Protesters stand along Pennsylvania Avenue during the “March for Our Lives” rally in support of gun control in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Hundred of thousands of students, teachers, parents and victims rallied in Washington, D.C., and across the country on Saturday to demand tougher gun control measures, following a wave of political activism among students and others impacted by school shootings.
The “March for Our Lives” protest in the nation’s capital was organized by students after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month.
The students are frustrated by what they say is the inaction of adults, especially politicians, who offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of school shootings but fail to pass legislation that protect kids from gun violence. They hope these marches will provide momentum for change ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think it’s something that if any politician pushed in general, they would really have an easy time getting reelected because they would be, they would show that they’re practicing what the preach and are trying to be leaders in their own right, but right now I think in Washington, we’re not seeing that,” David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, told Weekend Edition Saturday.
The march officially began at noon, but protesters started gathering along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol building early Saturday morning, as the event’s organizers expected the turnout to exceed 500,000 participants. The event in Washington is one of more than 800 happening coast to coast to push for stricter gun laws.
Saturday’s demonstrations follow a national school walkout on March 14, exactly one month after the Parkland shooting, in which students across the country walked out of classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims in Florida.
That deadly shooting inspired a generation of youth activists, who have been raised in a time marked by gun violence, to raise awareness of a growing support for tighter gun laws, which still face powerful political opposition from gun supporters backed by the National Rifle Association.
President Trump and the first lady were in Florida for the weekend at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach. Following the Parkland shooting, Trump held a number of listening sessions with students and even floated the idea of raising the age of gun ownership to 21 and tightening background checks.
But in the end, the administration didn’t push for any bold measures. The Justice Department also proposed on Friday, a plan to ban bump stocks, which are devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire like a machine gun.
“We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law.”
Organizers of the gun control rallies hope the massive crowds and impassioned speeches from teenage activists will tap into a growing sentiment for gun control. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 69 percent of Americans think gun laws in the U.S. should be stricter, which is up from 61 percent in October 2016 and 55 percent in October 2013.
Even as momentum for tighter gun control seems to reach historical levels the AP also found that most people don’t believe politicians will take action. Student activists like Hogg say that their generation’s action will be the tipping point for change on guns.
“At the end of the day what our generation is fighting for is not only for us, the kids that are alive right now, but the future of America, we can and we will outlive our opponents because they are old and they are stuck in their old ways,” Hogg says. “We will change the face of America with or without our opponents.”
North Atlantic right whales are at risk of extinction because they often become ensnared in ropes used to guide lobster traps along the Northeastern U.S. and Canadian coastline.
David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images
David L. Ryan/Boston Globe via Getty Images
The endangered North Atlantic right whale population took a big hit last year with a record number of animals killed by fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes. Now, an ongoing debate over threats posed by Maine’s lobster industry is gaining new urgency as scientists estimate these whales could become extinct in just 20 years.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientist Mark Baumgartner says that to help the whales survive, the rope Maine lobstermen use to mark their traps with buoys and haul up their catch must be modified or even eliminated. And it’s not just for the whales’ sake.
“I feel the industry is in jeopardy,” Baumgartner says.
Baumgartner was in Maine this month for a Lobstermen’s Association meeting to detail the whales’ plight. If the lobster industry doesn’t respond effectively, he says, the federal government will step in. “As the population continues to decline and pressure is put on the government to do something about it, then they’re going to turn to closures, because that’s all they’ll have,” he says. And that could mean barring traps in the same waterways the lobster fishermen count on for their livelihoods.
There were about 450 North Atlantic right whales estimated to be alive in 2016. Only five calves were born last year, while there were 17 deaths caused by rope and gear entanglement or ship strikes. Baumgartner says with no new births and another death already this year, the trend line is tipping toward the whale’s effective extinction within 20 years.
But, his warnings are getting a somewhat frosty reception from Maine lobstermen, who feel they’re being singled out for a problem that crosses state and even national boundaries.
“There was a lot of deaths on the right whales this year, but none in the Gulf of Maine,” says Bob Williams, who has been hauling traps off Stonington, Maine, for more than 60 years.
None of the dead whales were found near Maine’s coast. But three were found off Cape Cod, which is part of the Gulf of Maine — where Baumgartner uses passive recording devices to help track their movements.
