These hate-filled racists are not Christians

There’s something you need to know about the Evangelicals who support the racism and hate of the Republican Party: They’re not Christians. And with this statement, I’m looking right at you, Franklin Graham.

Jesus said we would know a tree by its fruit. Well, the fruit of these people is about as rotten as rotten gets.

I’m not someone looking at this from the outside — I was raised among these people. They have been with us all along, but they lay low for generations, just waiting for their time.

In the 1960s, I heard them talking about “taking over for Jesus,” but they never understood that Jesus never preached hate or violence. Jesus taught his followers not to hate, not to exclude.

They would make prayer mandatory in schools and turn their backs on science. They would make sure all our elected officials were of a mindset similar to theirs.

They shunned “worldly” things like dancing, movies, playing cards and going to the beach.

As a child, I was handed religious tracts to hand out to strangers on street corners. There was some adult supervision, but by the time I was a teenager, I had learned to tell adults I was going with another group and then slip away with a couple of friends.

The religious tracts were all about how most of us would burn in hell. The illustrations were more than a little disturbing. We were being scared into following their version of Jesus.

The scare tactics didn’t work for those of us who could think critically, but they did their best to squelch any critical thinking skills in their children. Books other than the Bible or other approved Christian books were all but banned. I remember reading George Orwell’s “1984” as a freshman in high school and a girl from my church approached me and told me I should return the book to the library because it was “from the pits of hell.”

When my best friend became pregnant at age 16 and decided not to marry the father, her father was asked to resign as a deacon. When she lost a set of twin boys in her seventh month, one of the church ladies told her, “See? God punishes.”

We were Daughters of Eve, and we were guilty of Eve’s original sin, which was seduction. Sex was always our fault, even when it was unwelcome, even when we were children. It was dirty and not spoken of aloud, but we got the message that any encounter was our fault and not the man’s, and it was a filthy sin.

We judged everyone. Even TV newscasters. The Vietnam War was a good thing because we were killing those Godless (racial epithet for Asians). That was actually said from the pulpit by a guest preacher when I was 17, and when I called him out after the service by saying I don’t think God wants us to kill any of God’s children, I was told in no uncertain terms I should show more respect.

“I AM showing respect,” I replied. “Anyone who condones the murder of any of God’s children is the one lacking respect.”

That’s when I decided I was done with Christianity, or at least the Evangelical brand of it.

I continued to follow the teachings of Christ, and I still try to be that loving, nonjudgmental person I am called to be. I don’t think poor people are lazy. I don’t think criminals should be locked away and treated like slaves. I don’t think the current occupant of the White House is sent by God — unless, of course, God wants to punish us for being such assholes.

I don’t understand how anyone thinks Jesus said God rewards us with material goods for being good Christians. That’s called prosperity theology and Joel Osteen has made millions off it.

You can pick and choose your scriptures to say just about anything you want. The Bible has been used to rationalize slavery, war, the death penalty and the greed of the uber-wealthy.

But my life is guided by the tale of Judgment Day in the Gospel of Matthew, where we are told that whatever we do to “the least of these, my brothers and sisters,” is what we do to Jesus himself. You can’t claim to worship someone and then be abusive to that person.

I don’t do the justice work I do to get into Heaven or because God the Father is watching everything I do. I do it because we’re all human. I do it because no one deserves to be in poverty.

When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” it was an admonition to work to abolish poverty, to set public policies that lift people out of poverty instead of keeping them down by just throwing them scraps.

If you think Jesus is smiling on the United States, you are the problem. You are not Christian, you are part of the evil that’s gripping this nation right now.

I refuse to identify with Christians anymore because this group of right-wing, hate-filled, ego-driven people do. I call myself a follower of the teachings of Christ.

And I work to change these evil policies that mire people in poverty and hopelessness.

I know I’m not supposed to judge, but the hatred I see around me every day is closing in on me. I am frustrated and angry.

I’m looking at you, Franklin Graham. I’m praying you might see the light.

 

 

Officials don’t have the luxury of outrage when they’re the ones who failed us

Racist violence by police has been with us for a long, long time. The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were supposed to end that. Unfortunately, it’s still with us.

 

Last August, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, a young African-American man, was walking home after work. It was late at night and I imagine he was tired and ready to kick back and relax.

He walked across the street near McCormick Field, and he was stopped by Officer Chris Hickman and an officer trainee who was with him that night. They claimed he was jaywalking, which isn’t really possible where he crossed because there’s no crosswalk. To make the charge even more absurd, tens of thousands of baseball fans cross in that same spot every year before and after baseball games, and there are no jaywalking tickets issues to any of them.

