Best Of :: Megalopolitan Life
A Moment in Time
by Robrt L. Pela
Viri Hernandez of Poder in Action
Young people have led revolutions and created change,” says 28-year-old Viri Hernandez, the executive director of Poder in Action, a project of the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “With the world the way it is today, this is our moment.”
Hernandez took over three years ago. “We’re focused on ending police and immigration violence,” she says of the project, formerly known as the Center for Neighborhood Leadership. “Especially in south Phoenix and on the west side, where a lot of people of color live.”
From its new offices in Maryvale, the group offers a safe place for community members to, as Hernandez puts it, “get trained up.”
Five Ways to Be an Effective ActivistBy Viri Hernandez
- Be aware of your own privilege. Think about identities you carry and those you don’t. Then reflect on how they make you privileged — or not.
- Be in places that fill your heart. Right now, things are really shitty, and you have to be able to go to a place that replenishes your heart and your soul, wherever that may be.
- Trust people who have been doing the work. Let the leaders lead, despite your biases about how they’re doing it.
- Be ready to do the work, even if the work is uncomfortable and you’re being confronted while you’re doing it. Deal with your discomfort and get the work done anyway.
- Do something. You don’t have to be at the forefront of a movement, getting arrested or anything. But we’re at a critical point in history when people are being hunted down and abused. Everyone needs to be doing something, anything, against that.
Let's face it, without its political fruitcakes, Arizona might be a lot saner, but oh, so dull. Whether it's Arizona Governor Evan Mecham in the 1980s claiming to be divinely inspired to be the state's chief executive, or current state Senator Sylvia Allen contending that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, Arizona politics is known for its (mostly far-right) wackos, and this election season, it's Kelli Ward, former state Senator, and primary challenger to U.S. Senator John McCain, who has stepped up to the plate. Not only did Ward once host a public forum in her district to address constituents' concerns that they were being poisoned by "chemtrails," she's also appeared on Texas conspiracy titan Alex Jones' radio show, where she suggested that the McCain forces might be out to do her physical harm. More recently, she accused a McCain staffer of attacking her mom, when all the guy did was bump into the lady while videotaping Ward. Is Ward, a well-educated physician, really meshugganah, or is she just playing to her fan base, which is decidedly woo-woo? Doesn't matter, because, as expected, McCain flattened her in the primary with all the subtlety of a sumo wrestler sitting on a walnut.
Part of the fun of a Donald Trump rally is that both he and those in attendance are totally unpredictable. His first two visits to Arizona this political season were relatively low-key — protesters held some very creative signs and engaged in shouting matches with his supporters, yet overall, no punches were thrown nor arrests made. But as Trump was planning his third visit, to be held on March 19 in Fountain Hills, violence was breaking out at his rallies across the country, prompting many to wonder if a similar thing would happen here. To be clear, we don't condone violence, which is why we loved the protesters' tactic. Dozens of anti-Trumpers linked arms or chained themselves to vehicles in an effort to block traffic (and the candidate) from getting to the park. In the end, the blockade was broken up and three people were arrested, but protesters can always celebrate the fact that they managed to peacefully block Shea Boulevard for hours.
It's not every day that a national satanic group sends local politicians into a tailspin by announcing it will deliver a formal invocation at a city council meeting. Even though the Satanic Temple is less of a devil-worshiping cult than a civic-minded group set on separating church and state, a handful of Phoenix City Council members reacted as though the group was planning to hold some sort of ritual sacrifice on the floor of the council chambers. Following the announcement and the promise of a lawsuit should the city deny the group its right to deliver the invocation, four councilmen led by member Sal DiCiccio started a bizarre campaign to fight "diversity and inclusivity." After dominating the local news cycle for a few weeks, the city finally voted to abolish religious prayer at its meetings, meaning that even though the Satanists could now be prevented from giving the invocation, in the end, they still won the battle — for the time being, anyway. The council quickly brought some prayer back.
Little news in the past 12 months was quite as traumatic as the realization that GusGus, a 3-week-old goat, had been stolen from the Arizona State Fair. Like people across the country, we waited with bated breath for updates, because petting zoo officials warned he was unlikely to survive more than a day or two away from his mother, who, by the way, was reportedly crying out for him — could anything be sadder? Thankfully, after 20 hours of sheer panic and a near-collective societal breakdown, someone found little GusGus wandering near a canal in north Phoenix. Though the story has a happy ending and GusGus was safely returned to his mother, we're still a little dismayed that the person who took him was never caught — c'mon, what kind of monster does something like that?
Remember that time a series of three massive earthquakes ripped through central Arizona, tearing down buildings and spreading hysteria in its wake? Yeah, we don't either. But what we do remember was the series of very small earthquakes that gently shook parts of the state on November 1, causing the occasional dish to rattle or dog to bark, and really only because of the totally outsized and hilarious social-media response it prompted. Within hours of the third aftershock, hashtags like #WeWillRebuild and #PrayforAZ were trending on Twitter and Facebook, accompanied by photos of a toppled lawn chair or spilled water glass. Some ASU students demanded classes be canceled, while others expressed shock that the vibrations they felt weren't just an exploding meth lab. Our favorite reaction, though, was a mock breaking-news meme warning of tsunamis in Tempe Town Lake. According to the experts, more than 1,000 small earthquakes are recorded in Arizona each year, meaning you might want to batten down the hatches, because no one knows when the next one will strike.
