Saturday, March 10, 2018

Perspective | Gun rights are about keeping white men on top

It shouldn't surprise us that mass shootings have increased as minorities and women strive for equality.

By Nathan Wuertenberg By Nathan Wuertenberg March 9

Nathan Wuertenberg is a co-editor of the book "Demand the Impossible: Essays in History as Activism" and founder of the online journal "The Activist History Review."

The National Rifle Association's Annual Meetings and Exhibits gathering in April in Atlanta. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Gun violence is rooted in white supremacy. We can't solve the first without understanding its connection to the second.
Discussions of gun "rights" in the United States usually revolve around debated interpretations of the Second Amendment. But if we truly want to understand the influence of guns in our society, we need to center the debate in a much earlier period, one before the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
In Colonial America, gun ownership equaled power. More specifically, it meant the power to control the means of violence and use those means to suppress the voices of the disenfranchised. Throughout the 17th century, almost all the English colonies along the Eastern Seaboard passed legislation prohibiting women and slaves from owning guns and forbidding the sale of guns to native peoples. By the 18th century, gun ownership had become a defining feature of white masculinity in the English colonies and guns played an integral role in Colonial men's public displays of that masculinity.

The public training exercises Colonial men participated in as part of their militia service were central to such displays and offered opportunities for them to participate in competitions to demonstrate their martial prowess. In many cases, guns were not only central to these demonstrations but were the prize for victory. The commander of the militia in Henrico County, Va., William Byrd, noted in his diary that he made a practice of awarding pistols to the men who won the competitions that took place on militia days. Such guns thus acted as material manifestations of a Colonial man's physical domination of his peers, augmenting his reputation in terms of property ownership and bodily prowess.
But the main purpose of militias — North and South — during this period was to suppress slave rebellions, a constant fear of slaveholders throughout the institution's existence. Militias' sole responsibility in peacetime was to patrol local slave quarters for possible signs of subversion. When slave rebellions did occur, as in the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina, Colonial officials increased militia patrols for months and even years after the rebellions had been quelled.
They also usually expanded the caches of guns held in Colonial capitals. In Colonial minds, those guns were key to preventing any future slave rebellions. In fact, for many of the men who became leaders of the Colonial independence movement, the final straw that pushed them toward independence was the British military's decision to confiscate Colonial militia stores and use them to arm refugee slaves who fled their rebel owners.
It was this culmination of their worst nightmares that the Founders had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. Their "right to bear arms" was the right of white men to exercise authority over black men and women by violent means if necessary, and their right to a "well regulated Militia" was the right to do so in large groups.

Many of the individual laws that restricted the right to bear arms along racial lines remained on the books in various forms throughout the antebellum period. Even after the Civil War, when slavery ended and the 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection under the law to African Americans, white men did their utmost to ensure that gun ownership remained their prerogative. The Ku Klux Klan was notorious for, among many other things, confiscating weapons owned by newly minted black U.S. citizens, and prohibiting black gun ownership became a pillar of Jim Crow legislation.
Even with the advances of the civil rights movement in the 20th century and the end of Jim Crow, the prohibition on black gun ownership remains a de facto feature of modern-day law enforcement practice. When Black Panther Party members in California armed themselves in the 1960s to patrol communities abandoned by local law enforcement, the State Assembly passed legislation repealing an earlier law that allowed the open carry of firearms (a move the National Rifle Association supported). The 2015 police shooting of Philando Castile, who was killed in Minnesota as he followed proper protocol by announcing he had a legal handgun in his vehicle, is but the most notable example in recent years of the criminalization of legal black gun ownership. The fact that the NRA, an organization eager to join the fray at the slightest hint that gun rights might be infringed upon, did nothing in response to his death reveals its assumption that gun ownership is a white domain.
In a statistical sense, it is not far off. White men make up the largest percentage of gun owners (and are ahead of people of color and women by double digits). In the NRA, the breakdown is even more stark, with white men accounting for twice the proportion they do in the general population. They also account for the largest percentage of arrests involving gun violence. This is the case because our society has incentivized white male violence from the beginning and has identified guns as the most effective means of exercising that violence.
This lengthy history means that when white men feel disempowered, they are primed to resort to gun violence to reassert their sense of authority. It's no coincidence that the rate of gun violence, and mass shootings in particular, has risen in tandem with the expansion of rights and representation for people of color and women in recent decades.
Mass shooters have routinely expressed white-supremacist views or motivations. The first mass shooter in U.S. history, Howard Unruh, was known to leave racist notes for his black maid and identified a Jewish pharmacist as his main target, because he claimed the man had overcharged him. The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, reportedly made racist remarks as they killed a black student. William Atchison, who shot two other students and then himself at a New Mexico high school last year, posted racist comments online for years before his death.
Most recently, the suspected shooter in the Parkland, Fla. school massacre, Nikolas Cruz, was reportedly photographed with a "Make America Great Again" hat. The hat was new. The worldview that put that hat on his head and an AR-15 in his hands is not.

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Who Is The Pro-Pot Congressman After Ted Cruz's Seat?

Meet Beto O'Rourke, the Pro-Pot Former Punk Guitarist Who Could Beat Ted Cruz And Ignite Blue Wave

By On 3/6/18 at 6:10 AM

U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke of Texas is a former punk guitarist who curses like a sailor. He's pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-pot and pro-immigration, and he's aiming to take Ted Cruz's Senate seat in November.
In any other year, the Democratic lawmaker would be a political footnote in deep-red Texas, where no one from his party has won statewide office in more than two decades.
But as Democrats head to the polls in their party's primary Tuesday, they are turning out in record numbers, in part to help make O'Rourke their standard-bearer—a surprising sign that Democratic enthusiasm in the Donald Trump era is sweeping even the most conservative states ahead of the midterm elections.

