Fight poverty, not the poor

If I hear another person tell me poor people need to get a job, I may become violent — or at least verbally abusive.

Did you know most poor people who can work, do? Did you know that the vast majority of jobs being created in this economy are low-wage and part-time?

There was no real recovery after the meltdown of 2008. What there was, was a reset that took away most of the last of the living-wage jobs and left us with jobs that don’t pay the bills and don’t offer benefits like vacation, sick days, health insurance, disability insurance, a pension or 401K plan …

So, when a few people began camping outside 12 Baskets Cafe here in Asheville, the local (Sinclair Broadcasting) television station interviewed people and broadcast a story that seemed designed to stir people up.

Across the street from 12 Baskets Cafe (which the news station called 12 baskets) is Sunny Point Cafe, a real magnet for tourists because it serves local food prepared really well.

So, the WLOS TV “news” crew interviewed tourists, who knew nothing about 12 Baskets Cafe. The tourists, of course, don’t want to look at poor people in their vacation spot.

“Oh,” they say, “these people are bathing and sleeping right there by the road, where we can see them!”

The TV “news” reports that “12 baskets … gives food to homeless people.”

Wrong. 12 Baskets Cafe rescues food from restaurants, grocery stores and caterers and serves it, restaurant style and free of charge, to everyone who comes. And not everyone who comes is homeless.

The people who live and work in the neighborhood support the cafe, no matter what the “news” tells you. People stop by often with food from their gardens. One woman brings fresh flowers every week.

12 Baskets Cafe is a place where everyone is treated with the basic dignity that should be offered to every human being. Just walk into the space and see people looking after each other’s children, people enjoying conversation with others they’re meeting for the first time. The volunteers who serve and clean up are encouraged to sit down and enjoy a meal and good company.

This is a positive space, a loving place, and the food is good. People were paying $10 a plate for it the day before.

In a time when some 40 percent of food is thrown away, no one, no one, should go hungry.

Part of the problem here is that the powers that be would love us to think there isn’t enough to go around, so perhaps we won’t realize they’re pillaging our resources while more than 140 million Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, just one check away from financial disaster.

Well, there is enough to go around. There is an abundance.

What we all need to understand is that poverty is a political construct. When you send all the money to the top 1 percent, nothing trickles down.

Economic science shows that money given to the wealthy is stashed away, hoarded, because they don’t have to spend it. On the other hand, every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.73 in the economy (https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-boosts-retailers-and-local-economies).

When you give low-wage people money, they spend it on necessities. When you give rich people money, they stash it in an offshore account.

When you deny people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work, they become homeless, sick and hungry. It really is that simple.

Homeless people aren’t lazy or morally inferior. They’re people like you and me who have been forced into poverty by bad public policy.

Perhaps it’s time to change the policy-makers so we can have enough food, a living wage, decent public education, health care and affordable, safe housing for everyone.

 

Is it a valid question or is it a troll?

This is all about critical thinking skills, which are sorely missing in too many people.

You see a post on Facebook asking a question about the Creature currently squatting in the White House, say, “Is it OK to fat shame…?” As soon as you see it, you laugh and share with a resounding “Yes!”

You have just aided and abetted a troll.

This is what trolls want — to create division and get people all riled up at each other.

For example, one post asks whether Bernie Sanders should run again in 2020. It goes on about how the current occupant was 70, blah, blah, blah … The first response was to call people who don’t think he should run ageist. No civilized conversation, just right to name-calling.

That’s exactly the response the people at Hash It Out and their ilk are looking for. Go ahead, visit the Hash It Out Facebook page and look at the stuff they’re generating.

Another post asked whether Melania should divorce her husband. Like that’s any of your business or it would affect the danger he poses to our nation.

It’s the best example out there of what I’m talking about. Every post is deliberately provocative and divisive.

And even though there has been plenty of information out there about what the trolls are doing any why, the Hash It Out posts are all over Facebook — even though they are exactly what we are being warned about.

We’re told to watch out for deliberately provocative posts, and as soon as we see one, we share it.

Yeah. let’s fat-shame the current occupant of the White House. Let’s make fun of his hair and slut-shame his wife. Let’s call everyone who doesn’t think Bernie Sanders should run again ageist. Let’s trash people who don’t think cannabis should be legal.

Let’s not discuss the pros and cons of these things. Let’s not talk about the real issues. Let’s just post simplistic, mean-spirited memes from Hash It Out — God forbid we should create our own posts or start constructive conversations.

