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A little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, please

Here we are, about to go into Sen. Thom Tillis's office for some disrespect and verbal abuse.

Here we are, about to go into Sen. Thom Tillis’s office for some disrespect and verbal abuse.

I went to Washington, DC, for the final day of Democracy Awakening with the NC NAACP, and it was a glorious, frustrating, infuriating and affirming day.

The bus arrived in time for the rally at Columbus Circle, which was followed by a march to the U.S. Capitol, where about 300 or so people were arrested for standing on the steps of OUR building. While that was going on, the rest of the crowd of more than 1,000 people was pushed back 500 or so feet by the Capitol Police. It make the crowd look smaller when it was filmed by the few media outlets that were there to cover it.

I brought along a documentary film-maker, a 28-year-old student at UNC Asheville named Robin, who hasn’t done a lot of activism. She’ll do more if she continues to hang out with me.

After the rally, most of our group went to the Russell Senate Office Building, hoping to get some time with one or both of our senators, while Robin and I stayed to get some shots of Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, and Rev. Dr. Cornell Brooks, the national NAACP president, as they gave statements after being released from custody.

The purpose of all this is to try and get Big Money out of politics. Once we do that, we can begin to fix the mess the uber-wealthy have created for the rest of us.

When Robin and I finally made it to the Senate Cafeteria, we were just in time to join the group for an appointment at Sen. Thom Tillis’s office.

Now, Tillis doesn’t care for us Moral Monday folks. He literally ran away from us a number of times when he was Speaker of the House in North Carolina. As a Senator, he has refused delivery of petitions from us, having a staffer tell us to mail it in.

I don’t think he expected the NC NAACP delegation to join the Democracy Uprising people, although I can’t believe how he couldn’t figure out we would hook up.

But, there we were, about 25 of us, ushered into a conference room where we met with a low-level staffer.

She proceeded to roll her eyes a lot and ask insulting questions. One example was when she asked where we get the money for public campaign financing. Vicki Ryder, a Raging Granny, member of the NC NAACP and fellow Moral Monday activist, suggested we could shut down the building of outdated and unnecessary fighter jets or shut down a few of the 1,000-plus bases we have around the world, and this staffer looked incredulous as she said, “Defense? You’re talking about eliminating the defense budget?”

Of course she knew no one was talking about eliminating the Department of Defense or disbanding the military. She just didn’t know she was talking to people who are well informed and not easily intimidated.

She didn’t look at people who spoke to her and her facial expression was one of utter contempt for all of us. She rolled her eyes at everything we had to say.

When we started to talk about giving the president’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing, she said something about “let the people choose.” Four of us at once said, “The people have chosen.”

I mentioned that Tillis had said right after Antonin Scalia died that blocking a hearing would be obstructionist, and she denied he ever said it.

But of course, we do have recording devices in this day and age, and we all know he said it and then backed down, probably under pressure from party leaders.

Several people said they remembered him saying it and she said, “no he didn’t,” as though repeating her lie would somehow make us back down. It reminded me of the Monty Python skit in which people could pay John Cleese to argue with them. It was that ridiculous.

“Yes he did.”

“No he didn’t.”

“I could look it up. He said it.”

“No he didn’t.”

(But, in fact, you can hear him say just that on the Tom Cralle Show at http://soundcloud.com/tylercralle. Scroll down to the first Thom Tillis interview and listen. I didn’t link to it here here because it comes up as a huge photo of Cralle, but type or copy and paste it into your browser, and there you have it. )

I came thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to saying, “You’re a fucking liar and you know it.”

Rather than show as much disrespect to her as she was showing to us, I clenched my jaw, picked up my camera bag and said politely, “Excuse me, I have to leave now.”

I walked out of the room to find more Moral Monday friends from the NC Council of Churches in the waiting room and in the hallway. A few seconds later, Robin emerged from the meeting. We warned them to take several dep, cleansing breaths before going in because they were going to need it.

“I wasn’t as nice as you were,” Robin said to me. “I’m so mad I’m shaking. How can people be so disrespectful. She was utterly contemptuous.”

What made the experience even more surreal for her was the dead possum on the wall that she kept hitting with her head. I really wish I had gotten a picture of that before I was told to put down my camera.

Naturally, we weren’t allowed to record any of this because, as Tillis already knows, recordings can come back and bite you in the ass.