Rush got scared and ran. I say he was justified, especially since Hickman caught up with him and beat the crap out of him.

The incident wasn’t made public. The supervisor who interviewed Rush when he complained didn’t believe him. That interview was part of the “change” in procedures when a citizen complains, and the sergeant who interviewed Rush called him a liar.

To be clear, I think real change means that any new procedures have to work, and I think the sergeant who called Rush a liar should be fired. That’s the only way you prove we mean it when we say zero tolerance.

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper took away Hickman’s gun and put him on administrative duty and reassigned the trainee to another officer. It took four months for officials to decide he should leave the force, even though a review of all his body cam footage revealed other incidents, and he was allowed to resign. The body cam footage was not made public, thanks to a law passed a couple of years ago by the state’s Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Two months later — six months after the event — someone leaked the footage to the Asheville Citizen-Times, which made it public.

The first reaction of those in power was that they wanted to investigate who leaked the video.

But the pressure was on, so everyone began to act outraged by the video. They were shocked, shocked, I tell you, that such a thing could happen.

But this is not a new problem. Malfeasance has been discovered again and again, the most recent fiasco being the disaster that was the police evidence room, where record keeping was so bad that no one was able to figure out what was missing.

So the mayor and city council released a statement saying how angry they are.

I say they don’t get the luxury of anger because their job was to prevent this kind of incident. They are responsible, especially Mayor Esther Manheimer, and she needs to resign. The police chief needs to go, too, and any member of City Council who knew about this. They don’t deserve another chance.

The video was shown to an assistant city manager and an assistant city attorney, who I’m betting told their bosses. The footage and the incident were kept quiet.

Now that it’s out there, the mayor and council are outraged, of course, and the statement again made a promise of zero tolerance for this kind of thing. Meanwhile, Hickman, 31, was still free and not charged with any crime.

Perhaps because officials finally realized that actions really do speak louder than words, Hickman was arrested and charged with felony assault by strangulation, and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats. He is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

The statement released Wednesday by the mayor and city council promises we’ll do better, but those promises have been made before.

You want us to believe you mean it? Disband the entire police force and don’t rehire anyone who doesn’t pass a rigorous psychological evaluation. Get rid of the bullies and amend the union contract to prevent these violent, racist people from getting away with this kind of behavior.

The council’s statement said, “… Finally, a word to our police officers who viewed this video and were angry or ashamed, or otherwise rejected what you saw. We say thank you. We welcome you to stay and continue the transformation of our police department into one that reflects the best policies and practices available. Likewise, to any officers who may not have been disturbed by this, we want to make it clear that Asheville has zero tolerance for racism or excessive use of force by our officers.”

These words are meaningless when incidents like this aren’t dealt with until someone leaks the video to the press. And when officials’ first reaction is to call for an investigation into who leaked the footage, when it takes a full week for the mayor and council to issue a statement, you’ll have to excuse my cynicism when I call bullshit.

I want to know how many more incidents like this — or even worse than this one — are being kept secret. Just because body cam footage isn’t in the public domain doesn’t mean you can use that to hide violence and racism on the force. I want to know if there are corpses hidden in secret video footage. I have no trust left. None.

I am angry. I am outraged. And I am furious at that statement because I don’t want anger from city government, I want results. Period. I want the mayor and the police chief to resign. I want the police sergeant who called Rush a liar fired, and I want the trainee who didn’t stop the beating to be fired.

Finally, I want assurances that council will implement real change instead of just talking about it.

 

 

 

 

Think of this as a public service announcement: Check your skin

If you had serious sunburns as a child, pay attention to your skin because melanoma is deadly if it’s not caught early.

I’ve been away for a bit, dealing with my son’s death anniversary — it’s 10 years as of April 1, and I relive these final six weeks every year, day by day.

Ten years ago today, I was praying my son could gain two pounds in the next two weeks. If he couldn’t, it would mean the chemo was ineffective and he would die in a matter of days or weeks, starved by a cancer that could have been prevented had he been able to get the care he needed.

I had sat in the chapel at Duke the day before and prayed for those two pounds. That’s all I was hoping for because a cure was out of the question.

I had six weeks to prepare for the loss of my child, and I was two weeks into that. I wanted that whole year the doctor said we might have, but only if chemo worked.

I find it hard to motivate myself to get much done during these six weeks, but this year, I had another reason to be preoccupied: I was diagnosed with melanoma, which is one of the most curable cancers when diagnosed early — and one of the least curable once it has spread.

Mine was diagnosed early. I was told it was stage 2, which is still contained, and has a 10-year survival rate of about 60 percent. When you consider my age, I think that’s about my chances of survival for another 10 years anyway.

