Friday, February 10, 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

A while back, I attended yet another protest--this one much smaller in scale. A group of us went to one of our senators' local offices and spoke to his staff there.

We all went inside to speak to the senator's staff, who were very friendly and professional. I expressed my concerns with DeVos and education, and my concerns with Sessions and the Muslim ban executive order. It was all in all a very pleasant experience. I mean, the crowd was mostly elderly white people. They weren't really rabble rousers.

It also helped that there was no police presence during our protest. As I mentioned in my Women's March post, police presence among white people can be almost a background element, but when police are called in because a protest is happening, even if the crowd is white, it immediately changes the tone and environment of a protest. It puts people on the defensive and makes them feel like they're under attack--and in many cases, they are. The police set the tone with how they approach the situation--calm and genial, or armored and armed.

It definitely speaks to my preconceptions, but when I see old, white, Southern people out, I immediately expect them to start ranting about Muslims taking over our country, or Barack Obama being a Kenyan socialist, or some other nonsense. To see so many people expressing concern, frustration, and anger at 45 and his blunderfuck of a first week gave me some hope.

There was a Muslim family that arrived slightly late and kept to the back of the group with me, so I got to chat with them a little bit. Their story is like so many others'--they have family that has been going through the process to be allowed into our country, and now they're worried they'll be denied entry. Their bravery to come to a protest--especially in a red state like Arkansas--was breathtaking. While I figured the protest would be small, if there were any counter protesters or if the cops did get called for whatever reason, they were taking a big risk.

After speaking with our Senator's office, we discussed further potential actions, encouraged each other to keep up the protests and calls--the Tea Party was cited as proof that this can work if we stick to it. We pointed each other toward resources for upcoming events--the Science March, the Tax Day march, local events and meetings of activists groups--and then, most people packed up and went home.

I was about to leave myself, but hung back because the the local news asked to interview the Muslim man and his family. I saw him wrestling with the idea, and he asked me and a few others if we would stand with him while he did it. We agreed. He clearly wanted to say something, but needed the moral support.

He kept his voice calm, respectful, and chose his words carefully, but this was clearly something that he was emotional about--of course. At one point, he got a bit fired up and started to say something about the new administration, and then stopped himself. Instead, he said, "This is a very scary time. The future is very unsure. But we are proud to be Americans. And the support that everyone showed here today fills me with hope."

His statement wasn't in any way shape or form radical. And yet, he started and stopped several times, requesting they let him start a thought over, or taking time to compose his thoughts. He chose his words with extreme care. Watching him struggle for just the right tone of non-threatening admonishment was heartbreaking and infuriating. The white people that had gathered together were able to be incoherent, hurt, angry, annoyed. They were allowed a full range of emotions. But this man had to keep himself tightly composed lest he send the wrong message.

The remaining five of us were getting ready to leave when some white lady came over. I couldn't hear her at first. She was too far away from where I was standing. All I could make out was, "...they're coming." At first, I thought she was someone from the protest that I didn't recognize--maybe a late arrival, so the first thing my mind jumped to was some sort of counter protest. Then I heard an older man standing closer to her shout, "Did you call the cops on the TEA PARTY when they were here protesting??"

I assume that she worked at one of the nearby businesses that shared the parking lot with the office because she smiled in that smug, self-satisfied way that petty people do when they think they're really getting one over on someone and said, "We do this for everyone. You're allowed your opinion..." and I didn't hear the rest because the older man jumped in to start arguing with her again.

I'll admit, a contrarian part of me wanted to stay just out of spite. I didn't want that lady to think I was leaving because she claimed she called the cops. Plus, we were legitimately doing nothing--the protest was over. Everyone had left. We were five people standing on a sidewalk. Everything was already done.

I hung back long enough to make sure the Muslim family was leaving--I was worried what an encounter with the police would mean for them. Once they left, I left, too.

Something that continues to impress me is how petty conservative people can be. I see a group of pro-life people standing outside of a Planned Parenthood literally every weekend. Somehow, the vitriol, obstruction, and hatred directed at liberals, minorities, and President Obama were fine. Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, liberals are expected to just get on with life and any disagreement is treated tantamount to treason, or at least greeted with a snide "snowflake," "safe space," or other things Twitter eggs consider the height of intellectual discourse. It's a cognitive dissonance that continues to surprise me even though it shouldn't.

All that said, seeing this kind of action, even if it's just small, local stuff, makes me feel some hope. The problems our nation is facing isn't going unnoticed. Even in my deeply red state, people have been awakened and they're pushing back. As the protest chant goes: "The people united will never be divided."

