Archive for letters

It isn’t about hate?

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel that President Barack Obama is staying the night, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City.  Obama is traveling in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP
People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel where President Barack Obama is staying Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Obama is in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. 

When President Obama arrived in Oklahoma City last night, he was greeted by a crowd of people waving the Confederate battle flag and shouting their displeasure.

While it’s true the majority of people there had come to support the President, this group of about 80 people made the whole city look bad.

I support their right to be there, and to heckle the country’s first African-American president with a symbol offensive to most African-Americans. It’s all protected by the First Amendment. However, when you scream hateful things at someone while waving a flag you know to be offensive to him, you lose your credibility when you say the flag is not a symbol of hate.

I know I said awful things about Bush, Cheney & company, and I stand by those things because it was about policy. I was willing to give Bush a chance after the Supreme Court anointed him, but he blew it all on two ill-advised wars, one of them an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with the attack on 9/11.

President Obama has just finished crafting a deal with Iran that will bring them back into the world economy and allow for inspections of their nuclear program. He did it without “boots on the ground” or bombs in the air.

He did it quietly and without fanfare — and without public saber-rattling.

And he was attacked as soon as the deal was announced.

War is big business, and if we stabilize things in the Middle East, there might be no more war there. That would make the Military Industrial Complex unhappy.

And if, as our president wants, we revamp our “justice” system, big jail corporations lose money.

The right wing rules by fear — fear that Muslims are coming for us in our sleep. When I was a child, it was the Communists who were coming for us in our sleep. That’s why we fought in Vietnam, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here. That’s why we fought in Iraq, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

Do you see a pattern? Of course. But Fox News viewers won’t see it because they’re swallowing everything the fear-mongers have to say.

This president, although I disagree with him on some issues, has accomplished a great deal in spite of every effort by the Republicans to derail him.

Hate him all you want, but history likely will judge him as one of our best, and Bush will go down as our worst.


Why Bernie?


I am more excited about the candidacy of Bernie Sanders in 2016 than I have been about any candidate since Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

Bernie is within shouting distance of where I stand on every important issue, especially on health care, and he has held these positions for many years.

The first time I met Bernie Sanders was in Washington, DC, when I was speaking at a memorial service for people who died from lack of access to health care. At the time, the death toll was one every 12 minutes.

I had used that statistic in a memorial service I held in Asheville, NC, chiming a Tibetan bowl every 12 minutes to signify another death, no matter what else was happening in the service.

The NC Council of Churches heard about the service and invited me to participate in one in Raleigh. That led to an invitation to speak at a national memorial service sponsored by the National Council of Churches in Washington.

Several members of Congress attended the service, including Bernie. After I spoke, he walked over and hugged me. Just like that. It was genuine and caring.

I met him again earlier this year in Raleigh, and although I’m sure he didn’t remember me from the memorial service six years ago, he did show compassion and caring again when I asked what he would do about health care. I showed him my son’s photo and asked whether expanding access to care was a top priority, he answered passionately that every human being deserves access to quality health care. When he was done speaking, he came down from the podium, hugged me and promised once more to work on universal access to care.

  • He supports a woman’s right to control her own body and has worked to keep women’s health clinics open.
  • He is against the kind of free trade agreements that steal jobs from Americans and allow big business to abuse workers in other countries.
  • He is against fracking and is for making those responsible for destroying the environment to clean up their messes.
  • He is for making Election Day a national holiday and other measures that would expand Americans’ access to the ballot box.
  • He is for improving our nation’s infrastructure using tax dollars gained from increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
  • He is for raising the cap on Social Security taxes for wealthy Americans.
  • He supports a living wage, demanding that no one who works a 40-hour week should live in poverty.

Already, he has closed the gap in New Hampshire, pulling just about even with Hillary Clinton, and while I think it’s time for a woman to be president, I also think policies are more important than gender, and Bernie is right on all the issues.

I believe he can do this if those of us who believe in him will vote in the primaries and in the general election.

