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Don’t you dare tell me about “God’s plan”

pp rallyI helped organize a counter-protest this morning to an anti-abortion protest in front of Planned Parenthood, and while I was able to keep my cool for the most part, the level of misinformation and the lack of critical thinking skills left me shaking my head in dismay (and muttering the F-bomb under my breath).

We set up across the street from Planned Parenthood and they began to trickle over to stand in front of us to hide our signs. I stood my ground in front of one man as he tried to push his way past me and threatened to call the police because I was standing my ground. He pushed me again.

“Sir, what you just did is classified as assault. If you don’t move away from me right now, I will call the police and I will press charges.”

He pushed again.

“I’m trying to save babies,” he said.

I stood firm. “I’m trying to save women. Now, move away or I will call the police and I will have you arrested for assault.”

I stared him down and he moved on.

I stood in front of another woman and she started yelling at me.

“I’m 73!” she said.

“I’m 63,” I answered. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I asked her if she’s for universal access to health care. Naturally, she said something about the poor babies.

“What about the poor women?” I asked.

“I’m a Christian,” she said.

“So am I. What about the already-born?”

I told her I chose not to have an abortion when I was advised to, and then my son was killed by a health care system that wouldn’t take care of him because he couldn’t get health insurance.”

God took your son,” she said. “God has a plan.”

I lost it. Fortunately, my rabbi friend, Wolff was standing there and folded his arms around me.

“What took her son,” he said to the woman, “had nothing to do with God. Her son was killed by greed, not God.”

Meanwhile, I was sobbing and mumbling, “fuck off,” into his chest so she wouldn’t be able to hear me.

“I used to be an agnostic,” she said. “I tried every religion there is before I was born again.”

Wolff tightened his arms around me and glared at her silently.

The woman backed off, and the next time she tried to talk to me about how God took my son, I excused myself, turned around and walked away. I don’t need to talk to someone with the critical thinking skills of a rock.

“I wonder why it’s God’s will when greed kills your son, but not when a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy,” Wolff said.

Great question.

Another man carrying a Christian flag tried the God thing again. He had overheard me speaking about my son.

“Bless you for choosing life,” he said. “God will bless you because God has a plan.”

I glared at him and said, “God didn’t kill my son. A greedy doctor did by choosing to let him die rather than save his life. Please just leave me alone.”

Then another woman asked why I seemed so angry because she, after all, was so loving with her anti-abortion sign.

I told her I’m angry because my son died and she and her friends didn’t seem to care about that at all.

“Oh, you’re angry because you couldn’t kill your baby,” she said.

I couldn’t even imagine where that had come from, so I explained that I had chosen not to have an abortion, but that our broken health care system had killed my child.

“So, you wish you had been the one to kill him?” she asked.

“Fuck off,” I said and walked away. That was when I had to leave. I can’t stand having someone think it’s OK that people are dying every day from lack of access to health care, that if you close women’s clinics, women die, and then turn around and call themselves “pro-life” or “Christian” because they want to limit women’s choices.

A few of the people I spoke to  wanted to see alternatives to Planned Parenthood open up, wanted to see everyone have access to health care, were anti-death penalty and anti-war. I really liked talking to them, even though we disagreed on abortion.

But the vast majority of people I encountered were ready to hate me without knowing anything about me. All it was about was their view of God and trying to force it on me. The Romanian man I met said it beautifully.

“God is there to love us and help us through the worst of things. We honor that by loving each other, even if we don’t agree.”

As we were speaking a teenage girl said to me, “God has a plan.”

“Please don’t tell me about God and plans,” I said. “If you ever lose a child, perhaps you’ll understand where I’m coming from here. God had nothing to do with my son’s death; it was a greedy corrupt system where he couldn’t get insurance and he couldn’t get care. Planned Parenthood took care of me when I was uninsured and they gave me contraceptives. When I got sick, they treated me and probably saved me life. They helped me prevent an unplanned pregnancy, so you could say they helped me prevent having to have an abortion.”

A young man stepped forward and tried to tell me something about pregnancy, speaking over me as I spoke to the young woman.

“First of all,” I said, “Never talk over me. That’s just rude, and it won’t save the lives of any pre-born children, OK? And since you’ve never been pregnant and never will be, you have no place lecturing me on pregnancy.”

Let me just say it one more time for emphasis.

God did not take my son from me. God had nothing to do with it. My son died from greed. He died from a broken health care system. He died from negligent homicide.

If we take women’s clinics away, women will die, and while they may not matter to you, they matter to me and to all the people who love them.