Here’s what the BBC has to say about how troll farms operate:

“Prosecutors said Russian operatives would work shifts to make sure their posting times matched the timezone of the area they were pretending to be based.

“But the work was round-the-clock. When the operatives – they called themselves ‘specialists’ – weren’t posting, they were learning and getting feedback on writing style. They were said to be constantly monitoring the viral success of their approach, tweaking and adjusting to maximise retweets and the spread of the message. The team is also said to have had a list of US public holidays, and appropriate content ready to go so they would blend in.

“According to court documents, the IRA took several measures to hide its tracks, duping the technology companies who were unaware, or unable, to stop what was filtering through their systems.”

It’s lazy and it’s dangerous to share this stuff. It plays into the hands of the people who are trying to destroy our Democracy, and they’re winning because we won’t be responsible and learn about and discuss the issues.

Here’s a good rule: If the post only asks you to type “yes,” and/or like and share, if the post doesn’t present any real points to discuss, if your first reaction to the post is purely an emotional, “Fuck, yeah!” it’s probably generated by a troll.

Please resist the urge to type “yes” and share.

The only way we can stop the trolls seeking to divide and conquer us is to ignore and not share their posts.

From here on, every Hash It Out post I see will generate the following response: “You realize this comes from a troll farm, right?”

I am going to start unfriending people who keep sharing them.

We have a lot of work to do to try and restore our country to a working Democracy. I intend to do the work and I don’t intend to waste time and energy on people who just want to sit and share trolls’ clickbait instead of showing up to register voters, work for candidates, and most of all, have real discussions on real issues.

There’s too much at stake to waste time with people who will provoke division but who won’t do the work.

 

Incivility as the new “normal.”

When you see abuses like this, speak up. We can’t allow these terrible things to become the norm.

You never know who has a gun.

That’s what I told the sheriff’s deputy I spoke to yesterday when I called 911 to report a woman who tailgated me for several miles, shaking her fist and taking photos of my license plate with her phone.

We started out at a stoplight, and when it was safe to go, she just sat there, so I beeped. She didn’t move, so I beeped again, and when she still didn’t move, I drove around her, thinking maybe she was broken down.

As soon as I pulled out, she laid on her horn and took off after me. Every turn I made, she followed. At one intersection, I put on my turn signal and she did the same, so I went straight instead. She followed, still shaking her fist and  taking photos of my car with her phone as she followed a little too closely.

When we had to stop for road construction, I’d had enough. I opened my car door and hollered, “I’m dialing 911 NOW!” I held my phone up so she could see me dial, just as traffic started to move. She turned left and took off like a bat out of hell.

The sheriff’s deputy I spoke to said I had done the right thing. If I’d been able to get her license plate, she’d have had to answer for her actions. But she was behind me and North Carolina only requires one plate, on the rear of the car.

She got away with her aggression, but maybe the fact that someone dialed 911 instead of being intimidated by her threats will make her think before doing it again.

I don’t usually call police on people  but when I feel the person really is about to become violent toward me or someone else, I’ll do it. And by that I don’t mean being black at a swimming pool, napping in one’s own dorm, delivering newspapers or otherwise making racists uncomfortable by existing too close to them for their comfort.

And it’s not just violence that’s increasing. More and more, people are just plain rude and deliberately mean. Just last week, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. The friend is a transgender woman. A woman. But one nurse, a middle-aged woman, kept referring to her as “he.” I politely corrected her the first time, as did my friend, who said, “It’s she. I am female.”

Not five minutes later, the nurse did it again.

“It’s she,” I said, a little more firmly than the first time. The nurse said she was sorry.

Within a minute or two, she did it again. This time I was firmer.

“The proper pronoun here is she. You need to use it, this time and every time.”

It was not a mistake on her part. When you do it three times in five minutes, what it says is, “I don’t get trans because I’m not, so you will conform to MY reality and if you don’t like it, I really don’t care.”

Had she done it again, I would have gotten up and gone to Human Resources to report her. My friend has enough problems battling serious health issues with no health insurance, without being disrespected by her caregiver.

People see the rude, uncivilized boor in the White House and assume it’s OK for them to go with their basest instincts. It’s fine to just say whatever mean thing is on your mind. It’s OK to hate people who aren’t like you. It’s OK to threaten violence — even commit violent acts — if you feel like someone has dissed you, even though you’re free to dis anyone else because, well, you make America great again by doing that.