And, as O'Rourke likes to point out on the campaign trail, he has raised nearly three times as much money as Cruz this year, all without accepting contributions from corporations or political action committees.

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a rally. Getty Images

To be sure, Democrats face an uphill battle. The state hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988, and Trump won there in 2016 by 9 percentage points. In Cruz, O'Rourke faces a well-connected incumbent popular with conservatives. The Republican has more cash on hand—about $6 million to O'Rourke's $4.9 million—and can rely on donors and super PACs from his failed 2016 presidential campaign. One such group, Texans ARE, has already raised $1.7 million.
Still, Democrats sense an opening, particularly as Texas's growing Latino population shifts the Lone Star State's politics to the left. Hispanics now make up 28 percent of the eligible voters in Texas, and O'Rourke is courting them.
Born Robert Francis O'Rourke, the Irish-American candidate goes by his childhood nickname of Beto, short for Roberto. He speaks fluent Spanish and regularly jaunts from El Paso to Juarez for lunch or a drink. His congressional district is 75 percent Hispanic, and he openly opposes Trump's border wall. States that border Mexico have "never been more secure," he says.

Beto O'Rourke on Capitol Hill. Getty Images

Even Cruz, who has called for tripling border security and ending all paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, seems to sense the changing political landscape.
Last month, he warned his supporters not to get complacent."The far left is going to show up and vote. We are already seeing in early votes right now Democratic turnout shattering records," he told Republicans at an El Paso dinner. "If we know the hard left is going to show up in big, big numbers, then our job is clear—we've got to make sure conservatives show up in big, big numbers to keep Texas red."
A recent Democratic poll put O'Rourke within single digits of Cruz, and early primary voting shows that Democratic turnout has increased dramatically. In fact, it's doubled compared with the party's 2014 midterm primary and surpasses 2016 presidential primary levels. Republican turnout has increased 15 percent since 2014 but is below presidential levels.
O'Rourke is working to capitalize on that Democratic excitement in what many strategists in both parties still consider a long-shot campaign.
He's often seen stepping down from his Toyota Tundra pickup, bleary-eyed and bestubbled, into a town hall or diner or coffee shop. Those who can't attend in person are invited to join digitally, as most activities are posted on Facebook Live.Working on just four hours of sleep, he greets Texas voters, saying that he's the candidate for them. O'Rourke has been on a 12-month tour of his home state, working all of its 254 counties. So far, he's visited 223 of them.

Beto O'Rourke has served in Congress since 2013. Getty Images

O'Rourke's plan borrows from the playbook of Barack Obama's first presidential bid: campaign in deeply conservative districts to mitigate the size of the loss there while driving up turnout in urban areas. His relentless touring schedule, however, comes from his days as a post-hardcore guitarist in the 1990s, when his band Foss released a 7-inch record called The El Paso Pussycats. (The drummer of his group, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, went on to find widespread success in bands like At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta.)
"We had been on the road nonstop for years in this shitty little van, playing shows in front of six people night after night," O'Rourke said. "People connected to that, and that was the foundation of our success."
He's hoping to form those slow and hard-earned connections once again, even if that means a year of nonstop campaigning. "I could be safe and not screw it up, not win but not lose," O'Rourke said. "Or we could go for broke and run like there's nothing to lose."

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a campaign rally in Texas. Getty Images

Some Democratic operatives are impressed.
"O'Rourke is running this race right. He's going to every district, attempting to appeal to everybody and not just his own party, and focusing on real issues that impact people," said Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic strategist who ran Senator Doug Jones's successful Senate campaign in deeply red Alabama last year. "There's absolutely a chance he takes this seat."
Others, however, are much more skeptical. O'Rourke says that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has yet to prioritize his campaign. And state Republicans, as well as some establishment Democrats, say it will take more time for the state's changing demographics to make Texas more competitive.
"Turning Texas blue has been the great white whale for Democrats," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist. "And it will turn blue, but not in 2018. It would take a major meltdown for Cruz to lose. The idea makes for good cocktail conversation, but there's not much to watch."
On the campaign trail, O'Rourke paints Cruz as an out-of-touch Washington politician who is focused more on his presidential ambitions than his Texas constituents. "It's about showing up," O'Rourke said. "He doesn't govern that way. In his first year [as senator], he was already in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. That's not lost on Texas."

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a Texas rally. Getty Images
The Cruz campaign portrays O'Rourke as an establishment Democrat in the pocket on Washington leadership. "Chuck Schumer did a great job—he came to Texas early in the year and got national liberals really excited about the chance to elect a pro-amnesty, anti-gun, pro-big government liberal to represent Texas," Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a statement.
O'Rourke says he's running a Texas campaign with Texas talent, only using consulting companies to help with the technical aspects of his bid. No pollsters. No strategists. His campaign director, Jody Casey, has never run a political operation; she previously worked in sales at General Electric.

Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump onstage in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Getty Images
O'Rourke, a fourth-generation El Pasoan,grew up in a political household. His father was a county judge who worked with former Texas Governor Mark White, but O'Rourke himself was drawn to the anti-establishment ideals of the 1990s emerging punk scene in West Texas. Eventually, he moved to New York to attend Columbia University. After spending a few years working in New York's tech sector, he moved back to El Paso in 1998 and established an internet services and software company.
In 2012, O'Rourke successfully ran against an eight-term congressional incumbent to represent Texas's 16th District. His opponent, Silvestre Reyes, had the support of Obama and Bill Clinton and capitalized on O'Rourke's two run-ins with the law. In 1995, he was arrested for burglary. O'Rourke claims that it was a "prank gone awry" and that he was caught climbing a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso. In 1998, he was arrested for drunken driving, an event he says he regrets.
Still, he won, saying the campaign helped him learn how to use social media to connect directly with voters. "Consultants say Facebook isn't enough and that you have to have a slick promo video," he said. "But I don't think anything beats listening to voters, just being there and being present."