Why #blacklivesmatter

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

A group of elders and youth met to talk about how they can work together.

Have you wondered why the hastag isn’t about all lives mattering?

Well, I have a story for you.

I’m in Clinton, Tenn., at the Children’s Defense Fund’s Proctor Institute, a week-long retreat of preaching and workshops devoted to social justice for children.

Of course, that means social justice for their parents and others who love and care for them, but let’s start with children.

I listened to a panel of three teenage boys today who have lived through unimaginable horrors.

One young man’s father left before he was out of diapers. His mother went on to have several more children and then sank into deep, deep despair and hopelessness as she struggled to care for her children.

By the time he was 8, this young man had lost his first friend to a bullet.

As his mother was unable to care for the family, he was left to care for his siblings.

“We ate toast for a month once,” he said. “I knew I had to do something because I couldn’t have my family eating toast every day.”

He is entering his senior year in high school as a star athlete and his prospects for college look good. But it pales in the face of the losses he has suffered.

“I have been to 12 funerals since my freshman year,” he said. “I have lost all my friends. All of them.”

Next to him sat a young man who was expelled from school after the school’s safety officer lied about him making racist threats.

“I asked him why he lied. I asked him why he thought I could even BE racist, since he was the one with the power.”

This kid finished his school year online, making excellent grades by going to the library every day to do his work on the computers there.

At dinner, I sat next to a man who spent 17 years on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit. He is grateful to be out in the world again.

“Want to know the first time I ever set foot in Tennessee?” he asked. “When I was brought here in shackles and chains to stand trial for a crime I didn’t commit.”

He finished high school and became a paralegal while in prison.

Black men are 27 times more likely to be shot by police. They die in the streets in their own neighborhoods because no one cares what happens to them. Their schools are neglected.

One young man from Philadelphia said today that 40 inner-city schools have been closed in his city and a $1.3 billion prison built in his neighborhood.

Another told me about how friends have been suspended from school for not wearing a belt. Suspension often means involvement with the “justice” system, and for-profit prisons are just waiting for this new inventory.

I have met a group of youths from the Black Lives Matter Movement. Several also are in the Moral Monday Movement. I know their stories, and the atrocities they face would never have happened where I grew up because I lived in a pretty much all white town.

I listened to them today as they met with a group of “elders,” both black and white.

The idea was formed at the breakfast table when someone said they should gather with their elders and form a coalition to seek social justice for people in poverty. Not just black people in poverty, although the majority of people in poverty are people of color.

At lunchtime, dozens of young people met to talk about what they might do in such a coalition, and at 4:15, more than 50 of us met in a small room to talk about how we might work to improve the lives of people in poverty and how we might get government to work with us.

Tonight, the youth are writing a document asking the predominantly black protestant denominations to work with youth. They will present it at national conventions as an item to be adopted.

You can’t call these kids lazy or stupid. They are smart, dedicated and desperately hoping to bring about change in peaceful ways, if that’s possible.

It was deeply rewarding to sit in a room with these young people who want to seek the wisdom of those of us who participated in the Civil Rights, the anti-war and the women’s movements in the 1950s through the 1970s. We are eager to hear their ideas and to work with them.

The lives we change will be mostly black and Latino because more of them are in poverty. But we all will benefit from the lifting up of the least of these, as Jesus called the people in the margins.

Yes, all lives matter, but right now, institutionalized racism affects — and kills — more black people than white, and we need to recognize that. We need to change that.

 

 

Just expand Medicaid already!

Photo by the (Asheville) Citizen-Times There I am, holding Mike's photo, wearing my T-shirt and looking hardass.

Photo by the (Asheville) Citizen-Times
There I am, holding Mike’s photo, wearing my T-shirt and looking hardass.

I never thought I was a radical, but I can feel myself trending in that direction.

I took part in yesterday’s Medicaid Expansion Coalition’s Day of Action, but the action was a spate of press conferences. We were all over Facebook and the evening news. It raised awareness. But no one in the state legislature likely changed their minds about expanding Medicaid.

Dr. Shannon Dowler, medical director of Blue Ridge Community Health Services, was eloquent as she spoke about the people she cares for. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories. I wish legislators had heard her.

This event was not my normal way of approaching Medicaid expansion. I guess it made me realize how my life gave birth to a radical, albeit a nonviolent radical.

I didn’t speak at the event, and I’m glad about that. The event’s organizers know me. I am not one to mince words or speak in approved phrases. Most of the other organizations have programs serving thousands of low-income people. They have a lot to lose. I don’t.