These behaviors must never be seen as normal, even when they happen routinely. We need to call them out each and every time.

So, with that said, what about interrupting the dining experiences of Mitch McConnell and others who are slashing this nation’s safety net, robbing Americans of their rights to vote and to control their own bodies, whose policies push people into poverty and then punish them for being poor? Is that too rude?

I say it’s not the same thing as threatening violence on someone who just drove around you when you were taking pleasure on holding them up at the light.

I say it’s not the same thing as disregarding someone’s humanity and making it conform to what you think it should be.

The abject cruelty of Republicans at this point in history must be confronted, and its perpetrators made to feel uncomfortable.

They have stripped millions of people of their access to health care. In my book, that’s murder.

They’ve done nothing to stop ICE from stealing children from their parents at the border and then losing them in the foster care system. Stories of the abuse come to light every day — from the toddler who apparently was never bathed in more than two months of custody, to children in cages and the 1-year-old forced to appear in court as a defendant without representation. How does one defend oneself in court when one is too young to talk?

We have to challenge these abuses every time we see them. We have to stand up, even when it’s just one nurse disrespecting one patient.

This is something each one of us can do.

If you’re feeling paralyzed by the enormity of fascism taking over, remember that you can speak up about the smaller, everyday indignities these people are foisting upon us.

The creature currently squatting in the White House has emboldened the haters — the racists, homophobes, misogynists, gun-toting “Christians” and other small minds, the liars, the haters of every stripe. They think they’ve won, and if we don’t fight back at every turn, they will be victorious.

These are dark days, but our country has been through times like these, although not with someone so incompetent, so cruel, so inept, so dishonest, so small-minded in the White House. That part is unprecedented.

But we abolished slavery, we outlawed Jim Crow, we gave women the vote, we freed the captives from Japanese internment camps.

We can do this, but we all have to work on it, every moment, every day, every time we see it happening.

If you see a white person harassing a person of color, step up and defend the person of color. If a white person calls the police on a person of color for walking, napping, swimming, eating or otherwise just living, speak up.

This meanness must be challenged. Every. Damn. Time.

 

Yeah, yeah, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers …

Of course they published today.

It happened again yesterday.

A white man with a gun killed five innocent people.

But this one hit really close to home. This one was personal.

This angry white man came after reporters and editors at the Capital in Annapolis, Md., and shot five of them dead.

The creature currently squatting in the White House has claimed again and again that the press is the enemy of the public, and apparently, some people are starting to believe it.

Those brave people, who covered the events unfolding in their newsroom by jumping under their desks for protection — and sending out information on social media.  They continued to do their jobs, even as someone was trying to kill them.

I spent a career as a reporter, following in the footsteps of my father. Telling the truth about what’s happening in government and in the world was his life and it’s still mine.

I do freelance reporting now, and this blog. The truth is important to me, and telling the stories of people affected by bad public policy is the only way to force changes. That’s why I do the work I do now with the Poor People’s Campaign. That’s why I tell the story of how my precious son died every chance I get.

Journalists tell these stories:

  • The stories of children ripped from their parents’ arms at the border and caged like animals, forced to appear in court without representation;
  • the stories of people kept in jail for months at a time because they don’t have $250 or $500 cash bail, so they lose their jobs and their homes, even though they’ve committed no crime;
  • the stories of protesters with disabilities being pulled from their wheelchairs while trying to speak to elected officials who want to cut their services;
  • the stories of teachers, eligible for food stamps because they’re paid so little, buying classroom supplies for the children in their charge;
  • the stories of teachers throwing their bodies between their students and an angry white man with a gun;
  • the stories of young black men gunned down by cops, who never suffer any consequences;
  • the stories of soldiers who come home after five or more deployments to combat zones and then get no help with their PTSD — 22 of them die by their own hand every day.

The creature in the White House and his minions don’t want us to hear those stories. They don’t want us to know about their crimes against humanity, their corruption, their theft of public money, their collusion with a foreign power — and people like the angry white man who killed five innocent journalists yesterday do their dirty work for them. You don’t have to lock up journalists if you can get an angry white man to intimidate them for you by killing off a few here and there.

But journalists aren’t easily intimidated. We face threats all the time. We get angry calls from people who realize they sounded really stupid at the meeting last night when they read what they said in the morning paper. I’ve had many, many such angry calls. I even had someone threaten to kill me in a phone message after I wrote that LGBTQ people should enjoy the same right to marry that I do.