Richard Burr’s people were no more in agreement with us than Tillis’s automaton, but they were polite and respectful. The staffer who met with us took notes, handed out his card and said, “This isn’t my area of expertise, but I will pass on what you have to say here and you can e-mail or call me with any more questions.”

I left that office knowing I disagree with the senator, but a bit less angry and frustrated than I had been with Tillis.

I left Washington once again fired up to register people to vote, to fight voter suppression, to fight Big Money and to work for a more just society.

As we say in the Moral Monday Movement:

Forward together! Not one step back!

Too little, too late, Governor

Gov. Pat MccCrory waves at the camera after giving my friend, Jamie Sohn, a plate of cookies. I love the look on Jamie's face.

Gov. Pat MccCrory waves at the camera after giving my friend, Jamie Sohn, a plate of cookies. I love the look on Jamie’s face.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has issued a couple of executive orders this week that I’m sure he thinks will win him back some support.

Unfortunately, it’s far too little and way, way too late.

On Monday, he announced a limited “expansion” of Medicaid services, which would add people with autism, plus increase funding for substance abuse treatment.

He proposed increasing access to Naloxone, which reverses opioid and heroin overdoses, saying he wants to save lives.

Big deal, Governor. There’s still the prickly issue of that half million people with no access to health care, and up to 2,800 of them are estimated to die every year, or up to seven people every single day. Can you tell us why you don’t care about saving those lives?

The governor also said he has met with President Obama about a Medicaid waiver, which would let the state expand Medicaid with its own rules. Those rules would require Medicaid recipients to work to get coverage, and the president rejected that.

Now, the president doesn’t have the power to reject the provision on his own, but he certainly knows what would pass muster with the Center for Medicaid Services, and a work requirement won’t fly.

Thing is, most poor people do work. Many have more than one low-wage job and still live below the poverty level. Many can’t find full-time work because so many companies have stopped hiring full-time employees so they don’t have to offer health benefits. That’s why Medicaid expansion is so important.

The people who are dying are hard working. They’re not lazy, they’re not morally inferior, they’re just poor, and a big part of that is because the GOP has refused to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, which it was meant to be when it was enacted under Franklin Roosevelt.

That brings us to Hate Bill 2.

On Tuesday, the governor issued a video statement announcing he would seek to repeal a portion of the law, which was passed in a single day in a special session, and signed by him as soon as he could get it to his desk.

“I will immediately seek legislation in the upcoming short session to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina state courts,” he said.

But that doesn’t fix the power grab that denies towns and counties the ability to set their own minimum wage, among other things, and it leaves transgender people with no safe place to pee, and still doesn’t protect LGBT people or veterans.

They passed this abomination knowing there would be backlash, and I’m willing to bet they decided before it ever passed which parts of it they would be willing to sacrifice if things got too heated.

Sorry, Governor, but you won’t win back a whole lot of support with these feeble moves, and the lost business and the lost respect won’t be won back, either. You have made this once proud state a laughingstock, and you’re going home in November.

#OneTermPat.

 

NC’s Hate Bill 2 is worse that you thought

Rabbi Wolff Alterman at a demonstration in Asheville just after Hate Bill 2 was passed.

My friend Wolff Alterman at a demonstration in Asheville just after Hate Bill 2 was passed. The sign was approved by his 15-year-old daughter.

Thousands of North Carolinians have been out protesting the state’s new law, HB2, which codifies discrimination against transgender people by forcing them to use the public restroom of the gender into which they were born, not the gender they have become.

While that provision is backward, mean-spirited and ignorant, it is not the end of the abominable provisions in the law.

If you read Section 2, you’ll find the real reason the law was passed: a trip back in time to when discrimination was legal, whether it was based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

The law forbids local municipalities from setting their own minimum wage and discrimination policies. It also forbids discrimination lawsuits at the state level, meaning that people who have been discriminated against have to file in federal court — a very lengthy and expensive process that most people just can’t go through.

So, while we demonstrate against the narrow-minded, unscientific, backward bathroom provisions; while we endure the fact that we are the laughingstock of the nation and the world, while we watch the state lose billions of dollars in business and in all probability, billions more in federal funding, most people have failed to notice that the second part of this law is even more damaging than the first.

This bunch of backward, dimwitted, ignorant clods has reinstated Jim Crow in North Carolina.

