Archive for letters

In the name of “God,” I abuse thee

Here she is, apple in hand, listening to the snake. That's Eve, the cause of all women's problems.

Here she is, apple in hand, listening to the snake. That’s Eve, the cause of all women’s problems.

I grew up as a “daughter of Eve,” in a fundamentalist church.

Daughters of Eve (all women in the church’s view) are unclean because they share Eve’s “sin.” Because of their propensity to sin, girls and women must be closely guided, lest they fall prey to the lure of sin.

None of that made sense to me, especially since my parents weren’t fundamentalist Christians. On the one hand, my father was telling me I could be anything I wanted.

My mother was telling me I should learn to type “In case anything happens to your husband, you’ll have a skill to fall back on.”

The church was telling me I existed to be a “helpmate” to a man and a mother to his children.

Women held no power in the church. We couldn’t be ministers; we couldn’t be deacons; we couldn’t serve communion; we couldn’t even teach Sunday school to children older than 12 because the Apostle Paul said so.

I rejected all of that as I grew up, although I married an “old-fashioned” man the first time out. Once I realized I didn’t want or need a boss, or an owner, I moved on to healthier relationships.

I kept my sons away from church because I didn’t want them to become the kind of men who would treat women without respect.

I finally discovered that there are churches where women are equal; churches where even the men were feminist. In my childhood church, these were called “Dens of Satan.”

The people in fundamentalist churches feel persecuted because they can’t make everyone believe God is a punishing father figure, and they can’t force all of society to live according to their Medieval tenets.

They are the driving force behind laws that withhold health care from poor women by closing women’s health clinics. They are the people who filed the Hobby Lobby suit that exempts “Christians” from covering women’s contraception.

They’re also the ones behind that proposed laws that would allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples or fire someone on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.

They are pulling us all backward with their so-called values, as though women’s lives are less consequential than men’s.

Now comes a bill in Georgia that would exempt these good “Christians” from domestic abuse laws because they believe the man is the head of the household and should be allowed to administer whatever discipline he chooses for whatever displeases him.

“Yeah, I smacked her. She burned the toast. I have a deeply held religious belief that I have to correct her.”

That’s what it’s often called, by the way, “correction,” as though women’s desires are meaningless and wrongheaded and therefore must be corrected.

So, what comes next, public stonings of women who have been unfaithful? How far do we allow ourselves to be pulled down this road?

The day the so-called Hobby Lobby decision was rendered by the Supreme Court, I found my local chapter of the National Organization of Women and re-joined.

The Asheville/Buncombe County chapter holds meetings the second Sunday of each month in the Community Room of the YWCA in Asheville.

Wherever you live, if you’re a woman, you need to become active. You need to register and vote. You need to raise your voice.

When I was a young feminist, I thought we were winning these rights for all time; not I know we have to keep fighting.





Too many of us just don’t get it


This meme from a high school friend set me off this morning.

Do people really think those who have to rely on government assistance enjoy it?

Do they really believe the person getting $50 a month in food stamps has no worries?

Here was my reply:

You mean giving it to a 1-percenter in the form of a tax break, right? I work with people who are receiving government assistance, and not one of them (except the 82-year-old veteran) wants the help. My son would have loved to get help before it was too late to save his life. These selfish memes make me furious. It’s the wealthy who are picking our pockets, not the poor or the sick or disabled.

So far, no one else has commented.

My son had stage 3 cancer and was forced to leave his wife to be eligible for Medicaid. He still hadn’t been approved for disability. That would take 37 months and the first check would arrive nine days after his death.

He applied for food stamps, and even though he had no income, he was approved for just $10 a month. He walked away from it.

He wanted to work, but he was too sick, so he tried to rely on systems he had paid into for 15 years. He got next to nothing.

Among the people I encounter in my work is a young mother who works full time in a restaurant but whose income is still below the federal poverty level, so she can’t buy insurance through the Marketplace. She can’t get Medicaid, either, and she has cervical cancer. Without treatment, she’ll die.

She pays taxes, by the way. Every time she buys anything, she pays sales taxes. Her rent money pays her landlord’s property taxes.

Another person we serve is on disability because of bipolar disorder. Believe me, she would trade a healthy mind and body for her government assistance any day. She became addicted to drugs when she self-medicated to get rid of the emotional pain. Until the Affordable Care Act became law and mental health services were mandated to be covered at the same level as other health services, she wasn’t getting the treatment she needed. She had to go to jail to get that.

Not a lot of people on disability are lazy. They’re living on below poverty level incomes and they’re watched carefully. If they need more, that’s just too bad. Any increases in the money they receive — often after working and paying into the pot for decades — is going to the wealthy in the form of a tax break.