I laughed it off, but my editors did not.

My father had police checking up on our house frequently after he wrote about a crime ring.

Journalists don’t stop doing what we do because we know the truth is of the utmost importance. When a public figure lies, that’s our challenge to call him or her out and to find the truth.

The creature in the White House has no affection for the truth. He cares for nothing beyond his own self-aggrandizement. That’s why he’s so eager to attack and vilify the press. He is a toxic sociopath, and his reign will be short. It will be a footnote in history, a little asterisk with the notation, “worst president in American history.”

Meanwhile, the Capital will go on publishing.

Meanwhile, journalists in newsrooms that have been decimated by corporate greed will keep on seeking and writing the truth.

What we all need to do is support local journalism. Subscribe to publications you trust, online, on the air or in hard copy.

Show the creature and his minions that the truth does matter, and that you will defend it. That’s the only way we’ll make it through this dark time.

 

 

Now is not the time to panic

We have much work to do. Let’s get to it.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, and on hearing the news, most of the people I know and respect felt utter panic.

I felt it too, but then I calmed down a minute and thought about this.

We have had a court with a 5-4 conservative majority for years, even before the creature currently squatting in the White House soiled the linen there.

Justice Kennedy has been a pretty reliable conservative vote. Sure, he saved us a couple of times, but Justice Roberts was the one who saved the Affordable Care Act, not Justice Kennedy.

It was Kennedy who handed the nation to the oligarchs with his Citizens United vote. It was Kennedy who handed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to the institutional racists, who then proceeded to dismantle voting rights with utter impunity.

Elections have consequences. And to all those who wadded up their panties and stayed home on Election Day because the Democratic Party overruled their choice and instead put up a highly qualified, albeit flawed, candidate, this is the consequence — a “leader” who tears children from their parents and puts them in cages in detention centers and makes them go to immigration court alone and unrepresented, a man who brags about his violent tendencies and his sexual adventures, a liar, a racist and a sociopath.

We have this man who has appointed the least appropriate person to every job he could. Every department is headed by a person who wants to dismantle it.

We have a creature who should be impeached for his lies and his profiteering, and a Congress that just wants to take advantage of the chaos to make a profit before retiring.

But now is not the time for panic.

Panic is exactly what the enemy wants to instill in us.

Now is the time to stand up and do the work.

Register people to vote. Knock on doors and make phone calls to educate people. Take to the streets to protest.

We have been in this dark place before. Read the Dred Scott Decision. Read up on the Civil War and its real causes (Hint: It was only about states’ rights insomuch as it meant states had the right to enslave human beings). Read up on how the Chinese were excluded from participation in society in the 19th Century. Look at the numbers of people who were lynched during Jim Crow. Read up on how German-Americans were treated during World War I, and the kind of pressure exerted by Woodrow Wilson to get us into that war. Look at how Japanese-Americans were herded into internment camps during World War II, just because the land of their ancestors was now our enemy. The Muslim ban is nothing new.

This is America, a nation that tends to drift toward its worst nature. We committed genocide to capture this land and used enslaved people to build it. This is our legacy.

But we have shown that we can rise about our worst nature. We have stood up as a people and cried, “No more!” Time and again, we have shed blood to put this country on the right path, and it appears it is time to do so again.

During the 1960s, we committed atrocities in Vietnam and in our own country. We sent the National Guard onto college campuses, and they killed innocent college students at Kent State in Ohio. I still remember the images, the horror I felt that our government would kill its own youth to hang onto an unjust and unpopular war. We beat protesters of that war senseless in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

We have been here before. We likely will be here again.

Now is the time to work.

I have made a commitment to nonviolence and I will stand by that commitment. Nonviolence is what got us civil rights in the 1950s and 60s. Nonviolent protest ended the Vietnam War. Nonviolence won India’s independence from Great Britain.

Nonviolence isn’t inaction, it’s action that rises above our basest instincts.

We all need to stand up and register voters, take to the streets, speak our truth to power.

We need to take back the narrative about what’s moral and what isn’t.

Denying health care to millions of people isn’t moral.

Sabotaging public education isn’t moral.

Denying a living wage to full-time workers isn’t moral.

Denying the vote to millions of people isn’t moral.

Handing tax breaks to billionaires while allowing children to go to bed hungry isn’t moral.

The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice, as Martin Luther King said.

I am going to keep doing the work. I’ll get arrested again because the immoral people in power right now don’t want to hear my truth. I may wind up with some real jail time, but I will not stand down.