But my thoughts were about seeing my son again more than much else. Yeah, I wanted to survive this, but I wasn’t in a panic that I might not. I thought about chemo and about how much I would be willing to endure for a longer life. I watched my son and my sister endure chemo and its side effects of deep bone pain, nausea, hair loss, extreme fatigue and more. I didn’t know how much I was willing to suffer for a few more weeks or months on this earth.

I had a constant low-level anxiety, but I was upbeat. I convinced my son not to panic because his wife had a melanoma removed 15 years ago and she’s fine.

I worried about the stage 2 diagnosis, though.

As a reporter covering health issues, I wrote about the importance of sunscreen every year for more than 20 years. I’ve seen photos of early melanomas, so I knew the one on my leg was something to keep an eye on and I made the appointment as soon as I saw a change in it.

The thing is, even if you’ve just had one severe sunburn, you can develop melanoma. Nobody should plan to be outdoors for any length of time without sunscreen, especially people with fair skin like mine. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, when people didn’t use sunscreen, I had some nasty burns. I guess I’m fortunate that I wasn’t one of those girls who sunbathed — I found it boring to just stretch out on a towel in the sun.

As it turns out, my cancer was stage 1. Staging can be tricky, but it was about one-third of a centimeter thick and less than the circumference of a dime, and the surgeon said the survival rate at this stage is nearly 100 percent.

Considering the amount of tissue they scoop out after diagnosis, I believe they got it all.

But I will go in for screenings every three months for the next year, and then annually.

This is something everyone who has access to care should do, especially if you’re fair-skinned and have had one or more serious sunburns. By that I mean, if you blistered and peeled, you need to keep any eye on any moles or “age spots.” A friend was just diagnosed with early-stage melanoma after her doctor told her the spot on her face was probably an age spot, but went ahead and referred her to a dermatologist anyway.

Here’s what to look for in a mole that you suspect might become cancerous:

  • The color changes.
  • The mole gets unevenly smaller or bigger (unlike normal moles in children, which get evenly bigger)
  • The mole changes in shape, texture, or height.
  • The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly.
  • The mole becomes hard or feels lumpy.
  • It starts to itch.
  • It bleeds or oozes.

If you don’t have access to health care, examine your skin monthly and ask someone to check your back and the backs of your thighs for moles. If you see one changing, get to a clinic and have it looked at. Getting it taken care of at stage 1 or 2 means a few hundred dollars; waiting means your life.

 

 

The children will save us

 

Although the local paper claims “dozens” attended an anti-gun rally in Asheville yesterday, more than 300 people gathered to protest the failure of Congress to pass sensible gun legislation, including a good number of youth, who will be coming of age to vote in the next four years. Go ahead, Congress, ignore them at your peril.

 

I think something snapped on Valentine’s Day.

Another 17 people died in another mass shooting at another school while Congress remained steadfast in its determination to ignore the carnage and bow to its overlord, the National Rifle Association.

Yet again, campaign contributions mattered more than the lives of children and teachers.

But this time, something different happened. This time, the students stood up and said they have had enough.

When the current occupant of the White House tweeted the sad, tired thoughts-and-prayers refrain, students — survivors of the massacre — answered. They’re not interested in the thoughts and prayers of people who take blood money from a terrorist organization, they said. They want action, and they want it now.

Some of these kids can vote already, and within four years, all of them will be able to go to the polls ad throw these accomplices to terrorism out of office.

They were well represented at an anti-gun rally Sunday afternoon, a rally that was put together in just 72 hours

I heard one of them speak at the rally, and while the local paper claimed “dozens” were there, I saw more than 300 people in that audience. So, yeah, 30 dozen. And probably one-third of them were middle- and high-school students.

The 14-year-old student who spoke was eloquent. She talked about the failure of previous generations to make the NRA answer for its crimes, and about our failure to ban this bribe money from our electoral process.

She wants to go to school and not fear for her life, but to be able to concentrate on learning. She and her fellow students should not have to take time out of their day for “active shooter” drills, which offer no better solution to the problem than duck-and-cover drills offered to the problem of nuclear proliferation when I was in grammar school in the late 1950s.

While I think guns in private hands are a menace to society and I think the lack of gun deaths in countries that regulate guns is pretty good evidence that the tactic works, I’m willing to compromise. Assault weapons should be banned permanently, but yes, hunters should be able to hunt for food.

Handguns, however, are a different story. More people are killed with their own guns in their homes than are able to shoot a bad guy with a gun. If a gun is in the home, a fight is more likely to end in death than if there is no gun handy.

Handguns kill innocent people more than they protect anyone.

Do you want to know why police shoot unarmed suspects? It’s because they know the suspects might have guns and their lives are at risk.

