It’s been a difficult summer. My husband and I lost two dear friends and a cousin in the space of a month.
We had planned two trips to New Jersey this summer to visit friends who have been together since childhood; we took four, two of them for funerals.
The original core group of boys met in fourth and fifth grade, and as the years went on, they gathered more friends and spouses, who played softball (or cheered on the team), vacationed together and gathered twice a year, in January and July.
We went to weddings and mourned the deaths of parents, and now each other.
Friendships like these are rare in today’s mobile society. People move and make new connections, and most of the time, many of the old connections are lost.
This group is my logical family (as opposed to biological), and the unexpected death of one and the lost battles to cancer of the other friend and my cousin were paralyzing.
Grief is an odd thing. It seems to be cumulative — each loss compounding the others. It comes in waves, and it’s not just for the most recent loss, but for each of them. For my father, and my sister and my son and these dear friends. It’s one of the most difficult things about aging.
But the loss of these friends reminds me of what’s important, of what I still have and what I want for the future.
I still have three sisters and a brother, a son, four grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, two daughters-in-law and two grandsons-in-law. And I still have a ton of logical family.
I’m reminded that we each have a limited time on this planet and we need to think about what we will leave behind when we go.
I would hope my legacy is a positive one, that I leave behind a better world in some small way. That’s why I’m so active in social causes. No one should go hungry or without shelter or health care in a world of plenty. No one should die at the hands of a cop because of the color of his or her skin.
Humans are an angry lot — we never seem to be at peace with what we have. We want more, more, more, and we’re not willing to ever admit we have enough. So, a few gain power and take even more, hoarding it in overseas accounts so they don’t have to pay taxes and contribute to the common good.
I’ve thought a lot this summer about how much I do have. I see war-torn places where people don’t have power or running water, where crops can’t grow because of the danger farmers face in times of war, or because the water is being co-opted by those in power. There are places where it’s not safe to go outside, even for a short time.
We Americans haven’t faced that since the Civil War, and I don’t think most of us are aware of how many problems in the world are caused by our own greed and short-sightedness.
The American “war on drugs” has caused instability throughout Central and South America, and now we’re punishing people for trying to escape the chaos we’ve helped to create.Build a wall, my ass — we need to open the gates the way we did in the early 20th century. There is great strength in diversity.
Our policies created Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and even Manuel Noriega (remember the Panamanian “strongman” from the 1980s?), and when they tried to take the power we gave them in a direction we didn’t want, we went to war and killed them.
We are not the good guys, and it’s time we acknowledge that and begin to work toward a more just society. It’s long past time to stand up and demand justice — economic, racial and moral justice for each of us.
I can’t bring myself to watch the Senate hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, but I have friends there protesting, and soon I will join them.
We need to stem the tide of greed, racism and hate. We’re not here for long; we should make our time matter.
A year ago, I was arrested in Washington for disrupting the Senate as its members prepared to debate repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I was sentenced to 48 hours of community service.
I went straight to 12 Baskets Cafe, where I’ve volunteered a couple of days a week since — long after my sentence was completed.
Almost every Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll fine me standing near the door, scraping plates into a large compost bin. My position allows me to greet everyone who comes in and to make sure people have had enough to eat before they leave.
I see all kinds of people, not just poor and/or homeless, but working people, retirees who want to stretch their budgets with some good, nutritious food.
The cafe is in Kairos West Community Center off Haywood Road at State Street in West Asheville, and it was classed as a community center when the permits were issued for the cafe to open.
The Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer, who opened the cafe through the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative, puts it simply: “It’s not what we serve, it’s who we serve.”
Apparently, that changes everything. When you help people who have nothing, you become a “shelter,” and the city tries to shut you down.
The excuse is that there’s a school nearby and people have found some used needles in the area. So, the cries of, “Save the children!” begin, as though no people who suffer from addiction should be allowed to travel in circles that come within a few hundred yards of a school or church.
The trouble began when a group of itinerant people came through, enjoyed lunch and then set up camp in the side yard of the cafe.
The television news came in and interviewed tourists across the street at Sunny Point Cafe, and the tourists didn’t like looking at poor people while they were on vacation.
So, the local newspaper jumped on board to do a story and no one spoke to anyone from the cafe, even though there’s someone there who can speak every single weekday from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The story just said no one was available for comment.
When I worked as a reporter, the story would be held until someone could speak for the cafe. We didn’t print one-sided stories without several attempts to speak to someone. I have encountered public officials who refused to return calls, and in those cases, the stories that ran detailed attempts to reach someone — “So-and-So did not return seven calls to his office, three to his home and six to his mobile phone over the course of three days.” This one would have read, “We tried to call 12 Baskets at 6 p.m. one night.”
So, viewers and readers are left with the impression that homeless people are doing drugs in the yard, that neighbors are at wits’ end with the chaos and cafe staff are allowing it, when the reality is that our neighbors support us. Some bring us food from their gardens, others come in and enjoy a meal.
The problem here is that we live in a society that drives people into poverty with low wages and few worker protections and then vilifies them.
Many of the people who eat at the cafe are working; some have disabilities that keep them from working. A number of them are in recovery from addiction, and some are still using.
Every one of them is human. Every one of them deserves the dignity of a good meal and human contact.
If we’re a community center when working people eat with us, but an illegally operating shelter when our patrons are poor, the problem isn’t with us, it’s with the community.
