The children will save us

 

Although the local paper claims “dozens” attended an anti-gun rally in Asheville yesterday, more than 300 people gathered to protest the failure of Congress to pass sensible gun legislation, including a good number of youth, who will be coming of age to vote in the next four years. Go ahead, Congress, ignore them at your peril.

 

I think something snapped on Valentine’s Day.

Another 17 people died in another mass shooting at another school while Congress remained steadfast in its determination to ignore the carnage and bow to its overlord, the National Rifle Association.

Yet again, campaign contributions mattered more than the lives of children and teachers.

But this time, something different happened. This time, the students stood up and said they have had enough.

When the current occupant of the White House tweeted the sad, tired thoughts-and-prayers refrain, students — survivors of the massacre — answered. They’re not interested in the thoughts and prayers of people who take blood money from a terrorist organization, they said. They want action, and they want it now.

Some of these kids can vote already, and within four years, all of them will be able to go to the polls ad throw these accomplices to terrorism out of office.

They were well represented at an anti-gun rally Sunday afternoon, a rally that was put together in just 72 hours

I heard one of them speak at the rally, and while the local paper claimed “dozens” were there, I saw more than 300 people in that audience. So, yeah, 30 dozen. And probably one-third of them were middle- and high-school students.

The 14-year-old student who spoke was eloquent. She talked about the failure of previous generations to make the NRA answer for its crimes, and about our failure to ban this bribe money from our electoral process.

She wants to go to school and not fear for her life, but to be able to concentrate on learning. She and her fellow students should not have to take time out of their day for “active shooter” drills, which offer no better solution to the problem than duck-and-cover drills offered to the problem of nuclear proliferation when I was in grammar school in the late 1950s.

While I think guns in private hands are a menace to society and I think the lack of gun deaths in countries that regulate guns is pretty good evidence that the tactic works, I’m willing to compromise. Assault weapons should be banned permanently, but yes, hunters should be able to hunt for food.

Handguns, however, are a different story. More people are killed with their own guns in their homes than are able to shoot a bad guy with a gun. If a gun is in the home, a fight is more likely to end in death than if there is no gun handy.

Handguns kill innocent people more than they protect anyone.

Do you want to know why police shoot unarmed suspects? It’s because they know the suspects might have guns and their lives are at risk.

You don’t think that’s a good enough excuse? Well, neither do I, but as long as we have virtually unfettered access to guns in this country, trigger-happy officers have that excuse.

The gun lobby, the NRA, will tell you a good guy with a gun is the solution to bad guys with guns. And they know it’s not true, but they also know it sells guns, and that’s their real goal: profit. That’s all they know how to think about. If you think they care about you, think again. They are the very definition of a terrorist organization because they exist only to promote death and mayhem.

Let’s say you’re in a theater at the premiere of a superhero movie. Someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting. Before the cops get there, you pull out your gun and start shooting in the direction of the person with the gun. The theater is dark. Are you going to hit the shooter or the person in the seat he’s crouching behind?

When the cops arrive looking for the bad guy with the gun, they don’t know you’re not their target and you may be dead before they figure it out, along with a couple of people next to you because, remember, the theater is still dark, and even if it’s not, innocent people are going to get caught in the crossfire.

Also remember that the school in Parkland, Fla., had not one, but two, armed officers. They can’t be everywhere.

So, there goes the good guy with the gun argument.

Then there’s the argument that we have to turn public spaces into armed fortresses, that we should surround schools and other public spaces with impenetrable walls and set up metal detectors at all the entrances.

Land of the free, my ass, right?

You know what we can do?

Again, the answer is simple, since every “civilized” nation has done it:

  • Regulate gun ownership the way we regulate cars and drivers’ licenses, or make them illegal for everyone but cops and the military.
  • Ban assault weapons, and make the ban permanent so Congress can’t let it lapse again at the behest of the NRA.
  • Require a license that must be renewed periodically. Require people to pass a safety course and a test, and repeat the process for every gun they want to buy.
  • Close down gun shows, or at least shut down gun sales at these shows.
  • Ban online private sales.
  • Register every gun with a title, the same way we do cars. Require a transfer of title at every private sale and require buyers in these transactions to prove they have a license to own a gun.
  • Ban sales to anyone who has been convicted of domestic violence or aggravated assault.
  • Since the Second Amendment specifically mentions a well regulated militia, we should require gun owners to join a militia and attend regular meetings.
  • Require liability insurance for gun owners, the same way we require insurance on cars.
  • If a gun is stolen and the theft is not reported immediately, make it a crime. If the stolen gun is not reported and it’s used in another crime, charge the gun owner as an accessory to that crime.
  • Make neglect of a gun a crime. If a child gets a gun and kills someone, charge the irresponsible gun owner with murder.
  • Repeal the damn Second Amendment and end the right to own guns. This carnage is not what the founders intended. They had no idea how guns would evolve and how their intentions would be perverted.