And what’s worse is that when the bathroom provision is overturned, as is inevitable because it us unconstitutional and unenforceable, the rest of the law stands, thanks to this provision:

PART IV. SEVERABILITY

31 SECTION 4. If any provision of this act or its application is held invalid, the

32 invalidity does not affect other provisions or applications of this act that can be given effect

33 without the invalid provisions or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are

34 severable. If any provision of this act is temporarily or permanently restrained or enjoined by

35 judicial order, this act shall be enforced as though such restrained or enjoined provisions had not

36 been adopted, provided that whenever such temporary or permanent restraining order or injunction

37 is stayed, dissolved, or otherwise ceases to have effect, such provisions shall have full force and

38 effect.

In other words, the real meat of the bill is the reinstatement of Jim Crow, and if we throw out the bathroom rules, we still have to sue to get rid of the rest if the law.

Stealing airports, water and other assets from local municipalities was only the beginning; we stand to lose the ability to make our own towns and cities better places to work and live.

Businesses with a conscience will flee the state like rats off a sinking ship, but abusive companies — those who want to be able to control their employees through fear and intimidation — will rush to set up shop. Workers’ rights have been set back 100 years, just what the Koch Brothers, Art Pope and ALEC wanted all along.

To the voters who stayed home in 2010 and allowed the Tea Party to take over our legislature: we’re now enduring life with the government you deserve. Taking it back will be difficult because 2010 was a census year and the new majority gerrymandered voting districts to such an advantage that it will be almost impossible to dislodge this crew of fools.

It will take at least a generation to fix what’s been broken in the last six years here. We can start by working for the opponents of these Tea Party darlings and then voting in November. If you don’t do that, you’re as guilty as those whose names are on this law.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing on Scalia’s grave

He was arrogant and cruel. There was nothing nice to say about him in life; I will not feel guilty about criticizing him now.

He was arrogant and cruel. There was nothing nice to say about him in life; I will not feel guilty about criticizing him now.

I have been told that to express glee, or even relief, at the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is improper, disrespectful, immature and wrong.

I beg to differ.

Yes, he had family who loved him, but so did the people whose lives he had a part in ending. So do the people whose lives he held in utter disregard, and for whom he created misery. To say anything nice about him now would make me a hypocrite.

Forget about overturning an execution because new evidence shows the person might have been innocent:

“This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” Scalia wrote in a 2009 dissent of the Court’s order for a federal trial court in Georgia to consider the case of death row inmate Troy Davis. “Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

Then there’s this:

“The fact that juries continue to sentence mentally retarded offenders to death for extreme crimes shows that society’s moral outrage sometimes demands execution of retarded offenders.”

He was a cruel and arrogant creature. That’s the truth. Those who criticized him in life but now are tripping over themselves to honor him are being hypocritical at best.

How about his disrespect for women? When Justice Sandra Day O’Connor refused to join his attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, he said her opinion was “irrational,” and not to “be taken seriously.”

And his contention that the Constitution was never meant to protect the rights of women:

“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws.”

Then there was his blatant racism:

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

His bias against LGBTQ people, such as the time he compared being gay to being a murderer:

“The Court’s opinion contains… hints that Coloradans have been guilty of ‘animus’ or ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. . . . I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible–murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals–and could exhibit even ‘animus’ toward such conduct.”

His twisted logic and lack of respect for people’s ability to access health care in reference to the Affordable Care Act:

“Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”

Justice Scalia had no respect for any opinion — or any life — other than his own.

So, get over yourself if I laugh at this:

“Antonin Scalia requested cremation in his will, but millions of women will meet tomorrow to discuss if that’s really best for his body.”

 

I stand with Muslims

From Huffington Post

From Huffington Post

A friend suggested today that some of us who are against all the fascist, anti-Muslim rhetoric being spewed by Donald Trump and his supporters offer to stand vigil outside the Islamic Center during prayers.

I would jump at the chance, so I messaged the center to see if they would appreciate our help.

There will be no guns, just us standing in solidarity with people who only seek to practice the freedom of worship that this country supposedly offers.

We are not needed yet, a representative of the center told me, but our outreach and our words of peace are appreciated.

To some, that Constitutional right to freedom of religion seems only to be a freedom for Christians to worship. To me, though, that freedom extends to all religions.