Parts of Massachusetts’ already diminished lobster fishery in recent years has been closed during the height of the right whales’ migration.
Williams, the lobsterman from Maine, says the industry here has stepped up, too, adopting expensive gear required by regulators. Now scientists are proposing new modifications, such as weaker ropes or even rope-less technology that relies on radio signals to locate traps. But Williams says those are likely unworkable off Maine.
“Because we have heavy tides and all that, and the farther east you go down towards eastern Maine, [there are] extreme tides down there,” he says. Lobster trappers need to use ropes there, but the whales get tangled in ropes and lobster buoys, slowing them down and forcing them to burn more calories just to swim.
Many fingers in Maine are pointing the blame at Canada.
“Canada needs to step up,” says Patrick Kelliher, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources.
He says that while the Gulf of Maine is a known part of the whales’ territory, their paths lie mostly far off Maine’s coast. Meanwhile, Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence has suddenly become a killing ground. “With what’s going on in the Gulf of St. Lawrence right now with the Canadian crab fishery, that’s where most of that gear is. If you looked at the diameter of that rope, that’s not Maine fishing gear,” he says. Maine’s lobster gear is lighter and thinner than the gear designed to catch snow crab.
In fact, most of the whales found dead last year did turn up in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, rather than U.S. waters.
The whales could be ranging more widely, following the ebb and flow of their traditional food sources, or looking for new ones. Their staple is a tiny crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, whose abundance changes with the currents and the climate.
Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says migration appears to be changing. “The reason whales died last year is because they were utilizing relatively new habitats, where there’s no protective legislation in place,” she says.
“They’re facing waters that aren’t protected by vessel speed reductions, fishing gear regulations, seasonal fishery closures. They don’t have any of those protections because we didn’t realize they were going to be there,” she says.
Earlier this year, the Canadian government did impose new requirements that would be familiar to U.S. lobstermen, like strictures on floating rope and mandatory reporting of lost gear. And late last month, Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist Matthew Harding floated a new idea to skeptical fishermen in New Brunswick’s growing snow crab industry.
He told a CBC reporter that the government could shut down a large swathe of the fishery when whales might be present, or it could take more dynamic action. “Which would be smaller, temporary closures that could be more mobile and more tailored and specific to certain areas,” Harding says.
Similar strategies are being explored in the U.S. But there may not be much time. Last month the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed a federal lawsuit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for violating the Endangered Species Act.
CLF says the federal government is failing to regulate Maine’s lobster fishery in a way that protects the whale from extinction. CLF Lawyer Emily Green says it’s a vital issue for the organization’s members.
“The majesty of this incredible species that they’ve been able to experience — those are moments the these people really treasure,” she says. “They would experience it as a personal loss, if they knew that was something they could never experience again because in their lifetime their own government had failed to protect the preservation of the species.”
Stakeholders in both countries are working to prop up the struggling species without sinking the lobster and crab industries. But the question now is whether legal action could hasten new fishery closures, and whether that would do enough to save the whales.
This story comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Actor Danny Trejo, shown here in 2014, produced the documentary Survivors Guide To Prison, which focuses on injustices within the criminal justice system.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney
Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:
Danny Trejo On Acting, Addiction And Playing ‘The Mean Chicano Dude’: Trejo says that his experience standing in the San Quentin prison yard waiting for a riot prepared him for acting: “You’re absolutely scared to death … [but] you have to pretend you’re not.”
2 Books Investigate The Mysteries Of Agatha Christie And The Golden State Killer: Maureen Corrigan recommends two books that grapple with real-life mysteries: Laura Thompson’s biography of the sphinxlike Agatha Christie, and I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, by the late Michelle McNamara.
Robots Are Now ‘Creating New Robots,’ Tech Reporter Says: The evolution of artificial intelligence has exploded over the past five years, leading to computers that can drive and talk. New York Times’ Cade Metz explains how machines are learning on their own.
You can listen to the original interviews here:
Meshell Ndegeocello’s album Ventriloquism is a collection of covers of R&B songs from the 1980s and ’90s.