Let’s do this!



Two huge decisions



Last night, for what seems the millionth time since my son died from medical neglect, I cried myself to sleep. But the tears were different this time. Mixed with feelings of loss were feelings of gratitude that the Affordable Care Act is finally safe from the wolves on the Right.

In fact, in his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts pretty much scolded opponents, telling them the law will not be overturned unless Congress is able to do it.

Then today, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court upheld the right of any two consenting adults to marry. My tears were strictly tears of joy this time.

From Justice Kennedy’s decision:
“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.
“Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”

rainbow flag

I wish I was home in Asheville tonight for the party, but I will do my celebrating here in New Jersey with friends.

The screamers on the right have gotten it wrong again, and in both these cases, their defeat is complete.

The people who call themselves “pro-life,” but assert that it was OK for 45,000 Americans to die each year from lack of access to health care, can go away now.

Of course, the first reaction from House Speaker John Boehner was that he will keep trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I imagine the haters will try to pass a Constitutional Amendment again, defining marriage in their own narrow view, but that won’t happen. Too many people get it that we all deserve the freedom to marry the person we love.

Too many people understand that the Affordable Care Act is saving tens of thousands of lives a year, even as opponents continue to block Medicaid expansion in nearly half the states. That, by the way, is causing the deaths of 17,000 Americans a year.

While that’s a lot better than we were doing, it is still 17,000 human beings. That’s the same as wiping an entire small town off the map. You can’t say that’s OK and continue to be credible when you call yourself pro-life.

Justice Scalia huffed and puffed over the Affordable Care Act decision, calling it “pure applesauce.” I don’t think he’s happy about being a relic, and I would think Justice Thomas may realize his status as a relic of a more hateful time any day now.

I have friends and family who are getting health care now who couldn’t get it before the ACA, and they would have been booted out of coverage had the court ruled the other way. I would have lost coverage.

I also have friends whose marriages were affirmed by the decision on marriage equality. When my friends Bruce and Christopher were married this year after more than 20 years together, I wept through the entire ceremony. Christopher said he could hear me sobbing on the video, and he loved it.

It may well be the most joyous wedding I ever attended.

Thank you, SCOTUS, for getting it so right two days in a row. I never thought I’d be able to say that about this court, but there you go. Miracles happen.





Let’s stop pretending we’re a civilized nation


I’m trying to wrap my heart around the terrorist act in Charleston, SC, that left nine innocent people dead. It isn’t easy.

In the aftermath of this horrific act, I have seen apologists for the young terrorist say he’s been withdrawn and lonely in recent years.

Others have said it was an attack on the Christian faith.

The NRA says the availability of guns had nothing to do with it.

And the flag of hate still flies at the Capitol Building in Columbia.

Nine human beings are dead, their lives snuffed out by a hate-filled young man whose father gave him the gift of a weapon for his 21st birthday.

When the terrorist is apprehended, we see him being led off wearing a bulletproof vest, just in case someone wants to hurt this poor misguided white boy.

As I looked at that image, a flood of images depicting the rough treatment and the murders of young black men came to mind. And some still have the nerve to say we are “post-racist.” I think we’re more “post-civilized.”

When President Obama said people in “other advanced nations” don’t have this kind carnage on a regular basis, I wanted to remove the word “other” from his speech.

How can we call ourselves civilized when we make excuses for white terrorists while we condone killing blacks who carry no weapons?

We have the nerve to call these victims of our racism “thugs,” while calling a blatant act of racist terror an attack on Christianity.

How can we call ourselves civilized when we allow people to die from lack of access to health care?

How can we say we’re an advanced nation when we restrict voting rights, pay workers slave wages, take reproductive decisions away from women, cut funding to education, take food out of the mouths of children by cutting food stamps, send poor children to prison for missing school and advocate indiscriminate use of guns (but only among white people)?

