A month into isolation …

For the first time in many years, the Himalayan range is visible from India, as the shutdowns caused by quarantine clear pollution worldwide.

Isolation, Day 29: It’s hard to believe I’ve been home for four weeks.

I still have plenty to do every day, thanks to the water disaster in my garage, the fact that the big mower is broken and won’t be fixed for another two weeks (we’re using the reel mower, which is great exercise) and the beginning of gardening season. Plus, I still have about a quarter of my granddaughter’s wedding quilt to finish, if the cats will let me work on it.

Around the world, there are reports of pollution being reduced, the air and water clearing, because we’re not out driving, rushing around to buy more stuff, much of it utterly useless. I have hope that we’ll realize there are more important things in life than consuming just to consume.

I’m doing OK except for the moments of utter panic, when I realize how serious this is and how unprepared we are to face it.

Republican friends all think I’m just blaming the current occupant of the Oval Office, but it started way before he ever schlumped into office. We as a society believed we were so smart and knew so much science that a pandemic like the 1918-19 flu couldn’t happen again, even though scientists warned us it was not just likely, but absolutely certain to happen again

But our policymakers knew more than the scientists and, starting with Reagan, we cut funding to public health and the CDC. We denied millions access to care in the name of profit, and allowed tens of thousands of people to die unnecessarily. We cut spending on public health so rich people could get more tax breaks and amass more and more and more money.

Both Republicans and Democrats did it, and now we have a presumptive presidential nominee in the Democratic Party who vows he will not allow Medicare for all to happen, even while 70 percent of Americans want it, and we’re being told that if we don’t vote for this deeply flawed old white man — a man who refuses to apologize for the way he treated Anita Hill or his support of welfare reform and other policies that have proven destructive — that WE’RE the problem.

Since 1980, even the Democratic Party leadership hasn’t believed in Democratic Party ideals of strengthening labor, building up public infrastructure, of government funding of scientific research, of doing things for the common good instead of just for profit. Even the Democratic administrations attacked workers’ rights, refused to take profit out of essential services like health care and education — in fact, they helped the process of de-funding essential services, slashing the social safety net and cutting taxes on the rich.

And now you want to criticize me for saying this nominee is so deeply flawed it may be impossible for him to defeat the most corrupt, the most ignorant, the most despicable man ever to set foot in Washington.

You say I have to get in line to vote for someone who won’t even begin to work on climate catastrophe, which is unfolding before us in the form of global climate change and the unleashing of pathogens like the novel coronavirus because of the way we have encroached upon the habitats of animals we once rarely encountered but now eat.

This candidate is a man who went silent at the beginning of the pandemic, while Bernie Sanders had encouraging words for us and pushed for policies that would help more of us survive.

I’m not saying I won’t vote for him. I waver between saying, OK, I’ll hold my nose and do it, and saying I’m only going to vote down-ticket — although I’m not happy with many of my choices there, either.

I’m seeing people attack me because I think Biden won’t be able to win in November, and I do think he will lose, even if I do cast my vote for him.

The moment Sanders suspended his campaign, I started seeing threatening messages from moderates, demanding we all get in line and not complain about our only choice being this 1960s-era Republican.

I was a Democrat in the 1960s, when the party platform called for universal health care, before Reagan came alone and made “liberal” a dirty word and raised greed to the level of a religion.

I left the party several years ago, when my resolution to include an immediate wage hike to $15 so those making minimum wage could survive on a full-time job, was changed to a raise to $10 an hour over five years. I walked out and never looked back.

This month at home has given me a lot of time to think about where we need to go as a nation, and it isn’t in the direction of do-nothing moderation.

We need to be bold. We need to take the reins away from the fascists and moderates and build a society where everyone can thrive. I will support nothing less, and neither should you.

If we can move Biden to support Medicare for all, a living wage and free tuition for community college, I will be happy to vote for him. Otherwise, I will make no promises, even though I’m likely to be frightened enough by the prospect of President for Life Trump to cast my vote for the slightly-less-bad alternative.

Thing is, I’m not the problem here. The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and all their ultra-wealthy controllers are. Our corporate overlords have stacked the cards against us again.

Grieving one son and worried about the other

This is what I’d like my back yard to look like in a couple months. It’s one of the ways I find peace in the spring and summer since my son died 12 years ago.

Isolation, Day 6: Is everyone still wearing pants?

It feels very strange to be home and know I’m going to be here for awhile. It’s another example of what my grandmother used to tell me: “Be careful what you wish for.”

How many times did I sigh and wish I could just stay home and chill for a few days? It’s beginning to look like it could be a few months. My husband and I decided we probably could enjoy a beer with friends online via Skype or Zoom, so we’re looking into that today.

Meanwhile, I’m going to order some seeds and plants online for the garden. I have lots of work I could do out there, and if I get that all taken care of, I could order some stuff from Home Depot, get onto YouTube and learn how to do some home repair and remodeling.

What makes this hard is that I have little to distract me from this time of year, of reliving the death of one son and fearing the death of my only surviving son.

What makes this hard is that I have worked for a dozen years to try and convince legislators and policymakers how important it is to get access to health care for everyone, only to be called a commie, a radical and countless other names. I tried to speak to them, only to be arrested time and again rather than have anyone hear me.

And here we are, facing a genuine health care crisis with one of the most broken systems on the planet. We could lose 2.2 million Americans — twice as many as would die if we had done the right thing and fixed this.

Twelve years ago today, all hope of any serious time with my son was dashed, as we learned the chemo wasn’t working and there were no more options.

