, civic groups and health. A man in a bright red dress gave an excellent performance of two Lion King numbers. It was easily the biggest pride I’ve seen so far, and maybe my biggest festival of any kind.

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_MG_5415.JPGThe blanket of togetherness and support for non-straight folks had a few frays, though. “Man and woman,” one man on a bus downtown said after another called a kid with pink hair walking past an anti-gay slur. A protest for black lives and against police use of force delayed the Sunday parade down Hennepin Avenue, spurred on by a fatal shooting just the day before. (Echoing so many other similar shootings around the country, police officers said the man shot was armed while family and witnesses say he wasn’t)

Part of the crowd clapped and cheered for the Black Lives Matter contingent, but another part, many of them white, middle-aged same-sex couples, booed the group, dismissed the shooting’s importance and wondered why they couldn’t pick another time or place — a question that greets all sorts of protests these days. One person near me suggested throwing drinks and kicking the protesters when they lay on the ground, given that the protesters didn’t want police around.

This extreme response fascinated me, given the day’s history. Pride began with wrath during a multi-day riot in 1969 New York City’s Greenwich Village. In a time of laws against homosexuality and frequent police raids of gay clubs that led to the outing and ostracism of many of their patrons, a largely non-white group of those patrons one night put up a fight instead, resisting arrest, throwing bricks and bottles and injuring four officers. Protest parades in the following years were meant to say the fight for recognition and dignity, while less violent, wasn’t over. Evidently some think it can be over now. But others, like that group of protesters, see these shootings and prejudice of all types throughout the country and say the fight is still on.

Still, even the boos couldn’t truly stop the enormous group hug that is a pride celebration. I teared up a little when the crowd went almost silent, waving the “I love you” hand signal as a group of excited deaf participants marched past doing the same. Actually, I still tear up at that. And people of every age and skin color and relation turned out dancing and sharing ice cream and cheering each other on.

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_MG_5177.JPGThanks for the good time, Minneapolis.

Dan

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

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