We are quick to blame the victims of our institutional violence — an NRA board member actually blamed the death of the pastor, a state senator, on his vote to ban guns from churches.

Want to know what’s really sad? A 5-year-old girl knew enough to play dead when she saw a white man with a gun.

I don’t care if this man has a mental illness; he got a gun and killed nine human beings because of the color of their skin. I am an advocate for people with mental illnesses —  I sit on the board of our local NAMI affiliate — but I can’t advocate for a society that shrugs off this kind of violence again and again and again …

I seriously doubt anything will be done to stem the violence in this country; I seriously doubt we as a society will move to restrict guns in any way. In fact, as this terrorist was executing black churchgoers, the general assembly here in North Carolina was debating loosening what few restrictions exist here.

I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to protect my black friends or my biracial great-granddaughter, who will cheerfully tell you she’s black.

I would pray for peace, but it’s not God who will bring it. We have free will and we use it to perpetuate institutional and individual violence. It is up to us to stand up and call out people who think we need more guns and more excuses.

There is no more time for silence on these issues. Every one of us needs to work to make us a truly civilized society.








They’re getting meaner

His prayer interrupted, Rev. T. Anthony Spearman is about to have his hands forced behind his back to be handcuffed. He offered them out to be cuffed in front of him, but was treated roughly and charged with obstruction.

His prayer interrupted, Rev. T. Anthony Spearman is about to have his hands forced behind his back to be handcuffed. He offered them out to be cuffed in front of him, but was treated roughly and charged with obstruction.

I was in Raleigh yesterday for the Moral Monday on voting rights. Once again, there were 10 arrests.

This time, though, the police were a little meaner than previous times.

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman was praying, his hands clasped in front of him. He held them out to be handcuffed when police approached and they told him to put his hands behind his back. He asked to be cuffed in front and they pulled his hands apart and very roughly cuffed him behind his back. I thought they were going to knock him over.

A few minutes later, they approached Rev. William Barber and told him to put his hands behind his back.

“I can’t do that,” he said. “I need my cane to walk.”

They were about to pull his hands behind his back when the General Assembly police chief intervened and told them to cuff him in front.

Right after that, they approached Yara Allen, our movement’s song leader and Rev. Barber’s aide.

“I have a fractured foot,” she said. “My balance is off. I really need to be cuffed in front.”

Two cops grabbed her arms and pulled them behind her. They were not gentle.

“Please,” she said. I have a fractured foot. Can’t you see I’m wearing a boot?”

I thought she would land on the floor.

As the police cuffed her, she began to sing, and she continued singing as she was escorted, limping, to the elevator.

She, too, was charged with obstruction.

Linda Willey shows off her arms, badly bruised by cuffs that were too tight.

Linda Willey shows off her arms, badly bruised by cuffs that were too tight.

Linda Willey was cuffed behind her back and asked that her hands be cuffed in front of her when as she was being processed to be loaded onto a prison bus and taken to jail. The police obliged, but the cuffs were so tight that her arms were badly bruised.

The thing is, we have a right to be in that building. It belongs to us. The people in that building are our employees, charged with doing what is in the best interests of the people of this state.

Instead, they continue to pass laws that hurt low-income people, children, the elderly and people with illness and disability. When we exercise our constitutional right to address our legislators, we are turned away, arrested for “trespassing” on public property and violating fire code and noise regulations that change weekly.

In Florida and in Wisconsin, people occupied the legislature building for weeks; here in North Carolina, we are arrested within an hour.

I am working to save the lives of people who need health care but have no access to it. The legislature could change that with one vote, but they refuse to do so.

Others in the movement are working to restore voting rights, to restore the earned income tax credit, to restore funding to education, to restore women’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and more.

This legislature has led us dozens of years backwards, and we need to turn it around. To more than 1,050 of us, that has meant getting arrested for attempting to exercise our Constitutional right to address our legislators.

As we continue to come back, week after week, year after year, they become angrier and angrier at being questioned.