Mike had his third chemo appointment this morning. His doctor had told him at the previous appointment that he needed to gain two pounds before today. I had gone into the Duke Chapel to find a quiet corner and pray for those two pounds. It seemed like so little to ask. Two pounds. Two fucking pounds.

I slept on the couch at his apartment the night before so we could get an early start, and when we settled in with a cup of coffee, he sat in the easy chair across the room and sighed.

“I’m ready for this to be over,” he said.

Maybe he was, but I wasn’t. I would never be ready to lose him.

We went to Duke and he stepped on the scale.

He had lost a pound. I still remember the look on his face as he turned to me and said, “I tried. I really tried!”

This was it.

His doctor’s eyes began to tear up.

“I want you to know you’re a good person and you don’t deserve what’s happening to you,” he said. I wished his original doctor in Savannah had felt that way — it would have saved his life.

There would be no more chemo. There would be nothing but Hospice.

The physician assistant advised him to come home with me.

“Go today,” she said. “Let people take care of you now.”

As we headed back to the car, me pushing Mike in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk, he turned to me and asked, “So, how much time do you think I have left, two weeks, maybe?”

“Oh, I hope we have more than that,” I said.

We did not.

His heart would stop, and mine would break, two weeks later, almost to the moment.

Self-isolation, Day 5

The perfect fit for a day of self-isolation. The only problem? No pockets.

Two words: Yoga pants. I’m surprised it took me five days to see this. I don’t have to wear uncomfortable clothes, although I’m not so far gone I won’t put on a bra.

I’ve been saying for months I need a week with no obligations. So far, I can’t complain. If I’m here for a month, I might actually get the inspiration to clean out the closets and the garage.

I always thought I was an extrovert, but I think I have become more of an introvert. I’m sitting here in my office, by myself, sipping coffee and thinking about what I’m going to need for the garden this year. Compost for sure. I need to order a load.

Trying not to think about what’s left of our life savings and how we’ll cope if the stock market doesn’t come back. The garden is part of that plan.

And of course, my mind goes back 12 years, to a day when I still had hope my son would be with me a little while longer.

On this day, I was driving to Cary, a four-hour trip, so I could take Mike to his third chemo infusion the next day. I had arranged for an interview in Raleigh for a story on the mental health system. I didn’t dare take a day off because my boss was charging me with vacation days, and I only had a few left. I couldn’t afford unpaid leave, so I was scheduling interviews at state agencies when I was in Raleigh and writing stories in the evening. I didn’t have the luxury of just concentrating on caring for my son.

I think about this now as many friends face weeks or months without a paycheck as they try to avoid getting sick without access to health care.

Norway has asked its college students to come home from the US because of our Medieval health care system.

Until now, the death rate from lack of access to health care has been one American every 8 minutes. It was one every 12 minutes when my son died, but a new Yale University found it to be higher now, and it’s about to really spike as we turn people away from hospitals that are unprepared for the influx of desperately ill people.

For the last 12 years I have worked relentlessly for a system that benefits people over profits, and I have been called communist or just plain crazy for suggesting that even unemployed people deserve health care. I have been driven from a job I loved by right-wing Tea Party fools, and arrested for trying to speak to fascist lawmakers who don’t care that people without access to care are dying.

We’ve made progress in public opinion over these last dozen years, but not in action. The Affordable Care Act left the system in the hands of the profit-mongers, who subverted it to meet their own needs. Nearly three-quarters of employer-sponsored plans are high-deductible ($1,500 or more) at a time when 40 percent of Americans say they can’t afford a surprise bill of $400.

Do you have any idea how much worse this pandemic will be here than it has to? Do you think about how many people will die who should have survived?

It’s about to get real, folks, partly because our public health systems are so broken after decades of pillaging by Republicans and the refusal of Democratic neo-liberals to reassemble it when they had the chance.

A lot of people are going to lose loved ones in this pandemic, and a lot of them will be people who would have been able to survive if we’d only had the leadership we needed to get our health care systems in order. This virus will not spare the wealthy, although they can afford to stay out of work a lot longer than poor folks. Still, they seem to be the ones least willing to isolate.

I’m not talking about people who were on vacation or visiting family when this started to get real — I’m talking about people like the owners of the Biltmore Estate who want to squeeze every dime they can before they’re forced to close (yes, the tourist attraction is partially open still), hoping to attract tourists when they should be closing down entirely. I’m talking about restaurants advertising how clean they are to try and attract diners.

People are not concerned enough, and plenty of people will die who shouldn’t because there is no leadership coming from the White House. Again, our government is falling down on the job and the upshot will be tragic.

I know how this kind of tragedy feels because on this day in 2008, I had just 15 days left with my precious son.

Yes, this is real, and yes, it’s political

The novel coronavirus is a threat. It is real. It is not being exaggerated to harm the current administration.

The novel coronavirus is a real thing.

COVID-19 can kill you and it’s likely to kill a million or more people in the United States.

These are facts, not some made-up fantasy to defeat the current occupant of the Oval Office.

It is not safe to gather in groups or to travel. If you’re in a high risk group, you need to be at home. If you’re not at home, you need to wash your hands with soap and hot water often and avoid touching your face. Hand sanitizer does not work as well as washing with soap and hot water, so quit hoarding it.

It didn’t have to be this serious here, but the current administration took no steps early on to mitigate the spread. The current administration, in fact, denied the seriousness of this pandemic and turned down testing kits that could have tracked the pandemic’s path and slowed the progress of the virus.

But, no. Instead, the current occupant of the Oval Office pretended nothing was wrong and kept claiming that everything was OK, assuming his followers would believe him.

