/ Soona Amhaz / 6 am Thu, Jun 1 2017
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  • Crooked: a photo catalog of protest signs to benefit the American Refugee Committee, Planned Parenthood, and Reading Partners

    Crooked: a photo catalog of protest signs to benefit the American Refugee Committee, Planned Parenthood, and Reading Partners

    The first time I traveled outside of the United States, I was twelve years old. The destination was that mysterious place my immigrant parents fondly referred to as “back home” whenever they told us childhood stories: Lebanon. We were vacationing there for the summer of 2006 and meeting our extended family. I don’t recall much about the first few days of the trip other than how new and exciting everything had seemed to me. And how quickly it all would change.

    I remember waking up one morning and feeling uneasy that the house was so quiet. I passed by the living room, only to catch something in my peripheral view that froze me in my tracks. My mom, sisters, cousins, and all of our neighbors were huddled around the TV watching the news. On the screen was the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport —  the same airport I’d walked through upon landing in Lebanon days before — completely engulfed in flames.

    What started as a news broadcast about an airstrike on the airport ended with an announcement that Lebanon and Israel had officially declared war.

    War.

    The word hung in the air. After what felt like an eternity, a voice cracked the silence, “Well, how are we gonna get home?” It took me a second to recognize it was my own. My mom turned to me, her face was tense. “Go pack your bags,” was her non-answer answer. To my twelve-year-old mind, my mother knew everything — where my missing socks were, which medicines got rid of a bad cold, how to make my 7th-grade essays sound better. And yet, my mother, the person who knew everything, didn’t know how we would get home. Hundreds of journalists would break the news about the war that day and not a single one could convince me that we were in danger the way that exchange with my mother had.

    The next three weeks we barely slept or ate. I’ll spare you the details of what day-to-day life was like during the war but suffice it to say we were always on the move. I don’t recall staying in single city for more than four days. As soon as we’d learn army tanks were headed towards the village or town we were staying in, we’d mobilize to another part of Lebanon. Three unnerving weeks into the war, we eventually made the decision to flee to a then-stable Syria.

    There, we were warmly welcomed and cared for by heartbreakingly selfless Syrian families. Syrian families that could barely make ends meet themselves provided us with food and shelter until a ceasefire was called in Lebanon, and we were finally able to head home.

    I will never forget the kindness that was shown to me by people whom I could do nothing for. Frankly, I don’t know if I’d be alive to write about this today if it weren’t for them. So, you can begin to understand why a travel ban imposed by a person who has never experienced the ravages of war would leave me dumbfounded. Why I personally can’t be a spectator as the US government callously shuts its doors on fellow humans in crises.

    I’ve decided to do something about it.

    Specifically, my co-author Mark Mendoza and I have put together a 70-page photo catalogue of protest signs from around the country: crookedmag.com and 100% of the net proceeds from the photo book go to the American Refugee Committee, Planned Parenthood, and Reading Partners.

    The way Mark and I see it, our country has been jolted awake into a state of political urgency. We’ve been forced to take a good look at the values our government has distorted and reflected back to us as American. We’ve had to think more critically about what being American really means. About the benefits of cooperating with executive orders. About the costs of doing what is right. About what right actually is. And about who gets the power to say.

    We’ve seen the answers in every protest. In solidarity with the movement, Mark and I crowdsourced hundreds of photos from iPhones to DSLR cameras to capture the protests in their entirety. Although each protester has seen the same events unfold nationwide, every reaction has been intensely unique. Our mission in creating this catalogue was to document the colorful range of voices – moving, comedic, inspiring, alarming, and just plain silly – that rang loud and clear through the crowds each day.

    After every demonstration we began noticing a pattern. People wanted one place where they could view a roundup of protest signs that best captured the essence of each protest – this book is our answer. We hope that in the darkest days of this administration, you can reach for this book as a source of light. When it seems as though your rally cries are falling on deaf ears, remember who fought before you – like Coretta Scott King. In times of moral crisis, she refused to be silent. She couldn’t have known it in 1968, but 49 years after being written, her letter would fuel the humanitarian opposition to the 45th’s administration. This is the power of protest.

    If you don’t have the luxury of marching in a protest, this is us bringing the protests to you. Know you can turn these pages and physically see how many people are with you, fighting the good fight alongside you. We want these images to stir something inside you. To compel you to have difficult conversations with those who accept the distorted reflection of American. To empower you to vote during midterm elections for those who reject it.

    Although the year 2017 has been fraught with disappointments, the resistance we’ve seen to date has made us feel something I haven’t felt in awhile: proud. And we’d like to think that if she were around today, Coretta Scott King would be, too.

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