Category: Arkansawyer

Defenders of Honor Stand Guard for Fallen Pine Bluff Soldier

Photos courtesy of Aaron Etue
Flip Out Photography, (870) 370-0826

MONTICELLO, Ark. — As promised, a flashback to last weekend when a group of Arkansans mobilized in Pine Bluff, Ark.,  to defend the honor of a U.S. soldier whose funeral was targeted by the Westboro Baptist Church. Thanks to Aaron Etue of Flip Out Photography, we can show you the scene.

First a little background in case you didn’t read the first post. Vilonia High School math teacher John Allison, a former Marine and friend, organized folks through a facebook public event to fight the hate of WBC with love toward the family.

Within 36 hours, 126 people pledged to attend and stand up for the honor of fallen Arkansas soldier, Army Sgt. Michael J. Strachota. Allison estimated more than 200 people (including the Patriot Guard riders) showed in support of Sgt. Strachota and his family.

“It was an awesome sight,” Allison said in a facebook email exchange. “That many people, most of whom didn’t know the Strachotas at all, standing in the hot sun to honor him and his family. Several elderly people stood on the flag line until they almost collapsed, but each time another person quickly came to their aid and another took their place in line.”

Rumors placed WBC protestors at the White Hall Huddle House — a call to boycott the business received lukewarm response on the facebook page — but Allison only knew of three who protested at 6th and Main, down the street from the memorial service. The heat also forced some people to stay home though they’d pledged to come. Allison said the crowd thinned once the mass began.

Etue shot these photographs for posterity, but luckily he is willing to share here. Click on the photo to see the full-sized image.


Group Plans to Shield Soldier’s Service

An Arkansas high school teacher’s facebook page to “Preserve the Honor of Fallen Pine Bluff Soldier” plans to buffer funeral participants from a Westboro Baptist Church protest Saturday afternoon at Pine Bluff’s St. Joseph Catholic Church.

John Allison, a 44-year-old former Marine who teaches math at Vilonia High School, started the page Friday afternoon; by midnight, 62 of the more than 1,800 invitees confirmed they would attend with an additional 31 maybes. (UPDATE: Those attending topped 100 by 10:30 CST this morning.)

The stated goal of attendees is to keep the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., from disrupting the memorial service for fallen Arkansas soldier, Sgt. Michael J. Strachota of the U.S. Army. Strachota died June 24 in Afghanistan, a week and a half prior to a scheduled home leave on July 5.

“Please join us to peaceably make certain these disrespectful hatemongers are far enough removed they cannot disrupt the service or upset the family and friends,” Allison writes. “Help us prevent this so-called church from dishonoring this man’s honorable service and sacrifice.”

A press release indicates WBC will preach “in respectful, lawful proximity” that God kills American soldiers as punishment for sin. The flier uses incendiary language about military personnel, including the phrase, “Thank God for IEDs.”

In stark contrast, Allison provided five ground rules for those providing a “shield”:

“1. This will be a peaceful undertaking. We are certainly not here to cause a scene that will cause more of a disturbance than WBC. Our goal is not to shout, scream, or strike those gathered with WBC.
“2. Do not bring weapons of any kind: no guns, knives, mace, pepper spray, or anything else you might be tempted to use as a weapon.
“3. Our goal is to get enough people together to shield those attending the memorial service from the WBC protesters.
“4. Flags, crosses, crucifixes, other symbols of patriotism and religion are welcome. If you wish to make signs, they should have only positive messages honoring the courage and sacrifice, nothing derogatory or demeaning toward any person or group. Remember, we are there to help honor Sgt. Strachota, not to protest or make a political statement.
“5. We have now learned the Patriot Guard will be at the service also. They do this all the time at military funerals across the country so we will fall in with them and follow their lead.”

According to the Patriot Guard Riders’ website, the motorcycle enthusiasts “standing for those who stood for us” will also be in attendance. The group warns participants to hydrate; the Weather Channel predicts it will be 95-96 degrees by the 1 p.m. start, though the 46 percent humidity will make it feel like 104.

(EDITOR’s NOTE: Allison and the reporter attended Northeast High School in the late ’80s.)