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Comics Project Update: January 2017

As part of my on-going comics project, I update monthly with what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles where they fall chronologically.

I came up with the order of the books from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this one for Batman. I judged the rest for myself based on release dates and what the story depicted.

I want this list functional and readable, so I didn't focus on perfect chronological order. I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtrack chronologically if necessary for a chunk of a different title--except in cases where something important was introduced, like a character dying, coming back to life, etc.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.

  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Batman: Dark Victory
  3. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  6. The Death of Superman
  7. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  8. Justice League: A League of One
  9. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  10. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  11. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  12. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  13. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  14. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  15. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  16. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  17. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  18. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  19. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  20. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  21. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  22. Infinite Crisis
  23. Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death*
  24. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  25. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  26. Superman: Back in Action
  27. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  28. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  29. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  30. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  31. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  32. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  33. Blue Beetle, Book 4: Endgame
  34. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  35. Superman: Redemption
  36. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  37. Superman: Shadows Linger
  38. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  39. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  40. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  41. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  42. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  43. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  44. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  45. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  46. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  47. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  48. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  49. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  50. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  51. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  52. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  53. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  54. Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada
  55. Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga
  56. Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (The New 52)
  57. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  58. Bizarro
  59. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged

The Amazon Online Marketplace is weird. Books will be normally priced for months, even years, and then one day, arbitrarily, the prices spikes up to $50, $60, $70. There doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason, and then just as arbitrarily, book prices will drop back down to the normal range.

Such is the case for Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death. It was normally priced, and then BOOM $70. No reason that there should be a spike, and only for this book, not the rest of the trades in the series.

I'll admit, I wasn't exactly super stoked to get this book. It's just "Infinite Crisis as told by the Teen Titans." And since I've already read Infinite Crisis, I already know what happens to certain members of the team. For completion's sake, I need it, but I was just going to skip it and wait to see if the price dropped. Then I found it for $19 online and decided to get it while the gettin's good. It's starred, like my Blue Beetle volumes from previous updates, because it hasn't come in yet.

The other books were actually books I got as part of a great sale at Barnes and Noble--buy two, get one free doncha know--and I wound up getting quite a few comics. Only 3 of them were DC, though.* 

Justice League United looks, honestly, like a proper spiritual successor to Justice League International--at least from the cover. We'll see if it's any good. But "Justice League Canada" has me sold in a big way, plus it's a team that features Supergirl, the Martian Manhunter, and NOT BATMAN.

Batgirl: Wanted was actually me finally following up and trying to finish Gail Simone's Batgirl run. I love Gail Simone's books, but I've been trying to hold off on getting New 52 books until I've bought a few back back trades. But then, I also want to read Rebirth whenever that stuff starts becoming available, so I should try to catch up so I know what's going on.

My continued goals for the time being are to finish up getting Blue Beetle and Teen Titans stuff. This Teen Titans run is stupidly long, so that might take a while. Blue Beetle will take less time. After that, I think I'd like to start collecting the Grant Morrison Damian Wayne Batman saga. Partially because it's really THE defining thing about Final Crisis, and I'd like to start getting the BIG EVENTS that divide up the DC timeline so this thing starts taking more of an obvious timeline shape.

If you have any thoughts about my trades, drop me a line in the comments. Want to discuss books I've recently purchased or read? Any suggestions for books I missed? Just please, no spoilers.

Happy reading!

*The other 3 books I got were Marvel: The new Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther, Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, and the first volume of the post Kelly-Sue Deconnick Captain Marvel before Civil War II assassinates her character.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Women's March on the World

I attended my first political rally on January 21st, 2017. It was the Women's March on Arkansas, a sister march to the Women's March on Washington in response to the incoming presidential team and their horrid ideas for policies on women's health, social justice, economic justice, and many, many, many other platforms.

I had some difficulty with my sign. I saw a lot of great signs online, but I didn't want to rip off someone else's clever sign with no way to credit them. I decided on a quote, but who to quote?

At first, I thought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr--one of those quotes that white people conveniently ignore. A lot of Dr. King quotes, though, use the word "negro," and a white man carrying a sign with that word would probably send the wrong message. My wife suggested I quote a woman since it was, y'know, the Women's March, and I'm embarrassed that she even had to suggest the idea.

Here's my finished sign:

I watched many, many livestreams of the protests in Ferguson, so I wasn't really sure what kind of environment to expect. Even when the Ferguson protests were peaceful, the cops were many and on guard, usually clad in riot gear, driving military vehicles, some with snipers stationed on top. I remember the tear gas grenades, the running, the screaming. The whip-crack of rubber bullets whizzing past whichever brave person was livestreaming the horror.

