Archive for David Koon

Suffer the immigrants

Since the election of Donald Trump, undocumented immigrants and the groups that work with them in Arkansas are dealing with a wave of fear.

Miriam Bahena worries. Born in Mexico, she was brought to De Queen by her parents when she was 3 months old. She grew up there, pledged allegiance to the flag in the elementary school there, graduated from the high school there, works there now in a dental office.

NOW 21, Bahena is shielded from possible deportation by the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which curtailed the arrest and expulsion of undocumented people brought to the country as children. The program has allowed her to secure a work permit and stilled her mind about the possibility that she might be returned to a country she doesn't remember.

Many of her friends and family, however, don't have the same protections, and this — as is hammered home daily, weekly, hourly in the news — is no longer Obama's America. This is an America presided over by a man who kicked off his presidential campaign by descending a golden escalator to a microphone, into which he announced Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals. After the election, there was even serious talk that he would do away with DACA. That has not come to pass, though the program's future remains unclear. The rumors of raids and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) checkpoints swirl daily in De Queen, and Bahena's mother and father have to leave the house to work. And so she worries.

"It's hard," Bahena said. "You have to have conversations with your parents like, 'What are you going to do if one day we go to the grocery store, get stopped by police, and we don't come back?' I have a 14-year-old sister that I would be responsible for if my parents were to get deported. There's no pathway for them to get a work permit."

According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 70,000 undocumented immigrants living in Arkansas, though the true number is hard to pin down. Arkansas ranks first in the percentage of immigrants living in the state without papers, with about 45 percent of the state's immigrant population living here illegally. Around 70 percent of undocumented immigrants in the state are Hispanic.

Since the election of Donald Trump, outreach groups have seen an unprecedented wave of anxiety and outright fear among immigrants in the state, both documented and undocumented. Bahena, for example, said that the fear of seeing families broken up over something as simple as a traffic stop for speeding or a broken taillight has caused many undocumented people she knows to avoid leaving the house except for work or emergencies, choosing to send their U.S.-born children to run errands and buy groceries.

Considering that there's a statue in New York urging the world to give us their tired, their poor, their huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, that should be concerning to every American.

Kathleen McDonald, a former Pulaski County deputy prosecutor, co-founded Little Rock's Beacon Legal Group, with an initial focus on technology law. In recent years, however, the firm has shifted almost entirely to immigration. It's an area of the law one can't really dabble in, McDonald said.

Speaking to the Arkansas Times on St. Patrick's Day, she noted that America has long had a love-hate relationship with immigrants. With the election of Trump, the "hate" part of that relationship seems to be coming to the fore. She said, somewhat ruefully, that he has been very good for her business. "It drives me crazy, because this is what our country is about: hardworking people coming over and making a life for themselves," she said. "If you work hard, and you do the right thing, and you're a good person, you should be able to have the American dream. But we're saying, 'No, no. You don't get to have that anymore. Only the people who came before.' "

While immigration law is her bread and butter, McDonald unreservedly calls the U.S. immigration code "ridiculous," a patchwork of rules and regulation that is as complicated or more than the U.S. tax code. "With one [immigration] form, you have to use blue ink, but with another, you have to use black ink," she said. "You have to follow the rules and that's fine and I understand that, but they've made certain parts of it absurd. If you're really trying to keep people out or make it a process to get in, don't talk about the ink. That shouldn't be the deciding factor."

McDonald said there are a lot of misconceptions about U.S. immigration law, some of them kept alive by politicians and citizens who don't actually care what the truth is, preferring instead to see all immigrants simply as job-stealers. A prime example, for instance, is the oft-repeated argument that undocumented immigrants should have "come to America the right way." The issue with that, McDonald said, is that the visa backlog is so huge that, depending on a person's home country, it could take 23 years to get approved to even apply. For those who entered the U.S. illegally, either by crossing the border without authorization or overstaying a work visa, there are additional problems. As established by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, anyone who illegally enters the U.S. and stays for more than 180 days is automatically barred from re-entry for three years if he or she ever leaves the country or surrenders to immigration authorities. Stay a full year, and you're barred for 10 years. "Anybody who has been here unlawfully is going to face some kind of bar, more than likely," McDonald said. "That creates a big hurdle."

McDonald said that one of her biggest concerns since the election of Trump is that undocumented people will be afraid to call the police if they're being victimized. As a prosecutor, she said, one of the first things she told undocumented victims of crime in meetings was that she didn't care about their status, specifically to defuse that worry. "It's bad because if someone is getting beat up or if they've been robbed, you want them to call the police. That's what the police are for. Luckily, in Little Rock and North Little Rock and other places too, the chiefs of police have specifically said, 'We're not trying to enforce immigration laws. We just want to enforce the laws of Arkansas. We're not going to be calling ICE every time we pull someone over.' The fact that they've said that, I think, is extremely important."

Trump's rhetoric and policies with regard to immigration make McDonald angry and sad. While she said she doesn't believe Trump to be a hateful racist, there were ways to accomplish what he wanted to do in less disruptive ways.

"It embarrasses me. America is supposed to be a leader," she said. "I think it's going to have a lot of negative ramifications that obviously were not intended that we'll have to deal with. There are probably some terrorists who are totally digging it. They're saying, 'Look! They're against us!' Would that not fire you up?"

Getting to a place where the country can affect real immigration reform, however, is almost unfathomably complicated. McDonald believes there's not much stomach among those who support Trump's aims for the kind of deep dive it would take to fix things. It's much easier to chant "Build the Wall" than to take on the country's labyrinthine immigration code.

"They want the tweet," she said. "And very little about immigration is the short, easy, simple tweet."

Kelsey Lam, co-founder and director at Little Rock-based immigrant outreach nonprofit El Zócalo, said that fear of arrest and deportation has always been an issue for the state's immigrant population, but has come to the fore since Trump's inauguration. Even among green card holders and those in the process of seeking legal residency, the anxiety is there, she said.

"Regardless of status and regardless of nationality, really we're seeing a lot of fear across everyone that we serve," she said. "Of course, for some people the issue is being scared of being deported or detained. But other people are more scared than before of being victims of hate crimes. People who have their documents are scared of having prejudice impact their lives. ... The whole thing is very sad. There's a kind of fear in peoples' eyes that's very fresh and difficult."

Lam said that El Zócalo has been offering guidance and information on what to do for immigrants who are pulled over by the police, and helping families make a "personal preparedness plan" of instructions and numbers to call in case a family member is arrested and deported. The group, now in its fifth year, has seen an uptick in requests for assistance from immigrants, she said, but attendance to programs that seek to empower and uplift their clients has fallen off. Lam attributes that to the fear.

"People have told us people are afraid to leave the house and less motivated to do things that would help them achieve other goals in this country right now," she said. "They're more defending their basic daily lives and families." Even so, she said, the people they serve still seem to have hope for their futures. "We did an activity with our clients where everyone had to say some number of hopes and then concerns for the country, and there were still significantly more hopes identified," she said. "People are still hopeful that things might not be as bad as some say, and that there will still be a future for them here. But I think they're maybe not as motivated to take action on those hopes right now because they really just need to be sure they're defending and prepared."

Maria Touchstone, acting director of North Little Rock's Seis Puentes Education and Resource Center, which provides support and educational opportunities for immigrants, has seen that strange mix of hope for the future and fear for the present. The English as a Second Language coordinator for the North Little Rock School District, Touchstone understands the immigrant experience. Born into dire poverty in Mexico, her parents brought her and her siblings to the U.S. in 1969 when she was 6 years old. She's since become a naturalized citizen. In those days, legally crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. was as simple as paying a fee and signing some forms.

"They had five kids, living in poverty," she said. "They brought us here when the oldest was 6, to get an education, to become Americans and to change our lives. With a second-grade education, my father and mother were able to do that. That's the tragedy today. That family — my dad and mom, who had dreams for their kids to get an education — they don't have an avenue to do that now.

Seis Puentes, she said, may be the only standalone immigrant education center in the state. Staffed with volunteers, with classes taught by teachers from the Pulaski County Adult Education Center, their Tuesday and Thursday night ESL classes are usually packed.

"This is a haven," she said. "This is about learning and changing their lives. They know I'm like a cheerleader for them. I'm an immigrant from poverty in Mexico with no easy road. Just hard work and dedication. That's what they dream of."

To try to quell some of the fear and anxiety among their clients, Touchstone said, the center has brought in several guest speakers, including representatives of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and the Mexican Consulate and North Little Rock Police Chief Mike Davis. Since the election, she said, there's been a marked increase of interest in their ESL and GED classes.

"Because of the fear and the uncertainly, our classes are more heavily attended now," she said. "You'd think they'd be scared and aren't coming. They're coming because this is real. I think they understand that English proficiency is going to be part of the solution, if we can ever agree in this country to find a solution for this part of our country."

Education, Touchstone said, is a fundamental human right. Never far from her mind, she said, is the fact that without education and the bravery of her parents in bringing her to America, she could have been trying to scrape out a living in Mexico. "I could have been one of those ladies selling gum on a corner in Mexico in a city somewhere," she said. "That could have been me. That's the kind of poverty I come from. The only reason that's not me is because somebody sent me to school. That's it."

Sooner or later, Touchstone said, the country will have to find a workable solution for the millions of undocumented immigrants who call the United States their home. Immigrants are and have been part of the fabric of this country since it was founded, she said, and she believes the U.S. will find its way back to being more welcoming.