Charlie Gross/Courtesy of the artist
Charlie Gross/Courtesy of the artist
Recently, I found myself flirting with the clerk at a clothing store. Discovering his interest in the outdoors, I remarked that I’d been reading about a great hike outside L.A., one that promised some spectacular vistas, including a waterfall. Without missing a beat, he responded “Oh, I don’t go chasing waterfalls.”
As gentle deflections like this suggest, great pop songs like TLC’s “Waterfalls” become ingrained in our casual speech. They provide generational, even intergenerational points of reference. Anyone who has ever had an argument about whether Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” is or not knows what I’m talking about. But the means by which such songs achieve enduring mass appeal tend to rely upon the most formulaic musical elements. As you age out of pop’s target demographic, it can prove hard to remain a “poptimist.” Poptimism is a sensibility that persists in finding artistic merit and emotional depth at the top of the charts. It’s easy, maybe obligatory, to be a poptimist when you’re 18. But as the decades roll by, and the endless recycling of styles and songs becomes ever more blatant to you, pop fandom can come to seem like the longest of long cons: built on irrepressible youthful élan, but delivering ever more of the same.
This is what makes Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album Ventriloquism sucha happy surprise. It revisits the 1985—1995 decade when Generation X was at its zenith, and songs like “Don’t Disturb This Groove” ruled the airwaves. Delving into the hit parade of her youth (and my own) Ndegeocello joins the likes of George Michael, Annie Lennox and Sinead O’Connor, each of whom surprised fans with concept albums devoted to reinterpreting and redefining the American song book. Wielding an immense sonic palette ranging from waltz to raga, from blues stomp to trap, Ndegeocello nods her hat to the originals before blasting them off into uncharted musical territory. While Ndegeocello has released an album of covers before — a tribute to the music of Nina Simone — it is still arresting to discover that she too, like everyone else, has had Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day” stuck in her ear all these years. Unlike the rest of us, however, Ndegeocello and her ace band have the interpretive chops to do something about it.
What she has done, however, has led to some fallout following a swipe she took at Bruno Mars’ recent Grammies performance, which she compared to karaoke. It was a real dig, but one that should have surprised no one familiar with the take-no-prisoners approach of her back catalogue, in which she as frequently adopts the stance of moral scold as she does the oil-on-the-waters chanteuse. Songs like “Soul on Ice” and “Dead N**** Boulevard” are scathing takedowns of the delusions of neoliberal multiculturalism — in the black community and beyond. And Ndegeocello was not alone in bemoaning Mars’ win. Commentator Seren Sensei pointed out the sordid history of the Grammies snubbing black originators only to later laud their non-black imitators. Across her 11 albums, a principle ambition for Ndegeocello has been to hold the liberationist promise of black music up against its debased reality, and against the music industry in particular. And although she has mellowed somewhat over time, it is clear Ndegeocello can still deliver a full-throated jeremiad.
To listen to her version of “Waterfalls,” for instance, is to peel away the original’s candy coating to reveal the song’s bitter pith. Originally a cautionary warning against the highs and lows of chemical addiction, released in the era of crack and the early AIDS crisis, her update lets the song resonate anew amidst today’s opiate crisis and digital affluenza. The accompanying video depicts a multiracial band of Generation Z shuffling through a melting polar landscape, like dutiful penguins on the march, or proverbial lemmings over a cliff. Here and elsewhere, the album sounds as much like a mea culpa as a nostalgia trip, as if admitting we Gen Xers didn’t fight hard enough to forestall this bitter earth that our children are inheriting.
Not every song on Ventriloquism is a downer, but the cover image alone (a direct homage to ACT-UP’s iconic Silence=Death HIV/AIDS activist posters) should telegraph her serious intent. Such is apparent in the opening bars of the album, a cover of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s effervescent “I Wonder If I Take You Home.” Over a bouncing bass line, Ndegeocello repeatedly intones the phrase “take me home” with double intent: sexual and salvific. That she loves these originals is clear. But just as clear is her bid to rescue them, through reinvention, from the enormous condescension of posterity. This is the era, after all, when the soul redemption of the rhythm and blues “died,” at least according to Nelson George. For Ndegeocello, by contrast, spirit never dies, which is why her music has never been “neo” soul, but more nearly a contribution to what Amiri Baraka called “the changing same.” Muting the teenage bounce of Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day,” and stripping the come-hither coo from Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” Ndegeocello seems to be leading a one-band mission to redeem an era of music often dismissed as over-produced, deskilled, and empty.
