Archive for progressive living

Kindness matters, as does your vote

Keshia Thomas, one of the marshals in America's Journey for Justice. She walked from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC.

Keshia Thomas, one of the marshals in America’s Journey for Justice. She walked from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC.

I met Keshia Thomas in the heat of summer, walking along roads in eastern North Carolina with America’s Journey for Justice, a march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC. I was impressed immediately with her kindness and wit, and not at all surprised to learn about her “15 minutes” of fame.

Keshia was just 18 when she put her life on the line to protect a white supremacist who was being beaten by an angry mob.

She covered this man with her own body to protect him from the mob, even though she knew he hated her because of the color of her skin.

A human life is a human life, she says, and no one should have to suffer violence.

Today, Keshia travels the country and abroad, speaking about kindness and respect, doing what she can to help bring about peace and justice.

“I’ve always believed in justice,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to be of service. Anybody can do it; you don’t need a PhD, just a desire to be of service in any way you can, large or small, every day. It’s the foundation of everything.”

In Baltimore, during the unrest after Freddie Gray died in police custody, she took a young man by the hand and told him not to throw the rock he was holding. She taught him how to protest peacefully and encouraged him to shake hands with the police.

“I left behind a young man who will work for justice in the right way, a young man who has no police record to hinder him,” she says.

So it came as no surprise when we were talking politics that she’s supporting Bernie Sanders in this presidential election.

“Bernie’s one of us,” she says. “When he says, ‘not me but us,’ I believe he means it. This isn’t about Bernie’s ego, this is about what we can all do together to bring about change.”

When Sanders was asked about fracking, his simple answer was, “No.” He knew the damage fracking can cause because he consulted scientists.

“He didn’t consult the DNC to ask about Democratic policy, he talked to scientists and made up his own mind.”

Of course, a vote for president is just one piece of every American’s responsibility, Keshia says.

“It’s about Congress and it’s especially about your vote in local elections,” she says. “The way the Tea Party gained power was to start in local elections — school boards, town councils — and work their way up. That’s what we have to do now if we want to see things change.”

In short, Keshia works for the peace and justice she wants to see in the world. Sometimes that means helping one person in a small way; sometimes it means supporting a candidate in whom she sees her own ideals.

Change can be large or small, and often big change comes in small increments. You can change one person’s view on one issue, and if you do that one day, and again the next and the next and the next, that kindness and respect will spread like ripples on a pond from a single pebble dropped into the water.

Another person on the Journey for Justice, the late Middle Passage, was a perfect example of spreading love one person at a time. M.P. often chest-bumped or hugged police officers, knowing their positive encounter with him might change the way they see black men.

Donald Trump’s nasty rhetoric is contagious, but so is kindness. We can combat vitriol with small acts of kindness, and with a vote for a kind and sensible man.

Instead of walking away from Trump’s mean-spiritedness, we can find something in common with everyone we encounter and build on that. In fact, that might be the only way we will bring about positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vote because your Democracy depends on it

Ms. Rosanell Eaton arrives at a Moral Monday event with Charles Cook.

Ms. Rosanell Eaton arrives at a Moral Monday event with Charles Cook.

It looks like North Carolina has had a record turnout for early voting for this year’s primary election. I hope those who didn’t get to the polls early will do so tomorrow.

The NC General Assembly, dominated by Tea Party Republicans, has done its best to reduce voter turnout because they generally do better when fewer people vote; if they didn’t, then they wouldn’t be trying to keep people from the polls.

The new law, passed as soon as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, became known as the Voter ID law, although a lot more was done than to require an ID.

For example, early voting days were cut, and the polls were closed on Sundays. Before the new law was passed, churches across the state took thousands of voters to the polls after Sunday services, and most of those were African-American churches.

Polling places were moved — and many were moved from low-income neighborhoods and along bus routes to places with no nearby bus stops, making it more difficult for people who don’t drive to get to their polling places.

And of course, the new law made people get a photo ID, and not just any ID; it has to be state-approved.