And don’t tell me it’s too soon to talk about this. Columbine happened almost 19 years ago. The time for change was then, if not before. Too many innocent lives have been sacrificed already, and in honor of those dead, we need to have this serious conversation NOW.

It’s time to fix this, not to make more excuses, shrug our shoulders once again and wait for the terrorists to strike another time — maybe in your child’s school, maybe at the theater you’re sitting in or the mall where you’re shopping.

We’re not safe, and if Congress can’t or won’t act, there’s an election coming in November. Make sure you participate, and let your members of Congress know the only way to get your vote is to support sensible gun laws.

 

This is NOT Blue Apron

Canned vegetables are lower in nutrients and higher in sodium than fresh, but the current occupant of the White House thinks it’s OK, as long as it’s poor people who are forced to eat them.

 

The current occupant of the White House has a new plan to feed poor people: Send them boxes of cheap, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient foods.

Again and again, I’ve seen the idea compared to Blue Apron, a gourmet food vendor that sends out boxes of food together with recipes for fabulous meals.

The comparison is wrong. The only thing this idea has in common with Blue Apron is that it’s delivered in a cardboard box.

If you get food from Blue Apron, you get a choice of foods, and the foods are fresh, not canned. You aren’t shipped canned peas and carrots, boxed milk and cheap cereal.

You don’t get steak tartar, you get Hamburger Helper, and probably just a cheap knock-off of that.

The right complained about the “nanny state” when Michelle Obama started advocating fresh, wholesome food for children. But now they want to choose what food poor people should eat, and what they’re choosing is bad food.

While advocates work to get fresh food to people in poverty, many of whom don’t have ready access to a supermarket, this administration is ready to squash these efforts in favor of boxes of unhealthy crap.

Research has shown again and again that processed food is less healthy than fresh food, that a diet high in processed foods (white flour, white sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils …) leaves us more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

But when we consider poor people as inferior, when we think we’re more worthy of anything than another human being, we are the ones who are morally bankrupt.

Jesus didn’t feed the thousands canned tuna on stale white bread, he fed them fresh fish and bread. When he went to the wedding in Cana and the host ran out of wine, Jesus turned water into fine wine, not high fructose corn syrup-laden soda. Read the passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

Our public policy (our failure to raise minimum wage to a living wage, for example), puts people in poverty. Minimum wage right now is about one-third of what it takes to live comfortably. Housing subsidies don’t even come close to serving the people who need help to stretch their meager wages. Child care subsidies have years-long waiting lists. Food stamps are a fraction of what it really costs to supply children (and adults) with the nutrition they need. Ask anyone who receives them. They give people about $5 a day. Try and feed yourself on that.

As food advocates work to get fresh fruits and vegetables onto the plates of children, this clown announces poor people only deserve canned food, and that the government should choose what they’re allowed to have — and that it should be junk food, as though poor people are just junk.

Meanwhile, those of us with privilege, those of us who still hold onto some semblance of a middle-class income, donate our cast-off clothing, our broken toys and chipped dinnerware, and we think the poor should be grateful for that.

We blame poor people for their own poverty, while we knock them down and apply our boot heels to their necks. We deny them healthy food, an equal education, safe housing, health care and a living wage and then call them lazy and accuse them of trying to get something for nothing.

The real culprits are the very wealthy who are buying up members of Congress and grabbing all the nation’s wealth for themselves. They don’t till the soil or harvest the crops, they don’t manufacture anything, they don’t make or serve food or clean up after themselves, they just take. And to justify their hoarding of our nation’s wealth, they spread propaganda about how the poor are robbing us blind. They use scandals to distract us while they pick our pockets.

This whole idea is deeply, deeply immoral. It is theft from the local farmer who grows and sells crops at tailgate markets that accept SNAP cards. It is theft from people who are struggling and it is the slow poisoning of poor people, who, after all, are still people. We all deserve to eat healthy foods and we deserve the dignity of choosing what foods we will eat.

This is not Blue Apron. Stop comparing the two right now.

 

 

 

 

Listen to the voices rarely heard

Mirian Porrras Rosas of Nuestro Centro with family and friends after her talk at the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Town Hall. Photo by Ellen J. Perry

 

I learned an important lesson last night.