I have seen denials of the seriousness of this as recently as yesterday, and I have answered each claim that it’s no worse than the flu with the fact that it is 10 to 20 times more lethal.

These claims are often followed by appeals to not make this political.

Well, here’s the thing: when politicians cut funding for public health for 40 years, shit happens.

Funding for public health (national, state and local health departments, research efforts and response personnel) has been cut by every Republican administration — especially this one — since Ronald Reagan because for some reason the science deniers tend to affiliate with the Republican party, and Democrats have lacked the spine to stand up and fight.

Politics could have prevented this, but Americans wanted to believe Reagan’s attacks on government. Remember when he said the most frightening words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”? I remember it clearly.

Government — politics — is there to mitigate disasters like this on behalf of the people it serves. Except Republicans have perpetuated the lie that government is bad in every instance. So, our infrastructure crumbled, and public health was part of that infrastructure.

Now we have a government that lies every day about what’s happening, and tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people who shouldn’t die, will.

If testing had begun in earnest two weeks or a month ago, we would know where we stand. But people who are showing up in the emergency room with symptoms of COVID-19 are being sent back home with no test, unless they have traveled to China.

If you think the virus isn’t in your community because there have been no confirmed cases, that’s because there are no test kits, so it’s not possible to confirm cases. That’s one way to make the total look lower than it actually is, which makes it easier for this administration to lie about the spread of the illness.

The illness is in your community. People are carrying the illness into public places and it’s spreading like wildfire because we insist on listening to the most dishonest administration ever to exist in Washington.

Let me repeat: The illness is in your community already.

If you’re going out into public places because you don’t think you’re at high risk, you’re risking infecting people who are at risk.

When you go into a restaurant, you’re asking wait staff that likely have no real access to health care and no paid sick time to take the risk that you’re not carrying the virus.

The reason that waiter has no access to care, no paid sick leave and a $2.35-an-hour wage is all about politics as well. Again and again, Republicans have refused to pass legislation that would fix any of this, and Democrats have yet to get enough spine to stand up and rebel against it.

This disaster could have been mitigated much more effectively than it has. Look at how South Korea has dealt with this. Testing is available everywhere and people are staying out of public places. In the end, their mortality rate will be a lot lower than ours. We’re going to look more like Italy, or even Iran, where the mass graves can be seen from space.

All of this is happening at a time in my city is struggling with its hospital having been taken over by a for-profit corporation. HCA has laid off large numbers of CNAs and other support staff — especially housekeeping, which is the department that cleans your room — and cut back on nursing staff as well. Nurse-to-patient ratios are dangerously high and getting worse as nurses quit in disgust. The nurses who remain are fighting to establish a union so they can demand improvements in patient safety.

And, yes, this is political, too. We have no laws mandating safe nurse-to-patient ratios. We have no regulations regarding how many cleaning supplies must be on hand to guarantee patient safety. There is no law mandating that patient safety has to come before profits because Richard Nixon signed that away in 1973.

We are in this mess because of the dishonesty and utter lack of leadership of the current administration, and because of decades of politically motivated cuts to public health to funnel ever more money into the pockets of the wealthiest and the military.

So, let’s be clear about this. We have to make changes — serious changes — to our system. We need to send the current crop of do-nothings home in November — well, those of us who survive that long, anyway — and elect people who will start to rebuild our public health systems.

The truth is that each one of us stands a small chance of dying from this, but we likely all know people who will die. The death rate is about 3.4 percent, but the infection rate could be as high as 70 percent. These are the real numbers.

So, yes, this is a real danger and yes, politics could have made it better. Instead, politics has made it far, far worse than it needed to be.

Stop pressuring people to vote your way. Your privilege is showing.

He makes a lot of us uncomfortable and you don’t have a right to demand we vote for him.

I have something important to say, and I need to be heard.

I don’t agree that Biden is the answer to any of our problems and I don’t want to be forced to vote for him.

I also don’t want to have you calling me names and telling me to fuck off because I don’t agree with you.

First of all, he is not yet the nominee, so trying to force me to pledge fealty to the failing candidate of a party that is fast becoming irrelevant before he’s the nominee is just cruel.

Let me tell you why. Twelve years ago today, I was trying to prepare for a life without my beloved son. I was facing every parent’s worst nightmare and I was terrified. And I am forced to re-live those final six weeks of his life every damn year.

Here we are, a dozen years after I promised my son I would fight like hell to prevent other people from dying the way he did and you’re calling me every name in the book for refusing to swear to vote for a man who won’t do a damn thing to fix a health care system that’s even more broken than it was 12 years ago.

When my son died, an American was dying every 12 minutes from lack of access to health care; today it’s once every eight minutes.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t working and Biden has said he won’t move toward a real fix for it. He has said things will stay the same.

So, here I am, grieving for my son with a pain that has not gotten any better since he breathed his last, and you’re screaming that I have to get in bed with the enemy.

So my choice is a man who doesn’t care that someone dies once every eight minutes or one who’s pretty close to gleeful about it.

Stop telling me to shut up and vote for someone who thinks things are fine, especially since the nominating process isn’t half over yet.

Stop telling me I have to vote for a man whose actions toward women are disrespectful of their personal space and dismissive of their concerns about dominion over their own bodies.

Stop demanding I vote for a pro-war, pro-Wall Street candidate when it violates everything I stand for.

Stop disrespecting who I am and what I stand for.

I have not said I won’t vote for this demented old creep; I have said I don’t want to.

I understand about the Supreme Court and all the rest.

But we don’t have time to waste on climate action and he will waste time. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I want them to inherit a planet they can inhabit.

We can’t keep putting off giving low-wage workers a chance at a decent life with a living wage, paid sick leave and access to quality health care.