Democrats in Congress need to stand up RIGHT NOW and play hardball. We all do.

So, instead of allowing panic to consume us, we need to strengthen our resolve and do the work. It’s our only hope.

 

Whom do you serve?

Was it OK for the owner of the Red Hen in Virginia to refuse service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders? While a part of me cheered, I have to say, no, it was more like stooping to her level.

 

I was away for a week, camping at Acadia National Park in Maine with no phone service or Internet. It was a much needed break from social justice work and I come back ready to fight again.

Probably the biggest story while I was away was that the owner of the Red Hen, a restaurant in Virginia, asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave.

So, while the right-wing “Christians” celebrated that the Supreme Court decided in favor of a gay-hating cake baker, they cried foul over the left refusing service to someone who supports all the hate-filled policies of this administration.

As usual, the hypocrisy is breathtaking.

It’s just fine for a “Christian” to refuse to serve two men who are committing to share their lives, but we who believe Jesus wants us to heal the sick, feed the hungry and welcome the stranger have to serve a hate-peddling public official.

Yes, she probably should have been served with love, which is what we are told to do. We are held to a higher standard.

But we are human. I cheered a little inside when I saw the story. Sanders doesn’t even begin to see the irony in the situation. That is born of selfishness. It’s only about her and what she wants:

“I want to eat here. I want what’s mine and as much of what’s yours as I can grab, especially if I see you as ‘less than’ in some way.

“I am superior because I am in this country already.

“I am superior because I am white.

“I am superior because I am rich.

“My god is superior to yours and you have to see my god the way I do because I have more power than you.

“I can mistreat anyone for any reason because my god says I can.

“My god says my privilege comes from moral superiority and that the poor are lazy and that gays are going to burn in hell and immigrants deserve to lose their children.

“And I am not going to share my privilege with anyone.”

My God tells me to share what I have, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, embrace the stranger.

This is a woman who defends taking children from their parents, who defends banning Muslims from this country, who defends suppressing the vote along racial lines, who defends taking access to health care away from millions of Americans, tens of thousands of whom will die. This is a woman who defends a racist, misogynistic, toxic sociopath — Every. Damn. Day.

We could feed every hungry child, pay every person who works full time a living wage, make sure every human being has access to health care, fully fund every school, allow every adult access to the vote, all while spending less on war and promoting peace.

But we choose immorality as a public policy, and when people who disagree with these immoral policies stand up and do what little they can do, we call them exclusionary, all while cheering for a ban on Muslims, for ripping children from their parents, for suppression of the vote and a Supreme Court decision allowing a homophobe to use religion as a cloak to peddle hate, we are not Christian as a nation. We are not moral.

Those of us who are frustrated beyond words at the immoral direction of this nation and its devastating policies, we feel helpless. We feel as though we can’t shout loudly enough to drown out the hate Americans are cheering for right now.

As Rev. Dr. William Barber says, “We Christians are called on to love everybody.”

It’s that simple.

It’s also incredibly difficult. How can I love and serve a woman who stands against everything I believe? How can I be kind to someone who thinks the way my son died is OK?

I am not perfect. I am striving to live out my ideals — those ideals preached by Jesus, whom I follow.

I am exhausted, but I am not going to give up. If Sarah Huckabee Sanders is hungry, I am called to feed her, like it or not. I am called to love her, and perhaps my example will touch her.

Jesus didn’t say I can’t talk to her about the error of her ways and try to reach her with that love. In fact, he tells me that’s the only way.

I have to agree with Rev. Barber: “Standing down is not an option … I would rather die having tried and see nothing change than to live, not try, and see nothing change.”

That’s why I’m back. That’s why I fight. That’s why I’ll never stop fighting.

 

 

 

 

We have lost a friend.

Anthony Bourdain doing what he loved best — eating local food with local people.

 

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide has shaken me.

I feel as though I have lost a friend. I think a lot of his fans feel this way.

He was a gifted writer who opened up the whole world to many of us. His words, both written and spoken, took us to places we likely never will be able to go.

Bourdain had a rare gift for storytelling, and an even rarer ability to make readers (and later, viewers) connect with him.

My late son introduced me to him after he read “Kitchen Confidential.”

“This is what my job is like,” Mike said after reading the book. “This is life in a restaurant kitchen.”