We'd like to think that the exoneration of Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., the then 21-year-old landscaper accused of terrorizing the city of Phoenix by driving around I-10 and shooting vehicles, was one of the more satisfying things to happen this past year. Merritt was singled out as the culprit based on flawed forensic evidence, and had his life — and the life of his fiancée and two young children — turned upside down after he was arrested and held on a bail he couldn't afford to pay. The public lashed out at state and county officials for seeming to ignore the whole presumption of innocence thing, so when the state's case against Merritt completely fell apart and a judge basically erased Merritt's bond, it felt like a vindication of due process. To top it all off, Merritt is poised to bring a $10 million claim against the state, Governor Doug Ducey, and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for his wrongful arrest and public vilification.
Who would have thought that three small words — "We got him!" — could create such an internet firestorm when an apparently overly excited Governor Doug Ducey tweeted the message last September? The tweet was meant to break the news to a terrified public that the Department of Public Safety had arrested a suspect in the I-10 shooter case, but quickly backfired and turned into an online civics lesson: "What happened to innocent until proven guilty?" and "You're the chief executive of our state, show some respect to due process," people responded. Even now, months later, it's hard to put a finger on it, but there was just something about the initial tweet that made the public and media wonder if Ducey and the DPS had jumped the gun, and as it turned out, the hunch proved accurate — point being, Mr. Governor, as a public official, watch your words, especially in the age of social media.
What do you do when a teary-eyed, feds-hating Arizona militant uploads a video to Facebook in order to teach his kids why he had to take over a wildlife refuge in Oregon to (somehow) help protect their freedoms and the Constitution? Why, you make a hashtag, of course! And thus is the genesis story of #DaddySworeAnOath, possibly one of the best things to come out of the Bundy-family-led takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. After John Darnielle of the indie-folk band the Mountain Goats watched the viral video of Jon Ritzheimer sitting in his truck, holding a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, and shedding a few tears while telling his two daughters that he's in Oregon — and not with them on Christmas and New Year's Eve — because he took an oath to defend the Founding Fathers' document, it was as if he couldn't help himself. Darnielle made his own ridiculous video, and posted it with the following message: "I call on all of patriotic Twitter to get behind the wheel of the #daddysworeanoath car and do the necessary." The Twittersphere responded gloriously.
Brian Dunn and Robert Hoekman Jr. launched the short-fiction reading series Spillers at the Crescent Ballroom in August 2015, and since then have continued to refine the series through live readings and an insightful podcast series, the Spillers After Show. Featuring readings from and long-form interviews with Spillers readers like essayist Tara Ison, novelist Patrick Michael Finn, Spilled Milk editor Leah Newsom, and poet Joel Salcido, the podcast features discussions and dissections of the creative process, with Dunn and Hoekman offering probing questions and thoughtful responses to bring the intimacy of the live shows to your iPhone.
While you can follow along with their adventures in the desert and abroad on a variety of social-media platforms, Robert and Christina Martinez really shine on Snapchat. Better known as New Darlings, the blogger couple documents trips to their favorite haunts (you're gonna notice a fair amount of Lux), gym angst, home-decor decisions, and the newest records they've picked up — all adorned with stickers and emojis and geofilters that make snapping more fun than, well, basically any other mode of social sharing. And, hey, watching these two keep busy might just leave you inspired. To do what, exactly? Well, at least to put on something adjacent to cute and leave the house.
There are thousands of worthy Instagrammers out there who focus on documenting the amazing desert landscape we have here in Arizona. And who can blame them? Between the interesting plant life that manages to thrive in our harsh environment and the breathtaking sunsets that make the sweltering summer heat worth it, there's plenty of beauty to capture. But Donjay, who aptly posts under the Instagram handle @donjay, shows the wonder of the desert and this city that has grown within it through his own eye, and we can't look away. Clean, natural, bold, and often creatively integrating a human element, Donjay captures the spirit of Phoenix and the surrounding areas through photos.
Ask and you shall receive ... a duck face? After Arizona Diamondbacks commentators Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly asked the crowd at a game last October to take selfies and post them to Twitter, the two could not stop laughing about a group of ASU Alpha Chi Omega sorority sisters heeding their request. "Every girl in the picture is locked into her phone. Every single one is dialed in ... They're all just completely transfixed by the technology," one of them says. For a few straight minutes, the sportscasters continued to narrate the sisters' actions — "Gotta take a selfie with the hot dog. Selfie with the churro. Selfie just of a selfie ... Here's my first bite of the churro, here's my second bite of the churro" — launching the girls to viral fame. Critics of the two men accused them of sexism. "Just imagine a world where young women could grow up and feel confident in loving themselves without grown-ass adult men mocking them," one viewer tweeted. But the girls didn't seem to mind, posing for a group selfie that was tweeted out by the official D-backs Twitter account later that night.