Now they’re starting to get rough with us. They need to know that won’t stop us. We will keep coming, again and again, regardless of their attitude, regardless of whether they’re rough with us.

We stand on the side of justice, and we will not go back.


Moving toward theocracy

Graphic by NC Policy Watch

Graphic by NC Policy Watch

Yesterday, the North Carolina House of “Representatives” overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that will allow magistrates to turn away gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry.

You see, some people think it violates their rights when two consenting adults of the same gender wish to enter into the legal contract called marriage. They think their right to discriminate supersedes the right of people to be legally married.

First of all, let me say the only marriage that’s any of your business is your own. The courts have already decided that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional. This is a last-ditch effort to allow such discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.”

Tony Campolo

Another thing that happened this week is that Rev. Tony Campolo finally changed his mind about LGBTQ folks and announced he believes they deserve full inclusion in the church. That means marriage, too. Campolo, an evangelical Christian, is best known for his “red letter” theology. In many Bibles, the words of Christ are printed in red, and Campolo suggests we look to those words first as followers of Christ.

None of those red words says anything about homosexuality. Not one.

Still, Campolo was against marriage equality. I don’t know what changed his mind, but I think it was a gradual realization that there is no choice in sexual orientation and that it was not his place to judge, since this is how some people are created.

From his statement, released Monday:

“Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?

“While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous. One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them. The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right.

“It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”

Campolo has long been a social justice Christian. I often wondered why his passion for social justice didn’t include LGBTQ people; now it does.

So, while one of the most respected Christian leaders finally has come to the side of love for all God’s children, my state, North Carolina, takes a giant leap backwards.

I am utterly ashamed of this group of hate-filled radicals in our state government.

All we can do (aside from file a lawsuit to get the law overturned) is to work to send every one of the 69 “representatives” home in 2016.

This is not about the love of Jesus; it is about the hatred of anyone or anything different.

It’s a pity they don’t understand what a radical Jesus was.

Another health care horror story

Cindy Sheehan and her sister, Dede Miller, have worked tirelessly for peace since the death of Cindy's son. Now they need our help.

Cindy Sheehan and her sister, Dede Miller, have worked tirelessly for peace since the death of Cindy’s son. Now they need our help.

Cindy Sheehan and I became friends because we shared something no person should have happen: we both lost a son to injustice.

In Cindy’s case, it was war that robbed her of her son, Casey. She devoted her life to educating people about the horrors of war and the need for peace.

My son died from lack of access to health care. I think of it as negligent homicide. I too left the corporate world and have devoted my life to pursuing health care justice through education and activism.

Cindy and I have both been arrested, we have both been called a wide variety of unflattering names and have both lost people in our lives who disagree with what we’re doing. We live with little income.

I’m not complaining. I chose this life and I have no regrets. I am beyond grateful for my husband’s support.

You might remember Cindy, who challenged President Bush on the legality and efficacy of the Iraq war after her son, Casey was killed. Bush ignored her, so she opened “Camp Casey,” a piece of property near the Bush ranch in Texas. She began by staging protests on the roadside and eventually purchased the property.

I have admired her from the beginning, and she and I have become online friends. We have spoken a few times and I have told her how important she is to the national justice conversation.

Now Cindy’s life and mine have intersected in another way. Someone she loves dearly — her sister and best friend, Dede Miller, has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Since Cindy and Dede have left the corporate world to be peace activists, Dede has no access to the care that might save her life.

Cindy has decided to try crowd-source funding to try and save her sister’s life.

No one should have to do this. It’s bad enough that Dede has to fight cancer; she shouldn’t have to fight a broken system to get the care she needs.

Please, if you have the resources, visit and give. This isn’t about politics, it’s about life and death. Dede doesn’t deserve to die because she can’t get care.

We as a nation need to begin to care about human life above politics. Dede’s life is a good place to start.