"Our country has to come together, has to find a solution," she said. "Diversity is not going away. These people come in here after working all day, or working two jobs, some with very low literacy skills in their native countries. We have a lady from Russia. We have a guy from Turkey. That's not the majority, but it's a reminder that the world is a small place and this is a difficult time for our country."

Jose Aguilar Salazar, deputy Mexican consul in Little Rock, said the Mexican consulate has seen an almost threefold increase in requests for services since Election Day. To deal with the nationwide surge in requests for assistance, the Mexican government has established advocacy centers at the 50 Mexican consulates scattered around the U.S. That includes the consulate in Little Rock, which has given Mexican nationals access to programs and education about immigration law, as well as paid immigration attorneys to help them update and file paperwork related to immigration status.

"The main concern of the people is about their status here, the possibility of being deported," Salazar said. "Mainly they're concerned about breaking their families. Many of them have a family and children. When a person is deported automatically they can cease to be the main support of the family, emotionally speaking and financially speaking. It's a big concern." To help ease the strain, Salazar said, the consulate is constantly providing the public with information about ICE operations in the zone covered by the Little Rock consulate, which includes Oklahoma, Arkansas and portions of west Tennessee. That includes sending officials to personally verify or disprove when they hear a rumor about an ICE raid or checkpoint. Such rumors, Salazar said, have been widespread in recent months. So far, he said, they've seen no indication that ICE is conducting random raids or traffic stops in their area. Consular officials have also held meetings with police departments all over the state to gauge whether those departments have an interest in aggressively enforcing immigration laws.

"We always have had very good dialogue with the enforcement agencies," he said. "Mexico and the United States have maintained dialogue on this issue for many years. ICE authorities have provided us with very important information that they are not making any specific activity in this moment. What they are doing is they are after those people with criminal records and also people against whom there are criminal charges. That's the new instruction by the administration and they're going to do it. But they're not checking [papers] in the streets, or making raids. That is very good to know. That way, the people can be assured that they'll not be knocking at their doors."

Salazar believes that with immigrant labor forming the backbone of many industries in Arkansas, including the agricultural and construction industry, a crackdown on immigrants may backfire and harm the economy. "The reason why people emigrate from Mexico is to get a better income," Salazar said. "I can tell you that when people come to America and satisfy the original need for a better income, they start businesses. If there is this policy, it may hurt. ... It's not going to be a good thing for them, or for the productive areas of the United States. People are going to have fear, and by themselves they're going to say, 'I'm going to a place where I won't be under such strain.' "

From a base in Fort Smith, Humberto Marquez, West Arkansas organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition, works extensively with undocumented immigrants, and knows their fears himself. Brought to the U.S. by his parents in 2000 when he was 5 years old, Marquez applied for DACA in 2012, and joined the AUCC as an advocate and organizer in 2014. As someone with many undocumented people in his circle of friends and family, Marquez said the rhetoric Trump used on the campaign trail was a frightening attempt to paint all immigrants as criminals. While there's been some relief that the Trump administration appears to be taking a hands-off approach to DACA for now, the fact that DACA doesn't cover Marquez's older, undocumented relatives is never off his mind.

"I know some people who have DACA are celebrating in a way, but I don't think people should be celebrating," he said. "Yes, there's the aspect of leaving DACA in place, but those who benefit from DACA, we have siblings, we have parents, we have other family members or friends who don't benefit from the DACA program. I feel that if our parents and our families are still living in the shadows, we're still living in the shadows."

Marquez said rumors about ICE crackdowns, highway checkpoints and raids on businesses are rampant in West Arkansas. His Facebook message inbox stays full of desperate inquiries for information, most of them based on something heard from a friend of a friend. Marquez spends a lot of his time these days running down rumors with local police departments, trying to dispel those grapevine concerns.

"A lot of people aren't driving, they're not taking their kids to school, they're not going out whatsoever on the weekends in case there's a checkpoint or something," he said. "We're trying to let the community know they can trust their police officers. We're also trying to train and explain to police officers that crimes will actually rise if our undocumented population is afraid of the police."

Some of the rumors, he believes, are deliberately planted to create fear. Though AUCC has been trying to educate the public through events and seminars on immigration status and the law, Marquez said attendance has been light due to widespread anxiety.

"We see it in peoples' faces," he said, "even to the point where they don't want even to show up to our events because they believe that the flyer of our event falls into the wrong hands, that person can call immigration and suddenly you have a raid or some kind of ICE operative at the event. ... If they're afraid to come to one of our presentations, we can imagine what it means to go out to work, or to go out shopping or go out and run an errand. "

As someone who loves the country and considers himself an American, Marquez said it's "frustrating and dehumanizing" to see the people he cares for limited in that way, when all they want to do is go to work and provide for their families. Growing up, he said, he was very hopeful about the vision of the U.S. as a welcoming and inclusive place. Since Trump was elected, he said, his perspective about America has changed.

"Realizing that the Trump administration was possible is a way of telling me that the system is indeed broken, systemic racism does exist, and that it's going to take more than just community organizing before we're liberated from the system of racism and oppression," he said. "Just seeing this has definitely changed my perspective on America, but my perspective has changed neither for the worse or the best. It's just changed. It's more realistic. It's more of an insight into what America is. America, which seems to be the greatest nation on earth, has a lot of flaws. As a world leader, it's sending a very wrong message on who we are to the rest of the world."

In De Queen, Miriam Bahena worries but still has hope for the country she loves. Keeping that hope alive has not always been easy. When she was in high school, she said, she worked hard to keep her grades up, served on the student council, tried anything she could to bump up her resume for when she applied for college.

"I was naive, I guess. I wasn't really thinking that there's qualifications you have to meet: You have to be a resident, you have to be a citizen for all the scholarships. That's when I started realizing, it doesn't matter if I have a 4.0 or if I've done all these other extracurriculars. I won't be able to meet any of the qualifications because I'm not a citizen or resident."

But still, she persisted. Filed for DACA. Worked 12-hour night shifts at the local chicken plant, showered off the blood, slept a few precious hours, and then got up to attend classes at the local community college, even though, because of her status, she had to pay out-of-state tuition that cost three times as much as the American-born kids with whom she'd graduated from high school. She wants to be a dental hygienist someday. Thanks to the work permit provided by DACA, she's a dental assistant now. Soon, she'll go in to renew her DACA status for the second time. She'll pay her $500 fee and keep striving for something better. She owes that to her parents, she said. A lot of the time when she's not working, she volunteers with the AUCC, helping host seminars on status and the law to try to cut through some of the fear that hangs over De Queen like a ghostly fog, detectable only to people without papers. It says something that she'd lined up four other people, all either undocumented or receiving DACA, to speak to the Arkansas Times in De Queen, but by the time a reporter and photographer drove over from Little Rock to the meeting place at the Sevier County Public Library, she was the only one to show up. She's seen attendance at local events dry up as well, brown faces evaporating from the crowds like they were never there.

It's hard, she said. Her niece is 8 and constantly worries about her mother being pulled over and deported. It's a fear Miriam Bahena knows herself, the same fear that kept her awake at night when she was a little girl, waiting for the sound of the opening door that meant her mother or father had returned safely from an errand. Now, at 21, the old fear of the unknowable dark has come back to her.

"Two weeks ago, my mom called me late at night," Bahena said. "She said, 'I need you to come pick me up, but don't tell your dad. I just got stopped by the police.' I immediately started freaking out and crying. I ran to where she was and told the police officer that I had a driver's license and asked to drive her home. He said, 'Yeah, just make sure she's not driving anymore.' Obviously she has to get around. What else are we going to do?"

A Q&A with Chef Matt Cooper of Bentonville’s The Preacher’s Son

On being an actual preacher's son, his gluten-free menu and more.

The Bentonville restaurant scene has blossomed far beyond plate lunches and chicken joints in recent years, with a host of new fine-dining options carried along by the Walmart-related bump in incomes. Already earning rave reviews — and a win for Best New Restaurant in this year's Readers Choice Awards — is The Preacher's Son, which opened in December at 201 N.E. A St. in Bentonville. Situated in the airy confines of a renovated former church built in 1904, The Preacher's Son is one of several restaurant concepts opened or in the works in the area by RopeSwing Hospitality Group, a company dedicated to localproduce, farm-to-table establishments, including the highly rated Pressroom and the Undercroft Bar (located in the basement of The Preacher's Son), and the 12,000-square-foot Record event center.

The literal preacher's son behind The Preacher's Son is executive chef Matt Cooper. A veteran of the Little Rock restaurant scene, including serving as the original executive chef of Cache, Cooper decamped to Northwest Arkansas a few years back to work on restaurant concepts with RopeSwing. Several years in the making, The Preacher's Son appears to be living up to the hype, featuring a highly seasonal menu that leans heavily on local meats and produce, buttressed by fresh seafood flown in from suppliers in the Pacific Northwest, where Cooper once worked. To see a full menu, visit thepreachersson.com.

Tell me about your background and how you got into the restaurant business.

I'm a native of Northwest Arkansas, but I grew up everywhere and have lived everywhere. I got my classical training in Portland, Ore. Cooked in Little Rock for years and years. I was the previous executive chef of Lulav, executive sous chef of the Chenal Country Club, executive chef and general manager at Cache restaurant — I opened that restaurant. I was heavily involved in the Little Rock community, then moved up to Bentonville to start this project. It's American cuisine focused on sustainability and the local movement. The menu happens to be gluten-free because I'm celiac.

I had heard about you having celiac disease [an autoimmune disorder that leaves sufferers unable to eat wheat, rye and barley]. How has that shaped your cooking?