Islam is not a religion of war any more than Christianity is. However, like some Christians, a minority of Muslims have perverted their religion to a violent, misogynistic purpose.

I grew up in a church that taught everything is OK if it’s done for Jesus — even murder. I rejected that as a teenager and I reject it today. Hatred is never OK.

Republican presidential candidate Trump has spewed increasingly dangerous rhetoric in the last few weeks, and it’s that kind of hatred that incites violence against innocent people.

Even former vice president Dick Cheney has condemned Trump, but the candidate keeps spewing his hatred, and he’s being rewarded with big leads in the polls. People who don’t know anything about Islam are leaping at the chance to condemn an entire faith for the violence of a few.

Yes, the two people who shot 30-plus people in San Bernadino were radicalized Muslims. But the man who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs the previous week was a radicalized Christian and no one talked about trying to stop all Evangelical Christians from worshiping or voting.

The Oklahoma City bomber killed more than 160 people and there was no reaction from the right to his terrorism.

Millions of Muslims around the world are condemning ISIS and other radical groups who commit violence in the name of Allah, but you won’t see that on Fox News. You won’t hear Trump or any of his minions praising these devout, peaceful people. You won’t even hear them admit that there are peaceful Muslims any more than leaders of ISIS praising peaceful Christians who wish to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Is this what we as a nation have come to? Are we headed down the same path as Nazi Germany in the 1930s? Substitute the word “Jews” for “Muslims” in your sentences and ask whether you sound like a Nazi. If you’re talking about denying every Muslim entry into the United States, shutting down Islamic Centers, denying anyone any of their Constitutional rights based on religious beliefs or ethnicity, you are wading in fascist waters.

So, here’s my pledge of support for my Muslim brothers and sisters: I stand with you against the violence and hatred. If you are forced to wear anything identifying you as Muslim, I will wear it too. If you are threatened, I will stand between you and those who hate you. I will defend you with my life. I am a person of faith who believes we all worship a God of Love and I promise to live out that faith.

 

 

We live in a war zone

By my friend and former colleague, cartoonist Matt Davies.

By my friend and former colleague, cartoonist Matt Davies.

Another 14 dead and 17 wounded, this time at a center for people with developmental disabilities.

No place is safe in America. No person is safe.

This isn’t true in other industrialized countries. That’s because they have laws restricting access to guns.

We don’t have that because we have the NRA, one of the most powerful lobbies anywhere, any time.

It doesn’t even matter when people with guns shoot innocent school children, we can’t pass any restrictions on people’s access to guns and ammo.

A few days ago, a pro-gun person suggested on Facebook that, according to Freud, I must be sexually repressed because I think we need common sense regulations on guns. I replied that Freud also said I was envious of his penis, which made Freud wrong on two counts.

I suppose that’s proof that some of us equate guns with penises, and penises are pretty important to some men’s view of themselves.

But that’s not what’s keeping us from sensible gun regulation. What’s keeping us from passing any laws at all is the money paid out by the NRA to legislators.

NRA Congress (www.nracongress.com) posted a list of members of Congress who have received money from the NRA, along with the amount each has received, and whether each of the members of Congress has identified himself or herself as “pro-life.”

Here’s what I came up with, based on that list:

  • The NRA has spent $3,781,769 on current members of Congress.
  • All but six states (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont) have some of these people in Congress now.
  • Of the 231 members of Congress receiving money from the NRA, all but five are Republicans.
  • Fifty-three Senators and 178 Representatives are on the list.
  • Of the 231, all but 10 define themselves as “pro-life.”
  • Texas, with 24 Congress people receiving a total of $144,538, is the state most beholden to the gun lobby.

And this is why we can’t get anything through Congress, even though some 90 percent of Americans want sensible gun laws. Nothing matters more to Congress than money, and the NRA has a lot of it to spread around.

So, people who shouldn’t have guns have little trouble getting them. And the rhetoric stirred up by the right has people angrier and angrier — at Planned Parenthood, at Muslims, at anyone other than the NRA.

When an angry American shoots up a place, he (and nearly all of them are men) is called mentally ill, and we all shake our heads and say what a shame it is that people with mental illnesses can’t get proper treatment.

The problem is that angry people can get guns and ammo. And they can commit acts of terror.

