The 2017 Hurricane Season was a Vision of the Future

On the night Hurricane Irma made landfall over Florida, I sat in my living room, sweating in the darkness, listening to the raging of the wind outside.

The wind came in waves: vast, pulsating, hurricane force gales, some upwards of a hundred miles per hour, crashing, heaving, and receding over our house like long curling swells over a rock in the ocean. It was a palpable wind, its sound so immense that you almost felt you could feel it from within the house. Outside, one heard the periodic, brittle crack of trees as they heeled over under the blasting force of the wind. And when one peeked outside- as I did several times, against my better judgment- one saw there in the maelstrom a broken but unending river of debris, swept up ineluctably by the unceasing waves of wind. For a moment, standing there on the back porch, I watched as the storm-stricken landscape was briefly illuminated, its contours revealed as a transformer burst in the distance.

I returned to the living room, which after several hours without power had become ungodly hot, and waited there anxiously, beads of sweat congealing over my forehead, listening silently to the sounds of the night.

None of this scene would’ve been particularly disturbing were it not for a peculiar fact: we were far inland, sixty miles from where the damage was supposed to be at its most severe, and yet we were still feeling the effects of a storm so massive that its total volume engulfed the entire state of Florida.

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MLK Day Demonstrators Celebrate Memory of Civil Rights Warrior

By Jared Olson (Photos: Katherine Lewin)

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Two marchers carry the American flag towards downtown St. Augustine in a demonstration of remembrance to Dr. Martin Luther King: a man who is now revered in the same town where he was once brutally attacked and imprisoned

Under the cold bluebird skies of last Monday, January 15th- Martin Luther King Day- St. Augustine demonstrators amassed in front of the squat brick walls of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, a traditionally black congregation, to celebrate the memory of a civil rights hero in a town where that hero was once hated.

Congealing along the sidewalk into an amoeba of people whose numbers eventually crested at two hundred, the demonstrators – people black and white as well as young and old – stood shivering under an armada of American flags, held aloft loosely in the soft morning wind, as they waited for the yearly procession to get underway: a route that would take them from the steps of the storied black church, where Dr. King once thundered in indignation against racism, to the downtown market square, where black slaves were once auctioned off like cattle and goats.

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North Florida protesters gather to show solidarity with striking prisoners

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Protesters reading from the manifesto of the striking prisoners inside, who are seeking to improving conditions and end what they perceive as quasi-“slave” labor

By Jared Olson (photos: Katherine Lewin)

A little past 3 pm, in the midst of a coppery gold, cloudless North Florida winter afternoon on January 15, 2018, protesters gathered on the rural road facing the remote Lake Butler Correctional Facility. They came together to speak out against mass incarceration in America and the unpaid “slave” labor of convicts, and to show solidarity with the prisoners inside, who were then participating in a statewide, daylong labor strike.

The protesters – a group of former convicts, veterans, union activists and distraught mothers – coalesced into a noisy caravan as they left their cars along the roadside, and marched back and in front of the facility, where state laws permitted them the right to assemble. (Within prison property, protesting is proscribed as an illegal offense).

Beating makeshift drums, blowing into trumpets and carrying signs, the stream of protesters led a rising chorus of chants:

“Brick by brick! Wall by wall! This prison slave camp has to fall!’

“We, will end, the department of cor-RUP-tion!”

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Hasani Malone on being a black activist in the “Post-Racial” Era

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Promoting the Black Students Association, for which Hasani is VP, on campus

Three years ago, when Hasani Malone first set foot on Flagler College to kickstart her career as a journalist, she knew from the outset that something about the school was off.

Hasani had spent the majority of her life in Atlanta, where growing up, she was enveloped in a largely African American community. Now, she was one of the few black students in the nearly uniformly white, liberal, upper-middle class mass of Flagler’s student body. And though many students treated her nicely, the feeling of cultural listlessness- that depressing sense, however diluted, of having been dropped in a foreign country without knowing the language- was nonetheless acute. Continue reading

A Journey into the World of Naxalism

WalkingwithComradesCoverArundhati Roy’s Walking with the Comrades, a breathtaking journalistic journey into the world of India’s indigenous Naxalite guerrillas, does not open with a primer on Maoist ideology or the corruption of the Indian State. Veering clear of that kind of dry, inhuman introduction, the ever-effervescent Roy- a Booker Prize-winning novelist who has spoken about the inability of non-fiction to convey truth in the way fictive storytelling can- instead opens up her expose with a vignette. Whether it’s true, no one can say: though I would argue that in this case it actually doesn’t matter. In four pages of brisk, lucid prose, she relates to us a scene whose haunting imprint resonates like a persistent note throughout the entirety of the volume, and whose very essence contains the seed of all the injustice she attacks.