I learned that sometimes we need to set aside the rules and just listen.

I am on the NC State Coordinating Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. In this position, I organize events to get out the word, and these events, like the campaign itself, are meant to include people who are affected by poverty.

So, each speaker, either clergy from a wide range of faiths or people affected by poverty, is supposed to talk for three minutes. We have people who time the remarks and hold up cards to let speakers know how much time they have left.

I’m a stickler about this because when someone speaks longer, he or she takes away time from people who come later in the program. Last night’s event in Asheville was not going to be an exception.

But then Mirian Porrras Rosas of the organizaton, Nuestro Centro, stepped to the podium. She spoke first in Spanish, and at five minutes, I asked one of the other organizers whether we should gently let her know she had run over her allotted time.

Then I sat back down and shut up. She finished her remarks at about seven minutes and then invited her son and daughter and another woman to stand with her as she struggled to translate her words into English.

We, the white people who are usually the ones demanding that others get a translation, had been exposed to how that feels. We could only watch her body language and her facial expression as she issued a plea for this country to treat her and other immigrants with the dignity they deserve.

I sat back in my seat and paid attention, even though I didn’t understand the words.

As she spoke her words again, this time in English, I was taken by her simple eloquence, her poise and her determination that her children have a better life and that she and they be seen as fully human. I stopped worrying about time and started to learn.

Three generations ago, my family came to this country to find signs reading, “No Irish need apply.” Today, immigrant families are accused of being “illegals” whether they are here with or without documentation.

No human being is illegal.

We stole this nation from the people who were here when we, white Europeans, arrived. We committed genocide.

Perhaps we should be happy that the people coming now would rather join us than kill us.

Perhaps we should embrace the stranger, as every major religion demands we do.

Perhaps we should listen more and talk less if we want to know what people’s lives are like before we offer to help or to do something for them that they can — and want — to do themselves.

How many of us know what it’s like to sleep under a bridge in sub-freezing weather? How many of us live with the fear that the police will stop us because we speak English with an accent? How many of us are called lazy and worthless every day because, even though we work 60 or more hours a week, we still can’t pay our bills because our employers refuse to pay us a living wage in exchange for a week’s work?

And how many of us have sat down and listened — really listened — to the voices of people who are living these experiences?

I did that last night as I stopped worrying about the clock and started worrying about the woman standing in front of me and her family.

Perhaps we should suspend the rules a bit and listen. When we do, we will hear the voices of our own immigrant ancestors, of the people who worked as children in the textile mills of New England, of the migrant workers who harvest the food we eat, of the descendants of enslaved people who still struggle to achieve equality, of the prisoner who will never be free because of unjust sentencing laws.

Let them speak.

 

 

Nobody wants a handout. Nobody.

We’re supposed to be helping the poor, not punishing them or blaming them.

I have no tolerance for mean-spiritedness.

That’s why I don’t read the comments on social-justice articles, especially when I’ve written them. I can’t bear the victim-blaming we do in this country.

When I tell my son’s story — that he died from lack of access to health care — people ask whether he was working. Of course he was working. What if he wasn’t? You really think he deserved to die if he wasn’t?

I wrote a story for a local paper about how poor people get trapped in the justice system because they don’t have the money to get out. As I said, I’m not checking the comments online. But someone sent me a personal e-mail to tell me this: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” I wanted to ask what the hell was wrong with her, but instead I asked whether falling asleep on a park bench warranted jail time in her book. She had signed her e-mail “respectively,” and I told her the correct word is “respectfully,” which should be reserved for times when she was actually being respectful.

Who the hell have we become as a nation when we pay people just one-third of what it takes to live in exchange for a full week’s work and then call them lazy when they need help?

And every time I call someone out on this victim-blaming, they say, “Well, some people just want a handout.”

No.  No, they don’t. People just want what should rightfully be theirs in exchange for 40 hours of labor. People want to have enough to eat, a warm, safe place to sleep, basic health care, an education for their children.

What the hell is wrong with us when we can hear these tragic stories and then blame the victims for their pain?

We have lost our way. We are no longer a great society — if we ever were one.

We built this nation on the backs of slaves, and we still practice systemic racism, sexism and hatred in so many forms.

We cheer a man who calls Mexicans criminals and who admits to sexual assault, who has cheated on all three of his wives and who spouts white nationalist code words. And we tell the grieving mother of yet another black man gunned down by police that her child must have been a criminal. We blackball a talented black man who takes a knee for the national anthem in protest of these killings and say he should find a better way to protest.