It hasn't really changed anything. It just means I have to source better ingredients from better companies.

The restaurant is in an old church?

That's right. It's a church that was built in 1904.

Is there a special resonance to you in having a restaurant located in a former church?

My father and grandfather were Methodist minsters in this state for collectively 100 years, so to be in a church, it's fairly comfortable.

In creating the menu for The Preacher's Son, did you have a general philosophy that you hoped to carry with your food?

We just wanted to source the most sustainable ingredients and the most local ingredients we can. We work with local farmers for our produce. Because we're heavily vegetable- and fish-driven here, I source a lot of the seafood from the Pacific Northwest, where I'm also from, because I have those relationships with the fish vendors from there.

You have a Spring Solstice Dinner coming up at 6 p.m. March 20. Can you tell me about that?

It's a wine dinner with Raptor Ridge Winery. The menu is still coming, because we're hyper-seasonal, so we're going to see what's available that week. Then we'll develop the menu based on that. It's a five-course tasting, $125 per person, excluding tax and gratuity. We're going to have a fun little dinner with me and chef Michael Robertshaw from the Pressroom. He's my partner in the company.

You said hyper-seasonal. I think I get it, but what does it mean to you?

I don't know if we're absolutely hyper-seasonal, but spring's coming, so different things are popping up each week. Something might be available next week that's not available right now, like spring garlic, wild watercress, wild fennel, things that we couldn't have gotten last week that we could get this week.

The Bentonville restaurant scene has kind of exploded in the past few years. Do you feel The Preacher's Son fits in with the general vibe of Bentonville or are you trying to do something different from everyone else?

I think all the places that are popping up in Bentonville are very complementary to each other. I think everyone is doing something a little bit different so that we don't compete. That's what I love about the vision of Bentonville.


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Home-cooking winner Homer's enters its third decade of dishing up meat 'n' three.

Though many have tried, the classic American diner just can't be faked. There's more to it than just round barstools, red-checked tablecloths and sweet tea. A great diner is as much about history as it is about artful plate lunches and waitresses who call everybody "honey." One Little Rock joint that seems steeped in that greasy, unpurchaseable history is Homer's, the legendary Little Rock plate lunch place at 2001 W. Roosevelt Road. Opened in 1986 by the late Homer Connell and his wife, Remy, the restaurant's basic formula of hearty, no-nonsense home cooking and friendly service hasn't changed much in the past 31 years, and that appears to be just how their customers like it. The unassuming concrete pillbox of a restaurant is packed with people from all walks of life, from accountants to truckers, most lunch hours during the week. The mojo radiated by the original is strong enough that it was shared five years ago with a popular spinoff, Homer's West, in the Galleria Shopping Center at 9700 N. Rodney Parham Road.

Though Little Rock restaurants seem to bloom and fade quicker than the spring daffodils, Homer's has thrived on a basic formula of big portions, plenty of options, daily plate lunch specials and one of the friendliest waitstaffs in the city. Homer Connell's son David started Homer's West. Unlike the original on Roosevelt, which is only open for breakfast and lunch during the week, the Rodney Parham incarnation is open seven days a week and offers dinner options, a full bar and a patio for outdoor dining. Other than dinner entrees like steaks and fish, Connell said, the tried-and-true menu at Homer's West is basically the same as at Homer's East: big burgers, sandwiches, plate lunches and a long slate of veggie options.

"We offer a little bit more variety than most restaurants," Connell said. "I think in a day and age when restaurants are getting simpler with their menus, we still offer different specials daily and we also offer a variety of burgers, sandwiches and salads. We have a little bit more of a diverse menu than most restaurants do nowadays. That's unique, in my opinion."

Connell said that while other restaurants might get caught up in appealing to a more blue-collar or white-collar crowd, Homer's has been lucky enough to bring what he calls both the paper-napkin and linen-napkin crowd. "We're obviously paper-napkin, but we're half blue-collar and half-white collar," he said. "We get politicians, lawyers, but then we get construction workers and truck drivers in there. We get all types. When I opened up Homer's West about five years ago, we got into the family crowd a bit more."

Connell believes the secret to the longevity of the original Homer's has a lot to do with customer loyalty and the low turnover rate among the waitresses and kitchen staff, some of whom, he said, have been there long enough to raise kids and put them through college on their salaries. That low turnover creates both a consistency in the food and in the relationships forged between employees and diners. Connell said some customers have eaten at Homer's East several times a week for years. "Our customers are more like family," he said. "We have a lot of customers that eat with us regularly. Not just once a month, once every couple months. They eat with us weekly. They come in every day to check on our staff. They kind of develop a family relationship."

Resist, Arkansas!

Surveying the state's grass roots resistance to Donald Trump and the Republicans who back him.

A lot of the people working the hardest in Arkansas against the aims of Donald Trump and the Republican Party he leads won't even say his name. Instead, they refer to him simply as "45," a reference, of course, to his place at the end of a chain of men stretching link by link from George Washington through Jefferson and Lincoln and FDR and JFK, before coming to rest, improbably, on a portly former game show host with the shellacked, urine-hued hair of an aging televangelist; a man who once appeared on WWE wrasslin'.

Though 45 and the pundits who seek to delegitimize the grassroots resistance that has sprung up since Election Day would likely call protesters haters, it's not hate that they have for him, exactly. Hate is an emotion that requires an investment of the heart, and if they're not willing to call him by name, they're damn sure not going to give him that. For most of them, what they seem to have for Trump is a profound sense of dismay. Mention Trump's name and you don't get hate. Instead, you get much the same look a long-suffering teacher might give little Johnny Spitball in the back row, the boy too dumb or too lacking in home training to understand that using a stick to hoist little girls' skirts on the playground to get a peek at their underpants isn't the path to their hearts.

Since the election of Donald Trump, a homegrown resistance has materialized throughout the state and across the nation, hell-bent on working against a regime intent on rolling back the odometer on the social, environmental and financial reforms of the past half-century. On Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, an estimated 7,000 Arkansans marched on the state Capitol in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington, an event that drew nearly a million people to D.C. and millions more at sister marches around the nation and world. On Feb. 22, over 2,000 people showed up to roar their disapproval at Sen. Tom Cotton in Springdale, an event that wound up making international news and included Cotton tap-dancing around a question posed by a 7-year-old boy, who asked the senator to spend less on Trump's wall and more on PBS Kids.

It's all thanks to a volunteer resistance, including almost a dozen groups in the state working off the principles outlined in the "Indivisible Guide," a handbook for the burgeoning resistance written by former congressional and White House staffers (see sidebar). But in a state as red as Arkansas, where Cotton was elected with over 60 percent of the vote, is the burgeoning rebellion all sound and fury, signifying nothing? The question is yet to be answered, but in considering it, one should recall that there was a time, not much more than a decade ago, when this state was blue as could be. Both the weather and politics can change quickly here.

The striking thing about the resistance groups in Arkansas and nationwide is how female they are. Of the half-dozen organizations we talked to for this story, all are either wholly led by women or have an overwhelmingly female leadership. It's a striking break from most past mass movements in this country, and probably has a lot to do with the bruising campaign against Hillary Clinton and the sometime vulgar man who now sits in the Oval Office.

A lot of the current momentum in Arkansas grew from the state's Women's March held Jan. 21. The state march, which drew thousands of purple-clad protestors to the lawn of the state Capitol, was the brainchild of Gwendolynn Combs, who founded the Little Rock-based Be the Change Alliance to help organize the march.

A Gifted and Talented teacher in the Little Rock School District, Combs had been only lightly political before the election, the totality of her previous protest experience involving attending a rally when the state Board of Education took over the district. In what has become a familiar story in resistance groups, however, Combs was galvanized by the surprise election of Donald Trump. She stayed up until the early morning hours watching the returns come in on election night, then had to go face a classroom full of children she calls "my kids" next morning. These days, she's one of those who refers to Trump only as "45."

"I have 53 kids," she said. "Fifty of them are black, two are Hispanic and one is white. ... Teachers are silenced in a lot of ways. We're supposed to make sure we don't impact the political beliefs of our students. But at this point, I feel like if I'm not vocal about some things, I'm doing my students an injustice. Silence is just as bad as doing bad things. So I've kind of jumped out of that unspoken, 'teachers stay silent' mentality. That's been hard to do."

Combs wanted to go to the Women's March in D.C., but knew that financially and from a time standpoint a trip wasn't in the cards. So she started planning the sister march in Little Rock, creating a Facebook group and choosing the name Be the Change Alliance, taken from the Gandhi quote about being the change one wants to see in the world. Combs said she wanted a group that was accepting of all people. If you're in opposition to the Trump regime, you are welcome.

"When we picked the official color of the [Arkansas] Women's March, we chose purple, because we wanted to avoid going blue and turning off those people who might have voted red in the past," she said. "I am a very new blue voter. I used to vote Republican. We've had some conversations about how to talk across the aisle, how to be friendly, how to not shut people down. I think it's hard because people are defensive. They don't want to feel like they're attacked. It really has to start with listening."

Since the march, the group has continued to grow. Combs said there are nine people in the planning group and over 3,400 on their mailing list. They're in close contact with other grassroots progressive organizations around the state, and have helped secure meetings and town halls with congressional representatives. Combs said the group and the overall resistance movement are giving a voice to progressives throughout state.