After yesterday’s shooting of more than 30 people in California, the FBI and the police kept repeating that they don’t know whether this was a terrorist act. Of course it was a terrorist act. It doesn’t matter whether the people involved were Muslim, Christian or atheist. What matters is that they took high-powered weapons and killed 14 people and injured 17 more. That in itself is a terrorist act.

As for mental illness, I have long been an advocate for adequate diagnosis and treatment. Yes, most of these shooters have a mental illness — no healthy person would take a gun and shoot strangers because he’s angry that they can get an abortion or for any other reason.

The problem is that these people can get guns. There are huge loopholes in the few regulations we do have, and we can’t get Congress to pass any more.

The Second Amendment has been twisted and perverted to fit the desires of gun manufacturers, and the rest of us have no protection from these organizations. We don’t need more “good guys with guns;” we need fewer bad guys with guns.

Perhaps we need to call the NRA and gun manufacturers out as the terrorist organizations they are. And yes, I do consider them terrorist organizations because they support domestic terrorism with their refusal to accept any regulations of the deadly weapons they make and promote.

It’s time to tell the truth: The Second Amendment was never intended to allow unfettered access to guns and ammo, and the NRA is a terrorist organization.

 

 

 

 

This wasn’t about mental illness

dear mug

Don’t tell me the rhetoric on the right isn’t part of what happened in Colorado Springs last week.

Don’t tell me, either, that the poor man was a victim of untreated mental illness.

Three innocent people are dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic because the screamers on the far right have whipped up a frenzy of hatred against women’s rights to control their own bodies, and this man apparently responded to that, so desperate to stop the “murder” that he took a gun and killed three people.

Had he been black or Arabic, he would have been labeled a thug or a terrorist and shot dead on the scene. But he was white, so he is labeled as someone with a mental illness and taken alive, unscathed.

Two of the dead were men, not people who would have abortions. The third was a young mother.

I am well beyond the age of childbearing, but I am grateful to have spent most of my childbearing years in a time when choices were available to me. I made my choice both times I became pregnant, and my choice, both times, was to bear the child.

But I am a staunch defender of a woman’s right to choose. I volunteer to escort patients into the clinic at my local Planned Parenthood. I don’t ask why they’re there; I just walk them in, talking to them to distract them from the screaming haters at the edge of the property. No woman should be forced to bear a child she can’t care for, no matter what her reason for deciding she can’t care for the child. If you want a child, have one; if you don’t, don’t.

But to spread hate-filled rhetoric and then claim the person who responded to it is mentally ill is hypocritical at best.

I spent Saturday arguing with people who believe Planned Parenthood sells baby parts, even though that assertion has been proven false. One told me the incontrovertible proof was right there on YouTube. I answered that the videos had been edited to appear damning, and that the person who did it has admitted that, but she insisted the videos were accurate. I finally told her she needed to take Abraham Lincoln’s advice and not believe everything she sees on the Internet.

The man who opened fire at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (and I won’t name him), killing two men and a woman, is a terrorist, not a poor, pitiable man who couldn’t get help for his mental illness. I’m not saying he doesn’t have a mental illness; I think terrorism is a mental illness. Healthy people don’t do these things. Perhaps if treatment had been available to him, his illness might have been managed, but it wasn’t. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a terrorist — someone who tries to get people to live the way he wants them to using fear and violence.

He is no different than the violent Muslim. Both are filled with rage against people who won’t live by their beliefs. Both believe they’re doing God’s work by killing nonbelievers.

Although law enforcement is still saying the motive is unclear, his former wife said he is religious, conservative and anti-abortion. Had he been Muslim, he would have been decried as someone who wanted Sharia Law; instead, as a Christian who wants people to live by his belief that every sperm is sacred, he’s taken alive and called mentally ill.

I feel a little less safe now when I go to volunteer at Planned Parenthood, but I believe the people who use this clinic as their primary source of health care deserve to feel safe and protected as they get out of their cars and walk across the parking lot. Most of them are not there for an abortion, but as I said, I’m not there to ask why they came.

 

 

 

The lasting impact of war

My favorite image of the Vietnam War Memorial. It reminds me of my friend, Jerry Donnellan, who served in Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts.

My favorite image of the Vietnam War Memorial. It reminds me of my friend, Jerry Donnellan, who served in Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts.

As a newspaper reporter, I interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of people. Some of the ones who stand out most in my mind were veterans and family members.