Suite: Occupy Little Rock

OLR
Arkansas’ State Capitol reflects in a button worn by a protester. (Photo by Sitton)

Movement the First: To Protest or Not

It started with a spark.

A Canadian spark no less, when the Adbusters Media Foundation came up with an idea to Occupy Wall Street. That spark started the occupation in Liberty Plaza Park Sept. 17, America’s Constitution Day.

At first, few paid attention. But the movement gathered steam and the spark spread to cities across the country and then around the world.

During the time of year normally reserved for the state fair, the spark made it to the Natural State.

***

I stayed up too late Friday night with one of my best friends. He would leave Saturday morning for three weeks of drill with the Arkansas National Guard, which has orders to be ready to go to Afghanistan at a moment’s notice … they just don’t know when they’re going. He’s already been to Iraq twice and would just as soon not see the site of America’s longest war.

I’d told him I’d planned to go to the march, to which he retorted, “As a participant or to cover it?” I hadn’t actually decided yet. So he asked me what was the goal, since he’d heard it was just a bunch of rich kids camping out in New York. Why weren’t they in D.C. instead, if they wanted to fix something with the government?

As I explained, it’s not the government. When 9/11 happened, where did they aim first? At corporate America. That was a terrorist act; this seemed to be something more.

We spent the evening debating whether a protest would actually work. I suggested if I marched in protest, my personal reasons would be to end the Federal Reserve and to get the military out of Afghanistan. Needless to say, we kept it up long after we needed to go to bed.

As I lay down and set my alarm, I noticed it was nearly 2 a.m.  That 9 a.m. start would come early.

Read more: Suite: Occupy Little Rock

Celebrating National Parks’ Week

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Fall in the Smokies

MONTICELLO, Ark. — All apologies for the lack of posts in September. But as promised, a cross-post from my personal blog when it relates to the South.

For those wondering, this week’s celebrating the U.S. National Parks and Ken Burns’ documentary showing on PBS. After staying West for most of the week, it’s time to turn attention to the Eastern United States.

The Great Smoky Mountains hold a special place in my heart for many reasons, some of which I will describe. I first remember visiting the Smokies at the age of 5, about the time my parents were going through a divorce. Mama and Papa took me on a tour of the Southeast in hopes of getting my mind off the events at home. For the most part, it did.

tnsmokfrst
First frost, Great Smoky Mountains

It’s amazing that 35 years later, I still remember some of the things I saw, e.g. I remember seeing people outside of their cars trying to get pictures of the black bears. Granted, some of this memory has been muddled as Tanya told me about her dad trying to take a picture of a black bear and getting closer and closer until he realized he was way, way TOO close.

Much clearer, I remember coming into the North Carolina side of the Smokies. A caged bear amused tourists by drinking soda pop from a bottle. I’ll never forget how sad it seemed to see such a magnificent animal behind bars when I’d just seen other bears in the “wild.”

Smokies' Stream -- This picture once appeared in The Southerner as part of our Secret Vistas.
Smokies’ Stream — This picture once appeared in The Southerner as part of our Secret Vistas.

I also remember meeting Chief Fish (at least that’s what he told me his name was) and getting a picture. When I returned to the area a quarter of a century later, I asked about Chief Fish and was told that he had moved away to start a road-paving business. I don’t hold that against him, but I wonder if he got tired of being a curiosity. I know I will never forget him.

I moved to Eastern Tennessee in the late 1990s to work on my doctorate at the University of Tennessee. While there, I took a bunch of trips to the Great Smoky Mountains to clear my mind. It was a special haven, especially after one of the most severe break-ups I encountered in my lifetime. I don’t recommend having personal angst as a reason to see it, but the beauty puts things into perspective.

I turned the camera eye on the Smokies to provide pictures for Scenic Vistas, a special feature in The Southerner online magazine that we started while I was in graduate school. The picture at the bottom of this post and the river picture to the left both came from that period.

One of the best places in the Smokies must be Cades Cove, a nice circular drive that takes you past some of the original settlers’ outposts and pastoral scenes, including this one of deer in the field.

Cades Cove drive
Cades Cove drive

One of the funniest things about the Great Smoky Mountains that I heard actually came from a conversation with a North Carolina resident while I was visiting Boone. She noted the “Flor-idiots” would come up to see the scenery and stop in the middle of the roads, causing traffic jams (at the very least) and occasionally being a health hazard to those not smart enough to get out of the road.