"One of the things we've heard repeatedly as we've tried to mobilize the people who participated in the Women's March is, 'I'm all alone. I don't feel safe. I don't feel connected,' " she said. "That has been the real benefit of bringing up these Indivisible groups. It's given people a community when they felt like they were in isolation. ... I can't imagine being in Yellville or something like that and having liberal progressive beliefs."

Be the Change is in the process of making the pivot from outrage to action, helping steer participants toward established progressive organizations like the Sierra Club, Audubon, the Hunger Relief Alliance, the Arkansas Education Association and the network of Indivisible groups. On the team messaging service Slack, Be the Change has established seven working groups, including voter rights, human rights, economic issues, education, increasing the number of women in politics and the environment. Combs said the groups would allow volunteers to do deep, crowdsourced policy research in those areas and start thinking about ways to act locally. Combs said the ultimate goal is to eventually use the tactics of the Indivisible movement to shape the conversation in Arkansas, from city boards to the state legislature.

"We want to knock down Jason Rapert, and all the others who are out there — the little mini-Donald Trumps. That's where we're a bit different," she said.

Pat Rogers-Ward, one of the co-founders of the Progressive Arkansas Women PAC — a year-old group working to increase the number of women in elected office in Arkansas — says the large number of women leading the groups resisting Donald Trump is a reaction to his disrespect for women.

"We know that we cannot be silent with someone in leadership like that," Rogers-Ward said. "We've spent enough time in the back room. We've spent enough time stuffing envelopes and doing things behind the scenes with no recognition. We don't need to be recognized by someone else. We can recognize ourselves and build ourselves up. Women are the organizers behind what has happened for years. We are the foundation behind all that. We want to be up front."

Another co-founder, lawyer Bettina Brownstein, said there has been a surge in interest in the Progressive Arkansas Women PAC since the election of Trump. Their goals, however, are long term.

"We're thinking 10 years," she said. "It's a long, hard slog to change the composition of the Arkansas Legislature, city boards and councils and quorum courts. We're in it for the long haul, starting with the grassroots, getting women to be more involved in politics more, to run for office."

Brownstein said the number of women approaching the group for advice on how to run for something has seen an uptick. To that end, the group is planning a series of training events to recruit female candidates, the first of which will be a "Ready to Run" seminar on April 1 at Hendrix College in Conway. The PAC's goal, Brownstein said, is to recruit women, let them know what it's going to be like to run for elected office, then — once they become candidates — give them "the maximum amount of money we can under the laws of the state."

Women, said group member Katherine West, have leapt to the vanguard against Trump because his election proves they have a lot to lose.

"Nobody is going to help us but ourselves," West said. "We've kind of had this perception that if we were nice and good and we worked hard, that we would be protected, that we would get along, that we would advance. With the Trump election, we know that is not true. We've had to step way back, and at this point we're unwilling to do that. Some people are calling this another wave of feminism. Maybe that's what we need."

Kimberly Benyr, one of the co-founders of the group Ozark Indivisible, is another who said she wasn't political at all before the election of Trump. Like many, her frustration led her to activism. "I was pretty much in shock and depressed after the election," she said. "I didn't really know what to do and how to channel my angst about this. I found the "Indivisible Guide" by watching 'The Rachel Maddow Show [on MSNBC].'" Benyr started a private Facebook group called NWA Indivisible around the first week of January. Through word-of-mouth and friends adding friends, the group membership exploded from dozens to hundreds.

"I live in Benton County, which is very conservative," Benyr said. "I thought I was one of only half a dozen people who would be interested in a group like this. It seemed like people were coming out of hiding almost, when I'd hear from people. I don't really know how people found out about it. I certainly wasn't advertising. Once they would find one person who was interested, they'd add their friends." After discovering another group called Fayetteville Indivisible, Benyr reached out to founder Caitlynn Moses and they soon joined forces, renaming their combined group Ozark Indivisible. The group now has over 3,000 members on Facebook. As it is with many groups in the movement, the leadership of Ozark Indivisible is all women. Benyr said about two-thirds of their membership is female.

Since its founding, Ozark Indivisible has been heavily involved in the effort to push Sen. Cotton to meet with representatives about their concerns or to hold a town hall meeting, including showing up at his Northwest Arkansas office in early February to protest what they saw as a "closed door policy" toward constituents. At Cotton's town hall in Springdale — the venue was changed three times to accommodate a crowd that eventually numbered over 2,200 — Cotton brought Moses onstage and offered her an apology for her unsuccessful attempts to reach him. Though other public events Cotton has since held in Heber Springs and Jonesboro have featured much friendlier crowds, Benyr said the anger on display in Springdale is a reflection of the mood of the country and the energy on the left. She said other representatives of the state are running scared, seeking refuge in small gatherings and conference calls rather than facing their constituents.

"I think they're aware that a lot of their constituency is not happy with what's going on in Washington, and they're aware that we're not wanting them to rubber-stamp Trump's agenda," she said. "They believe we're the minority, that we're not the ones that voted to put them in office, so they don't show up. I guess they don't think it's important to govern for all of us. Just the ones who voted for them."

Benyr, who works part time and has two children, said that she has seen the effects of Trump's election on her kids, especially her middle-school-age daughter, and that's part of what spurred her to action. Contrary to the Republican talking point about "paid protestors," Benyr said she and others in the group are sacrificing time and money to stay in the fight.

"We're a Facebook group. There's definitely no money behind this. We just utilize a free guide that's online. It's people finding us online, and we organize almost entirely online. People are self-motivated. They asked what they could do to participate and help, and they just showed up in force."

Because of that spontaneous energy, Benyr says, she believes it isn't a given that Trump will win the state in 2020. "I really don't know that people will vote for Trump in Arkansas in four years," she said. "I don't think Trump is conservative. I think he's an anomaly. So I'm not resigned to the fact that he will be re-elected, even in this state. I think that as more comes to light and more things happen that people didn't realize could happen, minds will be changed."

Terrie Root, one of the four founders of Indivisible Central Arkansas, can tell you off the top of her head how many days are left until Election Day 2020 (the day of our interview, it was 1,342). She said her sense of mourning and fear after the election was so deep that she skipped celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"He scares the hell out of us," she said. "He wants to take us back to what we've fought our whole lives, in my opinion. He wants to erase all the progress we've made, all the gains we've made, all the protections we now have in the court system."

Root and co-founders Deana Jennings and Jan Baker became involved after their book group studied the "Indivisible Guide" in the weeks after the election. They later met fourth founder Jason Bailey. Though the group started small, they've grown exponentially in recent months. Their "missing persons" town hall Feb. 26, meant to draw media attention to the refusal of Arkansas's all-Republican congressional delegation to hold public town halls in Central Arkansas, drew over 400 people only nine days after it was announced.

"We're offering assistance and opening the door to everybody who has a concern about 45 and his agenda and the way our members of Congress have turned against the people who sent them to Congress, so everybody can find a place in what we're doing." Root said, "Maybe their particular interest is immigration. We have a place for immigration, we have a place for education, we have a place for veterans. It's a broad base."

Bailey, who has made it a habit to call the office of each Arkansas congressman every day since Jan. 21, says that as a gay man, he feels particularly threatened by Trump and his policies.

"When marriage equality was established, I had the ability to dream that I could get married," he said. "Now that has the potential of not being something I can do. It's very disheartening and soul-crushing to grow up as a gay man in deep southern Arkansas, have something that you've fought for in the shadows because you can't be out, fight for it even more, get it, just to have it snatched out of your hands."

Indivisible Central Arkansas is planning to spin off neighborhood groups so people can work on issues that they are passionate about and affect local change rather than just waiting for events so they can protest. Bailey said that's important to keep the base motivated and energized for the long fight ahead. "We have recognized that continuing to motivate people will take a lot of work," she said. "We're in it for the long haul. We're constantly re-evaluating how we can motivate people who come to the town halls, people who come to our meetings, how we can keep them motivated to continue the process. It is a long process, and people can get burned out quickly." Baker said the group will eventually move in the direction of helping register and educate voters, and help progressive candidates run and get elected to public office.

"We're going to talk about how we can work with the other Indivisible groups in the state for a common goal, which is looking toward the 2018 election," she said. "All our members of Congress in the four districts will be up for re-election. We're not just meeting to empower. We're meeting to empower with a purpose."

Jason Bailey agreed. "Working with the Indivisible group and seeing what's happening with President Trump has shown me: What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like," he said. "We are resisting. We are the group that did not vote for that man. And he is starting to see what it looks like."

State Rep. Greg Leding (R-Fayetteville) is one of those who hopes the energy directed at Trump may soon turn to more local matters. In his fourth term in the legislature, Leding says there's a troubling degree of anonymity to being a state legislator, which he believes denotes a lack of public engagement. "I can still walk through my district and most folks just have no clue who I am," he said. "Personally that can be a good thing, because I can go to the store without being hounded. But I think it would be a great thing and democracy would be better served if people were paying attention."

Since the election, Leding has made several Facebook posts highlighting huge turnout at capitols in other states to resist bills that are seen as harmful to social progress, labor movements or the LGBT community. In January, he distributed a "Determined Constituent's Guide to the Arkansas State Capitol," a pamphlet featuring phone numbers, communication tips, committee room assignments and other information useful to a citizen who wants to make his or her voice heard by state legislators. Leding said Arkansans focused on resisting and protesting Trump are doing good work but ignore local issues at their peril.

"I think it's perfectly fine to be calling your legislators in D.C., and you should be," he said. "But the people here in Arkansas are going to be making decisions on a daily basis that will, in a lot of cases, more immediately and more directly affect your everyday life. Not just in the legislature. Your quorum courts, your city councils. So I would tell people to become familiar with whom your local elected officials are, learn what's going on in the state Capitol and your city hall. Make sure you're holding local officials accountable, too." Leding said many state legislators would likely be swayed by what he called "appropriate public input."