Senator Ted Cruz celebrates the Republican tax bill. Getty Images

Trump's 2016 election inspired O'Rourke to consider a Senate run. "On election night, I was concerned about my kids," he said. "I thought, How am I going to answer for this? I decided I needed to put everything on the line and stand up for what I believed in. There has been this rise in paranoia and anxiety dominating the national conversation. I know we can do better than that."
Favored to win Tuesday's Democratic primary, O'Rourke acknowledges his long odds in the fight ahead.

"Look, I don't know that anyone 'establishment' would want to help me, and I don't know how promising this race is to them," he said, "but I gotta tell you: It feels right."
A previous version of this story said that O'Rourke returned donations from Vistra Energy, but that contribution was made to his congressional campaign and returned because he is not running for Congress. 

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After the Hurricane, Women Are Rebuilding Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Se Transforma

Five months after Hurricane Maria, the rebuilding effort in Puerto Rico is powered by women.

Lea este artículo en español.
Two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall, I made my first return trip to the island since Thanksgiving the year before. The descent into the San Juan international airport was marked by destruction: the lush, vibrant green blanket of my childhood was gone, replaced instead with a dull, devastating brown of naked trees (some standing, most toppled) and dishwater-gray piles of rubble where homes and businesses once stood. On my flight, the only half-full airplane traveling to the island I've ever been on, the passengers, a mix of aid workers and family members, crowded on either aisle and craned their necks to see it for themselves. I heard the gasps and saw the quiet sobbing of nearly everyone on board. I sobbed quietly, too.
I'd flown down to convince my 90-year-old grandmother, a Caguas native, to return back to the mainland U.S. to join the rest of our family until the electricity was restored and hospitals were up and running again; I was also there to distribute two suitcases' worth of C and D batteries, bottles of Ensure, battery-powered lanterns, and solar-powered USB chargers. As I drove to my abuela's house down a road I'd traveled probably hundreds of times in my life, I marveled at the ways that a landscape I had known my entire life had so instantly, irrevocably changed; through the bare, broken branches, I spotted a large lake just beyond that I had never known was there. At my grandmother's house in Caguas, about 20 minutes south of San Juan, extension cords ran across the street from the powerful backup generator at a printing plant, which ran a few hours a day for neighbors in need, which was all of the neighbors. The fast-food place on the corner had its own generator, and quickly became a local hub and meeting point where people would begin lining up at 5:00 a.m., a full hour before it opened, hoping to charge their cell phones. Families lingered for hours in the air-conditioned dining room every day; trading rumors, waiting for their turn to recharge, to find out what would happen next. Everywhere, time felt suspended.
Five months later, the women of Puerto Rico are moving fast. In the days and weeks and months after Maria, they've waded into flooded neighborhoods to extricate the abandoned, and put together soup kitchens to feed the hungry. They've canvassed their communities in order to diagnose the most critical needs—street by street, mountain by mountain, house by house, family by family—and have returned when they said they would with supplies and support. They've created free legal aid societies to help families navigate the confusing and ill-designed processes required to file FEMA claims, and connected Puerto Ricans with aid groups far more active and impactful. They've raised money and rebuilt roads and devised innovative mass communication methods in light of limited or no electricity or internet access. And they've ventured far from their own neighborhoods and towns on foot and in pickup trucks to distribute solar-powered lights, generators, gas, clothes, shoes, tampons, batteries, medication, mattresses, water—and often most importantly, information—to a still-overwhelming number of people in desperate need. They've laughed and cried, listened, and hugged the people in their communities: the old, the sick, the disabled, the lonely, the rich, the poor. Many of them are the poor. The women of Puerto Rico have spoken up about subpar leadership and have challenged the inequalities, the broken systems, and have even called out an ignorant, out-of-touch president live on television (as well as firing back at him on Twitter). By empowering themselves—and each other—the women of Puerto Rico have empowered the entire island. Photographer Richard Mosse and I returned with Vogue to capture some of their stories.
"I am the great-granddaughter of a sugarcane plantation worker. My grandmother crawled her way out of poverty," says Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, when we met in early March. We sat at a table not far from her current office, a small trailer on the grounds of the Parque Luis Muñoz Marín, a beautiful, sprawling park she worked hard to reopen two years ago. "It isn't my voice that's important. It's ensuring that my voice is the echo of a thousand voices. And that I use this platform to let the people lead the way." Cruz became something like the face of the Puerto Rican disaster relief crisis post-Maria, when she made televised appearances pleading for aid from the mainland U.S. (and President Donald Trump, whom she called "the miscommunicator in chief," among other terms) in T-shirts that read things like, "Nasty," and "Help Us We're Dying." Though Trump visited areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma after four days, it took almost two weeks before he visited Puerto Rico; it took the White House a similar amount of time to waive the shipping restrictions that limited the access of goods and donations to the island. "The U.S. has continuously claimed that Puerto Rico is not a colony," Cruz continues, "Well, the gig is up. That's why I got really pissed off when the president said that we 'wanted everything done for' us. That shows not only poor leadership, but ignorance. He doesn't know who we are."
Now, like the rest of the women working to rebuild the island, she's focused squarely on the future. Her goal is to find permanent solutions to recurring problems. After all, she reminds me, hurricane season is less than three months away. When presented with the tech industry's sudden interest in Puerto Rico (and the so-called "Bitcoin bros" suddenly chomping at the bit to develop a presence on the island), Cruz says, "One of them was very snappy with me on Twitter yesterday, saying, 'I'll be buying areas in San Juan. Let's not look for excuses, let's make sure that we fix the problems.' I answered, 'Rest assured, we're going to make sure you respect San Juan.' "
Hours after our interview, just before midnight, a text popped up from the mayor. "One last thing," it ended. "I believe this series of interviews is called Women of America. Very respectfully, I want to make sure it is understood that I am first and foremost A PROUD PUERTO RICAN."