Your insistence on everyone getting in your boat assumes that we all have ladders to climb, and too many of us don’t. As the saying goes, you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots.

Your intransigence proves your level of privilege. You can wait four years for things to get better. Too many of us can’t, but that doesn’t matter to you.

It isn’t enough to vote for Trump-lite. The status quo is not good enough, and if it is for you, then you need to open your eyes and check your privilege. You need to see how too many around you are suffering. Open your ears and listen to the stories of people who can’t provide for themselves even though they’re working two and three jobs.

Joe Biden is NOT good enough.

If forced to vote for him, I will, but he will not win. It will be a replay of 2016, and we will get four more years of the current mess. And then you’ll blame the people who just can’t bring themselves to vote for more of the same.

I refuse to get angry with people who can’t face a Biden presidency because the thought of it leaves me utterly without hope.

So before you yell at me to shut the fuck up, maybe you should try to understand that I don’t want your child to die the way mine did. Maybe you should look and listen to the 140 million Americans who live in or near poverty, who have no hope of a better life if they have to live — and all too often, die — without the changes we need.

We talk a lot about getting in line, but nowhere near enough about where that line is headed.

Yes, I am pissed off. You bet I am.

This is my country, too, and I’m just trying to make it a better, more moral place for the people I care about. And I care about everyone.

It’s my vote, not yours

We can’t afford to do this anymore. It’s time for Medicare for all.

I’ve taken a lot of criticism lately for saying I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support a single-payer health care system.

Here’s the thing: You don’t get to decide who gets my vote, not in the primary and not in the general election.

I have good reason for my position. I call it the Dead Kid Card (only because that’s what my son called it before he died from lack of access to health care). I suffered a loss most parents only have nightmares about. I sat beside my precious child as he breathed his last, and his cause of death was neglect for profit.

My son should not have died, nor should any of the half million people who have been murdered by our profit-driven “system” since his heart stopped beating.

Universal access to care was proposed by Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago, and we’re still waiting. The rest of the world has found ways to do it, but we still prostrate ourselves before the altar of profit. We spend twice as much per person as any other system in any advanced nation, and our outcomes are always the worst among the industrialized nations. Hell, Cuba has better outcomes than we do, and that’s because everyone has access to the care they need.

I’m not willing to wait any longer. I believe enough people have died, and it’s time to stop the unnecessary deaths so some insurance executive can take home another few million dollars and stash it in an overseas tax-sheltered account.

Health insurance companies are parasites. They add nothing of value to our system, but they suck billions of dollars out of our economy, and they deny lifesaving care that causes the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year.

OK, so now you’ll argue that some people love their plans. Well, I have a couple of problems with that. First of all, Medicare for all will get care to everyone, not just the few well-to-do people who have their access to care but don’t even think about people who have little or no access. That’s called selfishness, or greed. Remember, Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”

Secondly, we know that 70 percent of employer-sponsored plans are high-deductible — meaning you have to spend $1,000 or more before you see a penny in coverage — The average deductible is $3,000. This is in a society where nearly half of the people say they can’t pay a surprise bill of $400 without borrowing money.

No one can make me believe that most Americans love their health insurance in light of those statistics.

And it’s getting worse.

According to a study by The Commonwealth Fund, (https://www.commonwealthfund.org/ ), median household income in the United States between 2008 and 2018 grew 1.9% per year on average, rising from $53,000 to $64,202. But health care costs rose 6 percent per year in the same time, and the Affordable Care Act has been in effect for about half of that time.

“The most cost-burdened families live in southern states,” said Sara Collins, lead author of the report and vice president for health care coverage, access and tracking at The Commonwealth Fund.

In general, those states tend to have lower median incomes, so even if the sticker price for premiums and deductibles is lower than in higher-income regions, health insurance costs take up a greater share of Southerners’ income.

The next argument I get is that people who work for insurance companies need their jobs. Well, jobs administering Medicare will be plentiful. Even managers will be needed, although the CEOs who have been skimming billions in our national treasure can go and live on their blood money because they won’t be stealing any more from us.

The longer we wait to do this, the worse things are getting, as for-profit companies take over health care systems, especially in rural areas.

Rural hospitals are cutting services or closing altogether, especially in states that refuse to take the federal Medicaid expansion money that their citizens are already paying for. Here in Western North Carolina, women in labor have to travel up to two hours to get to a labor and delivery facility. Ambulance rides can cost up to a whopping $40,000. People are dying because they have to call an Uber because they can’t pay for an ambulance.

Under the current administration, the Affordable Care Act’s protections have been weakened. Premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed. Since the mandate that everyone buy insurance has been lifted, people of moderate means have dropped their coverage so they can afford to pay for food and shelter.

Meanwhile, plans have become more and more restrictive, putting drugs and care on tiers so that if a doctor comes to see you while you’re in the hospital and they are not on Tier 1 in your plan, you could be faced with thousands of dollars in uncovered care. That lifesaving antibiotic could wind up costing you $300 per pill.

So, when I hear a candidate say we can wait for Medicare for all, my response is, “Nope.”

Our corporate overlords may not care if you die from lack of access to care, but I do.

I will not vote for someone who thinks people can wait for health care, and you have no right to tell me I have to. People are dying NOW, and we have to fix this NOW. I really don’t care if the rich don’t like it. They’re not the ones I’m worried about.

My vote will ONLY go to someone who’s ready to fix this.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing

The killer of Botham Jean is embraced by her victim’s brother, who tearfully told her he forgives her. Photo by Slate

Christians believe we are redeemed — forgiven for all our sins — if we believe Jesus died for us.