Let’s talk about women’s bodies


I’ve had enough of right-wing lawmakers making decisions about my body, what I can or can’t do with it and whether I have any right to control it.

I’m tired of right-wing nuts posting on my threads with their lousy grammar and spelling about the rights of the unborn.

And most of all, I’m tired of them calling themselves pro-life.

There’s a bill in North Carolina right now, HB465, that would make physicians show women’s ultrasounds to lawmakers without women’s consent.

That’s right, a bunch of old white men want to see your ultrasound, my women friends. And most of these dried up old prunes would want to know how your pregnancy ended if you have a miscarriage.

They also want to deny you access to contraception while making Viagra even more available. Seems to me they have fantasies about being able to have wild sex with young, fertile women.

“It’s about the babies,” they say when they talk about abortion.

No, it”s not. If it were really about the babies, you’d expect support for babies after they’re born. But these same old white men are dead set against helping parents raise their children. They’re against making minimum wage a living wage so people can care for their children. They’re against increasing food stamps so people can feed their kids on the slave wages employers are allowed to pay. They’re against safe, affordable housing for families. They support sending jobs overseas and then cut unemployment compensation to the bone.

They are among the first to cheer for “boots on the ground” whenever there’s conflict in the world, whether it’s our business or not. They send people into war zones for five or six deployments and then cut veterans benefits so we lose more people to suicide than we did in the wars they’re so eager to fight.

These old white men would have you believe women are skipping merrily down to the abortion clinic three or four times a year, happily denying men the children they would cherish and support.

In reality, women who decide to have abortions face a heart-wrenching decision. No one takes it lightly.

When I was six weeks pregnant with my second child, I had a rare virus. My doctor told me I should “terminate this pregnancy try again.”

It was an awful experience, thinking about whether my child might be born blind, deaf, with developmental disabilities and/or heart deformities. But the chair was at the table. My child was on his way, and I would love him no matter what.

He did have birth defects, and one left him very vulnerable to colon cancer. But because a birth defect is a pre-existing condition, he couldn’t get insurance, and without insurance, he couldn’t get the colonoscopies he needed, and by the time he got any attention, he had stage 3 cancer and it was too late to save his life.

I will never get over the loss of my son. I consider his death negligent homicide, and I don’t think anyone should have to go through what my family has endured — and continues to endure.

Now, these same old men who are calling for more limits on women’s choices are the same ones who refuse to expand access to care by taking billions in federal dollars to expand Medicaid. That money, by they way, comes from our taxes and it’s going to states that have expanded Medicaid.

In other words, these old white men support life only as far as the end of the birth canal. They support forcing women to bear children they can’t care for and then criticize women for having children they can’t care for.

Of course, they shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility for the child they created once they have forced a woman to have it. It’s all her fault, after all, even if she was raped.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to call out these old white men: If your support for life ends at the end of the birth canal, you are not pro-life and you should get your nose out of women’s business.


Memorial Day

Casey Sheehan dies in the Iraq War. His mother, Cindy  is an activist for peace. In my eyes, she is an American hero.

Casey Sheehan died in the Iraq War. His mother, Cindy is an activist for peace. In my eyes, she is an American hero.

I wasn’t going to post anything about Memorial Day, but after I saw Cindy Sheehan’s post on Facebook, I just had to say something.

I’ve been somewhat agitated all day because — well, I couldn’t quite articulate it until Cindy said it: “Fuck war.”

I lost friends and neighbors in the Vietnam War, and I never understood why we were there. But even as a teenager, I knew it was wrong. We didn’t belong there, and there’s no bringing back the precious ones we lost.

For a lot of soldiers, their lives ended in Vietnam even though they came home. They suffered from PTSD and from rejection. They didn’t return as heroes and they still had to live with all the horrors they had seen, most of them with no help.

Not that those who waged the war cared. A few people made a lot of money on that war. And a lot of families and friends still suffer the loss of more than 58,000 Americans.