Jacqueline Vazquez-Suarez, of Barrio Aguirre, Salinas; Carmen Rosado Canboh, of Barrio Las Vegas, Cayey; and Zenaida Navarro, of Barrio Playa Guayanes, Yabucoa. Photographed in Salinas, Puerto Rico. 
Standing water and the island’s tropical heat have multiplied the mosquito population in hard-to-reach areas of Puerto Rico. In such conditions, Zika and dengue can spread quickly, bites become infected when not treated properly (especially without access to hospitals), and immune systems can be compromised due to lack of sleep. Las Tres Mosquiteras is a collective of women who took matters into their own hands—literally. After devising a way to make mosquito nets that didn’t require sewing machines—and with support from the Institute of Science Conservation, led by Fernando Silva, as well as other aid groups—each woman canvassed her own neighborhood, measuring beds and returning days later with handmade nets to cover as many of them as possible. Perhaps even more importantly, they taught women in other communities to do the same, weaving together a network that now boasts over 25 sister groups of Mosquiteras, each with around 10 members or more, across the entire island, and Vieques.

Karina Zúñiga, Photographed at El Yunque National Forest. 
“This is our sacred forest. It has so much of our vegetation, so many woods that you cannot find anywhere else—not in Puerto Rico, not in the world,” says Karina Zúñiga, one of the leaders of Siempre Verde PR, an environmental nonprofit organization contracted by the United States Forest Service to help restore the rainforest’s roads and trails. “So this is a very, very special place to visit. For me, it feels very fulfilling. And I feel very grateful to be working here. I give thanks to the forest every time that I’m here working for it.” 

Julie Saunders, photographed in Rincón. 
In Rincón, the largest community of expats from the mainland U.S. in Puerto Rico, Julie Saunders owns a horseback riding business called Pintos “R” Us. She was a regular visitor from North Carolina for years, and relocated to the island permanently in 2006. The Rincón community is a tight-knit one: Saunders met her mentor, a legendary Puerto Rican cowboy named Felipe Cruz, on one of her earliest trips, and it’s Cruz who taught her what’s served as the most important lessons of all. “He said, ‘Learn the language. And be humble. Don’t go in thinking you know everything. If you do that, then [the local riders] won’t teach you anything.” After the hurricane destroyed her horse farm, Saunders cleaned up what she could and then began venturing out to help other people in the area. Packing her pickup truck with supplies, Saunders drove as far up into the hills of Utuado and Jayuya as she could, connecting with and delivering aid to several isolated mountain communities.

Taty and Domingo Villafañe LaFontaine. Photographed in Utuado. 
In the hours before the hurricane hit, Taty and Domingo Villafañe LaFontaine, a sister and brother living together in the barrio Paso Palmas, up in the hills of Utuado, fled their home. “We went to a house down by the river that was empty to wait out the storm—the wind wasn’t as bad there,” said Taty. “In the morning, we climbed back up.” Next to her house is a deep ravine bisected by a huge fallen tree. A Direct TV satellite is visible underneath it, along with other bits and pieces of life before Maria: cabinet doors, an infant’s high chair, chunks of the former roof. A blue tarp is bundled up with rope in a corner. “This was the tarp that FEMA brought, but it’s too flimsy. Look at this,” she says, grabbing a corner of it. “You see? It got a little bit of wind under it one day when it was raining and the whole thing blew away. Julie [Saunders] brought some guys with her one day after that and they built this roof. It’s pretty good.”

Left: Ariadna Godreau-Aubert, photographed in San Juan. Right: Modesta Irizarry, photographed in Loíza Aldea. 
Ariadna Godreau-Aubert is a human rights lawyer and a founder of Ayuda Legal Huracán María, the first free disaster legal aid initiative in Puerto Rico. The group conducts regular seminars in municipalities across the island, provides legal counseling, trains lawyers and law students to help assist communities, and works closely with community leaders like Modesta Irizarry. “Right now we’re moving from FEMA appeals to the issue of evictions and other issues tied to evictions, like the removal of minors by the Department of Social Services because the mother has no roof. Well, the mother has no roof because FEMA has not responded to the claim! That’s one of the biggest concerns that we have at this moment, that this is going to be used against mothers in the custody hearings.” 

Irizarry is a community leader in the town of Loíza Aldea, and has spent more than a decade working to create a dialogue between local drug dealers, gang members, the police, and the community. A single mother of three teenagers, she refers to herself as a leona—a lioness. “People might make assumptions about me because I’m a single mom and I live in el barrio. But I am not a housewife. I am happy, however. Because I know it’s possible to transform lives. I believe in touch. I believe in the embrace. I may not have a million dollars to rebuild the houses of the elderly people here who have lost everything,” she says. “I wish I did. I wish I could give them everything they’re lacking. But I believe that a hug can have the power to affect someone, to restore their hope. We have to learn to value human beings. To say to them, ‘I love you. You are important. I’m so glad you’re here.’ ” She continues, “The work that I do doesn’t have a financial component, but fills me with satisfaction because I’ve seen the changes. I truly believe my calling is to serve.”

Jacqueline Vazquez-Suarez, Carmen Rosado Canboh, and Zenaida Navarro. Photographed in Salinas, Puerto Rico. 
“Many hands make light work,” the saying goes, and in Puerto Rico, laughter has always been its own source of energy. In addition to making nets, Vazquez-Suarez, Navarro, Rosado Cabo, and the other women of Las Mosquiteras have distributed donations of school supplies to local children, housing materials to the countless families that lost their roofs and suffered structural damage to their homes, and other goods to help make small but significant improvements to as many people as they can reach. Many of the Mosquiteras have also established free soup kitchens in their communities; these afternoons, as a new normal continues to emerge in Puerto Rico, you can find Vazquez-Suarez—who also serves as president of the city council of Salinas—selling lunches out of a truck. Each $4 plate also buys a meal for someone in the community who’d otherwise go hungry. 

