It’s not as though Harvey is the first perpetrator we’ve heard about

How do you imagine it would feel to have this creep come at you, demanding sex in exchange for job security? (Photo by NY Daily News)

 

Harvey Weinstein is nothing more than a symptom.

People are shocked, shocked, I tell you, that he got away with harassing and attacking women for so long, but I don’t think I know a woman in any job that hasn’t been harassed, assaulted or discriminated against because she won’t put out, because some man feels as though he is entitled to sexual gratification because the women (or girls) he is pursuing seem attractive to him.

Too many men have this same sense of entitlement and they use their positions of power to pressure women into submitting.

Here are just a few from my past:

  • I was molested from the time I was 3 until I was 11.
  • I discovered a manager where I worked was turning the heat down so he could look at the erect nipples of women who worked for him. Nothing happened to him, but I was threatened with firing for reporting it.
  • A colleague kept pressuring me to sleep with him, so I went to the publisher, whose response was to chuckle and say, “Oh, that’s Bob.” There would have been no repercussions except I went back and asked for his home phone number. Thinking he had made another conquest, Bob gave me the phone number. I stood up and announced very loudly that if he ever spoke another non-work-related word to me, I would call his wife. I gave the number to every other woman in the office. Bob backed off, but I lost my job shortly afterward.
  • I used to do stand-up comedy and a club owner cornered me in the back room promising me a “prime spot on the bill” if I gave him a blow job then and there. I told him he could fuck himself. I remember that there was a coffee pot next to him and I briefly considered getting him to take out his penis so I could pour scalding coffee on it.
  • When I was in sales, a customer cornered me and groped at me. I managed to escape and my boss, God bless him, went into the customer’s place of business and promised to educate him with a baseball bat if he ever touched one of the boss’s female sales reps again.

These are just a few incidents, and only those related to sexual harassment. I won’t even go into issues of pay and opportunity here.

So, why didn’t I tell anyone I was being molested? Because I went to a church that taught me I was dirty because I was a daughter of Eve and therefore guilty of Original Sin, which, by the way, is seduction.

In the religious tradition of my childhood, women are evil and must be controlled. Rape is always our fault because we are always guilty of seduction, even when we’re children.

I didn’t tell anyone because I knew in my little heart that I was the guilty one. I knew I’d get in trouble if I said anything and then everyone would know I wasn’t a good girl. I was in my 30s before I ever uttered a word.

My perpetrator died in his bed, respected and adored by a community of people who thought he just was good with kids.

Talk to any woman who has worked and she likely has a story — probably multiple stories — of being pressured to have sex with a man who thinks it’s his right to use his power to satisfy his pecker.

When we’re raped, we’re asked why we were where we were or why we wore what we wore.

“Why were you with him?”

“We were on a date.”

Why were you dressed the way you were?”

“I was on a date.”

“But those heels, they just beg for it.”

“I was on a date.”

“And why did you have a drink with him?”

“We were on a date.”

“And you got in the car with him. Why?”

“I was on a date.”

“You let him walk you to your door?”

“I was on a date.”

See, if we say yes to a date, apparently, we’re saying he can take what he wants in exchange. So it follows that if we say yes to a job, apparently, we’re saying yes to sex.

When the young Kennedy cousin was accused of rape in the 1980s, people blamed the victim because she took off her pantyhose. My question to these people was: “If you’re going to walk barefoot on the beach, are you going to wear your socks or take them off?” and “When did taking off your socks to walk barefoot on the beach become an invitation?”

When Anita Hill challenged the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, people rushed to his defense and accused her of trying to take him down out of some sort of jealousy. Why would any woman risk everything to come forward like that?

These were 30 years ago and we haven’t even come close to eliminating the problem, to believing women when they try to report harassment or assault.

It’s time to believe the women. Hell, I’d be thrilled if people saw the truth in the bragging of powerful men. Talking about grabbing pussy is not “locker room talk,” it is the confession of a crime.

In fact, after SCROTUS was “elected,” I ran a group called, “I Believe the Women,” and the stories of the women who attended were pretty much the stories we’re hearing this week about Harvey Weinstein.

Ask any woman who has had a job for any length of time and you’re likely to hear some stories like the ones I have related here.

A woman attorney friend of mine was invited to a meeting at a club where all the the waitresses were nearly naked. She was the only woman at the meeting. Imagine how that felt.

Another woman I know was raped by her grandfather, who was a minister, and then passed around for the other church leaders to enjoy. She was told it was her fault and she should ask God for forgiveness.

Another friend — a girl in the church of my youth — had an affair with the pastor when she was 16. That’s not old enough to consent when the person demanding sex is in such a position of power.