We went into Afghanistan after 9/11 when the architects of it were Saudis, and even though Bin Laden was there, we really didn’t want to find him. Let me rephrase. Most of us — including the brave men and women who went there — wanted him; it was the people who make their fortunes off of war that hoped he would slip out of our grasp.

And as many of us have suspected, we were lied into the Iraq War. Cindy Sheehan has been brave enough to stand up and say how evil both those wars were — and the war-making that continues under the Obama Administration in the form of drones, dark sites and assassinations.

As I get older and see more young lives wasted on the battlefield, the grief overwhelms me. At least I got to say goodbye to my son. God bless the soldiers who believe we are doing the right thing, but I see Memorial Day as a little piece of candy to pacify us.

But I am not pacified by flags on graves or parades or 21-gun salutes. I want the wars to stop. I want those who went to war to be honored — with real help instead of empty gestures.

If we really held our soldiers in a position of honor, we wouldn’t be leaving them to rot on the streets, their war-caused mental illnesses untreated, unable to work, homeless and hungry.

We wouldn’t vote for the people who cut the budget to help returning soldiers.

We wouldn’t sit still and allow more wars to be fought in our name.

Fuck war and fuck the warmongers who waste our most precious resources — our people — on their evil adventures.

It’s time to prosecute the war criminals who caused the deaths of more than 4,000 Americans and God only knows how many innocent Iraqis and Afghanis. They created ISIS and emboldened every fundamentalist in the Middle East. They destabilized an entire region. They should not be free to roam the streets and sit on Sunday talk show panels rattling their sabers for more “boots on the ground.”

Cindy Sheehan’s son died because of a pack of lies, and she will never recover. God bless her and all those who stand with her for peace. She is a true hero.






The new N-word


Suspects are texting while police stand nearby. What would it look like if these criminals were thugs, I mean African-American?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but I hear the word “thug” a lot when it comes to African-Americans protesting generations of injustice, but not when it comes to white people rioting over a sports event or whose bike has prettier chrome.

Actually, I don’t know why the bikers in Waco, Texas, were rioting, but I haven’t heard the word “thug” used to describe them. On the other hand, a kid who MIGHT have taken a box of cheap cigars was a thug and a criminal. A kid who was arrested for no cause and died in police custody of a severed spine and other injuries was a thug.

But these men, who actually killed people, weren’t shot in the back, nor did they die by shooting themselves in the head while cuffed behind their backs in a police car, as happened in Durham, NC, a couple years ago.

I notice people who riot because their favorite sports team won (or lost) the championship aren’t called thugs, even when they’re overturning cars or burning down buildings. They’re just overzealous fans.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the Associated Press sent a couple of photos a day or so apart. The first one was of a white man “gathering supplies for his family,” which consisted of water and diapers. The second was of an African-American man carrying water and diapers, but the caption said he was looting.

But we’re post-racist, right?

Eric Rudolph is sitting in prison under a life sentence because he bombed the Atlanta Olympics and killed two people; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s bomb in Boston killed three people, but he was sentenced to death. I guess that’s because only Muslims can be considered terrorists.

When I mention that white people aren’t called thugs in the press when they riot or go on shooting rampages or set fires, people usually cite the burning of buildings and businesses, making it obvious that they care more about property than the lives of young black men who are dying at the hands of police.

If people don’t rise up, the abuse just continues. What are people supposed to do when they’re 27 times more likely to be killed by a police bullet than someone with a lighter skin color? Are we all supposed to just shrug and sigh and say we wish things would get better?

My 2-year-old great-granddaughter is mixed race. If you ask her what color she is, she’ll cheerfully tell you she’s black. Nobody taught her that, by the way; she just came up with it one day when her mom was asking her about her colors. What that means to me is that her life is in danger. She is at higher risk of so many awful things.

I don’t hear the N-word very often anymore, but I do hear the word “thug.” I hear it a lot, but I only seem to hear it in reference to young black men — especially those young black men who are injured or killed by police.



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