What would be an appropriate way to protest the murders of unarmed young black men? I’ll bet it would be to take it to a place where it wouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

I am done with this mean-spiritedness and I will call it out from now on. If you want to blame the victims of our bad public policies for their pain, do it out of earshot of me. I have no patience for it anymore.

Step up or shut up

Yesterday’s crowd at the Women’s March in Asheville.

Yesterday’s Women’s March in Asheville was enormous — by all reports, as big as last year’s (I was in Washington last year, so I can’t verify personally, but I believe the people who were here). The entire block surrounding the Vance Monument was packed with people, and the crowd stretched down the hill past the Fire Department.

Still, before the march was over, people were all over social media complaining that it was poorly organized.

The march here, which drew between 8,000 and 12,000 people, was organized by a small group of Asheville High School students who saw that no adults were stepping up to organize one. They arranged to get Memorial Stadium a half mile from downtown, although they didn’t have the money for proper amplification or parade permits to close down the streets between the stadium and the Vance Monument.

These are new organizers with no experience putting together an event of this size, yet they stepped up and put on a massive march.

The first complaint I saw was a post from a veteran protester/organizer and I called him out in the comments. I asked whether he had offered his help, which I already knew he hadn’t.

Others complained they didn’t know where Memorial Stadium was. My response: It’s in your city. If you don’t know where it is, Google it. These 17-year-olds did an enormous amount of work; they didn’t need the added burden of having to hold your hand and lead you to the event.

Author Michelle Alexander in Asheville Thursday evening.

Thursday night, attorney and author Michelle Alexander told 1,600 or more people at an event at UNC Asheville that we all need to do more. I thought it was funny when one woman turned to me and said, “You do enough. Really.” I can do more. We all can do more.

Alexander, who wrote “The New Jim Crow,” was right about the perilous times in which we live. Our very Democracy is at risk. We all need to step up. In a time when we can’t get half of eligible voters to the polls and our institutions are being attacked by a foreign power, we can’t sit home and hope somebody else will organize protests for us.

And when a small group of teenagers does step up, it is deeply offensive to me to hear adults who have more experience and more money complain that it wasn’t good enough.

Last year, as I was organizing a bus for the trip to the march in Washington, someone from another organization demanded I charter a second bus because she had 25 people wanting to go and my bus was filled already. I offered to help her get a bus and show her how to keep track of everyone, but she just called me selfish and went away.

I wasn’t always an experienced organizer, either, but I learned. It’s really not that difficult. My catalyst was the death of my son, although I had reported on a ton of protests in my job as a journalist, and that job also prevented me from getting involved. But I knew the basics because of that, and after I left journalism, I organized rallies and bus trips to events in Washington and Raleigh, and I continue to organize on the state level for the national Poor People’s Campaign.

So, instead of looking at a Facebook event page and complaining that you don’t know where the event is to be held, or hoping that the sound system will be adequate, go to the page and comment that you’d like to help. Ask what the organizers need, and then do something. It could be as simple as helping set up and maintain a Go Fund Me campaign, managing a Facebook event page, recruiting speakers, making phone calls or writing a press release.

If you’re not willing to help, you have no place complaining that it wasn’t good enough, loud enough, organized enough.

Get off your ass and do something. Believe me, there’s more than enough for all of us to do in this fight.

 

Why NOT Oprah for president?

 

I love Oprah — as an entertainer, as a human being, but not as a candidate for president.

 

I don’t want Oprah to run for president.

I know, I know, now you think I’m being racist, but hear me out.

We don’t need another entertainer in the White House. The two we’ve had –Ronald Reagan and the current occupant have both been disasters.

I’m not saying Oprah is in this class; I’m saying she’s a consummate entertainer. She’s charismatic and brilliant, and by accounts I’ve read, a kind and compassionate woman who has experienced poverty and tragedy in her life.

But she’s not who we need in the White House right now.

What we need is someone with political and public policy experience, not someone who knows how to make a good speech. If my pipes burst, I’m going to call an experienced plumber, not someone who is willing to learn on the job. My basement is flooded now and I want someone who knows how to deal with it now.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have had a squeaky, high-pitched voice. So, although he was brilliant and eloquent, his voice probably made his speeches less than rousing. What made him great was his political courage, his leadership skills, his willingness to do things that would not have polled well in his time.

Lyndon Johnson was a dick by all accounts, and he made some serious mistakes with respect to Vietnam, but he pushed through Medicare and Medicaid and civil rights laws — all politically unpopular in his time. He wanted to end the war in Vietnam so he could fight the war on poverty. He never got to do that because of the power of the war lobby.