On college campuses, as many as one in two female students is raped, and the perpetrators usually get away with it.

And then we have powerful politicians who are against both birth control AND abortion, but who pressure their mistresses to have an abortion when they get pregnant.

Is it true of all men? No. But it is true of enough men so that just about every woman I know has a story.

Harvey Weinstein is not an aberration, he is just like Roger Ailes, Bill Clinton and way too many other men who have a sense that they are entitled to sex with any woman they want.

It is long past time to shut this shit down. Restore Title IX, protect women on campus and in the workplace.

Punish the offenders.

Believe the women.

 

 

 

While you were distracted, 9 million children lost access to health care

Nearly 9 million children in low-income families were enrolled in CHIP — until the Republicans, who control Congress, let it expire.

It’s not enough that I lost a son to lack of access to health care.

It’s not enough that my only surviving child has no insurance.

Now the Republicans in Congress have stripped my grandson and my great-granddaughter of their access to care.

At midnight on Sept. 30, Congress — which is controlled by Republicans —  allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to expire.

In addition, funding for community health centers expired at the same time.

So, Republicans, tell me again how you’re pro-life because you’re against a woman’s right to not bring a child into a world where no one cares if it dies in infancy or childhood, simply because you believe their parents are your moral inferiors because they’re poor and “just want a handout.”

Oh, and you’re also against paying people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work, making it nearly impossible for anyone to escape poverty.

You support keeping people in poverty and then criticizing them for being poor. Then you yank their children’s health care.

There is no defense for this. None.

This is terrorism. It is murder.

I have no problem offering a handout to children like my grandson and my great-granddaughter. I can’t understand why Republicans would have a problem with it.

I have no problem with the government funding clinics that care for people like my son, who works two part-time jobs as he enters his fourth year drug-free.

No one in my family has ever asked for a handout. We simply want what is available to people in every other industrialized nation on earth — health care.

While we’re on the subject of health care, let’s talk about the “failure” of the Affordable Care Act, which, by the way, would have saved my son’s life.

A record number of Americans have health insurance now, and while some of these policies are pretty crappy, they still are better than nothing.

Before the ACA, some 45,000 people died every single year from lack of access to care — that’s one every 12 minutes. Today, it’s between 15,000 and 20,000, the majority of those being in states that have refused to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor — the very people for whom they say they have sympathy.

My granddaughter was in high school when her daughter was born. She finished high school and now works and is in nursing school. She’s exhausted most of the time, but she’s determined to make it.

Tell me again how she and her baby deserve to die. I’d just love to hear your rationalization.

My grandson is in high school. He tells me he wants to be a teacher. He loves photography and he works at a restaurant so he can afford new photography equipment and to put gas in the car so he can go to the nature preserve and shoot birds and alligators. When he’s not driving, he’ll try to convince whoever is to slam on the brakes when he sees a good photo. His CHIP would have expired in March anyway, so no big deal if he gets sick a few months early, right?

And my great-granddaughter, who’s 4 1/2, well, she doesn’t even have a job. Perhaps she should learn to pull her own weight, right? I mean, where does that lazy little thing get off wanting to play when she could be out there helping to build roads or working at Home Depot?

No, wait — Home Depot doesn’t hire many full-time people anymore because it would have to offer them health insurance. Can’t have people getting health insurance when it might cut into profits, now, can we?

We’re flying flags at half-staff today because a domestic terrorist killed 20 people and injured 400. And while that’s a tragedy, I think 9 million children without access to care and millions more people losing access because their local clinic closed, is far, far worse.

When we can allow children to die from lack of access to care, we surely have lost our collective soul.

We are a despicable nation and we deserve to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

An unjust system treats people arbitrarily

Most of the 31 arrested on July 25 for disrupting the Senate. One person couldn’t get to Washington for our court date and three more were getting invasive drug testing.

 

I have learned first-hand how arbitrary and cruel our “justice” system can be.

Thirty-one of us were arrested July 25 for disrupting the Senate by chanting “Kill the bill!” as the Senate voted to open debate on a bill that would strip access to health care from 33 million Americans.

We were taken to a warehouse to be processed, and 29 of us were given an appearance date for court and released. Two of our number were sent to jail overnight. It appears they were picked at random because all of our charges were the same. Two of us, Jennifer “Jeff” Ginsburg and I, had charges pending from an arrest in May at the North Carolina General Assembly Building, but Jeff was jailed and I was released.

Later, 29 of us were offered a deferred prosecution agreement that requires four months arrest-free, a four-month ban on entering the US Capitol Building and 32 hours of community service. Another was offered a deferred sentencing agreement, which requires a guilty plea that will be set aside after 48 hours of community service and six months arrest-free and a six-month ban on entering the Capitol Building.