"I always tell people when you're contacting a lawmaker: Be brief, be polite and be to the point, because they can be busy," Leding said. "If you just show up screaming at them, they're never going to listen. But if they engage, that gives them the opportunity to have a longer conversation. But you're not going to get anywhere calling names."

Leding said he has seen increased public participation this session, including a large turnout for committee hearings on the so-called "campus carry" bill that would allow concealed handguns on college campuses. Though Leding said that bill is very likely to pass in some form in the Republican-dominated legislature, constituents shouldn't be swayed from showing up and having their voices heard. "Even if the bill is guaranteed to pass, the people passing it need to hear from the opposition," Leding said. "They need to know that they are acting against the overwhelming wishes of most people. If you didn't show up, this thing could pass, and then the people who support it can say, 'Well, we didn't hear from anybody who opposed it." It's about establishing a public record and letting the lawmakers know they do face opposition."

Leding said House Bill 1578 by Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), the latest in a series of anti-protest bills across the country, which would change the legal definition of "riot" to include "causing public alarm" and impeding traffic, allowing civil lawsuits against those who offend, is a sign that people need to "stay out there marching."

"To chip away at our freedom to gather in protest is just absolutely ridiculous," Leding said. "I think it's also a little bit cowardly. The people who helped shape the framework for this country a couple centuries ago felt that it was so important that it's right there in the First Amendment, so I completely oppose any effort to curtail our rights."

If it ever comes time to fight Hammer's effort in court, ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar will likely be there. Sklar said over a thousand people have joined the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU since the election, part of a push that included over $23 million in donations to the national ACLU in the single weekend when confusion reigned over Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Though Sklar said she doesn't anticipate seeing much of those donations to assist in efforts in Arkansas, the group continues to push back in the state.

"Soon after the election, bullying broke out like a bad rash all over the country," she said. "People thought it was open season on blacks, Hispanics and Muslims. So there's definitely been an uptick on those kinds of problems. And the legislature, certainly, has decided it's open season on everybody not them. So we're busy for sure."

Like Leding, Sklar said she's focused on local issues, and wishes more Arkansans who have joined the resistance against Trump would be as well. "Who is president is extremely important for a lot of reasons, but what they're doing at the legislature affects us in so many different ways," she said. "I wish people would pay more attention to that."

Nationally, the ACLU has launched a new effort at the website peoplepower.org to help resistors channel their energy and frustration into action. On Saturday, March 11, Sklar said, the ACLU will host streaming training events supported by national ACLU staff and hosted at private homes. (Vino's, at Seventh and Chester streets, will host one of the streaming trainings, starting at 3:30 p.m. Others can be found at peoplepower.org.)

"The idea is really just to take all these people who continue to meet and march, saying, 'We want to do something!' and say, 'This is what you can do.' We hope it's the beginning of a movement that keeps going. When you feel like you're on the winning side, you forget that you need to keep in touch with politics, you need to keep up with your representatives. That's a problem we see locally. People think that because abortion is legal, they don't really have to pay too much attention to what goes on. But they've been chipping away at it for decades."

Sklar said that the resistance against Trump among progressives and women especially is rooted in "his utter disregard for women." Trump's election, she said, was a shock to the system that offends moral decency, and women across the country have risen to the challenge, as has the ACLU.

"I'm very gratified that when people think the Constitution is threatened, generally in many different ways, that they know that we're the ones you can turn to across the board on so many issues," she said. "The Constitution is in danger? Call the ACLU. That is very heartening. I know it feels corny, but that's the way I feel. It's wonderful that people feel that way, even if they didn't know it until the crisis came and hit them in the face."

Resistance roadmap

Born of frustration, the 'Indivisible Guide' is the lens that has focused Trump's foes.

Every movement has a manifesto, and for the effort to resist the policies of Donald Trump that manifesto is "Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda," available at indivisibleguide.com. Written by former congressional and White House staffers in the wake of the surprise election of Trump and released free online in mid-December 2016, the 27-page guide draws heavily on the lessons those staffers learned from the tea party movement on how small groups of average citizens can apply enough pressure to tilt the political table in their direction. The result is a blueprint for shaping the opinions of members of Congress and defend against the worst impulses of the Trump regime.

Over 100 former aides worked on the guide and the follow-up "tool kits" meant to shape the direction of the burgeoning Indivisible movement. One of those authors is Billy Fleming. Originally from Fort Smith, Fleming is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, where he served as student body president. He later worked as a junior staffer in the Obama White House, and now lives in Philadelphia, where he's teaching and studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.

Fleming said the guide came about as a way for the authors to deal with their frustration over the election of Trump. "They had this sort of epiphany that we lived through this incredible period of resistance in 2009-2010 through the tea party," Fleming said. "These guys were all Hill staffers when that was going on, and they all asked themselves, 'What can we learn from that experience to help us stop as much of the bad things about the Trump agenda as we can?' They got started drafting — putting some of those thoughts into a Google doc. That's when they pulled me and some other folks in to help flesh out that document and get it ready for public consumption."

From the moment the guide was released, it was clear it had tapped the fear and energy of the left. Within hours, it had been downloaded so many times that the hosting site crashed.

"It was one of those things that we thought maybe a hundred people might read, including our parents," Fleming said. "It was pretty wild to watch it that first night, going from a few dozen people reading the Google doc online to a few hundred to a few thousand and then have it crazy within hours of it launching. It's grown beyond anything we ever could have imagined."

Fleming said the appeal of the guide is that it is so accessible. For staffers, it seemed like "Civics 101" information, but for Americans who had never reached out to their congressmen or tried to shape public policy, it was revelatory.

"Congress is viewed by a lot of people as this kind of black box that isn't accessible to them," he said. "We viewed the guide, and we still view all the work we do, as a way to demystify how all those things work in Congress and to give people the tools they need to influence and interact with their members of Congress. It shouldn't be as hard as it is to do that."

Fleming said the number of Indivisible groups that have sprung up nationwide has been incredible. While sustaining that energy throughout the Trump presidency will be a challenge, he said there have already been results. He believes the revelation that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have lied under oath about his contact with a Russian ambassador is directly attributable to pressure applied on Congress by Indivisible groups.

"Organizing work is hard work, and you win a lot and you lose a lot," he said. "I think for us, what we're trying to do is to really celebrate the wins we've had. The Jeff Sessions news? That's a big win for our chapters. Were they not constantly pressuring their members of Congress to give Jeff Sessions a full hearing in the Senate, it's highly unlikely he would have been asked the number and the types of questions he was asked. We may not have had anything on the record about his involvement with Russia."

The authors of the "Indivisible Guide" plan to keep that momentum going by periodically issuing free updates to the guide in the form of "tool kits." Recently, for example, they released a primer on how to hold events that draw public attention to members of Congress who refuse to schedule public town halls with their constituents.

Though Fleming said the fight against Trump is "a long game," he said Sen. Tom Cotton's town hall in Springdale was unlike anything he's ever seen in Arkansas politics. "We should feel heartened and we should feel proud of all our people in groups like Ozark Indivisible and across the country who are taking time out of their lives to invest in their communities and to invest in their civic responsibility in the public process of engaging in discourse with their representatives to Congress," he said. "Those are the kind of things that should be lifted up and applauded, because not enough people do it."

Still, Fleming said, people shouldn't get so caught up in the energy of the moment — and the potential for progressive wins at the polls in coming years — that they forget people will be harmed by the presidency of Donald Trump.

"People will die, people will get deported and people will lose their quality of life because of this president," he said. "However that translates into energy on the progressive side, that's great. But we should also look at this a bit more soberly and say, 'In addition to however this translates to wins down the road, what can we do to be good allies and good supporters for the people who will suffer the most under this administration?' "

2017 Spring Arts film preview

Plenty of options for silver screen surfing.

While Oscar season and the joy of snuggling up to watch a movie while Old Man Winter howls in the eaves makes the cold months a great time for film, spring is really looking up when it comes to cinema and film festivals in Arkansas.

First out of the gate this spring will be the 2017 Ozark Foothills Film Fest (ozarkfoothillsfilmfest.org), which runs on two consecutive weekends, April 14-15 and 21-22, in Batesville. Screenings will be held at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville. One of the oldest film festivals in the state, this year's festival will no doubt benefit greatly from a $10,000 "Challenge America" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. "Reel Rural: Rural America in Independent Film" is this year's theme; the festival will include a series of screenings and panel discussions about the way small towns and rural areas are portrayed in independent film. Also this year will be a screening of "Yakona," a nearly wordless documentary that showcases the beauty of the San Marcos River in central Texas. The so-called "hybrid documentary" will be screened with live musical accompaniment from the film score's composer, Justin Sherburn, and Montopolis, an experimental classical ensemble from Austin. Ticket prices and the full festival lineup have not been announced as of this writing, but last year an all-film pass to the OFFF was $25, or $20 for students.

Next up is the Bentonville Film Festival, the big, well-funded fest that celebrates women and minority filmmakers, running May 2-7 at various locations in Bentonville (bentonvillefilmfest.com). Founded by Academy Award-winner Geena Davis and ARC Entertainment CEO Trevor Drinkwater, the festival requires any film submitted for competition to have been made by either women or minorities. A press release announcing this year's event says the festival will expand its short film category for 2017, and will offer a packed lineup of narrative and documentary screenings, panel discussions and musical acts. In past years, the BFF has attracted Hollywood luminaries, including Robert De Niro, Meg Ryan, Bruce Dern and Nia Vardalos. Last year's event screened 75 films. Ticket prices for 2017 have yet to be announced, but in 2016, weekend pass packages started at $75.

