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Kit O'Connell: Approximately 8,000 Words Posts

A Tour of Texas Bookshops

Posted in Austin, Journalism, and The Texas Observer

Big-city traffic and a resolution on New Year’s Eve of 2020 led Pflugerville resident Kelsey Black to become a bookseller.

An avid reader, she disliked the hour round trip required to get from  her suburb of 65,000 to downtown Austin to browse a bookstore. “OK,”  she told herself, “I think it’s just going to be easier for me to …  start my own bookstore.”

Turned out, it wasn’t easy at all, “but it’s OK because I have now found my calling,” Black said. The Book Burrow began as a pop-up and online business and finally, on August 6, opened  as a brick-and-mortar store. She said the 200-square-foot space has  become a haven for those who don’t feel like they fit in elsewhere,  drawn by the store’s motto: “Embrace your weird.” For her, the phrase  means cultivating love for whatever makes you unique: “Embrace your  gender identity; embrace your sexual identity; embrace your racial  background; embrace your spiritual path.”

Are You OK? Visiting With Young Trans Texans

Posted in Journalism, and The Texas Observer

In 2021, Jesse Freidin began traveling across the country to photograph transgender youth for a photo project called “Are You OK?” He’s been to more than half the states in the country, meeting with dozens of trans kids.

In August, Freidin made his second visit to Texas. In the intervening year, legal and policy-based attacks on LGBTQ+ people in the United States have reached feverish heights. Governor Greg Abbott even launched child abuse investigations into parents who seek gender-affirming healthcare for their kids. Though nonprofits like Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union have responded with multiple lawsuits against the policy, which has been partially blocked in court, it still left many families fearing for their safety. Kai Shappley, a trans girl known for her outspoken activism, fled the state with her family a month before Freidin planned to photograph her.

“I want to tell those stories before they disappear, before these families leave the country or state, before these families have to go underground,” Freidin said.

Birdsite Blues: My Twitter Origin Story

Posted in Gonzo Notes, and Occupy Wall Street

Over the weekend of Halloween in 2011, 38 people were arrested at Occupy Austin, the local outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street, a national, mostly anticapitalist movement targeting systemic inequality and corporate influence. I wasn’t involved in the movement yet, but this incident, and a certain social network, set off a chain of events that launched my journalism career.

I joined Twitter in 2009 after attending a technology and sex conference in San Francisco. I noticed everyone using their phones and laptops in a new way to communicate with each other about the conference, even if they hadn’t met before. So I was virtually watching two years later, when dozens of people got arrested in my town in a single night over sharing food.

Like most Democratic cities, officials voiced initial support for the activists camping at Austin City Hall, until two things became clear: one, that Occupy was not focused on pushing the Democratic Party’s agenda or candidates, and two, that the movement made the city’s growing poverty problem impossible to ignore by bringing unhoused campers to its front door. After that, they tried every possible trick (constitutional or otherwise), along with escalating police violence, to dismantle the encampment and undermine the networks springing up around it.

National Butterfly Center Returns After Fascist Threats

Posted in Journalism, and The Texas Observer

More than 100 butterfly enthusiasts descended on the border city of Mission over Halloween weekend to celebrate the annual Texas Butterfly Festival. The event marked a comeback for its host, the National Butterfly Center, which has been threatened and harassed by right-wing extremists who believe (falsely) that the wildlife sanctuary is a human trafficking hotspot. The center closed from January to April over safety concerns.

“We reopened the National Butterfly Center on Earth Day, and this year it was honestly a big celebration,” recalled Marianna Treviño-Wright, director of the center.

Although festival enrollment was down slightly due to the pandemic and political controversy, Treviño-Wright was excited to share her love of butterflies with dozens of new initiates. Accompanied by 20 or so guides, they spent four days tracking the annual migration of monarchs and other species throughout South Texas.

Christians Must Fight Christian Nationalism

Posted in Journalism, and The Texas Observer

Over at the Texas Observer, I interviewed groundbreaking lesbian feminist theologian Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward. Her new book unpacks the deep historic and modern ties between Christianity and white supremacy, and explains why Christians—and everyone who benefits unconsciously from white supremacy—needs to act more. 

Getting Vicious With Dallas Punk Rockers

Posted in Journalism, and The Texas Observer

In Vicious Velma’s world, concerts are primal and raw, rich with immediacy and spattered with bodily fluids.

Photographer Vera “Velma” Hernandez got her start shooting concert  photography in 2014 at a Tulsa punk festival called “Fuck You We Roll  OK.”

She recalled, “I took some photojournalism in high school, never  really did anything after that.” She’d been working at a mall  photography kiosk, but didn’t even have a camera of her own. Hernandez  (Instagram: @vicious_velma)  had to borrow one from her friend Jenni, who’d invited her to the show.  It was at that weekend festival where she realized she’d found her  calling: “I just kept it going after that.”