Now, there’s one thing you need to know if you’ve had a problem getting an ID: You can still vote. That’s right, you can use a provisional ballot. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Sen. Richard Burr couldn’t find his license last week and voted using a provisional ballot. You just have to sign a statement saying there was “reasonable impediment,” and cast your ballot. The General Assembly added that provision three weeks before the lawsuit challenging the new law went to court.

For people who don’t have a driver’s license, getting an ID might not be an easy task.

Look at Ms Rosanell Eaton, one of the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state challenging these new laws.

I met Ms Eaton at the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh. In 2013, when she was 92, she went into the General Assembly Building to try to address lawmakers about her concerns. They had her arrested. Last year, she said 94 is too old to be arrested again, but not too old to sue the people who would take away her ability to vote.

When Ms Eaton registered to vote in the 1940s, she had to recite the Preamble to the US Constitution from memory. Now, to get her state ID, she had to make 11 trips to various state agencies to gather the documents she needed. That is one tough task for a 94-year-old woman who doesn’t drive.

I have gotten to know Ms Eaton. I can tell you she is one determined woman, and the focus of her determination is to make sure everyone has access to the polls.

People have struggled and died for the right to vote — women, African-Americans, Native Americans and more. This is not something we should ever take lightly. Our vote is precious and it is a serious responsibility.

When you stay home, that gives greater weight to the votes of others — who might not have your best interests at heart.

When you stay home, we all have to endure having the government you deserve.

This administration has cut voting rights, cut funding for education, allowed big polluters to get away with poisoning the environment, slashed unemployment compensation at a time when jobs are increasingly difficult to find, refused to expand access to health care for people in poverty, cut food stamps, slashed taxes on the rich and increased the tax burden on the poor, politicized higher education, cut access to health services for women and more.

And they were elected by a minority of registered voters.

Now, if you aren’t registered to vote, you’ll have to wait until the general election in the fall to vote (although there’s still time to register for the Congressional primary in June).

But if you are registered and you don’t vote tomorrow, you ought to be ashamed. Frankly, I’m tired of having to live with the government you deserve.

 

The death of American journalism

Corporate-Media-control

So, here’s what we’ve come to: Donald Drumpf’s penis size is all over the news this morning, but Bernie Sanders, who’s talking about real issues, real problems and real solutions, can barely get the time of day.

I get it; penises sell. Everyone’s interested in the discussion about penises.

A responsible Fourth Estate, however, would walk away from the circus and talk about income inequality, systemic racism, the lack of access to health care, the ravaging of our public education system, endless wars, the rampant destruction of the natural world, climate change, poisons in our food and water, voter suppression …

You get the gist.

What we get instead is the distraction, what my late son used to call “sparkly issues.”

“Ooooh, look over here. The leading Republican candidate is talking about the size of his penis. Sparkly!”

I worked in newspapers for 30 years before I volunteered to be laid off so I could pursue a life of activism after the death of my son. I’m deeply grateful I left when I did.

I was fortunate to be a reporter at a time when news stories might shame state and local officials to do the right thing. Stories my colleagues and I wrote helped to change state policies.

But those stories took time to research and write, and they weren’t sexy. It was my job to explain complex government policies and how they affected real people. My colleagues and I were given the time it took to do the research and write the stories.

Today, my former colleagues work harder than ever, but they aren’t often given the time for investigative journalism. Corporate overlords have cut newsroom staffs to the bone and then some. Older reporters who remember what it was like to write about corruption or bad policy are overloaded with work. They can be disciplined for not having enough bylines. Story count means more than content.

Too often, today’s journalists aren’t encouraged to tackle the issues; they’re asked to contribute to the drivel that distracts people from the real issues. I have some very frustrated friends in the business, and none of this is their fault.

When I criticize the corporate media, I am in no way blaming the front-line people for what has happened.

The decisions about what will be at the top of the news don’t rest with reporters, or even most of the editors who work with them. Much of it comes from the corner offices in the form of kudos for the number of page views online and demands for more of the same.