Some Christians seem to interpret that as license to commit sins, knowing God’ll forgive because, well, Jesus.

I’m not so sure. On the one hand forgiveness is more about me than you. I never sensed any remorse from my grandfather for molesting me throughout my childhood, but I had to forgive him. I had to let it go so I could cease allowing his abuse to define me. But I also kept my distance from him because I knew he wasn’t safe.

I would love to see the doctors who refused to treat my son, knowing he would die, suffer some consequences, but that’s not going to happen. I can’t allow them to live, rent-free, in my head, so I have let go of my anger and outrage. If any of them approached me and said they wanted to work with me toward Medicare for All, I would stand with them as brothers and sisters in the fight.

But, as my mother’s pastor once described it, sin leaves a scar. He pierced a piece of paper with a pencil (the sin), then removed the pencil to show a hole — a scar. The sin is gone, but the damage is still there.

Watching an African-American man hug the woman who murdered his brother in cold blood sent a chill up my spine. I didn’t feel comfortable thinking, “Awwww, that’s so Christian of him.”

And my mind went back to the young man who murdered nine African-American people in an act of racial hatred in Charleston, SC. The survivors of the massacre, family members and others stood in front of microphones and offered forgiveness to the unrepentant racist.

That made me uncomfortable, too.

It seems people of color keep forgiving the people who murder them, but the other side of the coin — the remorse on the part of the killers — is blank. A blog post by Rev. Karyn Carlo that I read yesterday called it “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is a scenario where someone is called to forgive again and again and again, but the object of forgiveness keeps committing the same sin. The phrase keeps spinning in my head.

We keep allowing black people to forgive white people for killing them, and all too often the white people walk free. Systemic racism continues while black people are still called to forgive. Jail sentences are more common and more lengthy for people of color. Schools are poorer and still segregated. Access to health care is worse. Access to the vote is far less and getting worse.

If Botham Jean had walked into her apartment “by mistake” and shot her, he would be on Death Row. But we assuage our collective guilt by saying “Awwww …” when we see his brother embrace and forgive the woman who murdered him.

I can’t quite force myself to say, “Awwww…” anymore. I want to see issues of racism dealt with. I want to see real justice.

As a white woman, it’s not my place to forgive the killer of Botham Jean or the racist who slaughtered nine people in Charleston. It is my place to listen and follow. It also is my place to work toward racial economic and social justice.

Why do I feel so angry all the time? Why doesn’t everyone?

With my vacation half over (I spent a week on Cape Cod camping with my sisters and leave tomorrow to spend a few days with friends before my granddaughter and her husband and daughter come to visit next week), I feel rested and restless at the same time.

I had an argument with my sister over whether we should shoot for an immediate move to Medicare for all, or whether it should be done gradually.

“I’m done with gradualism, ” I told her.

During the 12 minutes we’d been talking about this, another person died the way Mike did. I’ve heard every argument, and in the time it will take you to recite them to me, another person will have died the way Mike did. When you add them all up, it’s about a half million human beings, just in the 11 years since Mike died.

And now you want me to wait some more. Are we waiting until my other son dies? Maybe one of his kids or grandkids? How long are we supposed to wait?

I didn’t get all this out before she yelled at me to let her finish her argument. In that time, another person died. and since that time, another 100-plus people have died. I turned my head and started reading something on my phone because I didn’t want an ugly scene, but I knew I couldn’t convince her I’m right. She pays through the nose, but she has access to care. She had surgery in the last year for a condition that would have killed her had she been uninsured.

I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for that.

I tried to tell her all this, but I just started crying instead because even after 11 years, the pain of my son’s death is as fresh and raw as ever, and in the time I took to try and explain that, another American died from lack of access to health care and his or her family is plunged into the same endless grief I experience every day.

Meanwhile, children languish in filthy cages with no sanitary supplies and no beds, separated from their parents in a strange land where they don;t know what people are even saying to them.

Meanwhile, the Earth continues to burn, hurtling us toward extinction in a few short generations.

Meanwhile, we contemplate war on Iran.

Meanwhile, the water in Flint and dozens of other American cities is still poisoned.

Meanwhile, the election districts are still gerrymandered and the elections are controlled by two utterly corrupt parties.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest of us continue to steal and hoard our wealth while half of our families live near or below the poverty level because those with the most money won’t pay a living wage for a week’s work and then they get to call poor people lazy because they don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs.

Meanwhile, we all go about our business, taking care of ourselves but not noticing how much trouble we’re in as a nation, as a species.

Meanwhile, a third of our nation continues to defend the hatred and ignorance spewing from the Oval Office, and we have yet to rise up in sufficient numbers to prod our so-called leaders into action to remove this criminal from office.

All the while, complacent people scream at me to “VOTE BLUE, NO MATTER WHO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

No. No to all of it.

I will not shut up. I will not wait. I will not be patient. And I will not vote for another Wall Street-sponsored candidate.

I’m done with all of it. This is more than a national emergency, it’s a planetary one. It’s about our continued existence as a species, and you’re asking me to wait patiently?

Every day we wait, dozens more people die.

Every day we wait, children in Flint and other cities face irreversible brain damage from lead in their water.

Every day we wait, people languish in jail, losing their jobs and homes and children because they don’t have $500 bail money. So they wait in jail for months to be tried for a crime they may not even have committed.

Every day we wait, we edge closer to extinction.

Wake up. Stop waiting for somebody else to save us. We have to save ourselves, and we can’t do that by being patient.

A dozen years and still no health care for all

Mike with his niece, Meghan, in 2000. His brother’s children adored Uncle Mike because he was so funny and kind.