You don’t think that’s a good enough excuse? Well, neither do I, but as long as we have virtually unfettered access to guns in this country, trigger-happy officers have that excuse.

The gun lobby, the NRA, will tell you a good guy with a gun is the solution to bad guys with guns. And they know it’s not true, but they also know it sells guns, and that’s their real goal: profit. That’s all they know how to think about. If you think they care about you, think again. They are the very definition of a terrorist organization because they exist only to promote death and mayhem.

Let’s say you’re in a theater at the premiere of a superhero movie. Someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting. Before the cops get there, you pull out your gun and start shooting in the direction of the person with the gun. The theater is dark. Are you going to hit the shooter or the person in the seat he’s crouching behind?

When the cops arrive looking for the bad guy with the gun, they don’t know you’re not their target and you may be dead before they figure it out, along with a couple of people next to you because, remember, the theater is still dark, and even if it’s not, innocent people are going to get caught in the crossfire.

Also remember that the school in Parkland, Fla., had not one, but two, armed officers. They can’t be everywhere.

So, there goes the good guy with the gun argument.

Then there’s the argument that we have to turn public spaces into armed fortresses, that we should surround schools and other public spaces with impenetrable walls and set up metal detectors at all the entrances.

Land of the free, my ass, right?

You know what we can do?

Again, the answer is simple, since every “civilized” nation has done it:

  • Regulate gun ownership the way we regulate cars and drivers’ licenses, or make them illegal for everyone but cops and the military.
  • Ban assault weapons, and make the ban permanent so Congress can’t let it lapse again at the behest of the NRA.
  • Require a license that must be renewed periodically. Require people to pass a safety course and a test, and repeat the process for every gun they want to buy.
  • Close down gun shows, or at least shut down gun sales at these shows.
  • Ban online private sales.
  • Register every gun with a title, the same way we do cars. Require a transfer of title at every private sale and require buyers in these transactions to prove they have a license to own a gun.
  • Ban sales to anyone who has been convicted of domestic violence or aggravated assault.
  • Since the Second Amendment specifically mentions a well regulated militia, we should require gun owners to join a militia and attend regular meetings.
  • Require liability insurance for gun owners, the same way we require insurance on cars.
  • If a gun is stolen and the theft is not reported immediately, make it a crime. If the stolen gun is not reported and it’s used in another crime, charge the gun owner as an accessory to that crime.
  • Make neglect of a gun a crime. If a child gets a gun and kills someone, charge the irresponsible gun owner with murder.
  • Repeal the damn Second Amendment and end the right to own guns. This carnage is not what the founders intended. They had no idea how guns would evolve and how their intentions would be perverted.

And don’t tell me it’s too soon to talk about this. Columbine happened almost 19 years ago. The time for change was then, if not before. Too many innocent lives have been sacrificed already, and in honor of those dead, we need to have this serious conversation NOW.

It’s time to fix this, not to make more excuses, shrug our shoulders once again and wait for the terrorists to strike another time — maybe in your child’s school, maybe at the theater you’re sitting in or the mall where you’re shopping.

We’re not safe, and if Congress can’t or won’t act, there’s an election coming in November. Make sure you participate, and let your members of Congress know the only way to get your vote is to support sensible gun laws.

 

This is NOT Blue Apron

Canned vegetables are lower in nutrients and higher in sodium than fresh, but the current occupant of the White House thinks it’s OK, as long as it’s poor people who are forced to eat them.

 

The current occupant of the White House has a new plan to feed poor people: Send them boxes of cheap, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient foods.

Again and again, I’ve seen the idea compared to Blue Apron, a gourmet food vendor that sends out boxes of food together with recipes for fabulous meals.

The comparison is wrong. The only thing this idea has in common with Blue Apron is that it’s delivered in a cardboard box.

If you get food from Blue Apron, you get a choice of foods, and the foods are fresh, not canned. You aren’t shipped canned peas and carrots, boxed milk and cheap cereal.

You don’t get steak tartar, you get Hamburger Helper, and probably just a cheap knock-off of that.

The right complained about the “nanny state” when Michelle Obama started advocating fresh, wholesome food for children. But now they want to choose what food poor people should eat, and what they’re choosing is bad food.

While advocates work to get fresh food to people in poverty, many of whom don’t have ready access to a supermarket, this administration is ready to squash these efforts in favor of boxes of unhealthy crap.

Research has shown again and again that processed food is less healthy than fresh food, that a diet high in processed foods (white flour, white sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils …) leaves us more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

But when we consider poor people as inferior, when we think we’re more worthy of anything than another human being, we are the ones who are morally bankrupt.