My former company, Gannett, is in no small part responsible for this mess. Newspapers aren’t dying; they are being suffocated. Gannett demands obscene profit margins, and when the profits aren’t big enough, the company boots a few more reporters and copy editors to the curb. Employees may be loyal, but the company most certainly is not.

News became a product, not a mission, and that’s what is killing newspapers.

So, my former colleagues work in a pressure cooker, where they face increasing demands, minuscule raises that don’t keep up with inflation and the constant threat of unemployment, no matter how good they are.

Most reporters are still trying to do good work, and some have left corporate media to pursue good journalism.

Here in Asheville, we have Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit headed by a former Gannett reporter, and The Asheville Blade, a one-person operation covering local government and issues. We have some great bloggers who are as likely to break stories as the local paper or TV or radio stations.

This well may be the future of journalism, but it has a lot of noise trying to drown it out, and the rise of Donald Trump and the coverage of his penis size is sad proof that we may not return to civilized, responsible journalism any time soon.

 

 

 

Truth from a courageous attorney

T GregOne of the first things my attorney, T. Greg Doucette, told me when I spoke to him was that he’s a Republican. Since, I make it a policy to get to know people before I condemn their views, I kept talking to him. After all, he volunteered to defend 10 of us who were arrested during Moral Mondays protests because he believes in our Constitutional right to air our grievances to our state legislators.

He and I may disagree on some political points, but the more I get to know him, the more I really, really like him.

Recently, I called to ask him about when I’m due in court again and he told me he was in the middle of a Tweet-storm.

Later that day, I started seeing the tweets all over Facebook and Twitter — 41 of them — detailing a case he had just won.

It started with a 17-year-old arrested for reckless driving as to endanger. Those are pretty serious charges, especially since the arresting officer reported clear 360-degree skid marks.

“Wait,” I said as he was telling me the story. “The kid in question here; I’ll bet he’s not white.”

Nope, my attorney said, he’s African-American.

You can read the whole tweet-storm here, but in essence, it is a rant against what happens all to often to African-American youths. The kid’s mother had the forethought to go to the scene and take photos of the skid marks, so Greg was able to prove there were no “donuts.”

A sampling:

#19 Do I hate police? No, I hate raging incompetent cowboys w/badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently.

#24. This is what police brutality looks like. It’s not just people having their rights violated and the sh*t kicked out of them.

#25. It’s an innocent 17yo black kid trying to be a good human being and not running over a cat getting thrown headlong into our court system

#28 Based solely on the word of a law enforcement officer who swore an oath to serve and protect who tehn lied to the court with impunity.

#29. The state doesn’t care, of course. For every one case dismissed, more plead guilty. Court costs are $188+ apiece.

#37. It doesn’t matter if you put an R or a D or a U beside your name — this is wrong.

This kid slammed on his brakes to avoid a cat. That got him arrested and charged with a pretty serious crime.

The judge dismissed the case, but the kid and his family are out the cost of an attorney and the cop got off without any consequences at all, even though he committed perjury.

This, in a nutshell is what’s happening every day in our so-called justice system. Too often, it happens quietly. It flares when unarmed young black men are killed, but for the most part, the school-to-jail pipeline for poor youths is intact. Private prisons predict future “inventory” using third-grade reading tests, especially in primarily African-American neighborhoods.

We’re closing schools and building private prisons, and these corporations expect their “inventory” to be kept up.

Our so-called justice system is racist and classist, and it’s refreshing to see a conservative calling it out.

Thanks, T. Greg; you rock.

 

Dancing on Scalia’s grave

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

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

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

I beg to differ.

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

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

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

Then there’s this:

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

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

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

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

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

Then there was his blatant racism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, get over yourself if I laugh at this:

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

 

Why I march

Here I am on the day of my second arrest, May 13, 2015. I'll be in Raleigh again on Saturday with tens of thousands of others who want a better life for people here in North Carolina.