Carmen Rosado Cabo. Photographed in Salinas, Puerto Rico. 
Carmen and her husband Guillermo, an agronomist, have three daughters: Ámbar, age 1, Jade, age 4 (pictured here), and Sofía, age 11. Like so many others in Cayey and its neighboring region, Carmen and Guillermo’s roof was blown away by the ferocious, ruthless winds of the storm; they hope to have it replaced in the coming weeks. Until then—and after—they rely on the work of Las Mosquiteras.

Ginna Malley Campos and Linda Núñez Montañez, photographed in El Yunque National Forest. 
Ginna Malley Campos and Linda Núñez Montañez work together for Siempre Verde PR. Núñez Montañez holds a masters degree in recreation and works with children with special needs; Malley Campos holds a masters degree in environmental science. Both women had worked with Siempre Verde previously on other environmental projects, but working in El Yunque, where they do things like repurpose the wood from a fallen ausubo tree (pictured at left) for a new bridge, has reenergized them. “Most if not everyone was unemployed and really struggling really badly with different situations after the hurricane,” says Malley Campos. “So on the one hand, when this job came up, it was like a gift from the sky. It’s just an amazing opportunity to work in the rainforest. We’re working for the ‘incident’”—how the Forest Service refers to Hurricane Maria—“and the Forest Service, but in the end we’re working for the rainforest. And that is a privilege.”

Carmen Yulín Cruz is the Carmen Yulín Cruz is the mayor of San Juan of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photographed at Parque Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan. 
“I’m like a RoboCop on permanent watch,” says Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Harley-Davidson-riding Mayor of San Juan, only the third woman in the island’s history to serve in the position. “I have this curse where I can spot everything that’s wrong right away.” In the hours and days after Hurricane Maria, few called out the problems and inequalities on the island as loudly as Mayor Cruz, who famously went toe-to-toe with President Trump after he accused Puerto Ricans of being “ingrates” who “wanted everything to be done for them” just days after the storm. “You cannot expect dignity if you don’t demand it,” she says. “And the only way to demand dignity is by standing up. You cannot demand it sitting down. You can’t say, ‘Here are my shackles, can you make them a little less uncomfortable?’ I don’t want the people of Puerto Rico to feel good about surviving. I want us to thrive.”
 Left: Taty Villafañe LaFontaine (foreground) and Julie Saunders (background). Right: Solar accessories charging on a car roof. Photographed in Utuado.

 Inside the Villafañe LaFontaines’ home. Photographed in Utuado

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The Man Who Knew Too Little

The most ignorant man in America knows that Donald Trump is president — but that's about it. Living a liberal fantasy is complicated.
Erik Hagerman heads out for his morning ritual, a 30-minute drive into town for coffee and a scone at his favorite coffee shop in Athens, Ohio.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
March 10, 2018
GLOUSTER, Ohio — At first, the experiment didn't have a name.
Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he'd take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics.
Donald Trump's victory shook him. Badly. And so Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan.
He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.
"It was draconian and complete," he said. "It's not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation. It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust."
It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.
James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. "Alternative facts." Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore.
He knows none of it. To Mr. Hagerman, life is a spoiler.
"I just look at the weather," said Mr. Hagerman, 53, who lives alone on a pig farm in southeastern Ohio. "But it's only so diverting."
He says he has gotten used to a feeling that he hasn't experienced in a long time. "I am bored," he said. "But it's not bugging me."
CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
It takes meticulous planning to find boredom. Mr. Hagerman commits as hard as a method actor, and his self-imposed regimen — white-noise tapes at the coffee shop, awkward scolding of friends, a ban on social media — has reshaped much of his life.
Extreme as it is, it's a path that likely holds some appeal for liberals these days — a D.I.Y. version of moving to Canada.
Democrats, liberals and leftists have coped with this first year of the Trump presidency in lots of ways. Some subsist on the thin gruel of political cartoon shows and online impeachment petitions. Others dwell online in the thrilling place where conspiracy is indistinguishable from truth. Others have been inspired to action, making their first run for public office, taking local action or marching in their first protest rally.
Mr. Hagerman has done the opposite of all of them.
The fact that it's working for him — "I'm emotionally healthier than I've ever felt," he said — has made him question the very value of being fed each day by the media. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?
"I had been paying attention to the news for decades," Mr. Hagerman said. "And I never did anything with it."
At some point last year, he decided his experiment needed a name. He considered The Embargo, but it sounded too temporary. The Boycott? It came off a little whiny.
Mr. Hagerman has created a fortress around himself. "Tiny little boats of information can be dangerous," he said.
He decided that it would be called The Blockade.