Jesus didn’t feed the thousands canned tuna on stale white bread, he fed them fresh fish and bread. When he went to the wedding in Cana and the host ran out of wine, Jesus turned water into fine wine, not high fructose corn syrup-laden soda. Read the passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

Our public policy (our failure to raise minimum wage to a living wage, for example), puts people in poverty. Minimum wage right now is about one-third of what it takes to live comfortably. Housing subsidies don’t even come close to serving the people who need help to stretch their meager wages. Child care subsidies have years-long waiting lists. Food stamps are a fraction of what it really costs to supply children (and adults) with the nutrition they need. Ask anyone who receives them. They give people about $5 a day. Try and feed yourself on that.

As food advocates work to get fresh fruits and vegetables onto the plates of children, this clown announces poor people only deserve canned food, and that the government should choose what they’re allowed to have — and that it should be junk food, as though poor people are just junk.

Meanwhile, those of us with privilege, those of us who still hold onto some semblance of a middle-class income, donate our cast-off clothing, our broken toys and chipped dinnerware, and we think the poor should be grateful for that.

We blame poor people for their own poverty, while we knock them down and apply our boot heels to their necks. We deny them healthy food, an equal education, safe housing, health care and a living wage and then call them lazy and accuse them of trying to get something for nothing.

The real culprits are the very wealthy who are buying up members of Congress and grabbing all the nation’s wealth for themselves. They don’t till the soil or harvest the crops, they don’t manufacture anything, they don’t make or serve food or clean up after themselves, they just take. And to justify their hoarding of our nation’s wealth, they spread propaganda about how the poor are robbing us blind. They use scandals to distract us while they pick our pockets.

This whole idea is deeply, deeply immoral. It is theft from the local farmer who grows and sells crops at tailgate markets that accept SNAP cards. It is theft from people who are struggling and it is the slow poisoning of poor people, who, after all, are still people. We all deserve to eat healthy foods and we deserve the dignity of choosing what foods we will eat.

This is not Blue Apron. Stop comparing the two right now.

 

 

 

 

Listen to the voices rarely heard

Mirian Porrras Rosas of Nuestro Centro with family and friends after her talk at the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Town Hall. Photo by Ellen J. Perry

 

I learned an important lesson last night.

I learned that sometimes we need to set aside the rules and just listen.

I am on the NC State Coordinating Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. In this position, I organize events to get out the word, and these events, like the campaign itself, are meant to include people who are affected by poverty.

So, each speaker, either clergy from a wide range of faiths or people affected by poverty, is supposed to talk for three minutes. We have people who time the remarks and hold up cards to let speakers know how much time they have left.

I’m a stickler about this because when someone speaks longer, he or she takes away time from people who come later in the program. Last night’s event in Asheville was not going to be an exception.

But then Mirian Porrras Rosas of the organizaton, Nuestro Centro, stepped to the podium. She spoke first in Spanish, and at five minutes, I asked one of the other organizers whether we should gently let her know she had run over her allotted time.

Then I sat back down and shut up. She finished her remarks at about seven minutes and then invited her son and daughter and another woman to stand with her as she struggled to translate her words into English.

We, the white people who are usually the ones demanding that others get a translation, had been exposed to how that feels. We could only watch her body language and her facial expression as she issued a plea for this country to treat her and other immigrants with the dignity they deserve.

I sat back in my seat and paid attention, even though I didn’t understand the words.

As she spoke her words again, this time in English, I was taken by her simple eloquence, her poise and her determination that her children have a better life and that she and they be seen as fully human. I stopped worrying about time and started to learn.

Three generations ago, my family came to this country to find signs reading, “No Irish need apply.” Today, immigrant families are accused of being “illegals” whether they are here with or without documentation.

No human being is illegal.

We stole this nation from the people who were here when we, white Europeans, arrived. We committed genocide.

Perhaps we should be happy that the people coming now would rather join us than kill us.

Perhaps we should embrace the stranger, as every major religion demands we do.

Perhaps we should listen more and talk less if we want to know what people’s lives are like before we offer to help or to do something for them that they can — and want — to do themselves.

How many of us know what it’s like to sleep under a bridge in sub-freezing weather? How many of us live with the fear that the police will stop us because we speak English with an accent? How many of us are called lazy and worthless every day because, even though we work 60 or more hours a week, we still can’t pay our bills because our employers refuse to pay us a living wage in exchange for a week’s work?

And how many of us have sat down and listened — really listened — to the voices of people who are living these experiences?

I did that last night as I stopped worrying about the clock and started worrying about the woman standing in front of me and her family.