Mike loved the chaos of restaurant work. One night, months after he’d had to give up work because of his illness, while we watched Bourdain doing a double shift as a line cook, Mike sighed.

“I know this sounds crazy, but I miss that,” he said.

After my son’s death, it seemed Anthony Bourdain was a connection to Mike’s spirit. His love of travel and his respect for the foods of other cultures, his curiosity, his passion and his abiding love for meat in tubular form, all reminded me of my son.

He was a recovering addict, and I have no way of knowing whether his addiction contributed to his death. Mike was a recovering addict, too, but his recovery gave him reason to live.

I’m not angry at Bourdain for taking his life and depriving us of his wisdom. Perhaps I should be, but that’s not what I’m feeling.

You see, I’ve squirreled away extra pain pills, just in case. I’ve walked close to the edge of a precipice and thought about taking that one extra step, or considered turning the steering wheel toward a bridge abutment at 70 miles an hour.

I’ve battled depression my entire life, and after my son’s unnecessary death, I seriously considered checking out of this life.

Yes, I know I still have much good in my life, and it’s concentrating on that that’s kept me here. But it is a real struggle some days, and the struggle gets to be too much for some people, as it obviously did for Anthony Bourdain.

Don’t accuse me of being selfish for considering suicide because you don’t know the pain I endure some days. It is not a selfish act; it is an act of desperation, a way out of the unendurable. You can’t know what that’s like if you haven’t been there.

Suicide rates have gone up 25 or 30 percent since 2000 in this country. Think about that. It’s not happening in other countries, not in places where people have hope that their lives will improve. But we in this country are subjected to jobs that don’t pay half of what it takes to live, to denial of medical care, to crippling debt just for trying to get through college. Too many of us have no hope of a better future, and that becomes unendurable for increasing numbers of us.

But even for people who seem to have everything, as Bourdain did, can suffer indescribable pain. You can only do that for so long.

You don’t know who among your friends and family members is in pain. I have been surprised any number of times by the confession of someone I love that they have crept up to the edge of that same abyss.

When thoughts about dying come into my head, I think about the work I’m doing to try to make this country a better, more just place. Working with Rev. William Barber in the Moral Monday Forward Together Movement, and now the Poor People’s Campaign, has given me hope that things will improve, even as I watch them deteriorate.

Antidepressants did little to alleviate my depression, and therapy did even less. I combat it by staying busy as an activist, by staying connected to the people I love, by trying to make the world a little more just.

Still, there are moments I think about dying, about being at peace, being reunited with my son and my sister.

But, so far, I have been able to remember that on some level I still want to be here. I want to make a difference, and I can’t do that if I’m dead.

That’s what has worked for me. So far.

The worst enemy of a person with depression is isolation, and one of the hallmark symptoms of depression is isolation. We hunker down, pour a glass of wine — or two, or three — and stew in our own juices. The more we think about our misery, the more likely we are to end our lives.

So, if you know someone who might need a little encouragement, a little love, a listening ear, no matter how glamorous their life seems to be, reach out. You might be the connection to this life that keeps them here.

The suicide prevention hotline number is 800-273-8255.

The online chat address is: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/

BOTH are available 24 hours everyday!

 

You can’t erase their lives

Me, singing as I was arrested for the fifth time for trying to talk to lawmakers about fixing our broken health care system.

I got arrested again.

For the fifth time, I was arrested for trying to speak to lawmakers about the mess that is our health care system.

They don’t care.

They don’t care that tens of thousands of people die prematurely every year, and that millions can’t afford the care they need, even with insurance.

They practice the religion of I-got-mine-get-your-own, as they and their families all have the best care this country has to offer.

I was a speaker at the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Washington on Monday, and we had a coffin in front of the stage to illustrate the fact that innocent people are dying every day from lack of access to health care and from industrial pollution.

And as these things happen, those in power continue to roll back environmental regulations and chip away at the Affordable Care Act, which has given millions of Americans access to the care they need.

As I was about to step up to the microphone, the police told organizers that they had to remove the coffin.

Several times, I have been denied entry to legislators’ offices and public events because I won’t surrender the photo I carry of my late son. That’s why I have the T-shirt with his photo on it. So far, no one has tried to confiscate that. But the forced removal of the casket became the same thing as the attempted confiscation of my son’s photo.

Something in me snapped.

It’s as though they want to erase the lives they have sacrificed on the altar of greed.

I stepped up to the mic.