Behind the Blockade

For a guy who has gone to great lengths to essentially plug his ears, Mr. Hagerman sure does talk a lot. He is witty and discursive, punctuating his stories with wild-eyed grins, exaggerated grimaces and more than the occasional lost thread.
I recently spent two days visiting his farm on the condition that I not bring news from the outside world. As the sun set over his porch, turning the rolling hills pink then purple then blue, he held forth, jumping from English architecture to the local pigs' eating habits to his mother's favorite basketball team to the philosophy of Kant. He can go days without seeing another soul.
This life is still fairly new. Just a few years ago, he was a corporate executive at Nike (senior director of global digital commerce was his official, unwieldy title) working with teams of engineers to streamline the online shopping experience. Before that, he had worked digital jobs at Walmart and Disney.
"I worked 12-, 14-hour days," he said. "The calendar completely booked."
But three years ago, he decided he had saved enough money to move to a farm, make elliptical sculptures — and, eventually, opt out of the national conversation entirely.
He lives alone and has never been married. As for money, a financial adviser in San Francisco manages his investments. Mr. Hagerman says he throws away the quarterly updates without reviewing them.
Mr. Hagerman grew up in southeastern Ohio, and after years spent in Brooklyn warehouses, San Francisco tech bubbles and Nike-land in Portland, Ore., the idea of a quiet life became more and more appealing. His mother lives nearby; he sees her a lot since he moved back in 2015. She reluctantly adheres to The Blockade, although they do discuss the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mr. Hagerman sits down with his sketch book, in his regular seat, in the same room, with his same triple, whole milk latte and cranberry scone he has each day at Donkey Coffee.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Mr. Hagerman begins every day with a 30-minute drive to Athens, the closest city of note, to get a cup of coffee — a triple-shot latte with whole milk. He goes early, before most customers have settled into the oversize chairs to scroll through their phones. To make sure he doesn't overhear idle chatter, he often listens to white noise through his headphones. (He used to listen to music, "but stray conversation can creep in between songs.")
At Donkey Coffee, everyone knows his order, and they know about The Blockade. "Our baristas know where he's at so they don't engage him on topics that would make him uncomfortable," said Angie Pyle, the coffee shop's co-owner.
Mr. Hagerman has also trained his friends. A close friend from his Nike days, Parinaz Vahabzadeh, didn't think he was quite serious at first and, in the early days of The Blockade, kept dropping little hints about politics.
The new administration compelled her to engage more deeply in politics, not less. She had only recently become a United States citizen, and she was passionate about the immigration debate. She did not let Mr. Hagerman opt out easily. "I was needling him," she said.

And in response, she received, for the first time, a stern text message. "I'm now officially cross with you," he wrote. "As you know very well I don't wish to hear about current events. I know you don't agree with my wishes but I do expect you to respect them."
They now speak on the phone several times a week, but never about the news. "I've gotten used to it," she said. "It's actually nice to not talk about politics."
Conversations with Mr. Hagerman can have a Rip Van Winkle quality. He spoke several times about his sister, Bonnie, an assistant professor, who lives in, of all places, Charlottesville, Va.
While he and I were talking, I looked over at him at every mention of Charlottesville to see if the name of the city, home to perhaps the ugliest weekend of the Trump era to date, made him flinch.
"So, do you associate Charlottesville" — I would say the name deliberately and with emphasis — "with anything besides your sister?"
He didn't bite. I think he really didn't know about the Nazis.
Later, he pointed to a house on a hill and said that before the election, the neighbor had decorated his lawn with an effigy of Hillary Clinton behind bars. I wanted to point out that the recently unveiled Mueller indictment found that a Russian troll had paid for a Hillary impersonator at a Florida rally. But I bit my tongue — Mr. Hagerman didn't know about Mueller, or Russia, or trolls.
Above Mr. Hagerman's bed is an art piece from a series he is currently working on at his home.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

Mr. Hagerman works on creating a prototype for a new art project in his wood shop in a barn on his property.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Last winter, Mr. Hagerman spent several weeks visiting his twin brother, a tech C.E.O., in San Francisco. Strict arrangements had to be made — the Sunday newspaper kept out of sight, the TV switched off, his teenage niece and nephew under special instructions.
"The bigger challenge was when we would have friends come over and visit," said his brother, Kris. "We had to have Erik not be there, or we would give them a heads up that Erik has this news blockade going and we gave them the guidelines.
"They were always a little bemused by it. And to some extent a little envious," he said. "The prospect of just chucking all that for a period of time felt somewhat appealing."
To be fair, Mr. Hagerman has made a few concessions. He reads The New Yorker's art reviews, but is careful to flip past the illustrated covers, which often double as political commentary. He watches every Cavaliers game, but only on mute.
He counts a few boats that have sailed past The Blockade. He saw a picture of Kim Jong-un on a newspaper at the coffee shop, signaling that something was up with North Korea. And he overheard someone saying something about Obamacare, which meant health care was back in the news. His brother alerted him to the Equifax breach for his own protection.
"But the blockade has been pretty damn effective," Mr. Hagerman said.
He said that with some pride, but he has the misgivings about disengaging from political life that you have, by now, surely been shouting at him as you read. "The first several months of this thing, I didn't feel all that great about it," he said. "It makes me a crappy citizen. It's the ostrich head-in-the-sand approach to political outcomes you disagree with."
It seems obvious to say, but to avoid current affairs is in some ways a luxury that many people, like, for example, immigrants worried about deportation, cannot afford.
"He has the privilege of constructing a world in which very little of what he doesn't have to deal with gets through," said his sister, Bonnie Hagerman. "That's a privilege. We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others."
What if, he began to think, he could address his privilege, and the idea of broader good, near to home?
He has a master project, one that he thinks about obsessively, that he believes can serve as his contribution to American society.
He calls it The Lake.