But really, who can blame them when you see sights such as this (below)? Once again, I plan to add a section to my home page of photos from across the nation … but that takes time and right now, time is taken. Soon? I hope. Until then, hope you enjoy what’s shown here, but better yet, get out and see it for yourself. It makes me proud that our government set land aside for future generations to enjoy without having to be wealthy individuals. Truly, it’s one of the best things our government has ever done.

smoke

NOTE: Updated 22 Feb 13 to fix broken links.

Early Voters Unfazed by Long Lines

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Moms carried small children on their hips while the pre-teens looked around in disgust. Elderly women moved ahead to sit down while their husbands kept their place in line. Younger men and women spoke in hushed tones. Though crowded, nobody wanted to leave and miss their chance.

Early Christmas shopping? Nope; the line that stretched around the inside lobby of Laman Library held hundreds of citizens taking the opportunity to vote early as Arkansas’ polls opened Monday, Oct. 20.

A Long Wait — As I got into the end of the line, I noticed it stretched along the library’s back wall and past the children’s library.

I arrived around 11:10 a.m. after purchasing $2.23 gas at the Indian Hills Kroger on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. I thought the gas line was long, but I wasn’t prepared for the line to vote. The last time I practiced early voting, it was an in-and-out affair as very few people took advantage.

That’s not the case this year. Luckily, I kept speaking with a corrections’ officer through the wait, passing the time and being continually amazed at the numbers of people who kept pouring in the doors. I’m sure he said something about the turnout first, maybe along the lines of “This just shows people want a change.” I just remember saying it did my heart good to see so many people wanting to exercise their Constitutional right.

Keep on coming — This shot looks back to where the line started when I arrived at the right end of the bookshelf (where the man wearing a green shirt stands). By the time we left the lobby, the line stretched past the left end of the bookshelf into the foyer.

We discussed the issues while moving inch-by-inch, around the outside wall while trying not to disturb the library patrons working on the computers but having no choice but to glance at their computer screens as we moseyed by. A middle-aged woman tried breaking in line. No one said anything to her, but she must have gotten hot under the collar as the stares could’ve sent knives into her back; she finally moved to the end of the line, all the way back across the lobby.

As 11:15 stretched to 12:20 and we’d made it but halfway around the lobby, I decided it’d be a good idea to call work and let them know I might be late. “It shouldn’t take too long. Now that I’m here, I want to make sure I vote,” I told Amy Meeks, the secretary of Arts & Humanities at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She replied that it was not a problem and she’d let the dean know.

A Controlled Chaos — This scene greeted citizens who waited nearly two hours to enter the voting room. Citizens would walk down the center row, then turn left to serpentine toward ID check and ballot assignment (back of the room). Finally, they would walk through the last three rows (right side of picture) to get to vote.

It takes roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours for the 100-mile drive between North Little Rock and Monticello. I knew I’d be pushing it, but I’d already stood in line this long. Usually, I am not the type to wait in line at a grocery store; I’ll leave the buggy and come back later. The only similar-type lines I’ve ever found worth the wait were for student tickets to the University of Tennessee-University of Arkansas football game in 1998 and for student refund checks while an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. But to vote? I feel this election undoubtedly deserves the same rapt attention as refund checks and football tickets.Read more: Early Voters Unfazed by Long Lines

Southern Arkansas Election Issues Forum

UAM PRESENTS 2008 ELECTION ISSUES FORUM

MONTICELLO, Ark. – You’ve heard the candidates, now it’s time to also consider the issues.

Attend the 2008 Election Issues Forum at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in the University Center Green Room on Tueday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

Brought to you in part by the UAM American Democracy Project, the UAM Journalism Club, and the UAM Speech and Debate Program, this event promises to educate the public about ballot initiatives prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Supporters and opponents of the ballot issues facing Arkansas voters will speak about the proposed State Lottery, Unmarried Couples Adoption Ban, Water Bond Act and more. Confirmed interest groups sending representatives include the Family Council of Arkansas, Hope for Arkansas and Arkansas Families First.

Audience members in this Town Hall-style forum will submit questions for the candidates to answer following the discussion of each issue.