“You can force us to remove this symbol, but that doesn’t change the fact that my son lived!” I said. “He DID exist. He was here. He was loved. And he was murdered by a broken system.”

The crowd began to chant, “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” But the casket was removed anyway.

The problem is, these people who have the power to save tens of thousands of lives a year refuse to make any move to do so. In fact, the “Justice” Department has announced it no longer will defend the Affordable Care Act in court when states challenge it.

These powerful people call themselves “pro-life,” and “Christian,” as they try to take away women’s rights to control their own bodies, and I’m not just talking about abortion. I’m talking about attacks on contraception and on women’s health clinics, which are the only access to health care many poor women have.

As it says on the T-shirt with my son’s photo on it, “When you take away access to care, real people die.”

And closing women’s clinics is taking away access to care.

When you care more about whether a woman is having “moral” sex than her very life, you are not pro-life.

When you care more about whether a business has to serve a gay couple than you do about real people’s lives, you are not pro-life.

When you think people should have to work three full-time jobs at minimum wage just to make a living wage, you are not pro-life.

When you attack education, you are not pro-life.

When you attack Meals on Wheels, food stamps and free and reduced-price school lunches, you are not pro-life.

When you put people who have committed nonviolent crimes into for-profit prisons, you are not pro-life.

When you think we’re OK spending more than half of all our nation’s discretionary dollars on the war economy, you are not pro-life.

When you tear children from their parents’ arms and place them in cages in an old Walmart, you are not pro-life.

When you hate someone because of the color of their skin or the name of the god they worship, you are not pro-life.

When you rob people of the right to vote to determine the destiny of their own nation, you are not pro-life.

When you’re OK with children’s lives being snuffed out so that you can continue to have unfettered access to high-powered, military-grade guns, you are not pro-life.

When you think it’s perfectly OK to poison the water and the land of poor people, you are not pro-life.

These murderers seem just a little uncomfortable being reminded of the lives they have been responsible for ending.

Bad public policy is lethal, and they don’t want to be reminded of that. They only want to think of themselves and how much more money and power they can amass.

But people are beginning to rise up. Thousands have been arrested during nonviolent protests in the last month, and more are coming.

We are coming for the corrupt people in power.

We are coming to end the greed that fuels our government now.

We are coming to save the lives being lost to that greed.

We are the ones who are pro-life.

We are the ones who are moral.

We are the ones you should fear because we will win, maybe not in November, but eventually.

Your days are numbered.

We. Will. Win.

You can take away my son’s coffin, you can try to confiscate his photo, you can call me names, you can arrest me.

But you will not erase my beloved son’s life. I will not allow that.

 

 

 

 

On Memorial Day, we should stand (or kneel) with those who protest racism

This was never about the national anthem or disrespect for the flag or the military. It is and always has been about systemic racism, and the racist response of the NFL proves that we have a problem.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: The protest of taking a knee while the National Anthem plays is not directed at the anthem or the flag, nor is it meant to disrespect the military.

Colin Kaepernick originally stayed seated on the bench to protest the police killings of unarmed black men and boys. When a veteran asked him to kneel instead, that’s what he did.

Now the NFL has banned kneeling, and people are screaming that it’s unconstitutional to do so.

That’s not so. Employers are allowed to ban certain behaviors by employees while they’re working. As a newspaper reporter. I was banned from supporting candidates publicly — and that included having political bumper stickers on my car or signs in my yard.

In more and more states, people can be fired for any reason — or for no reason. These are called “right-to-work” states because they ban mandatory union membership.

If the NFL wants to fire people who protest unjust executions and racist policies, it can do so.

That doesn’t make it right.

I am boycotting the NFL because of this and because of its cover-up of the devastating brain injuries its players suffer, not to mention its extortion of money from taxpayers for the construction of stadiums.

But let’s get something straight about those players taking a knee during the anthem. The protest was never about disrespect for the flag or anyone in the military, but about the lives stolen from us by trigger-happy cops who seem to believe these young men and boys’ lives are worthless.

It is almost without exception that young white men who actually have killed people are taken into custody, but young black men like Michael Brown are shot dead in the street for no good reason.

After Brown’s murder, a video of him arguing with a store owner surfaced, as though that justified his slaughter. Dylan Roof executed nine people in a church in Charleston, SC, and he was given a bulletproof vest and fed a burger and fries on his way to jail. But Michael Brown was executed and people used a tussle with a shop owner to justify it — but the cop who murdered him had not seen the video and had no way of knowing the tussle had happened. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy, was tried, convicted and executed for walking in the street.