Here I am on the day of my second arrest, May 13, 2015. I’ll be in Raleigh again on Saturday with tens of thousands of others who want a better life for people here in North Carolina.

This Saturday is the 10th annual Moral March in Raleigh, sponsored by the HKonJ Coalition.

HKonJ stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street and originated as a march to remind elected officials that we stand together for sound public policies.

The Moral March and HKonJ are part of the Forward Together Moral Movement, a beautifully diverse effort to get our government to listen to reason and stop harming the people they were elected to represent.

We are young and old, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist and agnostic; we are gay and straight, black, white, brown and mixed-race; we are immigrants and citizens liberal and conservative, men and women, students, professionals, laborers, executives and unemployed, we are people with and without disabilities, and out unity makes us strong.

When the Democrats led the General Assembly, they were’t perfect, but they would sit down and talk to us — and they would listen. They didn’t always do what we wanted, but they were open to discussion.

Then the Republicans took control and everything changed. Discussion wasn’t an option anymore. They came in and immediately began making bad policies — cutting funds for education, gutting unemployment insurance, denying access to health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, limiting women’s access to reproductive care, allowing our waterways to be polluted by Big Energy, increasing access to guns, cutting access to the vote, gerrymandering district lines and more.

I know first-hand what it is to lose someone I loved to bad public policy. My son died from lack of access to health care because our system cares more about profit than about human lives. I want to tell my son’s story to some of the people who are voting to deny a half million people access to health care. Others in the movement were or are unemployed, or affected by coal ash spills or are teachers who can’t make ends meet on their low salaries. Still others are fast-food workers who work two and three jobs and still can’t feed their families.

When we tried to make appointments to talk to them, most of our legislators ignored us. Those who did agree to meet with us individually were not open to listening.

We tried writing letters, but that didn’t do any good.

Meanwhile teachers began leaving the state in record numbers. People who lost jobs through no fault of their own — and who lost their access to health care in the process — had to take low-wage jobs, Many lost their homes. Worst of all, people died — and continue to die every day — because they can’t get access to health care.

So, we started going into the General Assembly Building to try and talk to legislators, as is our right under the North Carolina Constitution. We found the doors to the observation galleries locked. We stood in the rotunda and sang and prayed, and our legislators had us all arrested.

By the end of 2013, about 1,000 people had been arrested. In 2014, nearly all of us had all our charges dropped because we had been arrested for trespassing in a public building that was open. The charges of carrying signs (I only had this photo of my son) and chanting and loud singing were thrown out almost immediately as violations of our First Amendment rights.

Still, we had to go to Raleigh every month for court dates and we often were forced to sit in court all day, waiting for a call that didn’t come. I went seven times before my charges were dismissed on appeal. I was found guilty by a judge on my sixth trip.

In 2015, they waited for us to go into the building, then closed it and told us we had to leave. We stayed because we knew legislative leaders were in their offices and we wanted to speak to them. We were arrested again.

The Moral Movement has made a difference. Our voting rights lawsuits are making their way through the courts, and just last week, two Congressional districts were found to be illegal because they were drawn based on race.

We aren’t just protesting, though — we are educating people, and we are registering people to vote. Many of us have signed a pledge to register 50 new voters before Election Day.

This Moral March won’t involve any arrests; it is an opportunity for all of us to come together to ask out government to do what’s best for the people, not the bidding of corporate overlords.

We will march, we will sing, we will chant and we will hear the stories of people whose lives have been torn apart by the bad policies of this government.

Our theme is Our Time, Our Vote, and we’ll be talking about how to get a government that’s more in tune with the needs of the governed.

This is an important event for anyone who hopes for a better North Carolina.

 

 

I stand with Muslims

From Huffington Post

From Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

We live in a war zone

By my friend and former colleague, cartoonist Matt Davies.

By my friend and former colleague, cartoonist Matt Davies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

This wasn’t about mental illness

dear mug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The lasting impact of war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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