So, I stood behind the speakers, wearing my “Expand Medicaid” T-shirt and holding a photo of my son.

Plenty of words have been spoken over the last two and a half years, and plenty of actions taken. Still, the governor and legislative leaders refuse to expand Medicaid, an action that would allow a half million people access to health care.

People are dying every day. In North Carolina alone, five to seven people die each day from lack of access to health care. The governor signed a law when he first took office that ceded his authority to expand Medicaid to the legislature, and legislators have made it clear they don’t care about these lives.

Perhaps if they had sat next to their dying child, holding his hand as he breathed his last and slipped away, these legislators would have more of a heart for these lives we’re losing.

Instead, they assume it can’t happen to them, that the people who are dying somehow brought their poverty on themselves and deserve their fate. Then they go to church and proclaim themselves “pro-life.”

Since I represent no one but myself here, let me say this:

If you aren’t in favor of saving these precious lives, you are NOT pro-life.

When you say people don’t deserve health care, you lose all credibility with me.

If your support for life ends at the end of the birth canal, you are anti-life.

When you call yourself a follower of Christ and then allow people to die just so you can make a mean-spirited, cynical political statement, you’d better stop and read Matthew 25:31-46.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the passage where Jesus says, “Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do also unto me.”

It’s the text where Jesus describes Judgment Day, and it has informed my actions all my life. I’m not perfect at loving everyone. It isn’t always easy helping “the least of these” because their numbers are increasing so fast and their stories are so heartbreaking.

Some of my colleagues, whose life’s work is helping those in need, have to be very careful of what they say and do because they need the funding to continue their work.

I’ve already lost the worst thing anyone can lose; I’ve lost my child. Nothing can be worse than that.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

“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?

 

The brutality must stop

rusel

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.

 

 

Remember when journalists could be trusted?

I grew up the daughter of a hard-nosed newspaper reporter who valued the truth above all. He could cover an issue he felt passionately about and leave his own feelings at the door. He had integrity.

I remember when Walter Cronkite was the nation’s most trusted man. He reported the news and nothing more, until he saw what a travesty the Vietnam War had become and felt compelled to speak out. I was disappointed, even though I agreed with him.

Opinion is why newspapers have editorial pages, and that is where opinion used to be confined.

But in recent years, opinion has crept more and more into the news, with Fox leading the way and MSNBC answering. That wouldn’t be such a problem if people got their news from more than one source. As much as I like Rachel Maddow, she is not my only source of information.

Even the New York Times can’t be trusted anymore. Remember its role as a cheerleader in the run-up to the Iraq War?

There is precious little left of the unbiased media. Someone cited liberal bias to me because a survey of Washington, DC, journalists done in 1992 showed more of them voted for Bill Clinton that the elder George Bush.

First of all, we don’t use 20-year-old data. Second, you can hold your personal opinions and still be fair.

I have covered issues like abortion and been called fair by both sides.

However, the media does make one huge mistake these days, and that is validating information that is just plain wrong by tring to tell both “sides” of a story.

You wouldn’t expect to see someone saying tobacco is safe in a story about thye damages smoking and “dipping” do.

No one would say the Earth is flat in a story about geology.

Few people believe that psychiatric illness is caused by demons, and no reporter would think he or she has to quote someone who does believe that.

The fact is that the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are losing ground, and it’s because we keep cutting taxes for the wealthy and for corporations and making up for lost money by taking services from the poor and shipping jobs overseas, villifying those who receive unemployment benefits as lazy and turning away the sick because they don’t have insurance.

The wealthy conservatives get away with it because the media continues to give validity to the lies and disinformation, and if someone doesn’t, they’re attacked as biased.

When the Harvard Medical School study that found 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year because they don’t have insurance was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,  I offered a copy of the study to my local paper. The editor told me there wasn’t enough staff to cover a national story like this and the paper would rely on The Associated Press to cover it.

Well, the AP didn’t do a story. In fact, when I searched the Web for any mention of the study in the media, I found only two mentions: one in the Boston Globe Harvard is in Boston) and one in the Sacramento Bee.

It was Keith Olbermann who covered the story. Ed Shultz grabbed onto it like a pit bull and didn’t let go. Eventually, the story was mentioned in other media, but it was downplayed.

That’s just one example. Remember the Downing Street Memo that proved George W. Bush was tweaking the evidence to gain public support for his illegal war in Iraq? For months, the only place I heard about it was on Al Franken’s radio show.

We can’t trust big media anymore. Not Fox News, not even the New York Times. They’re withholding important information that Americans need to know and perpetuating the lies of the right.

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