What we need is someone with the courage to fight special interests and the understanding of how to do it.

What we need is someone willing to stand up to Big Pharma, Big Insurance and the rest and get single-payer health care passed, someone with the political know-how to make compromises without climbing into bed with these lobbies.

We need someone who understands energy policy well enough to overcome all the power of Big Oil and get us on the path to renewable energy technology.

We need someone with the political skills to pass a Constitutional amendment getting rid of Citizens United.

What we need is someone who’s willing to end our wars and bring about an economy of peace.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, in this the 50th anniversary year of his assassination. I remember his life and his death, and I remember what he stood for. And I’m not sure he would have been an effective president, either. His place was with us in the streets, demanding the politicians and policymakers do right by the nation and its people. He admitted that he was not a policymaker, and he called on policymakers to do the right thing.

How are we ever going to get racial, social and economic justice if we just keep electing the popular kid to lead us?

Ignorance of public policy and how it gets made is not a quality I want in any politician. I want the people we elect to be specialists, not prom kings and queens. The captain of the football team is knowledgeable about sports, but not curriculum. He might not be the best choice for school board.

Oprah might be just the person we need to help us hold those we do elect accountable. She might be a great resistance leader, although I have yet to see that side of her. Is she willing to stand up and tell truth to power? Her speech at the awards show was rousing, but she never called out the pretender in the White House by name, and what has she said and done since, while she’s not in an evening gown at a podium in front of the cameras?

Don’t get me wrong, if she had public policy experience, if she had a record we could point to and say, “yes, she signed on to the renewable energy bill,” or “she helped to write and introduce a bill for single-payer health care,” or even that she had read and understood these bills.

But she has not.

I know she’s a quick learner, but just who are the people with whom she will surround herself? Are they more of the corporate-friendly Democrats who have done little or nothing to raise minimum wage to a living wage? Are they people who say we can’t get single-payer done right now? Are they unwilling to fight for public education and unions?

I don’t want that again.

The reason I supported Bernie Sanders was not because he was an old white man, it was because he promised to work toward a single-payer system right now. And yet, I sincerely hope he doesn’t run again. It is time to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation. Yeah, go ahead and call me ageist because of that, and call me racist because I don’t support Oprah. Don’t look at my history of work for racial justice, just look at this one issue this one time and judge me. After all, it’s not about the past or the future, it’d only about right now, this moment, when we all love Oprah, and if we don’t, we’re somehow flawed.

Instead of talking about why I disagree with you, just walk away and call me names. That’s exactly what the corporate overlords want from you. I got a lot of that when I posted a selfie of me and Sen. Cory Booker, because he voted against a bill that didn’t benefit pharmaceutical companies — probably the largest employers of his constituents.

No one is going to be perfect, people.

So, what do I want? I want us to find people to run for office who will be good, even great, public servants, people who understand the complexities of public policy and who know how to work toward a better future, just as I would want an experienced plumber and not someone who can learn on the job, when my pipes burst.

We have to stop being a society that rewards ignorance because we want a president with whom we’d enjoy having a beer and watching a game.

I’d love to see Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran, a woman of color, a woman of proven courage, and now a woman with public policy experience, toss her hat into the ring.

See what I did there? Instead of just complaining, I proposed a solution. Let’s be willing to do that, OK? Let’s be willing to talk things out instead of calling each other names the moment we disagree.

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas is social and economic justice