MeShell Ndegeocello, in other words, seems determined to achieve the reverse of her (ironic) album title. She is not really ventriloquizing or just paying homage; she is taking these familiar tunes as the basis for revelatory improvisation, in the spirit of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” Ndegeocello even queers the mainstream pop landscape by singing straight male lead lyrics without switching their gender. This is not a trip down memory lane. This is passing musical history through a gauntlet of fire.
The stakes here have less to do with “cultural appropriation” than with the structural racism of the American music business, which seeks to categorize, commercialize, and then quarantine rebel musicians like Ndegeocello. Like many who go ignored or misunderstood by the Grammys, she is an absolutely unclassifiable musical genius: My iPod picks a different genre — from jazz to soul to alternative — for each of her albums. Astoundingly, it also gets it mostly wrong each time, as she plays continuous changes on the very notion of a black genre. In the essay in which he coined the term “the changing same,” Baraka described the angular sociality between popular “rhythm and blues” music and the black musical avant-garde as “the same family looking at different things.”
In the case of Ndegeocello versus Mars, it is more a case of different families looking at the same thing: the vexed and contested legacy of soul music. Yet her dismissal of Mars’ retro crooning was never about anything so simple as who has the “right” to sing the blues. Rather than a brown versus black turf war, it was more a question of the divide between the showman and the shaman. As his Grammy award acceptance made clear, Mars is every inch the entertainer, one who channels the generations of black and brown people who have been obliged to sing and dance for white tourists in exotic entrêpots the world over, from Havana to Nairobi to Honolulu. Ndegeocello, equally cosmopolitan in upbringing, is every inch the uncompromising artist who wants nothing to do with this crowd-pleasing, work a day, tradition. Where Mars perfects the art of recognition, creating new music that sounds like the past note for note, Ndegecello returns to the era’s actual songs and makes them sound strange again. The shaman wants to exorcise our demons, and hers. The showman just wants to bring a little razzle dazzle into your otherwise ordinary day. Some artists manage to express both sides of the showman/shaman divide. Prince comes to mind (and incidentally, it is his song, “Sometimes It Snows in April” that Ndegeocello transforms least on the album, as if it were less a question here of reinterpretation than of rapprochement).
Yet we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that the use of karaoke as an epithet remains the fraught site for some misunderstanding and even hurt feelings. Karaoke is associated with pan-Asian musical globalization, and it thus seems again like a racial gauntlet is being thrown down. In point of fact, Ndegeocello is deeply interested in a range of musical styles from the Middle East, South Asia, and beyond. Her sound is anything but exclusionary. And complicating matters here is the fact that the decade from which she chose to draw her covers from, as pop music scholar Karen Tongson notes, is karaoke’s sweet spot. My own go-to karaoke song is “Private Dancer.” Others of Ndegeocello picks, such as“Waterfalls” and “Smooth Operator,” are reliable go-to choices for the empty orchestra. And who hasn’t tried to woo a prospective boo with a drunken karaoke rendition of “Nite and Day” or “Tender Love?” I even quipped to a friend, before hearing it, that Ventriloquism would be Ndegeocello’s “karaoke album.” Clearly it isn’t, but the proximity between rock authenticity and karaoke sincerity can be close enough to cause confusion at times. Like a raucous evening of karaoke, Ndegeocello is getting us into our feelings about a songbook, revealing dangerously personal and intimate meanings. Arguably on this score Mars isn’t karaoke at all: He is taking a (relatively) underappreciated musical tradition and blowing it up to the largest scale possible, at the risk of standardization and dilution. The battle won’t be resolved anytime soon. But, at least for now, it is pretty clear where Ndegeocello stands.
One thing the black music vanguard that Ndegeocello represents is loath to do is directly mimic an earlier style, hoping to pass it off as new to the unwary. She also gave up long ago chasing the waterfall of mass fandom and Grammy ratification. Ventriloquism may be as close to poptimist as she gets, but she remains determined never to make it easy for us.
Tav Nyong’o is completing a book of essays on music, tentatively titled Hear is Queer. He is professor of American Studies at Yale.