Perhaps we should suspend the rules a bit and listen. When we do, we will hear the voices of our own immigrant ancestors, of the people who worked as children in the textile mills of New England, of the migrant workers who harvest the food we eat, of the descendants of enslaved people who still struggle to achieve equality, of the prisoner who will never be free because of unjust sentencing laws.

Let them speak.

 

 

Nobody wants a handout. Nobody.

We’re supposed to be helping the poor, not punishing them or blaming them.

I have no tolerance for mean-spiritedness.

That’s why I don’t read the comments on social-justice articles, especially when I’ve written them. I can’t bear the victim-blaming we do in this country.

When I tell my son’s story — that he died from lack of access to health care — people ask whether he was working. Of course he was working. What if he wasn’t? You really think he deserved to die if he wasn’t?

I wrote a story for a local paper about how poor people get trapped in the justice system because they don’t have the money to get out. As I said, I’m not checking the comments online. But someone sent me a personal e-mail to tell me this: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” I wanted to ask what the hell was wrong with her, but instead I asked whether falling asleep on a park bench warranted jail time in her book. She had signed her e-mail “respectively,” and I told her the correct word is “respectfully,” which should be reserved for times when she was actually being respectful.

Who the hell have we become as a nation when we pay people just one-third of what it takes to live in exchange for a full week’s work and then call them lazy when they need help?

And every time I call someone out on this victim-blaming, they say, “Well, some people just want a handout.”

No.  No, they don’t. People just want what should rightfully be theirs in exchange for 40 hours of labor. People want to have enough to eat, a warm, safe place to sleep, basic health care, an education for their children.

What the hell is wrong with us when we can hear these tragic stories and then blame the victims for their pain?

We have lost our way. We are no longer a great society — if we ever were one.

We built this nation on the backs of slaves, and we still practice systemic racism, sexism and hatred in so many forms.

We cheer a man who calls Mexicans criminals and who admits to sexual assault, who has cheated on all three of his wives and who spouts white nationalist code words. And we tell the grieving mother of yet another black man gunned down by police that her child must have been a criminal. We blackball a talented black man who takes a knee for the national anthem in protest of these killings and say he should find a better way to protest.

What would be an appropriate way to protest the murders of unarmed young black men? I’ll bet it would be to take it to a place where it wouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

I am done with this mean-spiritedness and I will call it out from now on. If you want to blame the victims of our bad public policies for their pain, do it out of earshot of me. I have no patience for it anymore.

Step up or shut up

Yesterday’s crowd at the Women’s March in Asheville.

Yesterday’s Women’s March in Asheville was enormous — by all reports, as big as last year’s (I was in Washington last year, so I can’t verify personally, but I believe the people who were here). The entire block surrounding the Vance Monument was packed with people, and the crowd stretched down the hill past the Fire Department.

Still, before the march was over, people were all over social media complaining that it was poorly organized.

The march here, which drew between 8,000 and 12,000 people, was organized by a small group of Asheville High School students who saw that no adults were stepping up to organize one. They arranged to get Memorial Stadium a half mile from downtown, although they didn’t have the money for proper amplification or parade permits to close down the streets between the stadium and the Vance Monument.

These are new organizers with no experience putting together an event of this size, yet they stepped up and put on a massive march.

The first complaint I saw was a post from a veteran protester/organizer and I called him out in the comments. I asked whether he had offered his help, which I already knew he hadn’t.

Others complained they didn’t know where Memorial Stadium was. My response: It’s in your city. If you don’t know where it is, Google it. These 17-year-olds did an enormous amount of work; they didn’t need the added burden of having to hold your hand and lead you to the event.

Author Michelle Alexander in Asheville Thursday evening.

Thursday night, attorney and author Michelle Alexander told 1,600 or more people at an event at UNC Asheville that we all need to do more. I thought it was funny when one woman turned to me and said, “You do enough. Really.” I can do more. We all can do more.

Alexander, who wrote “The New Jim Crow,” was right about the perilous times in which we live. Our very Democracy is at risk. We all need to step up. In a time when we can’t get half of eligible voters to the polls and our institutions are being attacked by a foreign power, we can’t sit home and hope somebody else will organize protests for us.

And when a small group of teenagers does step up, it is deeply offensive to me to hear adults who have more experience and more money complain that it wasn’t good enough.

Last year, as I was organizing a bus for the trip to the march in Washington, someone from another organization demanded I charter a second bus because she had 25 people wanting to go and my bus was filled already. I offered to help her get a bus and show her how to keep track of everyone, but she just called me selfish and went away.

I wasn’t always an experienced organizer, either, but I learned. It’s really not that difficult. My catalyst was the death of my son, although I had reported on a ton of protests in my job as a journalist, and that job also prevented me from getting involved. But I knew the basics because of that, and after I left journalism, I organized rallies and bus trips to events in Washington and Raleigh, and I continue to organize on the state level for the national Poor People’s Campaign.