This is not a joyous day for too many of us.
Some of us are without loved ones, perhaps for the first time.
Some of us are without a job and therefore without the means to participate in the way convention tells us we must — there is joy in giving, so we must consume, consume, consume, spend, spend, spend.
I spent a part of yesterday — Christmas Eve — talking to people who don’t even have a home, nevermind a tree all lit up in splendor.
We live in a time of historic economic and social inequality. Those of us who have something are encouraged to belittle and discriminate against people who have less — even against people who have nothing at all.
I’m working on an article about how cash bail keeps people incarcerated because we in this culture assume poverty equals guilt, if not of the crime for which we throw you in jail, then of being “lazy,” of wanting a “handout.”
One woman said to me, “I don’t have any way of knowing the date or even the time. I live under a bridge.”
But she spent 23 days in jail for the crime of missing a court date for sleeping in public.
“I cried a lot,” she told me. “But what can I do?”
Another young man has been homeless ever since he was released from foster care seven years ago with no skills and no help.
“I had marijuana paraphernalia,” he told me.
No pot, just the paraphernalia.
And he landed in jail for weeks, without a conviction.
We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country, but poor people are thrown in jail and left there because they can’t come up with a few hundred dollars to pay the bondsman.
That $100 you have to come up with for the $1,000 bond routinely set for people who trespass or fall asleep on a park bench in the sun, that $100 is food for a month. That $100 is a quarter of a disability check for someone with a mental illness who could be stabilized and more than happy to contribute to society if they just had a place to call home.
Instead, we follow them until they fall asleep, exhausted, on a park bench and arrest them for sleeping in public. That arrest then bans them from the city’s parks, and if they so much as sit on a park bench to rest, they can be arrested again for trespass.
Rev. Amy Cantrell, who operates BeLoved House in Asheville, NC, says she has seen police follow people they know are homeless and arrest them as soon as they sit down.
Amy works with people who society considers disposable and every year, a dozen or more die.
The year my son died from medical neglect, one of them was a man named Tommy McMahon. It was February and it was cold. We had just learned that morning that Mike’s cancer was back and we were in Cary with him. He was napping and my husband and I were in a motel near his house when I got a call from a colleague who asked for some sources for a news story about a homeless man who had died the night before.
Tommy had gone to the emergency room with difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with pneumonia. They gave him some antibiotics and released him to the streets. It was in the 20s that night and he was sick, so he balked at going back out. Someone called the police and Tommy was brought to jail, where he died that night, alone in his cell.
I think of Tommy every year at this time — when the days are shortest and the nights are longest and coldest, when I know people are out in the cold with nowhere to go to get warm.
I think of Tommy when I see a homeless person being harassed and told to leave a place of business because they don’t have enough money to be considered worthy of society’s respect.
I think of Tommy when I see a tent in the woods along the side of the road and I know the police might show up and slash it because it’s illegal to camp just about anywhere they might pitch a tent against the cold and rain.
I think of Tommy when I see someone huddled in a doorway and I know they’ll be told to move along so the sight of them doesn’t disturb customers.
I think of Tommy when I remember that, although my son died of medical neglect, at least he had a warm bed and people who loved him.
I think of Tommy when I remember that the person I follow was born in a stable because no one would give his parents a warm place to be on that night.
I like to think Tommy is in a warm and loving place now, that his soul is nurtured and fed, even though his body was not.
On Christmas, I think of the people who have nothing because it seems nobody else wants to.
Today, I’ll celebrate by serving lunch to people who have little to nothing. I’ll hug them and I’ll tell them I care — because I do.
My sister and my son aren’t with us anymore. Neither is Tommy McMahon. But there are more than enough people with whom to celebrate the birth of a poor child who would change the world, and I don’t need to buy — or get — a new Buick to do it.
All I need is the spirit of the one whose birth we celebrate, the one who told us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick and welcome the stranger.
May your day be as blessed as mine.

Now let’s get to work

Democrat Doug Jones speaks to supporters during a rally in Birmingham on Monday, the day before he was elected to the US Senate, (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

 

The defeat of Roy Moore is not some huge, history-altering victory.

Never has a major political party put up such a flawed candidate — a man who pursued teenage girls and is accused of groping and even raping them, a man who thinks giving black people the vote — and, yes, even their freedom — was a mistake, a man who has been removed from the judicial bench for refusing to follow the Constitutional ban on religion in the courtroom.

And he was barely defeated.

I mean, by what, 10,000 votes?

We did not turn the tide. We merely gave the soul of our nation another breath before it goes under for good.

We have yet to reauthorize funding for CHIP (which covers 9 million CHILDREN) and community care clinics (which offer access to care to some 26 million Americans) and we still could lose the Affordable Care Act (which gave 33 million Americans access to health insurance). That’s 68 million Americans whose access to health care is at risk.

Net neutrality could go away as soon as tomorrow.

The tax “reform” package is still alive.

We still have not restored the Voting Rights Act.

The minimum wage is still just about one-third of what it takes to live in this country.

People still rot in jail because they can’t pay exorbitant court costs or cash bail.

Corporations still are considered people under the law.

Women’s access to reproductive care is still in danger.

There’s more, but I think I’ve made my point here.

What happened in Alabama is a relief. I know I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath for weeks until I heaved a sigh of relief about 11 o’clock last night.

But make no mistake, the Democratic Party is not what saved this nation yesterday, nor did white, college-educated women; it was African-Americans, who came out in force — at 26 percent of the population in Alabama, they cast 30 percent of the votes in spite of massive efforts to disenfranchise them, and 96 percent of them voted for Doug Jones, the former prosecutor who finally brought the murderers of four little girls in Birmingham to justice.

