voices for justice

All I had was a crappy BlackBerry camera, so you'll have to take my word for it that this is Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.

Last night I went to some of the best church I’ve ever experienced. Except it was in a Music Hall with 2500 other people and led by a handful of famous people.  I was at a rally/rockshow in support of the West Memphis 3.

The West Memphis 3 are Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin, a group of young men arrested and convicted as teenagers for the murder of three children in West Memphis, AR.  Many people, including myself, believe the West Memphis 3 are innocent and wrongly imprisoned.  One of them, Damien Echols, is on death row.  I encourage you to read about their case and decide for yourself. It blows my mind that we can have people on death row on such shaky evidence.  There is no DNA evidence tying any of the Three to the crime scene, although DNA evidence of one of the victims’ stepfather was found at the scene.   Instead, the case relied on what was a most-likely coerced and later recanted confession from one of the Three, Jessie Misskelly, who is mentally handicapped and, though he was a teenager, was questioned without a lawyer or a parent present.  In addition, the way the investigation was handled, the way the story was told to the public and the media, and notes recovered from the jurors all point to the fact that these three men are wrongly imprisoned and have been for 17 years.

In those 17 years, the Three have found support for their cause all over the state and all over the world.  Thanks to a pair of HBO documentaries, they even gained the support of some major celebrities: Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Johnny Depp.  With Damien Echols’ oral arguments before the State Supreme Court coming up on September 30, their local and celebrity supporters decided it was time to hold a rally to both raise money for the WM3 legal defense fund and to get active in contacting state leaders in support of new trials for the WM3.  That led to last night’s Voices for Justice rally.

Of course a rally featuring Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur, and Bill Carter drew a large crowd– where else are you going to see Eddie Vedder letting Johnny Depp take lead guitar, or both of them playing backup for Patti Smith?  Still, I was really disappointed to see that Bobby Ampezzan’s review in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette focused primarily on suggesting that people packed out Robinson for a rock show, not because they care about a cause.  To that I ask, Bobby, did you SEE how amped people were when Rev. Thompson Murray from Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church gave a stirring min-sermon about the cause of justice as something Jesus would have supported?  The way people cheered during the videos highlighting the miscarriage of justice in this case?  The way people gave money as buckets were passed, offering style, around the music hall to collect money for the WM3 legal defense fund? But what does Bobby know? He describes Natalie Maines as having “a shaved head” (she was sporting a cute, short pixie) and rags on her for “[using] cue cards held aloft in the pit for one of her numbers” despite the fact that she barely talked the entire show because she said she was too emotional about a cause she has long-supported for words.  It really disappointed me to see that write-up, and I felt like it had an agenda to downplay the real experience of the rally.

Like I said before, the entire experience, to me, was most akin to some really good church.  We started with a sermon and a preacher telling the crowd that Jesus is always on the side of justice, quoting Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  We had some congregational singing, along with Eddie Vedder as he performed Tom Waits’ “It Rains on Me” and with the entire assembled “band” as they performed “People Have the Power.”  We heard the personal testimony of Eddie Vedder, as he described spending a recent evening around a campfire in his back yard with Fistful of Mercy (Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur), when they stood in a circle saying a kind of prayer that the WM3 could one day join them there, and realized that the answer to their prayer was to get down to Little Rock for the rally.  Isn’t that how prayer so often works? Instead of using it to magically give us things, God uses it to remind us that we need to take action.  That’s how it usually goes for me.

For me, some of the most powerful moments of the evening were while Natalie Maines was singing.  While she has one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard, I think I was most stuck by her fiery spirit.  I like a woman who refuses to be shut up.  She sang a traditional gospel song called “Death’s Got a Warrant,” previously recorded by another favorite of mine, Patty Griffin.  The song was obviously aimed at the true murderers, and said “you can’t hide, God’s got your number and he knows where you live.  Death’s got a warrant for you.”

To me, the best song of the evening was Maines’ performance of Dan Wilson’s (best known as the lead singer of Semisonic) “Free Life.” The song was very stirring, as it seemed to be about Damien Echols reuniting as a free man with his wife Lorri Davis.  Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

Let’s take a little trip down where we used to go
It’s way beyond the strip, a place they call your soul
We’ll sit down for a while and let the evening roll

Don’t worry about the time; we’ll find a place to stay
The people round here seem familiar in some way
Look kind of like we did before we got so cold

And in the air the questions hang
Will we get to do something?
Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?
What you gonna spend your free life on? Free life.

It was a good question for all of us. I hope the people in attendance won’t take for granted that we are blessed to have our freedom. I hope that they are moved to support the cause of justice, because when someone can sit on death row for a crime no one can be certain they committed, we are all a little less free.