I alone was offered nothing in advance.

I had no idea what that meant and the prosecutor would not explain it to my attorney, so I went to court not knowing what they had planned for me. I was a mess.

Was I going to be thrown in jail?

Was I going to be fined some large amount of money that I didn’t have with me and couldn’t pay on the spot?

Why was I singled out?

Because they can, that’s why.

When we got to the courtroom, the prosecutor offered my attorney the deferred sentencing deal for me.

It seems they were just playing with my head. Whether that was their intention or not, it it worked. I was really scared.

I made arrangements with Jeff that she would call my husband and get my car from the Metro station where I had parked. She would take my purse and my crocheting. Organizers of the protest, Rev. Rob Stephens and Rev. Robin Tanner, promised I would not be abandoned and as we entered the courtroom, everyone surrounded me and promised their support.

When the prosecutor read the description of what I had done, she claimed I had been in the Gallery. The judge asked whether the account was accurate.

“No, sir, it is not,” I said. “I had been told I could bring in a photo of my late son. It was a 5×7, unframed. A few minutes later, I was escorted from the gallery for having a poster. When the chanting began, I was in the hall. I didn’t begin chanting until people began being brought out. That’s when I joined them.”

The judge was clearly irritated, and I thought for a moment he was going to dismiss the charges, but the prosecutor convinced him that because the door was open I was just as guilty as anyone else.

The judge offered to let me plead not guilty and go to trial, but I chose to accept the deal. Before we left, though, I added one more thing.

“Your Honor, I need to tell you that that 5×7 photo is all I have left of my son. He died from lack of access to care in 2008. The Affordable Care Act would have saved his life.”

That’s right, I played the Dead Kid Card and I’m glad the prosecutor got to hear why I wanted to carry that “poster.”

But I am left with the memory of how frightened I was, about how the system is allowed to be cruel and arbitrary. And if I was as frightened as I was, even with all the support I had, I can only imagine how a young person of color feels when arrested alone.

The police treated us all with respect, except for the ones who spent the night in jail. I’m told their demeanor changed as soon as the decision came down to transport those two people to jail for the night.

None of us was told why we were singled out for more severe treatment, leaving me to believe that it was done to intimidate all of us and make us question whether we’ll be the one to spend time in jail or not offered the same agreement as the others if we do civil disobedience again.

In fact, we went into our civil disobedience thinking we would get “post-and-forfeit,” fined $50 and released. We were a little surprised at the charges and at having to come back for court. We were told this was a possibility, so we went in with our eyes open, but we did not expect to have one or two people singled out for more serious treatment each step of the way.

I have learned a lesson here: No one is safe in our arbitrary “justice” system. We need reform. We need it now.

This has not been an entirely negative experience. I have made new friends, new allies, and they have enriched my life.

And as scared as I was, my resolve is the same as ever. I will continue to put my body on the line to protect people’s access to safe and affordable health care. I will not go away.

I will avoid arrest for the next six months, I will do my community service. But I will never stop working for access to health care for every human being. I’ve already endured the loss of my precious son. Nothing can be worse than that.

 

 

Playing the ‘Dead Kid Card’

Hours after my third arrest, I spoke at a press conference about why I needed to speak to legislative leaders about access to health care.

The entire time my son was sick — just over three years — he played the Cancer Card.

If we asked him to do something, he whined, “But I have cancer!”

The expected reply from friends and family was, “Cancer, schmancer.”

He did this in public, at grocery store checkouts and anywhere it might get attention.

He loved attention.

But a week before he died, he sat me down for a talk. It started with, “You know, you’re being dealt an untrumpable card.”

“Excuse me?”

“The Dead Kid Card, Mom. You’re being dealt the Dead Kid Card.”

“I want nothing to do with that.”

“Too late. It’s being dealt. Now, what are you going to do with it?”

I didn’t want to talk about this. In fact, I was laboring under the misguided impression that my heart would stop when his did. I wouldn’t have to deal with the dead kid card because I was going with him.

But what if my heart kept beating?

I panicked. I couldn’t face life after he died, and he was making me think about it.

“OK, I’m going to work to make sure every human being has access to the care they need and I’m going to tell your story to further that goal.”

“That sounds good,” he said. “You have my blessing. Now, can I get a cup of coffee? I have cancer and I’m dying.” He smiled and settled back into his pillow.

Of course, my heart didn’t stop when his did. I sat there and wished it to, but it wouldn’t. So I got to work.