We decided to come up with a game plan just in case. What if the police were antagonistic and hateful? There are so many police that take the phrase "Black Lives Matter" to be anti-police, which is patently absure, but what would we do if they deployed tear gas or pepper spray? Tear gas would likely be deadly in my case--I've had asthma since I was born. What if the crowd stampeded to disperse from the police, what would my wife do? She frequently has to use a cane to walk due to nerve damage on her left side.

We decided to be as prepared as we could. We bought 2 bottles of milk from a grocery store and kept them in a cooler which I kept in my backpack. We also packed beef jerky, nuts, bottles of water and other snacks just in case, along with my inhaler. We brought along a scarf in case we needed to cover our faces from the tear gas.

My wife and I live in the northwest corner of our state, and Little Rock is nested right in the center of the state, so it was a good 3-4 hour drive to get down there. We left around 6:45 AM to make sure we got there before 11:00 AM so we could find a place to park.

When I actually arrived at the march, I was struck by the size. I have never been to a group as large as that one before, even counting concerts and graduations. There was something immediately reassuring to see so many people that gathered together to protest in a deeply red state where I have felt virtually alone for a long time.

The second thing that struck me was how white the crowd was.

It was after seeing the racial makeup of the crowd--all those white ladies and so many white little girls--that I knew we'd be okay. Plus, the local organizer was a white woman as well.

There were tons of people that--I would later read that the estimated attendance was around 7,000 people. That was the largest demonstration in Arkansas history if I recall correctly. At first the crowd was daunting, but soon the energy, the anger, the passion, and love of this country got me amped and ready to march.

Unlike other sister marches that were apparently long treks through the city, this one was set up to be very short--just 3 or 4 blocks, I believe--to the steps of the state capitol. From there, we would listen to a series of speeches and then go to an expo of various local activist groups so that we could try to stay engaged.

The speakers were almost better than the actual march. As inspiring and amazing as being among so many fed up and awakened people was, the speakers were the real highlight. I have a pretty bad impression of my state. I feel those feelings are deserved given our state's history and our perpetual failure to live up to the ideal of America. So I didn't expect but was pleasantly surprised that this march, organized by a white woman, wasn't even hosted by that white woman. She did speak, eventually, but the event was hosted by a black woman activist, and featured gay, black, Latinx immigrants, and Muslim voices for the majority of the time. I was so glad that the people given a platform were worthwhile, with real messages that everyone needed to hear.

Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant that we had to leave slightly early--I think we only missed the last speaker--and after we got some food, we made our way back to the expo where we checked out some local activist causes and learned about what could be done

This was my first big political thing, but it definitely won't be my last. Even though marching and protesting is one of our constitutionally protected rights and a duty as politically engaged citizens, it felt so good to stand among the many saying that what was happening was not okay. My favorite chant of the day was, "Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!"

While among those, people, though, something kept fluttering at the back of my mind, buzzing just at the edge like a fly. As you can see from my photos, I was in a sea of white faces. There were other folks there that marched with us, which you can also see in my photos, but the crowd was overwhelmingly white and female. And the same was true at the expo. I saw, mostly from afar, a handful of cops throughout the day. They were polite, friendly, and kept their distance, mostly leaned against their cars which were blocking off side streets to clear a path for our march. It wasn't until we were leaving the expo that the idea took full shape.

As we were leaving the expo, we pulled down a side street to try to figure out how in the hell we were going to get back to the interstate. I haven't been to Little Rock since probably 2010 or 2011. It's been a long ass time. And even then, I've only been to Little Rock a handful of times. City travel makes me nervous--lots of traffic, surprise "right turn only" lanes, dummies with a deathwish, and general unfamiliarity with the terrain. So we paused a stop sign while my wife pulled up the GPS on my phone.

At the corner of where we were stopped, the city had cut into the hill to make space for the road and the sidewalk and built an off-white, grayish brick wall that staggered upward and downward matching the rise and fall of the hill's slope. A young black man was resting against the to of the wall, which was about waist high or so, reading his phone. If I had to guess, I'd say he was somewhere between 16-18. He was slight in build, average height. He wore a light gray hoodie or a sweatshirt. I didn't really even pay any mind to him at first--he was background just like the old couple walking on the other side of the street. What drew my attention was when not one, but two police SUVs pulled up in front of him and set off their lights.

This kid wasn't doing anything suspicious. He was leaning on a street corner reading his phone. Maybe he was waiting for a ride. Maybe he was resting. Maybe he'd stopped and was checking out a YouTube video someone linked to him on Facebook, or responding to a text from his mom. Who knows? But as far as I know, standing on a sidewalk isn't against the law. And yet, two different police vehicles felt the need to stop and flash their lights and interrogate him. For what?