And you know what? I have enough faith in people, enough faith in what I experienced with 2500 other people last night, to believe that it wasn’t just about Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.  It was also about three innocent men in prison.  It was about justice.  And there are many ways to help between now and September 30th.

the happiest kroger on earth

Full disclosure: I was recently contacted by a PR person from the Kroger company, who had found my blog and wondered if I might like to join some other Little Rock bloggers in a tour of their new Kroger Marketplace store which opens tonight in West Little Rock. Since many of my local bloggy friends were going, I said sure! So, today, I went on a guided tour of the nicest, newest grocery store I’ve ever seen, and I ate free samples of delicious food, and I had a fabulous time.  Honestly, it’s not hard to have a fabulous time when surrounded by ladies who will giggle with you over the pussy willows in the floral department and laugh at your quips about dog popsicles being FOR dogs, not MADE FROM dogs and make jokes about how a bunch of bloggers around a sushi sample tray is a lot like Shark Week.  And I admit, I’m just plain interested in grocery stores, so I thought I’d share what I learned (I was not required to write about this event).

You see, though I’m a super proponent of local, sustainable food (see my “we might starve without a CSA” post for proof, or check out this post for a rundown of my “food rules”), most of my food still comes from my local grocery store.  In Charleston, I was rather spoiled in my last year there, because a brand-spankin’ new Harris Teeter opened up less than a mile from my house and an awesome Earth Fare natural supermarket was located just down a greenway from us.  I could bike to both.  And y’all, the Teet, as I liked to call it, was FAN-CY.  It had the largest produce section I’d ever seen, and, upon first visit, I noticed the fanciest thing of all– like a Methodist, I felt “strangely warmed” in the frozen foods section.  I looked up to see that they were piping in hot air to cut down on the chills when the freezer doors were opened! It’s not very eco-friendly, I’ll admit, but it sure is fancy!  We got most of our produce from our CSA, most of our other groceries from the Teet, and I hit up the Earth Fare once in a while to shop the bulk bins.

No grocery store I’ve visited in Little Rock has come close to being as nice as the Teet. Until today.

Have you ever seen a grocery store produce section with every veggie in a perfect little pile, not disheveled by a hundred shoppers’ grubby little hands?  It’s glorious.  The WLR Kroger Marketplace has the largest produce selection I’ve ever seen, and they said they make an effort to acquire local (within 400 miles) produce as much as possible.  Anything you see labeled local is within 400 miles of the store.  Sure, it’s not hydroponically grown in your neighbor’s back yard, but I will applaud any step in the right direction– when a company like Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the world, tries to cut down on the amount of petroleum used in the shipping of our food, it makes a difference.

nice selection of organic produce.
perfect piles of produce.

In addition to an awesome produce department, this Kroger had BULK BINS. I could have hugged them.  I’m a big bread baker, and a big baker in general, and having a place to buy organic flour and raw sugar in bulk? Well, it makes my little heart happy.  There was also a large selection of natural/organic products, and even a large selection of gluten-free products.  Right now I have to make separate trips to a Kroger store for my groceries and a Whole Foods for the bulk bins.  After this store opens, I’ll just be hauling my little hiney out to Chenal and hitting up the fancy Kroger Marketplace. (Though my usual grocery store, the Kroger in Hillcrest, will be reopening after renovations this October, and I’ll still shop there for most of my day-to-day food.)

Bulk Bins!

I was also very happy to hear from the guys in charge of the meat and seafood departments.  Kroger apparently is very big on voluntarily labeling country of origin and wild-caught/farmed on its seafood, which is really helpful for me as I try to eat sustainably when I consume seafood (for a consumer’s guide to sustainable seafood, check this site out).  We also learned that Kroger goes above and beyond national standards and employs its own inspectors to make sure its seafood and meat is of the freshest quality.  And when it comes to meat, I was happy to see that they had a number of all natural, hormone/antibiotic/nitrite free, vegetarian-fed, sustainably raised meat to choose from, including pork products.  I have cut down a lot on my meat production in order to afford to eat natural/sustainable/ethical meat when I do consume meat.  Beyond the products that made me happy because they fit into my food values, I have to say that the folks working the meat and seafood area obviously take a lot of pride in what they do and have a passion for their jobs.  That’s fun to see!

The seafood selection, which will be labeled as to country of origin and wild caught vs. farmed, which will make choosing sustainable seafood easier.
So happy to be able to get natural, more ethical meat in a major grocery chain.
Linda from the bakery had a theatrical flair and a love for her job.

Overall, yes, this is a conventional grocery store and it’s still full of rows of foods I wish didn’t exist– heavily processed, full of corn syrup, empty calories in boxes and bags. BUT, this store is also making it easier for people to get fresh, more local produce and fresh, more sustainable meat and seafood, and that’s a step in the right direction that I totally applaud.  The store also has a commitment to helping shoppers create more meals at home by demonstrating cooking techniques, suggesting pairings, giving samples, and having well-trained employees who can answer shoppers’ questions.  All of that on top of bulk bins? Well, my only complaint is that it’s way too far away from my house for me to shop there on a regular basis.  Now to begin the countdown until my neighborhood Kroger reopens!

If you’d like to see more photos from the store, you can check out a slideshow on my Flickr.

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