At the Lake

On a recent spookily warm day, Mr. Hagerman clambered up a steep bank of woods, pushing past vines and stepping past fallen logs.
Wide-eyed, giddy with excitement, he led the way to a flat stretch of brush where he spread his arms and began talking even faster than usual. "This is where we'll build a giant barn. It will feel like a cathedral. The cloister will be here," he said, making reference to Chartres, and Oxford, and the grandeur of medieval cathedrals.
About nine months ago, he bought some 45 acres of land on the site of a former strip mine. The property, untouched for decades, has been reclaimed by nature — deer, beavers, salamanders and canopies of majestic trees are thriving.
We walked further to the edge of a steep drop-off. Below, a bright blue lake shimmered in the February heat like a secret. He'll debate as long as you want whether the body of water counts as a lake or a pond. It's easier if you just agree it's a lake.
"You wouldn't believe how great it feels to go swimming there," he said. He added, with almost rapturous glee, that the lake sits in the spot where the mining company dug deepest.
Mr. Hagerman chats with Gary Conley, left, a landscape ecologist working with him to conserve wetland habitats on his property outside Athens.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Mr. Conley holds a juvenile salamander from a vernal pool.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
Mr. Hagerman sees this land as his life's work. He plans to restore it, protect it, live on it and then preserve it for the public. "I will never sell this land," he said.
He wouldn't put it exactly this way, but he talks about the land in part as penance for the moral cost of his Blockade. He has come to believe that being a news consumer doesn't enhance society. He also believes that restoring a former coal mine and giving it to the future does.
"I see it as a contribution that has civic relevance that aligns with my passions and what I do well," Mr. Hagerman said. "I'm going to donate it. It's going to take most of my net worth. That's what I'm going to spend the rest of my money on."
He has filled an entire room of his house with a 3-D rendering of the property to better envision his plans. He has hired Gary Conley, a local landscape ecologist, to advise on the project. Mr. Conley, a gentle bearded outdoorsman who can speak at length about the preferences of the local amphibians, believes that the land could become something special.
Mr. Conley indulges Mr. Hagerman's fantasies for the land — a walkway modeled on an ancient Mayan ballgame! Land art inspired by "Spiral Jetty"! Windows and concrete blocks, so many blocks! — but Mr. Conley mainly serves as the straight man to inject ecological reality into the plan.
Mr. Conley respects The Blockade. After all, the project of The Lake might not exist without it.
CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
In those carefree pre-Trump days, Mr. Hagerman would settle into the coffee shop with his newspaper and dig in. But after The Blockade, he could only read the weather — "For elderly men it's endlessly interesting" — and the real estate listings.
It was during one of those long boring mornings, with no news to read, that he found the listing for The Lake.
"The first time I saw it, I said, 'This is it,'" he said.
A version of this article appears in print on March 10, 2018, on Page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Man Who Knew Too Little. Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe

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The open hand

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Happy Women's Day by Celeste Paulick

15 Remarkable Women We Overlooked in Our Obituaries

Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we're adding the stories of 15 remarkable women.
Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution.
Yet who gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.
Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.
Charlotte Brontë wrote "Jane Eyre"; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.
Below you'll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. We'll be adding to this collection each week, as Overlooked becomes a regular feature in the obituaries section, and expanding our lens beyond women.
You can use this form to nominate candidates for future "Overlooked" obits. Read an essay from our obituaries editor about how he approaches subjects and learn more about how the project came to be.
Ida B. Wells, one of the nation's most influential investigative reporters, in 1920. Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Ida B. Wells

Took on racism in the Deep South
with powerful reporting on lynchings.
It was not all that unusual when, in 1892, a mob dragged Thomas Moss out of a Memphis jail in his pajamas and shot him to death over a feud that began with a game of marbles. But his lynching changed history because of its effect on one of the nation's most influential journalists, who was also the godmother of his first child: Ida B. Wells.
"It is with no pleasure that I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed," Wells wrote in 1892 in the introduction to "Southern Horrors," one of her seminal works about lynching, "Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so."

Qiu Jin, in an undated image, defied prevailing gender and class norms by unbinding her feet, cross-dressing and leaving her young family to pursue an education abroad. Paul Fearn/Alamy
c. 1875-1907

Qiu Jin

A feminist poet and revolutionary who became
a martyr known as China's 'Joan of Arc.'
By AMY QIN MARCH 8, 2018
With her passion for wine, swords and bomb making, Qiu Jin was unlike most women born in late 19th-century China. As a girl, she wrote poetry and studied Chinese martial heroines like Hua Mulan (yes, that Mulan) fantasizing about one day seeing her own name in the history books.
But her ambitions ran up against China's deeply rooted patriarchal society, which held that a woman's place remained in the home. Undeterred, Qiu rose to become an early and fierce advocate for the liberation of Chinese women, defying prevailing Confucian gender and class norms by unbinding her feet, cross-dressing and leaving her young family to pursue an education abroad.

An illustration of Mary Ewing Outerbridge as it appeared in the book "Big Apple Almanac."

Mary Ewing Outerbridge

Established what may have been
America's first tennis court in the 1870s.
Mary Ewing Outerbridge didn't have an easy time bringing tennis to America in 1874.
First she had to get past customs agents. And they were suspicious. What was this large net? Clearly it wasn't for fishing, they said. And what were these stringed things with long handles?

Diane Arbus at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1970, holding a copy of "Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962." Stephen A. Frank

Diane Arbus

A photographer whose portraits have
compelled or repelled generations of viewers.
Diane Arbus was a daughter of privilege who spent much of her adult life documenting those on the periphery of society. Since she killed herself in 1971, her unblinking portraits have made her a seminal figure in modern-day photography and an influence on three generations of photographers, though she is perhaps just as famous for her unconventional lifestyle and her suicide.
Her work continues to spark fierce debate among photographers and intellectuals. Are her portraits — of circus performers, transvestites, mentally disabled people and others — empathetic acknowledgments of a shared humanity, or are they exploitative depictions that seize upon their subjects' oddities to shock her audience? After her death, many critics who fancy themselves armchair psychiatrists have tried to analyze her impulses, searching for the role these encounters played in Arbus's psyche.

Marsha P. Johnson in Greenwich Village in 1988. After graduating from high school in Elizabeth, N.J., she moved to New York with $15 and a bag of clothes. Randy Wicker

Marsha P. Johnson

A transgender pioneer and activist who was
a fixture of Greenwich Village street life.
Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, a prostitute, a drag performer and, for nearly three decades, a fixture of street life in Greenwich Village. She was a central figure in a gay liberation movement energized by the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn. She was a model for Andy Warhol. She battled severe mental illness. She was usually destitute and, for much of her life, effectively homeless.
When she died at 46, under murky circumstances, in summer 1992, Johnson was mourned by her many friends, but her death did not attract much notice in the mainstream press.