Twelve years ago today, as I was driving into work, I got the phone call that would change my life.

I can still hear his voice. “Mom, the cancer’s back. There’s no cure. The most I can hope for is a year.”

There wouldn’t be a year. In fact, six weeks later, to the day, he would breathe his last.

I can’t describe my feelings that morning — the same feeling I have today as I re-live the trauma of learning there would be no hope for my son to realize his dream of going to law school to become a legal aid attorney because “poor people deserve a good lawyer, and I plan to be the best.”

I couldn’t cry because I had to get into work, and I knew once I started allowing myself to feel what was happening, I would lose control. My husband would be in the office a half hour after I got there, so I would say nothing to anyone until I could talk to him. If I spoke to anyone about it, I knew I would fall apart.

I sat down at my desk and shuffled papers, looked at my schedule, checked my phone for messages, checked my e-mail. None of it registered; I had to just go through the motions until my husband got there.

But when he did, and I walked over to his desk to tell him, I fell apart. It was all I could do to stay on my feet. I couldn’t breathe except to take in air with each wracking sob.

I don’t remember much about the next few minutes except that my colleagues stepped in to hold me up while my husband went to tell the managing editor that we were leaving to go to Cary and be with Mike. The editor never came out of his office to speak to me.

This day begins the most terrible six weeks of my life, re-lived now for the 12th time. Each year, the pain of losing him comes back, as fresh and new as it was 12 years ago.

The most painful part of it all is that it never should have happened. If he’d had access to an annual colonoscopy, he would still be here, probably a legal aid attorney working with people in Durham. I imagine him in the fight to end cash bail, working to get people who are awaiting trial released from jail so they wouldn’t lost their jobs, housing or children.

If we had a health care system like those in the rest of the industrialized world, he would still be here, still be a jackass who loved nothing better than a good practical joke, still cooking gourmet dinners for all of us, still complaining about bad drivers and traffic jams … still Mike.

But we have the most backward system anywhere in the so-called developed world, a system that killed 45,000 or more Americans each year in 2008 — a half million since it robbed me of my son.

The Affordable Care Act stemmed the tide a little for a few years, but we made the mistake of leaving insurance companies in charge, and they have perverted the system to their advantage with $6,000 deductibles. According to ehealthinsurance.com, in 2018, the average deductible was $4,328 for an individual and $8,352 for families.

Nearly three-quarters of employer-sponsored plans have deductibles of $1,500 or more, and the average family spends about $20,000 per year on health care costs. With more than 40 percent of Americans saying they can’t pay a $400 surprise bill without borrowing money, it’s hard to imagine how any but the wealthiest Americans can say they love their insurance plan.

That’s the “progress” we’ve made toward a more just and equitable health care system in the 12 years since I promised my son I would fight for access to health care for every human being. In fact, a new study from Yale University places the annual death toll at 65,000-plus, which means an American dies once every eight minutes.

I remember pieces of that day so clearly. I remember the shock of seeing how much weight he had lost in the few weeks since I had seen him last. I had trouble catching my breath.

I remember my daughter-in-law coming over to Mike’s place (they had been forced to split so he could get Medicaid here in North Carolina) and I remember his best friend and roommate, James, telling me of his fear of coming home from work and finding Mike dead.

After we had spent a couple hours with Mike, we checked into our hotel. My husband took a nap, and unable to even think about sleeping, I walked over to the electronics store across the street from the hotel. I was looking at photo printers, wondering how to connect them to my computer. As always, I thought Mike would be able to answer any questions I had about it, and then I realized he would be gone soon, and I almost fell to the floor. I don’t remember the walk back to the room, although I do remember how cold it was, and that I didn’t have a warm jacket with me.

I went to Target to get an inexpensive jacket — a red Converse zip-front hoodie — and I saw an exasperated mother with a fussy toddler. I wanted to stop and tell her how precious that child was, even though he didn’t seem so at the moment. I wanted to tell her to hold him close and love him because he could be taken from her by a system that preys on people rather than cures them.

I kept walking instead because I didn’t want to look like a crazy woman.

I’ve been working on this a dozen years and we are no closer to health care justice than we were when my son’s heart stopped.

I am the family member of just one of more than a half million corpses from this carnage, and every one of us has to live with this indescribable pain. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone — not even on the policymakers who allow it to continue, unabated, or to the corrupt insurance company executives who bribe policymakers to leave them in charge of such an immoral system.

I want desperately to see change. I want to see an end to these unnecessary deaths that rip families apart day after day after day — one every eight minutes.

So, stop telling me we need to get there gradually — it’s been too gradual already, and for every eight minutes we delay, another body is added to the count.

You want to call yourself “pro-life” or even moral? Stop supporting politicians who say we can’t afford to care for everybody. We can afford it, and we must.

It is 12 years past time for my precious son, and my pain is as terrible today as it was on this day 12 years ago.

I will never get over it.

I will never move on, not until every human being has full access to quality care.

No more war, and no more online petitions

Assassinating a beloved leader is not the way to make friends in the Middle East, and online petitions won’t sway anyone to stop the march toward war.

The pretender in the Oval Office is working like mad to get us involved in a shooting war in the Middle East because death and mayhem is the perfect distraction from his other crimes.

And if you think that petition on your Facebook page is going to make any difference at all, think again. If you sign an online petition, it gives the organization putting it out there access to your contact information, and your inbox will be clogged with demands for money. That’s about all that will happen.

I’ll say from the outset that I’m anti-war. I have been all my life.

I came of age after the generals lied about Tonkin to get us to escalate the conflict in Vietnam because we had to stop the Commies over there before they arrived on our shores.