Believe me when I say the Republicans will fight back and they will fight dirty because that’s how they roll. They can only win by cheating and they will cheat.

We have to turn out in force to defeat them. We must register voters and get them to the polls. We will have to combat lies and foreign interference. We will have to fight at the ballot box because they are taking over the courts with blinding speed.

Yes, today we should celebrate the victory in Alabama, but we have no time to rest. By tomorrow, we all must be back at the work of saving this country.

Our work is not finished; it has only just begun.

The Democratic Party needs to come back to us

We’re supposed to be helping the poor, not punishing them or blaming them.

 

I have taken a lot of heat over my decision to leave the Democratic Party.

There have been pleas of “Come back! We need you!” But the party continues its slide to the right in an attempt to get voters who are far more conservative than the party’s traditional base.

This started in the 1980s, under Reagan. The word “liberal” became a curse and most Democrats abandoned it. Selfishness and greed became American values and there was no voice crying out for our values.

Reagan won a second term by asking “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Well, perhaps many of us were, but too many were not. Most of us had not yet begun to suffer from the diminishing rights of workers. It took a few years for the dismantling of unions to affect most of us.

The tough stance on crime was more of a tough stance on minority populations because that’s who’s urban and poor. Want proof? How about two forms of the same drug carrying vastly different punishments? Powdered cocaine is exactly the same, chemically, as crack, which is cheaper and so used more often by people with less money. This sent legions of young black and brown men to prison, where they lost their votes. Most were never re-enfranchised.

Democrats didn’t protest very much.

Want to help end poverty? Join the Poor People’s Campaign. Visit www.poorpeoplescampaign.org to learn more.

Women, who finally won the right to make decisions regarding their own reproductive systems in the 1970s, began to see those rights infringed upon as the religious right demanded we all live by their standards, and Democrats said, “We have to respect people’s religious beliefs,” instead of “Our Constitution demands we respect your beliefs; it also demands that you can’t impose those beliefs on the rest of us.”

Republicans did all they could to vilify poverty and we Democrats did nothing to combat that. We could have told the stories of people working two and three jobs just to make ends meet, but we allowed the Republican Party to dismantle Aid to Families with Dependent Children and replacing it with TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is, as the name says, temporary. It carries with it unrealistic work requirements and offers little or no help digging out of poverty.

Since then, we have allowed incursions on funding for food assistance, education and every other strand of our social safety net because “some people just want a handout.”

We buried working Americans under mountains of debt and then blamed them because they couldn’t pay out-of-pocket for college or their cars or the everyday items they needed as their wages diminished.

And Democrats did nothing but repeat talking points about “personal responsibility.”

Health care became out of reach as insurance premiums soared and fewer people were able to even get insurance because of pre-existing conditions and the expense of both insurance and care skyrocketed. Every year, the company I worked with charged more for less, and Democrats did little to nothing. One former colleague told me she would have to take out a $5,000 loan if she or her child got sick, just to meet the deductible.

When the Democrats finally did something, they started negotiations to the right of center, choosing a plan developed by the right-wing Heritage Center and not even fighting for a public option or agreeing to take away the monopoly status the insurance companies still enjoy (unlike every other industry, they are exempt from antitrust laws). We didn’t even put price controls on Big Pharma.

We went into two illegal wars and most of the Democrats in Congress jumped on the bandwagon and voted for them because the American people thirsted for revenge against anyone who might have had anything to do with 9/11. But neither of those wars was against the state that had produced the terrorists (Saudi Arabia).

At every turn, the party has sided with the oligarchs. We’ve gone along to get along.

We didn’t prosecute war crimes.

Jesus Christ, we didn’t even prosecute war crimes.

And now we’re losing CHIP. That, for those of you who don’t know what the acronym stands for, takes access to health care away from 9 million children. Should they have to get jobs?

We caved and caved until things got so bad we allowed a toxic narcissist, a sexual predator, a pathological liar and racist, to enter the White House. The next in line for the White House is a “Christian,” with all the values of the Taliban, and right behind him is another “Christian” whose policies would cause hundreds of thousands of people to starve or die from perfectly curable illnesses.

Their bullpen is so deep we may never regain power.

But the Democrats continue to pander to the right, forcing Al Franken to resign while continuing to allow a sexual predator in the White House and the probable seating of a man who assaulted teenage girls while he was in his 30s. They talked us into shooting ourselves in the foot.