I tell my son’s story at every opportunity. I spent nearly 30 years telling other people’s stories as a newspaper reporter. I am a firm believer in the power of stories to explain complex policies and their effects on real people. My stories changed local and even state policies several times during my career. Now I had the most powerful story imaginable to tell — the story of how an extraordinary human being died from neglect.

If you want to say people who need health care are “just looking for a handout,” Mike’s story disproves that. He never wanted a handout and it was only his own experience that made him realize how important it is that everyone has access to care. He had been pretty much a Libertarian before that, determined to take care of his own needs — until he realized that wasn’t possible in a system like ours, where medical care is too expensive for anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy to afford.

I started telling his story. There were those who accused me of lying, who refused to believe my son — or I — deserved any sympathy. The local Tea Party tried for more than a year to get me fired from my job as a newspaper reporter because they saw how dangerous his story was.

On the morning of my fourth arrest, I walked with interfaith clergy as we carried a cardboard coffin to protest attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 25, 2017. RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley

I left my job — I volunteered to be laid off — 16 months after Mike died so that I could tell his story in public and demand something be done about our broken health care system. President Obama was working on health care and I wanted to be in that fight. I had been under a great deal of pressure to include the lies of the Right in my stories, unchallenged, as though their unsupported beliefs should carry as much weight as the truth.

I told Mike’s story across the state and in Washington. I was on national TV and speaking at large rallies, and I knew Mike was with me.

When Howard Dean took his photo at a rally of 5,000 people and the crowd started chanting his name, I could almost hear him laughing and chanting, “Yeah, Me, Me, Me!!”

Telling the story again and again is exhausting. It’s emotionally draining and it’s painful, sometimes even physically painful.

But I do it over and over and over because I have the Dead Kid Card and I have to keep playing it. People have to know that good people die when you take away their access to health care.

This summer, after I told his story again at a political rally, a woman approached me.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she said, “But I have a message from your son. He’s very, very proud of you.”

I smiled and thanked her and began to turn to walk away.

“Did you know he stand behind you while you speak?” she asked.

I turned back.

“Excuse me?”

“He’s right behind you when you speak and he’s smiling. He loves being the center of attention, doesn’t he?”

I choose to believe she’s not crazy.

I choose to believe Mike is with me, and when something stupid happens (think of a flat tire in the pouring rain), I can almost hear him laughing.

This most recent fight for health care has drained me more than any of the ones before it. These murdering thugs in Congress never cease to amaze me with their efforts to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care.

Lately, they have tried to stop me from having Mike’s photo with me. Mark Meadows’ people tried to confiscate it when I wanted to get into his town hall. I was taken out of the Senate Gallery in Washington because I had a 5×7 photo of him (with no frame because God knows I could jump out of the gallery and slash all the Republicans’ wrists with the broken glass before anyone could stop me), which they called a “poster.”

Mike’s story is powerful. I know that, and I use it to try and make people understand that good people die horrible deaths when they’re denied care.

I play the Dead Kid Card because it is the most powerful card in my deck, and I will not stop until every person in this country has access to affordable, quality health care.

No one deserves to die the way my son did. No one.

 

 

My letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham about health care

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Photo by Politico

 

When I was in Washington, after I had been released from jail. I met Lindsey Graham in a crosswalk as I was going to the Metro.

I introduced myself and showed him a photo of my son. We spoke briefly and it was very cordial, and as we parted, I begged him not to vote to strip away access to health care for 33 million people.

Last week, he introduced a bill to do just that.

Here’s the letter I faxed to him this morning:

Senator Graham:

You might remember me. I stopped you in a crosswalk in Washington a few weeks ago and introduced myself. I told you I’m from North Carolina, and you smiled and called me your neighbor.

I showed you a photo of my beloved son, who died because he couldn’t get access to health care and ended our conversation with, “I beg you, sir, please don’t vote to take away access to health care from 33 million Americans,” and you said you would consider it. You actually went back into the Senate Chamber and voted against that first bill.

This is my son, Mike Danforth. I miss him every moment of every day.

Real people die when they lose access to care. Each year before the Affordable Care Act became law, 45,000 Americans died prematurely because of lack of access to health care. That’s one every 12 minutes.

At 4:48 p.m. on April 1, 2008, it was my precious son whose heart stopped beating. I would rather it had been me, but I didn’t have that choice because I couldn’t make any insurance company sell him coverage and without that coverage, I couldn’t get any doctor to give him the care he needed. Yes, he went to the emergency room, but as I’m sure you know, they were only required to stabilize him, so instead of a diagnosis and treatment for the cancer that by that time was blocking his colon, he got a laxative and a bill.