Running the same weekend as the Bentonville Film Festival will be the third annual Fantastic Cinema and Craft Beer Festival, May 3-7 at the Ron Robinson Theater (fantasticcinema.com). As the name suggests, the festival — hosted by the nonprofit Film Society of Little Rock (filmsocietylr.com) — focuses on films of the fantastic realm, including science fiction, horror, fantasy and animation; craft beers from breweries around the state will be offered. In addition to its regular slate of awards, the festival has partnered this year with Kodak and MovieMaker magazine to present the "Kodak Shot on Film" competition, for features and shorts shot on 8mm or 16mm film. Top prize for that competition is $2,000. Tickets aren't on sale yet, but last year tickets ranged from $10 for a single screening and $20 for a day pass, up to $125 for an all-access pass.

A very promising development for film in Argenta is the Argenta Drafthouse Film Series, which starts June 12. Presented by the previously mentioned Film Society of Little Rock, the series plans to screen narrative feature-length films at 7:30 p.m. the second Monday of each month at The Joint Theater and Coffeehouse, 301 Main St. in North Little Rock. The series takes submissions for films to screen on filmfreeway.com, with the stipulations that they must be an hour long and completed in 2015 or later. Tickets are $8 per screening.

The Joint also offers, courtesy of the Film Society of Little Rock, the ongoing Monday Night Shorts, where films between one and 15 minutes long will be screened the fourth Monday of every month. The festival has open submissions on filmfreeway.com. Upcoming themes include "Microshorts" on April 24 and "Red Octopus Presents: Funny Suckers," comedy shorts selected by the Little Rock sketch comedy troupe, on May 22. Tickets are $8.

Up in the air

Canopy NWA, a small Fayetteville nonprofit focused on refugee resettlement, sees its plans in jeopardy after Trump's executive order.

While many Americans reacted with general shock at President Trump's Jan. 27 executive order banning refugee arrivals in the United States, for Emily Crane Linn of Fayetteville the fear was more focused. "Immediately, I had a name, and I had a family that jumped to mind," she said. "I knew, 'Oh my goodness, they're not going to be able to come.' So it was sadness for them, it was sadness for our community."

As the director of Canopy Northwest Arkansas (canopynwa.org), a recently launched nonprofit that partners with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to resettle refugee families in the state, Linn's worries were soon realized. The Congolese family Canopy was hoping to bring to Fayetteville that week had its travel plan canceled by the U.S. Department of State. They were among tens of thousands of refugees, visa and green card holders whose lives were thrown into turmoil by Trump's sudden order.

Though many are familiar with the part of Trump's executive order instituting a 90-day ban on arrivals from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia and Yemen — a lesser-publicized provision of the order halted America's refugee resettlement program for 120 days for all nationalities. The day of the order, the Congolese family that Canopy hopes to resettle in Fayetteville was literally packed to travel to America, after weathering over a year of intense vetting by the U.S. By the time they started that process, they had been living in a refugee camp in Africa for 16 years.

"It was just canceled, just like that," Linn said. "That was obviously — I can only imagine that was disheartening to them." Soon after federal courts stayed Trump's executive order, the family's travel was rebooked. Barring another court ruling on the temporary stay, the family is scheduled to arrive in Northwest Arkansas this week. Canopy's staff, Linn said, is holding its breath.

"I need to be making arrangements for housing for this family," she said, "but I'm wary of doing so until I'm sure that they're coming. It's hard for the community mentor team to plan. It's hard for our staff to plan. We're all just being strung along. I think a lot of people feel that way. We're just waiting to see what tomorrow will bring and hoping we can roll with the punches."

Such is the miasma of confusion and fear that has clouded the day-to-day operations and future of Canopy, one of dozens of small refugee-resettlement agencies all over the country. Launched in October, Canopy has a staff of four and over 400 volunteers standing ready to assist newly arrived families in Northwest Arkansas. While the group had hoped to settle over 35 to 40 families a year — up to 100 individuals total — that mission is suddenly in doubt. Since its first clients arrived in December, Canopy has managed to resettle a woman from El Salvador, two families from the Democratic Republic of Congo and two families from Iraq. Other than the Congolese family Linn hopes will arrive this week and several other cases — all from the Congo — currently in the pipeline, whether Canopy will be able to help more is uncertain. While Linn said the organization will use any gap in arrivals to train staff and fine-tune procedures, Canopy's budget is largely dependent on a per-refugee payment from the U.S. government, buttressed by private donations from churches and individuals. If there is a wholesale shutdown of resettlement programs by the State Department, times may soon get very lean.

The State Department, Linn said, decides which refugees are coming and when, often after refugees have spent decades in relocation camps. In the case of the Congo — the country from which most refugees resettled in the U.S. have arrived in recent years, with 16,370 Congolese resettled in 2016 — the minimum wait Linn has seen was 13 years.

Once refugees make it to the step in which they're officially being considered for entry into the U.S., Linn said, the vetting process is "intense," involving a deep dive into a person's background by the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. "From the time that the United States begins considering you for admission until the time you get on a plane, you are checked and rechecked and rechecked," she said. "Your story is checked and rechecked, everybody in your family and you are interviewed multiple times, your name is run through a litany of databases, your biometric data is verified. It goes on and on. There are even health screenings you have to pass."

Once a person has been vetted, Linn said, the State Department coordinates with one of nine nonprofit resettlement agencies, including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. LIRS works with a network of 28 nonprofits in 26 U.S. states. Once a refugee is assigned to a resettlement agency, Linn said, the group looks at its partners across the U.S. to see which would be the best fit.

Linn said that given the difficulty of gaining official refugee status — candidates have to prove they are being persecuted because of their personal identity or because they're part of a social group, not just fleeing danger and indiscriminate violence — the idea that terrorists would use refugee status to enter the U.S. rather than utilizing quicker and easier methods, like entering on a travel or student visa, is highly unlikely. While Linn said she hasn't gotten any indication that the U.S. is planning on shutting down the refugee resettlement program entirely, another section of Trump's executive order slashes the yearly number of refugee resettlements in the U.S. by over half, to 50,000 per year, down from 110,000 resettlements last year.

"We are struggling to know what the rest of this fiscal year looks like, because there's this potential ban, and no refugees means no funding," she said. "If we're talking about four months without refugees, that's four months without funding coming in to our organization from that funding source."

Linn said Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail was worrisome, but the nationalist and anti-immigrant statements he's made are even more concerning. "For whatever reason, this is a pretty recent thing that refugees have become kind of a scapegoat in the political world," she said. "I'm not exactly sure how and why that got started, but that's become kind of a worrisome trend among a variety of politicians. It wasn't just President Trump who was using that rhetoric during the campaign season. There were a lot of people who were."

The reason refugees want to come to America, Linn said, is that the country, as an entity, is highly venerated. The dream of millions around the world, she said, is to come here and make a life, and the refugees who weather the long process to do so are living that dream. She is worried about the damage that moves like Trump's executive order are doing to the country's reputation and standing around the globe, but she believes the status of the U.S. as a welcoming place will outlast the Trump era.

"I heard a story on NPR the other day about the Iraqis who were cooperating with the U.S. to retake Mosul from ISIS," she said. "They're baffled. They're saying: 'I thought America liked us. I thought we were America's partners.' I think it does raise questions, but I think ultimately, it's more the idea of America. It's hard for me to put it into words, but it's more about America as an ideal than a country led by one particular person. I think it's bigger than a president, and people see it that way."


A Q&A with LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner on policing and immigration in the age of Trump

Hail to the chief.

The following is the latest in our series of conversations with Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner. Given the confusion sown about law enforcement priorities, and particularly immigration, in the days since Donald Trump was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, we took this opportunity to pick Buckner's brain on the personality and priorities of the mercurial man in the Oval Office. We spoke on Feb. 1, days after Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

What do you think about the way Trump has conducted himself as a leader so far?

I think from what I've seen from the president at this point is that he will be unconventional. I think that he will go about business his way. I think that we are seeing an individual who sees problems, probably, through a different lens than we're probably accustomed to. I think that, as with any other president, there will be some things that he will do that we will agree with and there will be some things that we disagree with. That's one of the downsides of being a leader. But so far, I think that we need to give him time to get his plan and his people in place and let's see what happens. He's only been in office for a couple of weeks and I think people are, in some instances rightly so, concerned. But I think he hasn't been given time to roll out his full plan.

We've talked quite a bit about the power of social media before. What do you think about Trump's use of social media? Is it helping or hurting him?

I think it's excellent. As a person who prides myself on being authentic, I pride myself on being accessible. The fact is he's texting maybe some things that people may not want to hear, but I would rather know what an individual is thinking than for someone to walk to the podium and continue to give me a bunch of politically correct BS-type of answers. I like when someone tells me how they really feel. I don't necessarily have to agree with that, but I appreciate someone who tells me how they really feel or what they're thinking about something.

In September 2016, the Fraternal Order of Police Union endorsed Trump, saying that he "understands our priorities and our members believe he will make America safe again." Do you believe the election of a president can really "make America safe again?" or is that naive?