Two — one a veteran and one the sister of a man who served — were from World War I, and they were the same age as most survivors of World War II are today.

The woman lives in northwest New Jersey and was the sister of one of the last men to fall in World War I, which, by the way, was supposed to be The War to End All Wars.

The Armistice called for an end to fighting at 11 a.m. on 11/11; her brother was shot and killed less than five minutes before it took effect, and more than 60 years later, she still wept as she recalled reading the telegram. She had felt relief when she heard the news that the war was ending — relief that her brother finally would be safe. Then the telegram came, telling her that her brother had been one of the last to fall, as though that would offer comfort.

The other World War I veteran left the US for Europe filled with excitement at being able to defend freedom, ready to kill Germans. The reality was that Germans shot back, and he watched friend after friend fall in combat. The trenches were so muddy, filthy and disease-ridden that almost as many of his friends succumbed to disease as did to bullets. He, too, wept as he recalled what war had been like.

My generation’s war was Vietnam, and since so much of it was televised, my generation turned against war — at least for a time. My friends and family members came home changed. They arrived alone, not as heroes, but as broken men in too many cases. Many died years later from the effects of Agent Orange and other toxins used in war.

My friend, Jerry Donnellan, who lost a leg in Vietnam, came home and set about living his life, starting a stage production business called Peg Leg Productions. He actually owned a “peg” prosthesis. But one day a falling light caused an explosive noise and Jerry found himself ducked between the third- and fourth-row seats, crying “Incoming!”

He went on to help start the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in his county and to become veterans’ services coordinator for Rockland County, NY. He tended a watchfire every Memorial Day beside the Hudson River.

The people who actually serve in wars sacrifice more than the time they spend in combat. Even when they come home without physical injury, they suffer emotional trauma.

They deserve our respect, but even more, they deserve the dignity of being able to access health care and mental health care. They deserve decent, safe housing.

Veterans don’t want to hear, “thank you for your service,” with no real effort behind it to actually show appreciation for their sacrifices.

I am anti-war. I believe there are peaceful solutions and that we must have the patience to pursue them. But I live in a society that fights wars, and while I hate that, I do not hate those who have gone to fight.

So today, I thank veterans for their service and I call on our leaders to make certain those people who survive their service get everything they need to come home and live decent lives. Please, no more cuts to benefits and no more talk about turning over veterans’ health care to a private, for-profit entity. Think about what’s best for those men and women you sent to fight, not what’s best to line the pockets of your corporate friends.

So, we’re at “war” again

Really? You're outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of "Christmas."

Really? You’re outraged over a coffee cup design? Perhaps you need to rethink the meaning of “Christmas.”

Once again, “Christians” are claiming they’re being attacked, this time because Starbucks has introduced plain red cups for the holiday season.

Let me say a few words to “Christians” who are disturbed by this.

First of all, Starbucks is a business that serves people of all faiths,” not just yours.

Second, if you are so self-centered that you think your particular brand of Christianity is the only faith that ought to be recognized, you are about as far away from the teachings of your “Savior” as it gets.

Jesus taught humility. He taught love and acceptance. And he didn’t celebrate Christmas. He did celebrate his birthday, I imagine (I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t), but it was at the time of harvest — most likely in September, not December.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth was moved to December to recruit Pagans into the new religion, since this is when most major religions celebrate the winter solstice, or the return of the light. The Christmas tree is another Pagan tradition. You don’t think Jesus actually bought an evergreen tree and decorated it do you?

As for the Christmas avarice, that’s a relatively new invention. Originally, there was a feast to celebrate the birth of the Christ. Then people started giving foods — nuts and fruits, mostly. Then came small gifts — children left their shoes or stockings out to be filled.

Then came the greed. By the mid-20th century, people were going into debt to buy crap recipients didn’t need and often couldn’t even use.

Now comes the hubris of demanding everyone recognize your holiday, whether they observe it or not. Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, atheists — it doesn’t matter. Not only are they expected to wish us a merry “Christmas,” we are allowed to wish them the same, no matter what they observe.

And “Christians” seem to see nothing wrong in this. They have become so self-absorbed that no one else matters — the exact opposite of what Christ (whom they claim to worship) taught.

So, yes, I will wage war against “Christmas,” as long as it is a celebration of greed and consumerism.