Let’s flip this meme on its head. Let’s demand that the people who live off the sweat of others give up some of their perks. No one needs the kind of money being hoarded by the Koch Brothers and the Walton family.

And certainly, the poor don’t deserve to be vilified.

Please, when you see something like this, don’t just roll your eyes and keep scrolling.

Speak up, or as they used to say in the evangelical church I grew up in, testify!


We need to bring the light

cop shot

The two cops who were brutally murdered this week in New York City are just the latest victims in what is starting to look like a civil war among ourselves.

They are as much victims of this mess as are the African-Americans murdered by white police officers.

The real perpetrators are the gun manufacturers and the rest of the war machine. They’re getting filthy rich off the arming of America’s citizenry and the militarization of our police forces.

Fox News whips up fear among those who watch and believe, and while we the people are distracted, the 1 percent pick our pockets by convincing us they need more. It’s never enough. When you have that much the greed becomes pathological.

It doesn’t matter how many of us die, just so long as there are enough people to labor on their machines, fight their wars and tend to their desires.

I know this is radical thinking, but it becomes increasingly obvious that we, the working class, are losing.

People are so distracted by threats of terrorism and Ebola that they don’t see their rights being plucked away, bit by bit. “Oh, sure, demanding an ID before someone can vote isn’t a bad idea,” you might think. Then they convince you people who can’t pass a literacy test shouldn’t have a say in electing a government.

Young, unarmed African-American men, even boys, are shot down in the street, choked, attacked, beaten, frisked for no reason, and too many of us listen to those who call them thugs and say they deserve to die.

Poor people live on the streets, many of them in need of treatment for psychiatric illness or addiction, and we listen to the people who call them bums and try to run them off by passing laws criminalizing giving them food.

The War Machine wants us to be scared enough to follow the call to war anywhere, any time. We say “no more boots on the ground,” but then we always seem to cheer on our troops when we become convinced we need boots on the ground.

When we have sent these men and women into combat five, six, eight times and they have become too debilitated to be of any further use to the machine, we discard them.

So much for honoring the troops, although we still are called to glorify the military, to say thanks to a soldier as we vote for the people who will strip away more of their benefits.

After World War II, we prosecuted Germans and Japanese for doing exactly what we did to people under the guise of fighting terrorism, and more than 50 percent of Americans think that’s OK.

We’re the frog put into a pot of cool water and heated ever so slowly until we’re poached. We don’t see it coming until it’s too late, and it’s getting damn close to too late.

What we’re seeing right now is only the beginning, and unless we see substantial wage increases, fewer tax breaks for the super-rich, a cease of the attack on women’s and workers’ rights, and improvements to the things we need and use every day — our nation’s infrastructure — we’re cooked.

I’m not sure what the path would be to combat the increased violence, and the increased tolerance of it. I guess we each have to stand up for what we believe is right. We have to reject the violence and hatred. We have to be constructive and not destructive.

I guess what I’m saying, is that in this season of darkness, we have to bring the light.

Blessed be, as my Pagan friends say. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas.


We are not the good guys


We tortured people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wasn’t just “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to a newly released CIA report.

We used sleep deprivation and we broke bones. We chained people to the floor and sexually humiliated them.

We kept them standing or in stress positions, yelled at them, stripped them, dragged them across floors and beat them. We kept them in secret sites that no one but the CIA knew about.

We did things that we prosecuted the Japanese for after World War II.

We are not the good guys anymore. We are the scary bad guys.

This is not the United States I was raised to believe in. Of course, much of that was a lie, since we secretly meddled in other countries for decades before 9/11. We created Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

When our creations no longer suit our needs, we use whatever means — legal or illegal — to get rid of them. In this case, we tortured human beings.

What’s worse, the torture yielded no results. Information provided by someone who is being tortured is unreliable at best. People who are being tortured will say anything to make it stop. The most reliable and truthful information came from people who were questioned without harsh techniques.

The CIA lied to the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about its tactics.

Someone needs to go to jail for this. In fact, an entire group of people need to rot in jail for a very long time, including the psychologists the CIA hired to help develop the techniques used.

And even though the CIA lied, I think if Congress were doing its job, someone should have uncovered this mess.

We were living under an administration that said waterboarding was OK and that it yielded good information. Of course the people who wanted to torture would take that as a signal to go another step or two further.

We were “rendering” people with no trial to foreign countries and secret CIA prison sites to be interrogated by monsters of our own creation.

I am incredibly disappointed by President Obama’s reaction, which amounted to, “Oops.”