My son worked 30 hours a week in a restaurant and attended college full-time, majoring in history with a minor in philosophy. He was also a volunteer, helping people get and stay sober. With all this, he still maintained a 3.75 GPA.

I know you like to call yourself pro-life, so I’ll tell you that when I was first pregnant with him, I had a rare virus that my doctor said could cause birth defects. She advised me to have an abortion and try again, but that child was real to me already. I chose to continue the pregnancy, and I never regretted that decision because he was such a remarkable human being.

My son was brilliant, kind and wickedly funny. His work saved lives. I know this because so many people told me their stories after he died. One mother came up and hugged me and said, “Had it not been for Mike, my son would have died. Mike literally picked him up out of the gutter and saved his life.”

Mike needed a colonoscopy every year, but no doctor in Savannah, Ga., would do one for him, even though he had a one-in-four chance of developing an aggressive form of colon cancer. It would have cost us about $60,000 over the course of his lifetime to do the screenings and remove any polyps, but we said no, and instead shelled out nearly $1 million for his care and he died anyway. So don’t tell me we can’t afford it because I know it’s a lot cheaper to take care of people before they get really sick.

I tell you this about my son because you appear to believe that people who can’t get a job with insurance coverage, or who were born with a “pre-existing condition” are morally inferior. They are not lazy. They are not worthless. They are not looking for a handout, and even if they were, they don’t deserve to suffer and die the way my son did. No one does.

I have been doing health care advocacy work since my son died and I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t deserve health care. Not one, although I have questioned whether the selfish, greedy people responsible for my son’s death deserve anything.

You see, I consider the people who withheld care from my son to be murderers. Their inaction killed my son as surely as if they had put a bullet through his heart. Actually, putting a bullet through his heart would have been more humane than the three years of suffering he endured.

To be eligible for Medicaid, my son had to leave his wife because she had a late-model car and some student loan money for tuition in the bank. My son applied for disability and waited 37 months for approval. He was dead nine days before his first check came. He applied for food stamps, and with no income and no wife he was offered $10 a month. He refused the offer.

If so many people hadn’t loved him so and been willing to care for him, my son would have died on the street.

Life without my son borders on the unbearable every moment of every day. All I can do is beg for you and your colleagues to care enough about human life to shore up the Affordable Care Act, or to pass Medicare for all.

Consider the words of Jesus (I believe you consider yourself to be a follower of Jesus) in Matthew 25 (paraphrased here for modern times):

“For I was hungry and you voted to cut Food Stamps, Meals on Wheels and school lunches.

“I was thirsty and you voted to allow polluters to poison my water.

“I was sick and you voted to strip me of my access to health care.

“I was in prison and you allowed corporations to profit off of my misery.

“I was naked and you told me to get a job, but you wouldn’t ensure I could make enough to buy clothes.

“Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, you did also unto me.”

I beg you to think about this and then withdraw the bill, or at least your support for it.

Oh, and the day I met you I had just been released from jail for disrupting the Senate. I was one of the people who chanted, “Kill the bill!”

I had been hauled from the gallery a few minutes before the chanting began because in my hand was a 5×7 photo of my son – the same one I showed you in the crosswalk. The guard called it a poster.

When the chanting began, I joined in and was arrested, along with 31 other people who are truly pro-life.

I didn’t have to join the protesters.

I could have not been arrested. I could have stayed home and been alone in my grief, but I do this in his memory and because no one should die the way my son did. No one. And I will fight with every breath left to me to make sure no one does – not even those who would take access to care away from 33 million of their fellow human beings.

Your “neighbor,”
Leslie Boyd
Candler, NC

 

 

 

We are not a moral nation. Why does this surprise you?

Image by CNN

All over social media these last couple of days, I see people who are shocked, shocked, I tell you, over the Occupant ending DACA.

“I can’t believe this,” people are posting with all due righteous indignation.

Really? This surprises you?

I do believe what’s happening.

This is a nation built on the blood of enslaved people.

This is the only nation to have used a nuclear bomb.

This is the nation of Jim Crow and strange fruit.

It is the nation that abetted the political famine in 19th Century Ireland and then exploited the people escaping that famine.

This is the nation that refused to stop Stalin in the USSR as he killed millions through purges and political famine (an entire class of people, the Kulaks, were starved when they balked at turning their farmland over to the state).

This is the nation that turned away boatloads of Jews who were trying to escape genocide in Hitler’s Germany. And many Americans wear the symbol of that attempted genocide today while chanting white supremacist themes.

This is the nation that wiped out 90 percent of the people we found living here already when we “discovered” it.

This is the nation that turned a blind eye to genocide in Rwanda in the 1980s, to the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s …

This is the nation that started a preemptive war with Iraq, the consequences of which will echo through the decades to come — perhaps longer.