The discussion was slightly animated. The kid talked with his hands a lot. He was clearly annoyed about being bothered for Standing While Black, but thankfully, the cops eventually went on and left him alone.

I saw two different kinds of police that day. The police at the march kept a respectful distance. They smiled, laughed, and joked with the protesters. They were relaxed. Hell, we even had someone with a giant stack of purple fliers with "Black Lives Matter" printed on them. No one seemed hostile or put off.

The other cops were more predatory, watchful. They weren't the cops I saw at the march around all those white ladies. They were the cops I didn't even notice at first in the largely black, slightly run down neighborhood the expo was held in later. It was only after seeing the young man questioned that I suddenly became aware of how many cops there were in the area--a cop watching the building the expo was held in, a cop that someone pulled over in an old beauty salon parking lot, and at least two or three cop cars that pulled up to stop lights while we were looking for a place to park.

At the time, none of this really registered with me. I'm white, and while cops make me nervous for various reasons, my discomfort is probably the same that most white people feel around them. It's the same discomfort teenagers feel when a teacher walks past them in the hallway. It's a deference to authority. But I've never been afraid of being shot, of being targeted for my skin color, of being questioned because I was standing and reading my phone. Police can just be another thing in the background for me.

It was a sobering reminder that I and most of the people that I marched with have wildly different experiences than black folks and many other communities of color. And when people began to inevitably praise the Women's March movement as "protesting done right" because of the low arrest records and lack of police pushback, I couldn't help thinking about the sea of white faces I saw and of that young man's face when those two vehicles pulled up.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Thanks, Obama

Pete Prodoehl from Flicker    Some rights reserved
I want to write today about our 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.

There was a phrase that became popular in the early part of Obama's presidency--"Thanks, Obama." It was originally used by conservatives and Republicans, people that disagreed with some policy that Obama was trying to enact--probably the stimulus package, which everyone said was wasting money and would never work to kick start the economy, that the better idea was to cut taxes on rich people further so that they could keep making jobs.

It seemed to liberals that conservatives blamed Obama for every problem the country faced from the word go--conveniently ignoring that he inherited the state of the country from a previous president. There are some people that were critical that Obama wasn't aggressive enough on 9/11--when he wasn't president, or blamed him personally for the Iraq war--again...when he wasn't president. And eventually, the "Thanks, Obama" meme was born--mocking conservatives that seemed to blame everything bad that happened on Obama.

There are plenty of critiques that one could lay against Obama. He had a tendency to lean on respectability politics--"pull up your pants," "the real struggle of black communities is the absent father," and other tired gems. He never closed Guantanamo Bay--which is one of many tainted spots on America's reputation as a land of free people. He was far too naive in thinking that Republicans that had the run of the place before would suddenly play ball not just with a Democrat, but a black man. He downplays the amount race factored into opposition to him, he was too moderate in some of his policies, and often too eager to play false equivalence when he talked about how race affects citizens.

But for all of that, Obama is likely to be the best president in my lifetime, and very likely one of the best presidents in our history. He had his problems, as every president does, but he was dignified, he was highly educated and knowledgeable, he was charming, he was cautious, he was everything a president should be. One of the biggest shames of Obama's presidency is we didn't get to see what he could have done if the Republicans hadn't made it their mission statement to stop him at every opportunity.

Consider how much opposition he faced when trying to pass the Affordable Care Act, which was just a slightly reconfigured RomenyCare--a Republican program. And yet, the Republicans made up all kinds of lies about death panels and government take overs and all manner of nonsense. Republicans weren't willing to give him anything--not a single victory. They were so threatened by him that admitted that their goal was to make him a one term president. They radically disrespected him, shouting "You lie" during State of the Union addresses. They openly told the American people that their goal was to keep Obama from accomplishing anything--including going so far as the shut down the government.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Obama saved the American economy with the stimulus package and programs like "Cash for Clunkers," he managed to take unemployment back from the brink, he helped legalize gay marriage, and pushed through one of the most revolutionary healthcare reforms in US history.

His very existence is an amazing statement of America--the first African American president of the United States. And while there's a conversation to be had about the "twice as good to go half has far" aspect of Obama's presidency, it's still an amazing and beautiful moment where America seemed to rise up and become better than its legacy, if only for a moment. And no matter what follows, no matter what gets undone, it happened, and we were here to witness it. And for that, I'm grateful.

Thank you, Obama. For helping us hope. For helping us believe we could be better. For pushing us to be better.

Thanks, Obama.