His carefully chosen words about these methods of interrogation being “inconsistent with our values as a nation” were cowardly and inappropriate. He should have been incensed, but he was disappointed.

This report should make all of us sick to our stomachs, but there already are people rushing to defend the CIA and its tactics.

If things like this are done in our name is it any wonder that we treat our own people with disdain?

If people mean nothing to us as a nation, then torture abroad and the murders of innocent, unarmed people at home become commonplace. Lives become meaningless and thus, disposable.

This is not the kind of society I want to live in. We need to work to change it. All of us.

I have to say, I’m not very proud to be an American today. Shame on us.



“This stops today!”

protest 120414

That was what Eric Garner said moments before he was killed. It also was one of the chants at last night’s demonstration in Asheville, where we shut down Biltmore Avenue for a time.

But when my friend, Noel Nickle and I wanted to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” many of the young people there didn’t know it. So she and I sang it, and a few people joined in.

To us, the singing was about building something, not just shutting something down.

Yes, racism must be shut down. The fatal flaws in out so-called justice system need to be shut down.

But then what?

It’s one thing to insist something evil be torn down, but it must be replaced with something better.

If “this stops today,” then what do we begin tomorrow?

How do we build a more just society?

That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Last night in Asheville, we chanted and sang, we shut down Biltmore Avenue and marched through downtown.

We have demonstrated our anger and frustration.

Now what?

How do we get people to respect each other as fellow human beings?

I know I live with white privilege. I don’t ever have to think about the color of my skin or whether I’m being pulled over for driving while black.

I met a young man last night who I hope will become a friend for life. We were talking about our different perspectives, and how we were able to reach the same conclusions about the injustice that’s so pervasive in our culture.

“Don’t tell me it isn’t about race when I’m 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white man my age,” he said.

Keith Knox Jr. is a senior at UNC Asheville, majoring in political science. He plans to get a master’s degree in public policy and then go to law school — a similar path to the one my late son wanted to take before he died from neglect.

As Keith and I talked about what we would like to see happen, a television reporter walked over to interview us.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” he said.

Why were we there? What enraged us enough to come out to protest?

I gave my usual answer: that Michael brown could have been my kid or my grandson, and that each of these fallen young men is part of my human family. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.

Keith answered the question with one of his own: “Why should I be expected to pledge allegiance to a country that won’t respect me?”

There was a lot of energy, as there has been at all of the protests across the country.

We have taken to the streets.

Now what?


It feels overwhelming


I’m having the worst time focusing today. I’m trying to sort through my thoughts as I attempt to write about my own son’s death from medical neglect and at the same time, wrap my head around the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.

Before he died, my son insisted that I forgive the people who were responsible for his death and move on to something positive, so I began to advocate for universal access to health care.

But what are the mothers and other family members of these folks supposed to do? How do you get over the death of a 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun at a playground?

How do you get over the brutal murder of an 18-year-old who was days away from starting college and actually had some hope of escaping a life of poverty?

How do you move beyond the choking death of a 43-year-old father of six?

Immediately, the media try to criminalize the victim. The 12-year-old should have known better than to play with a toy gun.

The 18-year-old was a “thug” who may have stolen some cigars.

The father of six was selling loose cigarettes.

It’s as though these offenses — real or imagined — warranted the death penalty.

That’s why no one is being tried, even for involuntary manslaughter, in any of these deaths.

And we the people are supposed to shrug and move on. Or perhaps we’re supposed to join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

I believe in peaceful protest, although even that too often is met with violent militarized action by police.

Someone throws a bottle and the tanks and tear gas come out, which just makes the crowd angrier and things keep escalating.

These three and many, many more, mostly black people, die because cops can get away with acting as judge, jury and executioner.

These atrocities don’t happen in my white neighborhood, and I could “mind my own business,” I suppose.

But I can’t stand by and do nothing in the face of such injustice. I have to speak out. I will be at a protest tonight, and I will continue to protest until things begin to change.

I’ve gotten into a few discussions on Facebook about these deaths. Someone called me a racist for saying it happens too often to black men and boys.

People who want to remain comfortable in their middle-class neighborhoods don;t realize that they’re not safe from the abuses of power.

First they came for …

Go ahead and make excuses for the cops if you want. You can feel safe — for now.


Another killer cop walks free

The final moments of Eric Garner's life.

The final moments of Eric Garner’s life.

OK, I know the title sounds like nasty rhetoric, but it has happened again, and this time there’s video to prove the cop broke the law.

Last July, Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes near the ferry terminal in Staten Island, NY. Video shows police approach and wrestle him to the ground. In the video, the person behind the camera says Garner had just broken up a fight.