This is the nation that refuses to pass laws allowing people to make enough money to support themselves when they work full-time.

This is the nation that allows people to die horrible deaths rather than offer access to lifesaving health care.

This is the nation that forces young people to mortgage their futures to get a college education.

This is the nation that cuts funding for Meals on Wheels, food stamps and free and reduced-price school lunches.

This is the nation that allows corporations to poison the water supply with farming and fracking chemicals in the name of profits.

This is the nation that allows privateers to run prisons for profit and to assess its future “inventory” based on fourth-grade reading scores.

We are not good people. We are a nation of thugs.

You and I may be righteous people, calling out the crimes committed in our names, but this nation, collectively, is not just or moral.

We as a nation committed these crimes and continue to commit crimes.

If our people won’t put a stop to these policies by getting out and voting for something better, we can not call ourselves a righteous people.

The best intentions don’t always translate to the best donations

If this were your home, would you want a used prom dress? Please think before you donate.

 

Twelve years ago, I went to Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi with a group of volunteers to help people get back on their feet.

The organization I was with, Hearts With Hands, set up camp at a local Little League field and started offering boxes of supplies — toiletries, cleaning supplies (for people who still had a home to clean), diapers, water …

People rolled down their car windows and their stories poured out. I remember some of them still.

There was the mom and dad and little girl who appeared to be about 4. Their home had been destroyed, so they just wanted toiletries, and maybe a new toy or a couple of books for their daughter.

“We lost everything. Everything,” the father said.

“We’re staying with my parents,” the mom added.

Then the little girl spoke up, sounding tired and frustrated.

“When can we go home?” she asked. “I just wanna go home.”

A tear trickled down her father’s cheek.

“She doesn’t understand,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell her.”

Later a woman came in by herself. I asked what she needed.

“Everything,” she said.

“Toiletries a good start?” I asked.

She started sobbing and rested her head on the steering wheel.

“I hadn’t even thought of that,” she said. “Yes, I even need toiletries.”

I reached in through the window and hugged her.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, again and again as she clung to me, sobbing.

These people did not need your old winter coats with the broken zippers. They did not need your old prom dress or your old underwear.

Maybe your heart was in the right place, but we had mountains of clothes that no one would ever wear because there wasn’t the volunteer-power to sort them, and when we tried, we found only about 1 in 20 articles were actually something someone in the disaster zone could use in the 100-degree heat.

On the drive down, I crocheted a light cotton baby blanket, and when I encountered a woman with a 7-month-old baby, I gave it to her. The baby had loved his old blanket, but the family barely escaped with their lives. Mom and Dad didn’t have time to look for the treasured old blanket as they ran from the rising flood waters.

We had one volunteer who was a teacher in Ocean Springs. She had cruised through town the day before she came to us, looking for signs that everyone had escaped their homes during the storm. You could tell because rescuers had painted a big orange X on each home. In one quadrant of the X was a number, and that was the number of bodies found inside the home. This teacher had seen mostly zeros, but two homes had had a 1 in that quadrant. The teacher had no way of knowing who that number represented, but she knew her students and their families were hurting. Her house had lost part of its roof, but everyone escaped and now they were helping those less fortunate.

I believe people are mostly kindhearted when they donate, but some of us don’t stop to think about what people really need. Most of us have never experienced the total loss of everything we own.

Think about it. Your favorite coffee mug, that wonderful photo of you with your grandmother, the trinket your great-grandfather brought with him when he came from Ireland in 1855, your hairbrush, your heirloom quilt …

Suddenly, it’s just you and the clothes on your back in 90-plus-degree heat.

What do you want?

Certainly not someone else’s old underpants. Certainly not the bridesmaid’s dress that’s been cluttering up someone’s closet since their cousin’s wedding in 1986.

You want clean, comfortable clothes and shoes. You want a toothbrush, toothpaste and some soap, a washcloth and a towel and maybe a good book.

The organization with which I volunteered was a Christian charity and they included a Bible in every box of supplies. When I heard about the plan to do that, I doubted the wisdom of proselytizing, but just about everyone I saw open a box, lifted out the Bible first. No one handed it back. These people had lost everything, including the family Bible, and getting another Bible was huge for them.

Children need simple toys — books, coloring books and crayons and other craft supplies that can be used in a shelter or a motel room, perhaps a good stuffed toy to hug when trying to sleep in a strange place with hundreds of strangers around you.

People need flashlights and batteries, bed linens, pillows and snacks.

But most of all, organizations need money to fund their work. Your money can buy people what they need and it can buy from regional and local businesses that also need the cash to help fuel the recovery.