Sylvia Plath in an undated photo. As she grappled with the rejection of editors and her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, Plath spent her last months writing the poems that would secure her literary reputation. Bettmann

Sylvia Plath

A postwar poet unafraid to confront her own despair.
She made sure to spare the children, leaving milk and bread for the two toddlers to find when they woke up. She stuffed the cracks of the doors and windows with cloths and tea towels. Then she turned on the gas.
On the morning of Feb. 11, 1963, a Monday, a nurse found the poet Sylvia Plath in her flat on Fitzroy Road in London, an address where W.B. Yeats had once lived. She was "lying on the floor of the kitchen with her head resting on the oven," according to a local paper, the St. Pancras Chronicle.

Henrietta Lacks in a family photo. HeLa, the cell line named for her, has been at the core of treatments for ailments like hemophilia, herpes, influenza and leukemia. Lacks Family/The Henrietta Lacks Foundation, via Associated Press

Henrietta Lacks

Cancer cells were taken from her body without
permission. They led to a medical revolution.
She never traveled farther than Baltimore from her family home in southern Virginia, but her cells have traveled around the earth and far above it, too.
She was buried in an unmarked grave, but the trillions of those cells — generated from a tiny patch taken from her body — are labeled in university labs and biotechnology companies across the world, where they continue to spawn and to play the critical role in a 67-year parade of medical advances.

Madhubala's natural, understated acting style brought her equal success in serious social dramas as well as in lighthearted comedies and period pieces. James Burke/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


A Bollywood legend whose tragic
life mirrored Marilyn Monroe's.
It was probably the first ghost story in Indian cinema. A bewildered young man in a mansion chasing glimpses of an ethereal, veiled beauty. The movie, "Mahal," was a huge success, making the lead actress, Madhubala, who was barely 16, a superstar overnight.
Nearly seven decades later, strains of the film's signature song, "Aayega aane wala" (He will come), are instantly recognizable to most Indians, evoking the suspenseful tale of lost love and reincarnation.

Oil portrait of Emily Warren Roebling by Charles-Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, 1896. Roebling was once described as a woman of "strong character" with an "almost masculine intellect." Brooklyn Museum

Emily Warren Roebling

Oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn
Bridge after her engineer husband fell ill.
It was not customary for a woman to accompany a man to a construction site in the late 19th century. Petticoats tended to get in the way of physical work.
But when Washington A. Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, fell ill, it was his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, who stepped in — managing, liaising and politicking between city officials, workers, and her husband's bedside to see the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge to completion. She would become the first person to cross the bridge, too — carrying a rooster with her, as the story has it, for good luck.

Nella Larsen's fiction is read today in American literature and black studies courses. Carl Van Vechten and Van Vechten Trust

Nella Larsen

A Harlem Renaissance-era writer whose heritage
informed her modernist take on the topic of race.
When Nella Larsen died, in 1964, she left little behind: a ground-floor apartment, two published novels, some short stories, a few letters. She was childless, divorced and estranged from her half sister, who, in some accounts, upon learning she was to inherit $35,000 of Larsen's savings, denied knowing the writer existed.
It was a fitting end for a woman whose entire life had been a story of swift erasure.

Ada Lovelace's work was rediscovered in the mid-20th century, inspiring the Defense Department to name a programming language after her.

Ada Lovelace

A gifted mathematician who is now
recognized as the first computer programmer.
A century before the dawn of the computer age, Ada Lovelace imagined the modern-day, general-purpose computer. It could be programmed to follow instructions, she wrote in 1843. It could not just calculate but also create, as it "weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves."
The computer she was writing about, the British inventor Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, was never built. But her writings about computing have earned Lovelace — who died of uterine cancer in 1852 at age 36 — recognition as the first computer programmer.

Margaret Abbott's portrait was done in 1903 by the well-known artist Charles Dana Gibson, three years after her victory in France. She never knew that she had won the Olympic championship. USGA Museum

Margaret Abbott

The first American woman to win an Olympic championship.
The first American woman to win an Olympic championship died without ever knowing what she had achieved.
That woman, Margaret Abbott, won the ladies' golf competition, as the event was genteelly known, at the 1900 Games in Paris. She received a gilded porcelain bowl, a smattering of coverage in the newspapers and then nothing.

  • Editors
  • Amisha Padnani
  • Jessica Bennett
  • Kaly Soto
  • Kathleen A. Flynn
  • Destinée-Charisse Royal
  • Maya Salam
  • Ed Shanahan
  • Susanna Timmons
  • Amy Virshup
  • Photo Editors
  • Sandra Stevenson
  • Beth Flynn
  • Nakyung Han
  • Art Direction
  • Antonio De Luca
  • Agnes Lee
  • Research
  • Albert Sun
  • Doris Burke
  • Jeff Roth
  • Online Production
  • Umi Syam
  • Meghan Louttit
  • Print Production
  • Fred Bierman
  • Andrew Sondern
  • Special Thanks
  • William McDonald
  • William O'Donnell
  • James Nieves
  • Susan Wessling
  • Video footage: Madhubala in "Mahal," produced by Bombay Talkies studio in 1949. Alice Guy Blaché shooting a scene for a film in 1906 distributed by Gaumont Pathé Archives. Annemarie Schwarzenbach in "Une Suisse Rebelle, Annemarie Schwarzenbach 1908-1942," produced by Troubadour Films. Madhubala's obitutary is in this collection. Obituaries are planned for Schwarzenbach and Blaché.

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