Whatever the reason for the police being there, Garner resists being put in handcuffs, so several officers tackle him. One officer has him in a chokehold and later has his knee on Garner’s head to keep it on the ground.

Repeatedly, you can hear Garner croak, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!”

The officer ignores his pleas and continues to keep him in the illegal chokehold.

I watched the video. It’s disturbing as hell.

The coroner ruled the death a homicide, but the Grand Jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to indict — even though the video clearly shows the officer in violation of the law.

Garner was unarmed, by the way. The officers were never in any danger from him.

Garner had asthma and other medical problems. He weighed about 400 pounds. He was in violation of the law when he sold loose cigarettes, but he was not dangerous when police tackled him. He denied he was doing anything wrong and police just got rougher. He was obviously frightened of being put in handcuffs.

So, what happened is that Eric Garner got the death penalty for selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has been stripped of his badge and gun. He may lose his job. That’s hardly payment for causing the death of a human being.

Go ahead and call me racist for saying I don’t think it would have happened to a white man, but I really don’t think it would have.

New York is the home of stop and frisk and the vast majority of people who get stopped are non-white.

Now we have another unarmed black man killed, and no one will have to answer for the crime.

Let’s face it, the system is broken. This isn’t justice. Something has to change.


The brutality must stop


This is my friend, Russell Johnson (photo taken from his Facebook profile because I couldn’t find any of the ones I’ve taken of him), who volunteers for a local Internet radio station.

Russell has been to several Moral Monday and other social justice events, and I have never seen him act inappropriately. He’s always positive, and usually funny. He’s articulate and intelligent. He is a member of Veterans for Peace.

Russell went to Ferguson to report on events there, and that’s when he got into trouble.

From what I understand, he was interviewing someone and the police told him to move on. A friend reported that he did comply with the order, but he was arrested anyway.

The police beat him to the ground and then arrested him, dragging him off because he couldn’t walk.

He spent several hours in jail before he was released, and then had to undergo treatment for a separated shoulder. It will require surgery.

Right now, that’s all the details I have, but it’s enough to make my blood boil.

I’m nonviolent. I believe very strongly that violence only begets more violence. That doesn’t mean I’m never tempted to do violence to someone, and my first impulse was that I wanted to slap those cops silly.

If I had been the one interviewing, would I have been beaten senseless and dragged off to jail? I don’t think that’s likely.

Police most often direct their brutality at people of color — especially young men.

APTOPIX_Ferguson-0c203-3101APTOPIX_Ferguson-0c203-3101I’m tired of hearing Ferguson isn’t about race. It IS about race. It is all about race. We have found a new way to enslave African-Americans and it’s in our so-called “justice” system.

If this wasn’t about race, why were the National Guard not in Ferguson but stationed in white neighborhoods nearby? If the death of Michael Brown wasn’t about race and was justified, why are people the world over so upset?

If Michael Brown’s death wasn’t about privilege, why did the prosecutor have to pervert the Grand Jury process?

Even some conservatives have looked at the evidence released by the prosecutor and are incredulous that there was no indictment of the officer who shot Michael Brown.

Even if Russell didn’t stop interviewing someone when an officer told him to move on, did that officer order others to move on? I don’t know. I’m eager to talk to Russell when he gets back to Asheville.

What I do know is that a decent man was beaten senseless for no good reason. Once again, nonviolent resistance was met with brute force.

I do know that Russell would not have thrown the first punch. The cops were not reacting to a real threat.

When someone doesn’t move when ordered, the first response should never be to beat him with clubs until he can’t even walk.

Even if Russell mouthed off, the response was inappropriately violent.

I guess I should be grateful my friend wasn’t shot and killed, but I refuse to accept that kind of crumb. Russell could have been killed by their nightsticks. Would they then say he had attacked them? Would they have gotten away with murder?

I’m willing to bet they get away with assault. After all, Russell is a black man. It seems they’re justifiably threatened (in their eyes) by that mere fact.

I am furious, but I also know we can’t answer violence with violence. We have to stand in solidarity. We have to stand in peace.



“No justice, no peace!”

njnpNo justice, no peace.

The first time I heard those words, I was disturbed.

Was it a call for armed revolution? Was it an invitation to overthrow the current order?

As it turns out, it is neither.

It is a call to treat all human beings with respect.

As it is, people in this country live without hope of things ever getting better. Unless you have experienced hopelessness, you can not understand what it can do to a person.

Let’s say you live in a poor neighborhood where there are few, if any jobs. You’re told if you stay in school things will get better, but you stay in school and you’re still treated as though your life doesn’t matter.

People with authority and power treat you as though you’re worthless. They can stop and frisk you for no reason and shoot to kill if you don’t comply.