There are a number of reputable organizations offering help to those in need right now, and as with every crisis, there are a whole lot of disreputable thugs willing to take your money and run. You have the responsibility to find one that’s getting the most for your buck.

So, before you write a check, do a little homework. I’m including links to some highly recommended charities that are doing great work in and around Houston.

And donate the bridesmaid’s dress to a theater company.

Here’s a start in your search for reputable charities:

https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=489

https://ghcf.org/

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity

http://www.houstonfoodbank.org/

http://www.houstonhumane.org/

 

Killing the Affordable Care Act with a thousand cuts

When people can’t get insurance, they die. It’s that simple.

 

If you need health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, I can’t help you.

Something happened last night that makes it illegal for me to answer your questions and it is a deliberate attempt to take away our access to health care.

For the last four years, I have been a Navigator, a volunteer who helps people get health insurance. But as of today, I no longer can answer your questions.

We have been muzzled by funding cuts.

You see, there’s a rule that we can only work as volunteers through agencies that were funded to oversee us. That was to protect consumers from charlatans who might steer them the wrong way.

But this administration realized that if they cut the “advertising” funding (more accurately, outreach funding), agencies wouldn’t be able to pay the person who oversees the volunteers, and without that person, the volunteers wouldn’t be able to do their work. We could be silenced.

I haven’t seen this in the news yet, what with Harvey and Irma and Mueller and all.

It’s just not big enough news.

But it will be enough to keep a lot of people from getting the face-to-face help they need.

Make no mistake, this is a direct attack on the ability of some 33 million people to get health insurance, and with it, access to lifesaving care.

When Congress failed to kill the ACA, the Occupant of the White House swore he would find a way to do it, and he has decided to do it through seemingly innocuous funding cuts.

It’s no accident that the outreach budget was cut — that action muzzled thousands of volunteers who were trained to help. Don’t think the Occupant didn’t know that.

Consumers will think we didn’t need that “advertising” budget because everyone knows you can just go to www.healthcare.gov and get insurance.

But what if you hit a bump in the road? It’s easiest to get past any hurdles if you’re sitting with someone who understands the process and the law. Yes, you can call the 800 number, but what if there’s a 20-minute wait? A navigator would have answered the question then and there. It’s just another way to make the process less simple and less convenient.

I know what happens when people can’t get access to health insurance — they lose access to care, and they die. I have watched it happen. That’s why I became a Navigator.

On Tuesday, I’ll return the laptop to the agency where I volunteered. I’ll still take the training to qualify as a Navigator for 2018, but it’s not likely I’ll be able to use that training to help anyone.

By law, I can’t help you.

But let me know if you have any questions, I can point you to the answers. And if I happen to be in the room when you’re shopping for insurance, I will help you point the cursor to the right place on the screen. I can explain any jargon you have trouble with — kind of like your own personal dictionary.

We’ll call it my little act of resistance.

 

 

 

Stop minimizing trauma if you haven’t experienced it

In Chapel Hill, NC, a statue known as Silent Sam sits on the campus of the University of North Carolina. Activists want it removed and people are holding vigil there until it is gone.

 

Twice this morning, I felt compelled to answer memes about how people who are triggered by events or even physical things in their paths should just quit whining.

One of the memes had a white woman crying with a caption about how we should feel sorry for her because of the statues.

My reply was that she was white, so it was highly unlikely it was from statues of people who owned and hideously abused her ancestors. Science has found the trauma from that is still encoded into the DNA of the descendants of slaves.

Most of these monuments were erected either during the Jim Crow or Civil Rights eras. They were put there to remind people that even though the Confederacy was gone, its rules still applied to black people and that those rules would be enforced — with force.

They were meant to instill fear in people of color. That was their purpose. Get it?

The woman in the meme — and the person who posted it — didn’t lose a great-uncle to lynching in the 1940s or ’50s. Her mother never suffered the indignity of being sprayed with a high-pressure fire hose to “cleanse” the streets of her and her friends.

She never had to attend a school named for the oppressors of her ancestors or listen to her parents talk about being beaten and jailed for trying to register to vote.

She has not had an unarmed uncle, a brother or a cousin shot by a cop who thought he might have smelled pot and then gotten away with it because the victim reached for his wallet and the cop “feared for my life.”

She never had to go to a segregated school where everything — from the building itself to the books and equipment — is inferior. And although this was addressed with desegregation in the 1960s, schools are very nearly as segregated now as they were in the Jim Crow era.

People of color are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.

The corporate-run prisons use fourth-grade reading test scores of students in these segregated schools to determine their future prison populations.