I think public safety being a priority for the White House, I think there's a possibility that it can do some things that will help police at the local level, specifically when you talk about COPS grants, when you talk about federal guidelines that come out that maybe set a standard for particular things, like when you see what use of force or something that talks about that. It was not a political document, but it was initiated by the president in that 21st century policing model that was put out. So I think the president has a tremendous amount of power and opportunity to impact what's going on at the local level and I think that police departments historically are conservative for the most part. So it doesn't surprise me that a police agency would support a conservative candidate.

Also in September 2016, Police Magazine conducted a poll of over 3,000 working law enforcement officers in the U.S. and found that 84 percent of those who responded favored Trump in the election. Why is Trump so appealing to law enforcement officers?

I think it's very difficult to answer that question with a broad brush. I think each [person] who voted in that particular survey probably had their own particular reasons as to why they feel like that Trump would be the best candidate for law enforcement. I'm a registered independent, so I'm a person who doesn't necessarily go with groups. I go with who I feel is the best person for the job at hand. But I've been in this profession nearly 25 years, and there's no secret that police historically vote Republican. That's just a part of the profession. I think the feeling is that Republicans value more of the military/law enforcement kind of initiatives and values that, I guess, police feel are important.

Considering that Donald Trump has been called authoritarian by some people, does the deep support among officers for a candidate like Trump signal something troubling to you about the mind of the police officers on the street in the United States?

No. Our job is to enforce the laws. I don't agree with all the laws that we have on the books. I'm sure that our officers don't agree with all the laws on the books. But we are to objectively enforce those laws. Our personal, political affiliations — to say that maybe that can't impact how someone thinks or something, I think it would be naive to say that. Of course, there's going to be some kind of influence. But for the most part, our police officers are going to follow our value system. They're going to follow our mission. They're going to follow our guidelines, our policies and procedures as to how we go about doing business. And then I also expect the public to hold us accountable when we're not reflective of the values of our community. So I'm not concerned about that as to what someone's political affiliations [are] or who they voted for during the election, as how they go about doing their job.

Do you think the support for Trump by law enforcement is, in part, about the Black Lives Matter movement and the Obama Justice Department's intervention in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, where violence exploded because of police use-of-force cases?

No, I don't think you can point to any definitive thing to say why a police officer voted for Donald Trump or why law enforcement FOPs or other organizations representing law enforcement supported Donald Trump, other than historically law enforcement tends to be conservative. I will also say that some of those groups you mentioned, I don't think there's a bad relationship, necessarily, with every chapter of Black Lives Matter. I think they're like any other organization. There are some individuals who have done some things that we think are inflammatory or divisive in our community, but every person that I know that supports some of the causes supported by BLM is not a bad person. We may philosophically disagree on how to get to some common destinations, but that doesn't make them a bad person. Everything that I've heard from BLM is not bad. As a police chief, some of the things that have been reported by BLM or have been said about law enforcement are the truth. It's the painful truth. We have to accept the fact that some of the mistrust that we've had over the past several years has been earned because of our behavior and our actions. We've caused people not to trust us. But I don't think that some of the rhetoric you see, the inflammatory things you see from some of these organizations, to where they try to broad brush all police the same way that I won't broad brush their organization, I don't want someone to broad brush our police department.

On Jan. 21, in response to the homicide rate in Chicago, Trump tweeted, "If Chicago doesn't fix horrible carnage going on, I will send in the feds!" What's your reaction to that? Is a threat like that alarming to you as the police chief of an American city?

You know, when you see tweets and you see statements vs. policy vs. actions vs. behavior, I think we need to wait and see. I think that local police in some of these challenging cities, Little Rock being one of them, it's very easy to stand on the outside and say, "Hey, why don't you fix that or why don't you stop the aggravated assaults, or why don't you fix the homicides?" The best analogy that I can give you is, it's very easy to stand outside an alligator pit and tell someone, "You shouldn't grab the alligator by the arm. Grab it by the tail." When you're down there in the pit, things seem to change. If the federal government thinks they can come in and solve all the problems in Chicago, I'd love to see it.

Many have seen that tweet as a threat to declare martial law if Chicago doesn't "fix" its crime rate. In the past, we've discussed the impossibility of finding a "penicillin pill" to fix crime issues in urban areas. Is it wise for Trump to ask for a quick fix pill "or else"?

I don't know what the president is asking for. I'm working on the local level and my direct reporter is the city manager, Bruce Moore. He reports to the mayor and the city directors and they report to the citizens. So, to be honest with you, some of the stuff I've been seeing is somewhat almost entertaining more than I'm giving it substantive value. I just want to wait to see what actually happens vs. what this media outlet reports. If you watch conservative television, they're going to report one thing, the liberal stations are going to report another. As an independent, I try to find where the truth is, usually somewhere in the middle. I think again, let's stop acting like the sky is falling. It's not. The same process that gave us Barack Obama gave us President Trump. We need to give the man a chance to see what he's going to do. That doesn't take away your right to protest, it doesn't take away your right to disagree. I think he deserves an opportunity to see what he's going to do.

When you've got the president of the United States tweeting out something that a lot of people take as a threat to suspend the Posse Comitatus Act and send in the troops to stop murder in Chicago, you can kind of see where people would be a little panicked.

I can see where people would be panicked. I can certainly see that. But he's tweeted a lot of things. If I am an immigrant, and I see some of these tweets coming from the White House, of course I'm going to be concerned. Of course I'm going to have anxiety. Of course I'm going to be uncomfortable. But until we see what's actually going to roll out, until we see what's actually going to be asked of the federal government, what's going to be asked of state government and the local level, let's allow things to progress before we have kneejerk reactions to tweets.

Trump has repeatedly called urban areas crime-infested. In response to criticism by Georgia U.S. Rep. John Lewis in January, for example, Trump said that Lewis should focus "on the burning and crime infested inner cities of the U.S.," and spend more time helping his district, "which is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime infested." Do you think Trump is being realistic about life and crime in America's cities? If not, why do you think he repeatedly depicts them as urban war zones?

I won't get into his spat or disagreement with Rep. Lewis. I think that he is a man that deserves respect considering what he's contributed to our society, but I will say this: The statement of saying that a lot of urban communities are crime-infested, I would liken that to having a child who has some behavioral problems, or for lack of a better word, let's just say they're bad. It's one thing for you to know that your child has issues and they're having behavioral issues in school, it's another for someone else to say that to you about your child. While I understand that some people will be upset and offended by the statement, it's no secret when you look at the data that many of our urban areas across the country are crime-infested. Now, we don't like to hear that. Some people don't like to think about that, and if you live in one of those communities — let's just take our community for example. I'm responsible for public safety. I love this city. This city gave me an opportunity to be a chief. There are a lot of negative things said about our city. I don't like when I hear that. But when they talk about some of the challenges we have with crime, I have to accept it because it's the truth. We do have challenges with crime. We are an urban community. While I don't want to hear someone saying that about Little Rock, there's some things people say about Little Rock that are true. We're working very hard to fix some of those things, but it's the truth. It's the truth. That's where, I don't necessarily agree with a whole lot of things Donald Trump says, but some of the stuff he is saying is the truth.

Little Rock is not on fire out there, though.

It's not on fire! And thank God for that. We have a great city. Which is why I get so defensive for residents like you and I. There are a lot of great things going on in Little Rock. But if you hear someone say about your city, if you tell them, "Oh, I live in Little Rock," they'll say, "I can't believe you live in Little Rock!" Yeah, we have challenges, but it's a great city.

Do you believe he's saying those things to stoke an urban vs. rural divide among Americans?

I don't know what his intentions are. I would hope that the president of the United States would not be making statements that would divide our country. I think that he is intelligent enough to understand that a divided United States is not good for anyone. If he is to have a successful tenure, we're going to have to bring people together, even those that disagree.

On Jan. 25, Trump issued an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to deputize local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. The order also declares that if a city or county is deemed a "sanctuary jurisdiction" because it fails to cooperate with the federal government against undocumented immigrants, those places could lose federal money. What's your reaction to Trump's policies ratcheting up immigration enforcement and using the threat of defunding to force local law enforcement to participate in immigration efforts?

I don't know what the federal government is going to do to attempt to force local and state municipalities to participate in some form of immigration [enforcement]. I can tell you that the Little Rock Police Department has zero interest in rounding up immigrants and deporting individuals who are not causing problems and have not committed some kind of serious crime. We have zero interest in that. Now, could something happen from a federal standpoint that could force our hand to do something? It could possibly do that. But I can tell you that anything we're involved in will be reflective of our community policing values, and that we will do it in a compassionate way, and we will do it in a way that respects humanity. But we have zero interest in being federal agents for immigration. That is not our responsibility.

What's the LRPD policy with regard to illegal immigration right now?

I won't quote the policy to you, we can get you a copy of the policy. But I can tell you in practice, if someone is charged with a violent offense or a serious felony, we will call immigration in those kinds of examples. But for minor offenses and misdemeanors, we treat them like any other resident of our city. I think that's the practice of most police departments across the country. Just to correct the record, Little Rock is not a sanctuary city. Many of the things that they're discussing are not applicable to us.

Do you think undocumented immigrants in the city of Little Rock will be less likely to report crimes with Donald Trump as president?

Of course. I participated in a Spanish immersion program back in 2004. I lived in a city called Morelia, Mexico, which is about two hours south of Mexico City. I stayed with a Mexican family who spoke no English. I lived with them for five weeks. I got to see a number of the things that cause some of our undocumented citizens to seek out better opportunities in the United States. I know there's a lot of mistrust in their native country, and many of [them] bring some of that mistrust and concern to the United States. They're already an underreporting community today. But I could see that being even worse if you have fears of state and local and federal agents having some kind of far-reaching immigration policies that are more aggressive.