I have lived through numerous petty conflicts (Grenada and Panama in the 1980s) and major blowups (Iraq/Kuwait, Afghanistan, second Iraq) and lots of saber rattling. In the end, the war mongers wound up richer and the rest of us got nothing.

Wars are fought for the profit of the wealthy, and if you don’t think that’s true, look at the spikes in the stock values of the military industrial complex and the price of gas. If you’re invested in that stuff, you’ve already made a profit.

I’m not certain how we stop this seemingly inexorable march to conflict, but I do know it won’t be averted by any online petition.

I don’t know of a single time online petitions worked to stop a war — or even the confirmation of a breathtakingly unqualified judge.

We have to be there in person — hit the streets, visit the offices of legislators. I don’t think phone calls will work, and I’m not sure anything will work to sway Republicans, who appear to place party above the safety of the planet and every human being on it.

I don’t know how you fight that, but I am certain it won’t be because Mitch McConnell and Mark Meadows looked at a million signatures. In fact, I think even 10 million signatures won’t sway them. I think they would laugh and say, “Fuck them!” and go to war in the Middle East.

And now Iraq is expelling US troops, which will allow Putin’s people to move in. Assassinating General Qasem Soleimani played right into Putin’s hand. We got rid of a general who wasn’t friendly to Putin and who was a national hero to his people, and our influence in the region will be replaced by Russia’s.

We’re going to hear a lot of lies in the coming days. We’re going to see a whole lot of flag-waving and chanting of “USA, USA!” We’re going to be told every Iranian is a spy or a terrorist, when the truth is the spy/terrorist is squatting in the Oval Office and his accomplice is the leader in the Senate.

Our only way forward is to be in the streets and in the Capitol.

Please, do not, I repeat DO NOT fall for the online petition ploy. Sitting on your ass typing in your name and address so Move On can get your contact information and clog up your inbox with requests for money is not the solution.

The time has come for real action — getting out into the streets the way they’re doing in France and Hong Kong. It is the only way we can defeat the oligarchs, who have managed to take over almost everything.

When our demonstrations get in the way of their profit, they will listen. Until then, they have us trapped.

I am NOT calling for violence, I am calling for millions of us to be in the streets, stopping traffic, stopping commerce, and in their offices so they can’t conduct business as usual. They can arrest thousands of us, but if we keep coming, they’ll have to listen.

As Rev. William Barber says, “You can be woke, but that isn’t enough. You must rise up.”

Denying food to the poor is violence

Have you ever had to go to bed hungry?

I have. I know what it feels like to only have enough food for the kids to eat supper, so you say you had a big lunch and assure them they can eat their fill as your stomach growls.

And when it causes you to lose a few pounds, people tell you that you look great, and they ask, “What did you do to drop that 10 pounds?” you smile and shrug because you don’t want to say that you go without supper a couple nights every week so your kids can have enough to eat. There was –and is — a stigma to being poor.

One person, a close friend, once asked me why I didn’t just make more money, as though that were an option I had overlooked.

I was working full-time, but my kids’ dad wasn’t paying nearly what he should have been, given that his income was four to five times greater than mine.

I was in the biggest group of people in poverty in this country — single white women. I was working and trying to pay rent, utilities, a car payment, child care and all the other things a family needs to pay for just to scrape by.

That was 40 years ago, and people are still being asked to make it on the same income I had in 1979. And they’re being called lazy and immoral by people with more money than they can ever spend in one lifetime.

Now this administration is attacking food stamp eligibility, narrowing the number of people who can get the help they need to feed themselves and their children, all with absolutely no consideration of how we might get some of these people out of poverty.

Will we raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Nope. People just need to work more.

Well, it takes double to triple minimum wage to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in every single county in the nation. That means a single mother who has two children must work two to three full-time jobs to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

So, she works 16-hour days and then we criticize her for not being there for her children.

If mom drops health insurance because that $50 monthly premium is also about one-third of her monthly grocery budget and then she gets sick, we criticize her for wanting a “handout.”

The problem here is that when you make public policy that impoverishes people, you shouldn’t then be allowed to criticize them for being poor. When the only jobs people can find are part-time or in the “gig” economy (meaning freelance, with no health benefits, no paid vacation or sick days and absolutely no job security) and the pay is less than $10 an hour, and then you work three of those part time jobs for a total of 80 to 90 hours a week, you shouldn’t need food stamps to put nutritious food on the table, but you still do.

This is not a moral failing on the part of the poor person, as much as you might like to think it is; it is a failing on the part of policymakers and of everyone who supports these immoral policies, including you, if you’re one of the people clapping gleefully at each cut of public assistance.

I have to keep saying this to “Christians:” Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”

What Jesus did say was “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was cold and you didn’t offer me your cloak. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. … Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did also unto me.”

Poor people are mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Bible, and not once are we told they are lazy or immoral. We are called to help them, as are the adherents of every major world religion.

Every faith has a version of the Golden Rule, which calls us to treat others the way we, ourselves, wish to be treated.

When we ignore the immorality of policies that impoverish, sicken and kill other people, we become the oppressors of those people. And when they sicken and die, their blood is on our hands.

Morality — compassion, empathy, the ability to love — is supposed to be written into our DNA, but we seem to have found a way to ignore that small voice that tells us we need to help.

Cutting food stamps means denying other people the food they need to live. If you think that’s OK, you’re wrong. It is violence. It is immoral.

If you’re not standing up to say this is wrong, you’re the oppressor. You’re the sinner. And you have the blood of innocents on your hands.