And before you start talking about zero-tolerance, please remember that it used to be the right that only saw black and white with no shades of gray. I was assaulted throughout my childhood and I have suffered a number of unwanted kisses as an adult. I can tell you there is no comparison, so stop comparing them.

Al Franken was stupid, but he has admitted his transgressions and apologized, and Democrats sent him packing anyway rather than face criticism from Republicans.

We have been played like a cheap violin, and I am done.

When Democrats introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage immediately to $18 and tie it to inflation, when they introduce a bill to take away the monopoly status of insurance companies and regulate pharmaceutical prices, when they start standing up for unions and women, when they at least protest the inhumane policies of the right, perhaps I’ll come back.

But today, I’m done.

I will work and vote for the better candidate who actually has a chance of winning — almost always a Democrat — but I no longer will affiliate with the party until its leadership grows a spine and starts fighting for the people again.

 

I am leaving the Democratic Party. Here’s why.

I am done.

I stayed when the Democrats refused to push for a single-payer health care system because they didn’t want to anger Republicans, who they knew would never go for it.

So they didn’t even try.

Instead, we got a system that was designed by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, and the Republicans weren’t even happy with that because they don’t care if people die.

I stayed when the Democrats refused to even look at the war crimes of the Bush Administration because they wanted to look forward, not back.

So the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths in a war for control of oil will go unpunished. The lies, the torture, the illegal prison in Guantanamo Bay will go unanswered.

I stayed when the Democrats manipulated the primary election system to nominate Hillary Clinton, a competent but terribly flawed candidate, simply because it was her turn. That manipulation allowed a malignant, sociopathic, narcissistic, sexual predator to take the White House, assisted by a foreign power.

I stayed when the Democrats didn’t fight harder for my right to control my own body because they didn’t want to offend the fascist “Christians” who want women to be forced to breed cannon fodder for their wars.

I stayed when Democrats refused to fight like hell for a living wage. When I wrote a resolution for an immediate hike to a $15-per-hour minimum wage, others in the party changed it to a desire for that to be phased in over five years.

If you’re making $7.25 an hour — about one-third of what it takes to live comfortably in this country — you need that money NOW, not in five years, when it won’t go nearly as far.

I stayed even though Democrats haven’t even talked about poverty or race in any campaign since — well, hell, I can’t even remember, although I wrote about my disgust in a column after the 1992 election.

I stayed through battle after battle for the soul of this nation where the Democrats refused to even show up.

And now they wonder why voters aren’t enthusiastic enough to vote. Wake up! It’s because no one is fighting for them.

I stayed because I hoped we as a party would demonstrate some sort of moral fortitude and was disappointed again and again.

I stayed as Republicans played their game of making us demonstrate our “morality” while they played dirty tricks and tolerated — even defended — inexcusable lapses in morality by members of their own party.

I stayed even though the Democrats didn’t even call out the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Republicans.

The push for Al Franken to resign was my last straw.

I say this as a woman who has survived countless episodes of sexual violence starting when I was 3 years old.

This was not about sexual improprieties, damn it, it was about manipulating us into getting rid of one of the most effective fighters we have in the Senate. This was a witch hunt designed to co-opt and pervert the #MeToo Movement.

They got what they wanted, and they will seat Roy Moore, who has more than a dozen women testifying he made inappropriate advances toward them while they were still children and he was in his 30s. And they will not investigate the charges against him because they have no conscience and no shame.

And Democrats played right into their hands.

Why couldn’t we have said Franken would be pressured to leave when and if Moore went away?

Why couldn’t we have waited for the investigation Franken himself called for?

The Democratic Party has not fought for anyone but Wall Street since the 1990s. The party has not tried to fix a horribly broken justice system. It has not done anything to stop the slaughter of young men and women of color by a militarized police. It has, in fact, promoted the militarization of police.

The party did not stand up against Bush’s illegal war in Iraq. Its members actually voted to send our people into harm’s way based on lies. And then, when the lies were revealed, it did nothing to rectify the situation.

The party is in the lap of Wall Street. Its policies further the economic inequalities that plague our nation and the world, since it leads the effort to spread the policies of Wall Street around the world.

It has not stood up for me or what I believe in for decades.

Yes, there are differences between the two parties, but not enough to keep me engaged with the Democratic Party. I have resigned my position as an assistant precinct chair.

Last summer my son left the Republican Party for its lack of morality.

Today I do the same as I depart from the Democratic party.

I will fight for the soul of this nation as an unaffiliated voter because the party I supported, both with my vote and with my checkbook, has become as corrupt as the people it claims to oppose.

 

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