So, instead of looking at a Facebook event page and complaining that you don’t know where the event is to be held, or hoping that the sound system will be adequate, go to the page and comment that you’d like to help. Ask what the organizers need, and then do something. It could be as simple as helping set up and maintain a Go Fund Me campaign, managing a Facebook event page, recruiting speakers, making phone calls or writing a press release.

If you’re not willing to help, you have no place complaining that it wasn’t good enough, loud enough, organized enough.

Get off your ass and do something. Believe me, there’s more than enough for all of us to do in this fight.

 

Why NOT Oprah for president?

 

I love Oprah — as an entertainer, as a human being, but not as a candidate for president.

 

I don’t want Oprah to run for president.

I know, I know, now you think I’m being racist, but hear me out.

We don’t need another entertainer in the White House. The two we’ve had –Ronald Reagan and the current occupant have both been disasters.

I’m not saying Oprah is in this class; I’m saying she’s a consummate entertainer. She’s charismatic and brilliant, and by accounts I’ve read, a kind and compassionate woman who has experienced poverty and tragedy in her life.

But she’s not who we need in the White House right now.

What we need is someone with political and public policy experience, not someone who knows how to make a good speech. If my pipes burst, I’m going to call an experienced plumber, not someone who is willing to learn on the job. My basement is flooded now and I want someone who knows how to deal with it now.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have had a squeaky, high-pitched voice. So, although he was brilliant and eloquent, his voice probably made his speeches less than rousing. What made him great was his political courage, his leadership skills, his willingness to do things that would not have polled well in his time.

Lyndon Johnson was a dick by all accounts, and he made some serious mistakes with respect to Vietnam, but he pushed through Medicare and Medicaid and civil rights laws — all politically unpopular in his time. He wanted to end the war in Vietnam so he could fight the war on poverty. He never got to do that because of the power of the war lobby.

What we need is someone with the courage to fight special interests and the understanding of how to do it.

What we need is someone willing to stand up to Big Pharma, Big Insurance and the rest and get single-payer health care passed, someone with the political know-how to make compromises without climbing into bed with these lobbies.

We need someone who understands energy policy well enough to overcome all the power of Big Oil and get us on the path to renewable energy technology.

We need someone with the political skills to pass a Constitutional amendment getting rid of Citizens United.

What we need is someone who’s willing to end our wars and bring about an economy of peace.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, in this the 50th anniversary year of his assassination. I remember his life and his death, and I remember what he stood for. And I’m not sure he would have been an effective president, either. His place was with us in the streets, demanding the politicians and policymakers do right by the nation and its people. He admitted that he was not a policymaker, and he called on policymakers to do the right thing.

How are we ever going to get racial, social and economic justice if we just keep electing the popular kid to lead us?

Ignorance of public policy and how it gets made is not a quality I want in any politician. I want the people we elect to be specialists, not prom kings and queens. The captain of the football team is knowledgeable about sports, but not curriculum. He might not be the best choice for school board.

Oprah might be just the person we need to help us hold those we do elect accountable. She might be a great resistance leader, although I have yet to see that side of her. Is she willing to stand up and tell truth to power? Her speech at the awards show was rousing, but she never called out the pretender in the White House by name, and what has she said and done since, while she’s not in an evening gown at a podium in front of the cameras?

Don’t get me wrong, if she had public policy experience, if she had a record we could point to and say, “yes, she signed on to the renewable energy bill,” or “she helped to write and introduce a bill for single-payer health care,” or even that she had read and understood these bills.

But she has not.

I know she’s a quick learner, but just who are the people with whom she will surround herself? Are they more of the corporate-friendly Democrats who have done little or nothing to raise minimum wage to a living wage? Are they people who say we can’t get single-payer done right now? Are they unwilling to fight for public education and unions?

I don’t want that again.

The reason I supported Bernie Sanders was not because he was an old white man, it was because he promised to work toward a single-payer system right now. And yet, I sincerely hope he doesn’t run again. It is time to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation. Yeah, go ahead and call me ageist because of that, and call me racist because I don’t support Oprah. Don’t look at my history of work for racial justice, just look at this one issue this one time and judge me. After all, it’s not about the past or the future, it’d only about right now, this moment, when we all love Oprah, and if we don’t, we’re somehow flawed.

Instead of talking about why I disagree with you, just walk away and call me names. That’s exactly what the corporate overlords want from you. I got a lot of that when I posted a selfie of me and Sen. Cory Booker, because he voted against a bill that didn’t benefit pharmaceutical companies — probably the largest employers of his constituents.