Stephon Clark was slaughtered for having the temerity to use his cell phone in his grandmother’s back yard at night.

Philando Castile was murdered during a traffic stop after telling the officer he had a gun but was not reaching for it. His girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter witnessed the execution.

Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed by a police officer while playing with a toy gun in a park near his home.

In Charlotte, NC. Keith Lamar Scott was shot and killed while sitting in his car.

Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City police officer after being accused of selling single cigarettes.

In Baltimore, Freddie Gray died mysteriously while being transported in a police van.

None of the cops responsible for these murders was convicted of a crime.

In 2012, I attended a gathering to talk about poverty in an African-American neighborhood a few miles from my home. I noticed pock marks in the side of the church where we were meeting. Across the street, an apartment building had the same pock marks and there were holes in the glass.

All of these were caused by bullets, shot by police officers who were chasing a young man suspected of stealing a $300 game console. Fortunately, none of the 76 bullets they shot hit the suspect or anyone else.

When I rose to speak about poverty and health care, I opened with the fact that this would never have happened in my neighborhood because my neighbors are white.

Last summer, here in Asheville, two cops accosted a young man who was on his way home from a 12-hour shift at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant. They beat and tased him. Someone leaked the body camera footage six months later, and the officer, who had been allowed to resign after a four-month internal investigation, was finally charged with assault. His trial hasn’t happened yet, so he still could get off. Despite other officers taking part in the crime and the cover-up, no one else has been charged. And when City Council proposed some changes in policy to reduce the likelihood of this happening again, the police union threatened to sue to stop them.

What we have here is racism so pervasive that it touches people of color every day of their lives — which are all too likely to be cut short by that racism.

So, on this Memorial Day, I will grieve not just for the soldiers killed in our overseas adventures, but also for the innocent African-American men and boys slaughtered by our unjust “justice” system.

May they all rest in peace and may their loved ones find comfort.

What does one say on Mother’s Day?

My boys, Christmas 1982.

What do you say on Mother’s Day when the mom you’re talking to has lost a child, or to a person who has a bad — or no — relationship to his or her mother, or to someone whose child has abandoned her for whatever reason?

Do you say, “Happy Mother’s Day” anyway?

I still have a living son, four grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

But the son I lost sits heavy on my heart today.

I should still be Mike’s mom. He should still be here. It is not a happy day for me, even though my surviving son is doing well.

So, what do you say to someone like me?

How about this: “I’m thinking of you today.”

Or this: “I know your heart is heavy today. Tell me about your son.”

That first one is good for everyone — for a bereaved mother or a bereaved child, for someone whose relationship with their mother is complicated or nonexistent or to a mother whose child has walked away, no matter what the reason.

Today isn’t about flowers, sappy greeting cards and chocolate for everyone. For me, it’s about remembering my late son and renewing my vow to fight for health care justice so other mothers won’t have to endure what I do.

Yes, it’s about being grateful for what I still have, but please don’t tell me I should stop thinking about Mike and focus on the living. He should still be among the living and I’m never going to get past that.

The loss of my child still drives me to seek justice — and it makes me dangerous because I don’t fear much. The worst thing that can happen to a parent has happened to me. Nothing can hurt me more than that. You can arrest me (that’s happened four times already, thank you), you can throw me in prison. Yes, that would be bad, but not as bad as losing my child.

What do I want to hear today? I want to hear that you’ll stand with me as I fight for health care justice.

I want to hear you’ll fight for a living wage so parents can support their children and still be able to spend time with them.

I want to hear you’ll fight for education so that all children can have an equal chance to do well in life.

I want you to stand with me as I fight for women’s rights to equal pay opportunity and to dominion over their own bodies.

I want you to stand against racist policing and all the other ways we treat people of color differently than white people.

I want you to stand up for immigrants as our government pulls families apart.

I want to hear you’ll fight for voting rights and fair elections so its the people who control our government, not corporations.

I want you to say you’ll stand for the rights of LGTBQ people so they can live their lives in peace as who they are.

I want you to say you’ll stand for peace and resist war with all your being.

I want you to join me as we kick off the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. I want us to fight for social, economic and racial justice together.

I’m not just thinking of happy white mothers in intact families today; I’m thinking of mothers and children who are struggling.

Please, please, put down the flowers, cards and chocolate and stand up for justice. There’s no better way to honor mothers than to stand for justice for all of us.

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