I will, however, celebrate Christmas. I will spend money only on materials for handmade gifts. Sorry, kids, no Target gift cards this year. Perhaps I will give you art and craft supplies and offer to teach you to knit or crochet. Perhaps, if you have asked me for recipes, I will print our a bunch of mine and put them in a binder so you can start your own cookbook.

When my younger son was alive, he celebrated Christmas by making a huge dinner and inviting people who had nowhere else to go. And he was never, ever offended by someone who wished him happy holidays, because like me, he believed that phrase included every holiday between Halloween and Martin Luther King Day.

This “war on Christmas” was designed to distract people from real issues like disastrous social, economic and ecological policies. You can’t fight for the climate, for education, for health care, labor rights, voting rights, etc., if you’re obsessed with fighting a supposed war on a holiday.

You claim to worship Christ, then perhaps you should look to the red print in the New Testament for guidance on how to treat people and for the real reasons to be outraged, because you should be really furious about the things going on around you.

I am outraged by the war on the poor, and even more on the impoverishment of millions of people whose jobs were shipped overseas and then replaced by low-paying jobs that don’t provide enough to make ends meet, even though people are working harder.

I hate everything “Christmas” has come to stand for in our culture. I hate the must-have attitude. I detest the car commercials that suggest someone deserves a $25,000 gift for Christmas. I hate the way children start making lists in September because they’re taught greed is good.

I hereby declare a war on “Christmas,” so that I can celebrate Christmas.

I will not set foot in a mall between now and New Year’s. I will go to the yarn store and the art supply store. I will buy handmade from local people or make it myself.

I will not go further into debt.

I will drop off some handmade scarves and hats at Beloved House here in Asheville to help keep people warm instead of vilifying poor people and blaming them for their circumstances. After all, I don’t recall Jesus asking people if they made bad choices as teenagers before he helped them.

I will send cards to Christians wishing them a merry Christmas, but for those I know to celebrate other holidays, I will send cards wishing them happy holidays. I will not take offence at cards that wish me happy holidays.

I will attempt to be kind and generous in the spirit of the one whom I celebrate.

So, to all my Christian friends, I wish you a merry Christmas; to those of other faiths, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

 

Old habits die hard

blmsmall

When my son died seven years ago from lack of access to health care, I set about telling people that his life mattered. It mattered to me and to my family. It mattered to his friends and to the people whose lives he saved through his work in addiction recovery.

His life mattered. I used that phrase a lot when I spoke in public about his life and death, and I couldn’t think of a phrase that said it better or more succinctly.

So, a couple years ago, when the phrase “Black lives matter,” began popping up, I really, really understood the meaning.

But as much as I got it, I began to realize I would have to give up that phrasing when it came to my son and others who die from lack of care. Yes, their lives matter, and it wasn’t without a tinge of resentment that I realized the phrase now belongs to a civil rights movement that doesn’t necessarily include my son.

Breaking the habit of using it in reference to health care is a hard thing to do. That’s because my son’s life did matter; I just have to find another way to say that because I have great respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I fully understand the need to specify that black lives matter.

My son died from lack of access to health care. That happens to people in poverty, and more people of color are trapped in poverty than are white people. More people of color are denied care. More people of color die, and each of those lives matters to me.

What’s worse is that more black people die at the hands of law enforcement; more unarmed black people, in fact. It happens far more often that a person who might have committed a minor offense if slain by police if that person is black.

I understand this. I have internalized this. I have sat at a table with three African-American women and learned that all of them have lost sons to gunfire. I, on the other hand, got to say goodbye to my son. At least I have that.

So, I know I shouldn’t use the “… lives matter” phrasing, but the habit creeps in and it’s done before I realize I have done it.

Recently I used it on a Facebook event page and faced a shitstorm of criticism. I was on the road, traveling to my stepbrother’s funeral and didn’t have a chance to change it immediately, which only made people angrier.

I apologize. Really. I will try not to use that phrasing again. But if I do, please do as one of my friends did and private message me gently. I’m trying to break the habit. It can be difficult for me to remember that I need to find another way to phrase what my son;s life meat, but I am willing to do that.

I know all lives matter, but we must specify until people really understand that black lives matter every bit as much as mine or my son’s.

I understand. I get it. I will break the habit. Just, please, don’t call me names — especially racist.

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