No one is going to be perfect, people.

So, what do I want? I want us to find people to run for office who will be good, even great, public servants, people who understand the complexities of public policy and who know how to work toward a better future, just as I would want an experienced plumber and not someone who can learn on the job, when my pipes burst.

We have to stop being a society that rewards ignorance because we want a president with whom we’d enjoy having a beer and watching a game.

I’d love to see Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran, a woman of color, a woman of proven courage, and now a woman with public policy experience, toss her hat into the ring.

See what I did there? Instead of just complaining, I proposed a solution. Let’s be willing to do that, OK? Let’s be willing to talk things out instead of calling each other names the moment we disagree.

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas is social and economic justice

This is not a joyous day for too many of us.
Some of us are without loved ones, perhaps for the first time.
Some of us are without a job and therefore without the means to participate in the way convention tells us we must — there is joy in giving, so we must consume, consume, consume, spend, spend, spend.
I spent a part of yesterday — Christmas Eve — talking to people who don’t even have a home, nevermind a tree all lit up in splendor.
We live in a time of historic economic and social inequality. Those of us who have something are encouraged to belittle and discriminate against people who have less — even against people who have nothing at all.
I’m working on an article about how cash bail keeps people incarcerated because we in this culture assume poverty equals guilt, if not of the crime for which we throw you in jail, then of being “lazy,” of wanting a “handout.”
One woman said to me, “I don’t have any way of knowing the date or even the time. I live under a bridge.”
But she spent 23 days in jail for the crime of missing a court date for sleeping in public.
“I cried a lot,” she told me. “But what can I do?”
Another young man has been homeless ever since he was released from foster care seven years ago with no skills and no help.
“I had marijuana paraphernalia,” he told me.
No pot, just the paraphernalia.
And he landed in jail for weeks, without a conviction.
We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country, but poor people are thrown in jail and left there because they can’t come up with a few hundred dollars to pay the bondsman.
That $100 you have to come up with for the $1,000 bond routinely set for people who trespass or fall asleep on a park bench in the sun, that $100 is food for a month. That $100 is a quarter of a disability check for someone with a mental illness who could be stabilized and more than happy to contribute to society if they just had a place to call home.
Instead, we follow them until they fall asleep, exhausted, on a park bench and arrest them for sleeping in public. That arrest then bans them from the city’s parks, and if they so much as sit on a park bench to rest, they can be arrested again for trespass.
Rev. Amy Cantrell, who operates BeLoved House in Asheville, NC, says she has seen police follow people they know are homeless and arrest them as soon as they sit down.
Amy works with people who society considers disposable and every year, a dozen or more die.
The year my son died from medical neglect, one of them was a man named Tommy McMahon. It was February and it was cold. We had just learned that morning that Mike’s cancer was back and we were in Cary with him. He was napping and my husband and I were in a motel near his house when I got a call from a colleague who asked for some sources for a news story about a homeless man who had died the night before.
Tommy had gone to the emergency room with difficulty breathing and was diagnosed with pneumonia. They gave him some antibiotics and released him to the streets. It was in the 20s that night and he was sick, so he balked at going back out. Someone called the police and Tommy was brought to jail, where he died that night, alone in his cell.
I think of Tommy every year at this time — when the days are shortest and the nights are longest and coldest, when I know people are out in the cold with nowhere to go to get warm.
I think of Tommy when I see a homeless person being harassed and told to leave a place of business because they don’t have enough money to be considered worthy of society’s respect.
I think of Tommy when I see a tent in the woods along the side of the road and I know the police might show up and slash it because it’s illegal to camp just about anywhere they might pitch a tent against the cold and rain.
I think of Tommy when I see someone huddled in a doorway and I know they’ll be told to move along so the sight of them doesn’t disturb customers.
I think of Tommy when I remember that, although my son died of medical neglect, at least he had a warm bed and people who loved him.
I think of Tommy when I remember that the person I follow was born in a stable because no one would give his parents a warm place to be on that night.
I like to think Tommy is in a warm and loving place now, that his soul is nurtured and fed, even though his body was not.
On Christmas, I think of the people who have nothing because it seems nobody else wants to.
Today, I’ll celebrate by serving lunch to people who have little to nothing. I’ll hug them and I’ll tell them I care — because I do.
My sister and my son aren’t with us anymore. Neither is Tommy McMahon. But there are more than enough people with whom to celebrate the birth of a poor child who would change the world, and I don’t need to buy — or get — a new Buick to do it.
All I need is the spirit of the one whose birth we celebrate, the one who told us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, heal the sick and welcome the stranger.
May your day be as blessed as mine.
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