My reply ended with, “But OK, stay in your cozy little world where nobody ever tried to kill you because of the color of your skin. It must be very nice and warm and cozy there.”

The other meme was about how people can choose how to respond to triggers by choosing to be OK.

My response was, “Obviously you’re never been raped or lost a relative to lynching.”

I can’t choose to be OK when some trigger takes me back to the moment of my son’s death or to being molested as a child. That’s why these things are called triggers.

When you pull the trigger to a loaded gun, it goes off. Those traumas are the bullets. Get it?

You have no right to tell anyone else how to react to walking by a statue every day that glorifies the people who caused your trauma — the trauma that’s written in your DNA because this person who’s being glorified was among those who fought for his right to own you. And you walk on a street named for another of them and go to a school named for yet another …

You’ve never been followed by security guards when you walk into a store because you’re black so you must be a criminal.

You have no right to tell a person of color the cop isn’t going to hurt him after you’ve seen on video the murders of innocent people who look like you and then seen the victim vilified in the media because he might have been jaywalking or the cop thinks he might have smelled pot, and then watched the murderer walk free, even with video evidence against him or her.

In the NFL, murderers, abusers and other criminals get to play again, but a single man who knelt rather than stood for the anthem of the nation that still oppresses people who look like him is blackballed.

It is time for these monuments to be removed from the public square and placed in context in museums and cemeteries.

We need to start thinking about how to replace the monuments to hate with monuments to the courageous people who fought — and continue to fight — racism and oppression.

We need to build monuments to the people who were bought and sold and endured hideous torture before perishing as the property of others.

We need to build monuments to the abolitionists.

We need to build bridges of understanding so more of us understand the trauma others endure, even if that trauma doesn’t affect us. That’s called compassion and empathy. We should try that for a change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to renew and refresh

Setting up camp. Faith, on the left, is the youngest; Robin, on the right, is the middle sister. My brothers-in-law, Tim (Robin’s husband) and Alfred (Faith’s), are left to right on the other end of the table shelter.

 

For a couple months now, people have been advising me to take a few days away from everything.

I resisted because, well, the orange menace in the White House and Congressional Republicans trying to take health care away from 33 million Americans and all.

But then my two sisters decided to come to North Carolina for the eclipse, and they reserved campsites near the totality zone, about 40 minutes from my house. I was invited to pitch my tent on my youngest sister’s site.

The campground has no cell phone signal. The most I could do was send a text here and there, so all I could do was hang out with my sisters, go for walks and relax.

One of us went out every day for ice and news so we could be aware if a war started or something, but for the most part, we basked in the quiet.

My next-younger sister scoped out the best place for us to watch the eclipse without going into Brevard. We wound up going about 3 miles up from the campground to a small picnic area. We arrived at 7 a.m., certain the little clearing would be inundated with people before 9 a.m., but just a few people showed up — two young friends of mine, a biker from Connecticut, a woman from Swannanoa, a family from Raleigh and a young man who appeared to be almost unaware of anything around him except for the eclipse.

The sun, in total eclipse.

It was a small group and most of them were there by 9 a.m., so we got to know each other, shared lunch, joked, taught everyone how to speak with a New England accent and learned some Appalachian phrases.

No one asked me about health care. No one expected me to take the microphone and speak. No one asked me to write a few words for a letter to the editor or to a member of Congress or the state legislature.

I was just the oldest surviving Boyd sister (we lost my older sister to cancer 11 years ago), the loudmouth, ball-buster to Robin’s poetic sensibility and Faith’s quiet observance of everyone. I fear she’ll write a novel one day and we’ll all be portrayed too accurately.

For most of the trip we didn’t talk about my activism. We talked about our childhoods and our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

We watched a group of families with eight or so small children and they reminded us of the group vacations our family took with the Davises and the Bainses when we were little. We had the run of the campground. We always met other children, and all the parents kept an eye on all the children.

Robin just retired and is a little unsure what lies ahead. She was trying to think about something she could do, and she came up with a project to visit all the subway stops in Boston and write poetry about what she finds. Faith’s husband will be her guide, since he’s a native of Boston.

I love the idea. She is a gifted poet.

When I sighed and said I wished I could do something like that, both sisters looked at me as though I had just said I wanted to become a short-order cook or a prison guard or something.

“You have a really important project,” they told me. “You’re working on getting people the health care they need.”

It was the first talk of who I have become since my son died. I was transported back to the present. I was reminded that I can’t take a permanent break from the work I do.

Robin’s retirement work is to wring beauty from the mundane. Faith is a devoted grandmother to two special-needs children. Me? I’m the brassy loudmouth who was created for the work I do now.

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