It’s completely arbitrary. You can walk through the neighborhood one day and get stopped and humiliated the next.

When you walk into a store, people assume you’re there to steal and you get followed as you browse.

These indignities add up, one by one, day after day.

Michael Brown stayed in school and was about to start college, but that didn’t give him immunity from being shot six times by a white police officer.

The prosecutor said the police officer saw that Michael Brown matched the description that had been sent out as someone who had robbed a convenience store.

First of all, it has been established already that the officer did not have the description, and that, although there was an altercation at the store, the film appears to show Michael Brown putting money on the counter.

Second, if Michael Brown did steal cigars, that should not mean he gets the death penalty.

This is what I mean about living without hope that things will ever get better.

This child’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours. Is it any wonder that residents of Ferguson believe the police were fixing “evidence” while he lay there?

How can anyone be at peace when they live with the disrespect these human beings face every day?

Meanwhile, the people with power have to protect what they have. They have to make it appear that Michael Brown deserved to die and that the officer was completely justified in using deadly force.

How can they have any sense of peace when they’re living in fear of an uprising because of the injustices they perpetrate?

When I say, “No justice, no peace,” I mean that we can’t have peace on either side as long as part of the population lives with intimidation and fear, underpaid, disrespected and with no hope of anything changing.

Had Darryl Wilson been indicted and a trial held, even if he was exonerated, at least there would have been an open debate about what happened. We might not have been happy with the results, but there would have been at least a modicum of respect for Michael Brown and his family.

Instead, he will walk away, his actions condoned. That sends a powerful message to people whose lives are affected every day by indignities and disrespect. When you remove hope from someone’s life, they have nothing to lose by lashing out in anger. Their neighborhood feels like a prison, so what do what have to lose by rioting and lighting fires?

We can’t live in peace if a minority of the population spends all its time trying to protect itself and its power and wealth by denying the rights of others to live a decent life.

Things won’t get better until we truly understand the meaning of “No justice, no peace” as a call to respect others and not as a call to rebellion and violence.

The real reason nothing’s been done on immigration


About 10 years ago, I was writing a story about construction and landscaping, and I interviewed the CEO of a fairly large construction company.

He asked that the conversation go off the record for a few minutes as we began to talk about the labor force.

“People in this business hire immigrants,” he told me. “They work hard and they do good work. No one wants to see that change, so you won’t see real immigration reform until the construction, landscaping and other industries want it to happen.”

He told me he hired only legal immigrants, but that much of the industry hires anyone with a Social Security card, and many employers don’t want to know if it’s fake.

And a whole lot of immigrants have fake documentation, which means they’re paying Social Security and other taxes, but they aren’t eligible for any government safety net programs. Even without false ID, immigrants pay sales taxes, gasoline, and through their landlords, property taxes.

Some employers knowingly hire people who aren’t here legally, knowing they can abuse them without any consequences. How many employees will choose to complain when they know it could lead to deportation and the loss of any chance to stay here?

I think my off-the-record source was right. I think big business wants this below-poverty work force to stay. Apparently, free trade isn’t enough; they want what is essentially slave labor here in the US.

According to a study in the journal, “Public Health,” at least half of all current farm workers are undocumented. That makes it easy to abuse them, to withhold pay for little or no reason, to intimidate them with threats of deportation and worse.

Little has improved for migrant farm workers since the documentary, “Harvest of Shame” aired on CBS in 1960. Housing and pay are still substandard, worker rights are pretty much nonexistent, abuse is rampant.

One farmer told CBS News, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

Here in North Carolina, we have children working in tobacco fields, and the nicotine that’s being absorbed into their bodies is enough to poison them.

Instead of having compassion for immigrants, we see them as criminals, yet we tolerate the businesses that bring them in by the truckload and abuse them.

President Obama wants to do something about the mess, but Congress refuses to help in any way. There is at lease one bipartisan bill that could pass, but House Speaker John Boehner refuses to bring it to the floor for a vote.

So when President Obama vows to make changes via executive order, the Republicans accuse him of acting like an “emperor,” despite the fact that every president since Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration — including the precious right-wing icon, Ronald Reagan.

What we’re talking about here is human life. These are people who, like our own ancestors, are desperate for a better life, and they’re being exploited by the greed of big business.

But big business also wants us to hate the people they’re exploiting so that they can continue to exploit them. If we feel compassion, we might rise up and demand action. I’m sure that’s why several of the major networks won’t carry the president’s speech tonight. Better we all believe the lies corporate media are spoon-feeding us than any of us wake up and demand to know what the hell is going on here.


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