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Walking with Ghosts in the Superstition Mountains

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The Superstition Mountains ride the horizon east of Phoenix like the old spine of a dying stegosaurus, the broken skeleton of upturned Earth baked to a hard and leathery brown beneath the burning, white-hot aura of the sun. In the warm, early morning light of December, the mountains look like serrated terracotta, their dusty brown slopes rising two thousand feet above the basin below like supersized mining spoils of shattered clay pottery. Driving up to them from several miles off, its easy to imagine at first glance that the mountains- a landscape seemingly parched, void of water, endlessly exposed to the suns ruthless gaze- are inconducive to life. But to believe such a thing is to be deluded.

There are cacti and birds, lizards and snakes, smokecolored herds of pronghorns and mule deer. If you go far enough up into these high and forlorn hills, you can even find remnants of former human life.

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Encounters with the Sublime in the Grand Canyon

grandcanyon3At dusk, in the rarefied, freezing-cold, mid-December air that settles over much of northern Arizona’s Colorado Plateau, the fading twilight skies over the Grand Canyon are shot through with soft hues of lilac, and for a brief moment, the canyonlands beneath acquire a stillness.

Nothing seems to move in this brief interlude between day and night: the huge, billowing winds that waft upwards against the canyon walls in the daytime cease, and the flocks of birds that normally wheel erratically over the ridges below- tracing invisible lines resembling a painters smearing brushstroke- lay up to roost in the pines.

For a brief moment, all in the canyon is still.

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A Conversation with Marta Rojas, one of Cuba’s Most Important Living Writers

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In the apartment of Marta Rojas- here on display with a picture of her with Fidel Castro, a personal friend- one of post-Revolutionary Cuba’s foremost living writers

The old writer draws a picture from a stained folder in the musty wooden cabinet and contemplates the image of her younger, more beautiful self, many years ago, sitting next to Fidel Castro. We draw closer to her, a collective gasp of astonishment escaping us all. We can see the resemblances in her face, her eyes. These two women- the one in the photo and the one holding the photo- are the same person, separated only by half a century’s time. Together, they constitute one of Cuba’s most important writers, a witness to massive upheavals and an unmatched chronicler of history.

Marta Rojas, a Cuban journalist and Revolutionary heroine who exudes an inexplicable brightness of spirit, smiles youthfully as she flips through the pictures of her past life: here she is again with Castro, testifying at a table in the early months of the Revolution, her shapely, wine-dark face in the picture lowered down to speak into a microphone before her; here she is on that picture hung up on the wall, standing there in the black and white photo taken when she traveled to Vietnam to cover the war as a correspondent.

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An Endless Enigma: The Future of Change in Cuba

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Atop the Escambray Mountains in Topes de Collantes Cuba, watching the Caribbean Sea to the south

When people ask me, knowing that I’ve been there twice in the past year, what I think about the prospect for change in Cuba, I’m always struck with the sense that there’s a premade answer they want me to respond with.

Yes! They’re expecting me to say. The pressures for democratic reform are pushing to a tipping point! That as clandestine groups plot revolution in dimly lit alleyways and garages, flag-waving masses of disgruntled citizens will soon pour into the streets demanding change, and that as corrupt government bullets ring out in retaliation, Cuba will become the next bloody iteration of Venezuela or Libya or Syria; that heavily romanticized rebels (perhaps even with the aid of a glorious NATO bombing campaign spearheaded by the United States) will fight on with gathering strength in the mountains, in the plains, and in the streets, finally deposing those communist dicks in Havana in a fiery show of cinematic, democratic glory.

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On Losing my Camera After Cuba

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The camera is gone. The images are missing. Now, after having my school-rented Nikon mysteriously stolen not even two weeks after returning from Cuba, the only way I can recreate the time I spent on that slender Caribbean island is to rely solely upon my memory.

For the two weeks I traversed the Cuban countryside, my Nikon was slung as preciously over my shoulder as a revolutionary would carry his rifle. At every possible moment, I lifted my camera from my side and carefully sought out shots like a soldier setting the crosshairs on the enemy. With my lens, I endlessly sought to reinterpret that feverish tropical dreamscape, trying to divine meaning out of the passing of the Earth around me. By the end of the trip, my efforts had yielded an enormous pictorial catalogue of my journey.

It was my second time traveling in Cuba. The first time I went I had gone with two friends, on our own, and we had stayed in around Havana, whiling the bulk of our week there wandering the labyrinthine tanglework of broken backstreets that are as emblematic of that city as the Eiffel tower is of Paris. And though I was exhilarated by the first trip- by the adventure of exploring a new land where I could practice my pent-up Spanish language skills- I was not in love. The second trip, however, was different.

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