Is that going to make it harder to do your job as a police officer?

It will make it harder to connect with those communities. It will make it harder to get those individuals to report when they've been a victim of crime. It will make it harder for them to participate in neighborhood associations or any kind of initiative we have with the police department. During my tenure, as you're well aware, we've taken great strides and effort to try to connect with our Hispanic community. I don't plan to do anything that's going to erode the bridges that we've built or that impacts our ability to strengthen those bridges and connect with more people in the Hispanic community. I see that as an asset — that everyone should feel like they're welcome in the community. But I will say this, and this is a strong "but" — everyone with any level of intelligence does understand that we have to do something to better protect our borders. We just can't continue to have the level of walking across in the country that we have. That's dangerous for everyone. I don't think the answer is some kind of inhumane [action] or something that shows a lack of compassion for the undocumented citizen we have here, absent those individuals who are committing serious crimes or felony offenses.

If undocumented immigrants come here and are peaceful, work a day and pay their taxes, do you think there should be a path to citizenship?

I think that people should come through the right way, first of all. Come through our systems that we have. I realize that's a long and in some instances probably expensive process. But do it the right way. But I would not be in favor — me personally, just talking about how I view the issue — of rounding up individuals who are not causing any problems who are already here and deporting them from the United States. I don't think that shows compassion, and I think it shows a lack of humanity.

Over the weekend, several court orders were issued by federal judges in response to Trump's executive order banning immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries, a move that had stranded over 100 green card holders in American airports and saw others turned away. There have been reports that Customs and Border Protection agents have refused to comply with those court orders. Do you think that the resistance to complying with lawful court orders by government law enforcement agents is dangerous for the country?

I do. I certainly understand the rub and the disagreement that some individuals may have, but again, we don't get to pick the laws, we don't get to make the laws. Our job is to enforce the laws, and I think we have a duty and responsibility to do that. But I think in doing so, we should never step away from the values we have in our respective communities.

The Trump era is shaping up to be an era of protest. There was a big protest at the state Capitol the day after the inaugural, and another in opposition to Trump's quote-unquote "Muslim ban." Are you talking to your officers about protests any differently than you were before Trump was elected?

No. I think with protests, we respect the First Amendment. We respect your right to protest. We certainly think that is a part of the fabric that makes America the country we are. As long as people are peaceful, as long as they're law-abiding, as long as they're not being destructive, we will certainly do everything we can to ensure they have the opportunity to do that. Absent breaking the law, I think people have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Another kind of love

Ahead of Valentine's Day, Arkansans who are asexual, polyamorous and into BDSM talk about their lives.

If you want a lover, I'll do anything you ask me to

And if you want another kind of love, I'll wear a mask for you.

— Leonard Cohen, "I'm Your Man"

Regardless of what you might hear from the zealots and obsessive compulsives, there is no one right way to do anything. That includes relationships. As the mainstreaming of LGBT lives, loves and now marriages over the past 25 years has shown us, there are a lot of ways to take a stab from Cupid's arrow, all of them just as valid, enriching and beautiful as the relationship that would have been called "normal" when your grandparents were sparking on the porch swing, which is to say: one man and one woman, married young and monogamous for the rest of their lives.

For this year's annual Valentine issue, we thought we'd go a step beyond plain old boy-meets-boy, boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-girl, to get a glimpse into the lives of Arkansans who are loving on the fringes of what is considered "acceptable" by the mainstream. There are a lot of different chocolates in the heart-shaped box. While the following may not be your personal cup of tea, that's OK. The beautiful thing about love is that it's different for everybody. That doesn't make it wrong. That just makes it different.

Polyamory in Arkansas
The following interview is with an Arkansas woman living in a committed polyamorous relationship involving two men and two women, all of whom live and raise their children together.
By David Koon

BDSM in Arkansas
"John" and "Sarah" are an average married couple in their mid-30s. Both educated professionals, they live in the 'burbs of Central Arkansas, raising a family on a quiet, tree-lined street. The difference between them and most people, however, is that behind closed doors, they're in a long-term BDSM relationship, an acronym that stands for bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.
By David Koon

Asexuality in Arkansas
The following is taken from an interview with an Arkansas college student, who — after a series of frustrating relationships — began to identify as asexual in his early 20s.
By David Koon

'Preaching to the perverted'
Peddling smut with the Little Rocked Zine.
By Stephanie Smittle

Dr. Love

Dr. Chelsea Wakefield at the UAMS Couples Center helps couples bring back that lovin' feelin', or never lose it in the first place.
By David Koon






Dr. Love

Dr. Chelsea Wakefield at the UAMS Couples Center helps couples bring back that lovin' feelin', or never lose it in the first place.

There comes a time in every relationship, no matter how seemingly stable and happy it might look from the outside, when things just hit the wall. Most human beings are jars full or fear, hang-ups, worries, sexual quirks and confusions. Seal two of them in the pressure cooker of a busy modern relationship, and you've got a recipe for a spectacular explosion.

Dr. Chelsea Wakefield is helping couples steer clear of the troubles than can sink a loving relationship. An assistant professor in the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute, Wakefield holds a Ph.D. in clinical sexology and is the director of the UAMS Couples Center. Opened in November 2016, the Couples Center seeks to help couples navigate the unique challenges of relationships in the 21st century by providing counseling, group therapy and community education about love, desire, relationships and sex. The center also teaches student counselors about the unique demands of providing therapy and counseling to couples.

Wakefield, who is the author of two books, "Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty" and "In Search of Aphrodite: Women, Archetypes and Sex Therapy," has been a psychotherapist for 18 years. She began to study the field of sexology about eight years ago. One thing that's surprising to most people, she says, is that, until very recently, training and education for couples' therapists didn't include much education about sexuality and sexual response.

"There was an assumption in couples therapy for many, many years that if a couple was getting along, the sexuality would take care of itself," Wakefield said. "This is a myth. Many couples who are very companionate and get along very well have either a nonexistent [sex life], kind of a brother/sister relationship, or difficulties with sexuality. We have very poor sex education in this country in terms of how sex actually works, the difference between men's and women's bodies, the process of sexuality in terms of desire and arousal, and how people actually reach orgasm — the technicalities of it."

Even in long-established couples, Wakefield said, she often sees a lack of basic knowledge about sexuality. That can often lead to anxiety or feelings of inadequacy. As an example, Wakefield said that multiple studies have shown that only about one-third of women can reach orgasm from intercourse alone. Because of a general lack of sex education and plentiful misinformation, however (some of it rooted in what Wakefield called the "Freudian myth" of a "superior" vaginal orgasm), Wakefield says there are millions of perfectly normal woman who feel inadequate because they can't reach orgasm solely through intercourse. For men, she said, equally as distressing can be the rarely discussed condition called "ejaculatory incompetence," which makes it harder for men to reach orgasm and ejaculate as they age.

"This is something we talk about a lot, how inadequate and broken people feel when they have this assumption that everybody is having better sex than they are," Wakefield said. "This is such a charged topic for most people, and it is woven in with so much history of being something you really don't want to talk about publicly. Certainly there is a lot of shame about it that people feel — not just shame about sexuality, but shame about body image."

In her work at the Couples Center, Wakefield sometimes helps people deal with difficulties caused by compulsive sexual behaviors, sometimes referred to by what she calls "the somewhat controversial label of sexual addiction." In other cases, she said, a partner might have "a particular template of sexual arousal" that's disturbing, distressing or unusual to their partner.

"We can talk about the formation of that," she said. "How they can manage it in the relationship, how they can communicate about it. Every single individual has a very personalized sexual template. Much of that is formed in their early years." Because a person's individual sexual template is formed so early, Wakefield said, therapists are now seeing an entire generation of young men experiencing sexual problems because they were educated about sex and women's sexual responses solely by online pornography.

"This is leading to a whole new group of sexual difficulties," she said, "and the need to re-educate them when they begin to encounter real living females and what real living females are like in person, and what they want and how their bodies actually work. Pornography itself, if we get completely away from the moral issue, provides terrible sex education."

Wakefield said the field of sexology has advanced quite a bit since the days of noted sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson, including the "depathologizing" of many sexual fetishes and kinks, the new appreciation for the importance of educating about sex during couples' therapy and a greater understanding of female sexual response in particular. She says she's also seen a trend of young couples seeking relationship counseling long before they run into problems.

"In the last few years I've had couples come to me, usually young couples, saying, 'We want to get off to a good start. How do we do that?' " she said. "I love to work with couples who say, 'We want to get off to a good start. We're in the early phases of our relationship. What can we do to avoid the kind of quagmires that we've seen other people flounder in, or our parents? "

Asked if there is a secret to a long, happy and fulfilling relationship, Wakefield says she sees relationships as having three levels: First, the "you meet my basic needs" level, then a "roles and responsibilities" level that relates to things like paying the bills, chores and raising a family.

"The highest level of relationship," she said, "is a relationship that I call 'individuation and connection.' That means you have two people who are really continuing to grow and deepen as people and they're sharing that growth in the container of the committed relationship. ... We have to look at things like: How comfortable are you with actually having a go-to person for celebration and suffering over the course of many, many years? What is the depth of your personhood? How developed are you? How adult are you in being able to meet the challenges of life and not blow out, but also to be self-aware and self-revealing? That's the piece that really stays vital: really knowing who you are and how you're growing and changing, and then revealing that to a partner."