The least we can do is listen to each other

I offered Pete Buttigieg a photo of my late son to remind him that we need to fix health care now. He accepted the photo. I hope he looks at it now and again and understands the urgency.

The first thing I noticed about Mayor Pete Buttigieg is that he’s not much taller than I am and that I probably outweigh him, unless his bones are made of lead. I could whup him in a fair fight — if I weren’t committed to nonviolence.

He came into Greenleaf Christian Church on Sunday and took his seat in the pew cross the aisle from me. He struck me as humble. He smiled at the people around him and waited for the service to begin.

He looked a little overwhelmed as his Episcopalian sensibilities were rocked by the jubilation of worship at Greenleaf, a church led by a black pastor but with a diverse membership of people of all races, from all kinds of backgrounds, gay and straight, able-bodied and with disabilities, rich and poor. But as the singing continued, he smiled and eventually got to his feet and clapped and rocked with the rest of us.

Mayor Pete had been invited to speak and answer questions at the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Congress in June, but had been unable to attend. When Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, invited him to answer the same questions as the other candidates fielded, Mayor Pete, accepted.

I never got the sense that this was a dog and pony show, produced to make us believe Pete Buttigieg is the answer to all our prayers. He sat through a two-hour service, sang with us, listened to the sermon and seemed to enjoy it.

I never got the sense that Rev. Barber wanted to promote him or tear him down. The Poor People’s Campaign is political in that it works to change the public policies that impoverish people, but it does not endorse candidates.

Rev. Barber has no problem with Mayor Pete’s (or anyone else’s) sexuality. Instead, he explained why sexual preferences and/or identity aren’t important to him.

“I don’t ask an airline pilot if he’s gay,” Rev. Barber told Buttigieg. “I ask whether he can fly the plane. I don’t ask a surgeon whether he’s gay, I ask whether he can do the operation.”

I don’t agree with Mayor Pete on some of the issues, but he appears sincere in his desire to serve and to try and tackle some of our biggest problems.

My problem with his policies is that he’s advocating incrementalism in the minimum wage and in health care, and I’m done waiting.

People who make $7.25 an hour — less than half of what it actually takes to live in any county in the nation — deserve to have relief now, not in four years, because by the time a $15 an hour wage is phased in, living wage will be $20. It’s not a matter of waiting patiently to be able to feed your family, it’s a matter of economic justice. People need relief NOW. So, how about we redirect a small percentage of our bloated “defense” budget to subsidize small businesses and nonprofits for a couple of years instead of making the poor wait?

So, I’m sorry, Mayor, but we need better on wages.

We also need immediate action on health care. A single-payer system was advocated by Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago. I think that’s long enough to wait.

My patience left me with the unnecessary death of my son in 2008, and it has not returned as the death toll continues to mount — a half million Americans dead since my son’s heart stopped beating.

I was privileged to talk to him about health care for a minute. I told him about my son as Mike’s picture appeared on the screen. I told him a half million people have died since I had to do something no parent should have to do — bury my child.

I wanted to ask him, “Isn’t that enough? If not, when will it be enough? After we lose another half million? “

Instead, I stuck to the script and gave him the facts on what’s happening here in North Carolina, whose legislators have steadfastly refused to expand access to health care to a half million of the poorest people in our state. Three of them die every day. I asked him what he plans to do to assure every human being on American soil has access to health care.

His answer was a public option that would allow the wealthiest among us to keep insurance companies in business and in control.

He did say that if someone shows up sick and isn’t insured, that person will be enrolled, retroactively, in the public plan.

“Everyone will have insurance,” he said.

My problem is that as long as these greedy, immoral thugs are allowed access to our health care system, they will continue to work to pervert it to serve their needs, not those of the people. We can’t allow them so much as a foot in the door.

Health insurance companies need to be banned. For-profit providers need to be banned. Health care should never, ever, ever be for-profit because profit-mongers will always find a way to deny people what they need to make a few more dollars of blood money.

At the end of the event, Mayor Pete came over to shake my hand and say how sorry he was about my son.

“You’ve already been graced with four more years of life than he got,” I said. “So, if you would like, if you think being reminded of how bad things are in our health care system will help you move us forward, you can take my photo of him with you. Look at it. His name was Michael and he was dearly loved.”

Mayor Pete reached out and took the photo, thanked me and then stood for a moment looking at it.

I believe he’s sincere, and he wants to, as he put it, “be useful.”

I want him to be more bold. I want him to stand up to the immorality of the 1 percent and say we need to address these issues now, and not some unspecified time down the road.

I am glad I met him. I found him intelligent and sincere in his desire to address these problems; I just want him to be more eager to get it done now.

When I put a photo of Mayor Pete on my Facebook feed yesterday, it blew up with people being disrespectful. That really bothered me. To me, when someone reaches out and wants to talk, I want to listen, even if we disagree.

There are people who don’t deserve my respect and one of them is squatting in the Oval Office right now; another leads the Senate, and still more of them are in our courts and legislatures. They spew hate and seem to enjoy the cruelty of racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation for profit. These people don’t deserve respect.

On the other hand, someone who is well intentioned, but with whom I disagree, I will treat with respect.

Perhaps being a reporter and having to treat people with whom I disagree vehemently with respect taught me to listen better, to understand that the only person who agrees with me on everything is me.

I still will not vote for someone who won’t support Medicare for all in the primary, and I’m not sure what I’ll do in he general election.

But I liked Mayor Pete personally. I believe his desire to turn things around is sincere. I also think he might come a little closer to my views with time and maturity.

I had one prayer going into yesterday’s event: that we might move him toward a vision of a better nation, a more just nation, and that he might drop his incremental approach to racial, social and economic justice.

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