"Rep. Tim Griffin wants us to work 'til we die," a protestor's sign said, and The Observer wondered what Rep. Griffin's response would be if he were there to see it. "At least!" he might say. He and the other Republican members of the Arkansas congressional delegation have not yet admitted error in their voting to end Medicare and privatize Social Security, and Griffin is famously hard-nosed.
But the Second District congressman was not there, outside the Federal Building on Capitol Avenue, nor any other members of the delegation. Over the years, some have kept offices in the building, but none does now. Sen. John Boozman's Little Rock office is just a few blocks farther west on Capitol, but it's in a private office building, and Boozman, though he supports the Republican plan, has not yet cast an official vote for it. Griffin and brother Reps. Rick Crawford and Steve Womack have.
So the protestors chose to gather at the Federal Building, on a warm weekday afternoon, to express their displeasure with the efforts to cripple two great federal social programs. "Social Security is the only income I have," the man carrying the anti-Griffin sign told The Observer. Many in the group of 30 or so were similarly situated, workers and former workers now unemployed because of age or disability or an economy that simply produces too few jobs. People who know that living on a Social Security check is difficult.
They waved signs at passing motorists — "Rich Play While We Pay," "Stop Corporate Genocide" — and they chanted "Hands Off Social Security" and "Hands Off Medicare." Many drivers honked in support.
Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, led chants and spoke, saying that anyone, Republican or Democrat, who supported cuts in funding for Social Security and Medicare should be removed from office at the next election. A disabled bricklayer testified, his artificial leg clearly visible in the shorts he wore. A retired union member said that Republicans and conservatives had created a myth that Social Security is about to run out of money. The Social Security Fund will have $3.1 trillion as late as 2020, he said, and "very modest" changes in the system can keep it healthy much longer.
The Observer thought back to a meeting in Little Rock last summer, where Tea Party types, many of them on Social Security and Medicare, raged against a health care plan that would be to their own benefit. The protestors here at the Federal Building are notably clearer-headed, and more loyal to their class: middle- and low-income Arkansans. That happens to be the biggest class, too.
The iris is to The Observer as Beauty to the Beast, and so we made our annual trip to the state Capitol grounds to look at the iris in bloom. We arrived at about the same time as a group of Iris Club members who tend to the Capitol's flowers.
The iris were splendid, as always, flaunting their countless shades and combinations of purple and yellow and orange and white. The club ladies talked as they snipped and pulled: "I don't like that Polish Princess." "I love that Free and Easy." One found a misidentified specimen: "That is not Raspberry Rhapsody."
The Observer discovered the Capitol iris years ago, when we were stationed at the Capitol by a great newspaper, and we've continued to visit them since. Actually, we believe now, our interest in iris began in our childhood, piqued by the beds at the family home. But young boys try to suppress feelings for flowers.
Even now, The Observer is a little sensitive about it. When one of the ladies suggested we attend the Central Arkansas Iris Society's annual show later that day, our first response was that we had to go to the ranch and keep rustlers away from the herd. But a few hours later, there we were at Hillcrest Hall, attending our first iris show. A significant corner has been turned, we thought.
The iris here were, if anything, even grander than at the Capitol, there were more varieties, and many of them had ribbons for first, second or third place in their various categories. One of the ladies from the Capitol explained to The Observer what the judges look for. It's not just the prettiest flower that wins.
All these fabulous colors on display, and yet The Observer suddenly realized that he didn't see a red anywhere. There is no red iris, a lady explained. People have tried to produce one for years, research has been done, some slightly reddish tones have emerged. But an iris as red as a geranium? Not in the foreseeable future.
"I don't miss it," she said.