If you want to know more about the cafe, come have lunch with us. The food comes from some of the best restaurants in town, from EarthFare, Mission Hospital and others. We seem to specialize in curry dishes from Indian restaurants’ buffets, but we have fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, muffins, pasta dishes … it’s different every day, and it’s all delicious.
What’s more, the company is wonderful. Just because people don’t have homes doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and human contact.
The name 12 Baskets, by the way, comes from the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes from 12 baskets of fish and bread.
Yeah, if you have to ask what Jesus would do, the answer is in our name. He took 12 baskets of food and fed 6,000 because they were hungry. He didn’t ask whether they could pay, he just fed them.
If I hear another person tell me poor people need to get a job, I may become violent — or at least verbally abusive.
Did you know most poor people who can work, do? Did you know that the vast majority of jobs being created in this economy are low-wage and part-time?
There was no real recovery after the meltdown of 2008. What there was, was a reset that took away most of the last of the living-wage jobs and left us with jobs that don’t pay the bills and don’t offer benefits like vacation, sick days, health insurance, disability insurance, a pension or 401K plan …
So, when a few people began camping outside 12 Baskets Cafe here in Asheville, the local (Sinclair Broadcasting) television station interviewed people and broadcast a story that seemed designed to stir people up.
Across the street from 12 Baskets Cafe (which the news station called 12 baskets) is Sunny Point Cafe, a real magnet for tourists because it serves local food prepared really well.
So, the WLOS TV “news” crew interviewed tourists, who knew nothing about 12 Baskets Cafe. The tourists, of course, don’t want to look at poor people in their vacation spot.
“Oh,” they say, “these people are bathing and sleeping right there by the road, where we can see them!”
The TV “news” reports that “12 baskets … gives food to homeless people.”
Wrong. 12 Baskets Cafe rescues food from restaurants, grocery stores and caterers and serves it, restaurant style and free of charge, to everyone who comes. And not everyone who comes is homeless.
The people who live and work in the neighborhood support the cafe, no matter what the “news” tells you. People stop by often with food from their gardens. One woman brings fresh flowers every week.
12 Baskets Cafe is a place where everyone is treated with the basic dignity that should be offered to every human being. Just walk into the space and see people looking after each other’s children, people enjoying conversation with others they’re meeting for the first time. The volunteers who serve and clean up are encouraged to sit down and enjoy a meal and good company.
This is a positive space, a loving place, and the food is good. People were paying $10 a plate for it the day before.
In a time when some 40 percent of food is thrown away, no one, no one, should go hungry.
Part of the problem here is that the powers that be would love us to think there isn’t enough to go around, so perhaps we won’t realize they’re pillaging our resources while more than 140 million Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, just one check away from financial disaster.
Well, there is enough to go around. There is an abundance.
What we all need to understand is that poverty is a political construct. When you send all the money to the top 1 percent, nothing trickles down.
Economic science shows that money given to the wealthy is stashed away, hoarded, because they don’t have to spend it. On the other hand, every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.73 in the economy (https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-boosts-retailers-and-local-economies).
When you give low-wage people money, they spend it on necessities. When you give rich people money, they stash it in an offshore account.
When you deny people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work, they become homeless, sick and hungry. It really is that simple.
Homeless people aren’t lazy or morally inferior. They’re people like you and me who have been forced into poverty by bad public policy.
Perhaps it’s time to change the policy-makers so we can have enough food, a living wage, decent public education, health care and affordable, safe housing for everyone.
This is all about critical thinking skills, which are sorely missing in too many people.
You see a post on Facebook asking a question about the Creature currently squatting in the White House, say, “Is it OK to fat shame…?” As soon as you see it, you laugh and share with a resounding “Yes!”
You have just aided and abetted a troll.
This is what trolls want — to create division and get people all riled up at each other.
For example, one post asks whether Bernie Sanders should run again in 2020. It goes on about how the current occupant was 70, blah, blah, blah … The first response was to call people who don’t think he should run ageist. No civilized conversation, just right to name-calling.
That’s exactly the response the people at Hash It Out and their ilk are looking for. Go ahead, visit the Hash It Out Facebook page and look at the stuff they’re generating.
Another post asked whether Melania should divorce her husband. Like that’s any of your business or it would affect the danger he poses to our nation.
It’s the best example out there of what I’m talking about. Every post is deliberately provocative and divisive.
And even though there has been plenty of information out there about what the trolls are doing any why, the Hash It Out posts are all over Facebook — even though they are exactly what we are being warned about.
We’re told to watch out for deliberately provocative posts, and as soon as we see one, we share it.
Yeah. let’s fat-shame the current occupant of the White House. Let’s make fun of his hair and slut-shame his wife. Let’s call everyone who doesn’t think Bernie Sanders should run again ageist. Let’s trash people who don’t think cannabis should be legal.
Let’s not discuss the pros and cons of these things. Let’s not talk about the real issues. Let’s just post simplistic, mean-spirited memes from Hash It Out — God forbid we should create our own posts or start constructive conversations.
Here’s what the BBC has to say about how troll farms operate:
“Prosecutors said Russian operatives would work shifts to make sure their posting times matched the timezone of the area they were pretending to be based.
“But the work was round-the-clock. When the operatives – they called themselves ‘specialists’ – weren’t posting, they were learning and getting feedback on writing style. They were said to be constantly monitoring the viral success of their approach, tweaking and adjusting to maximise retweets and the spread of the message. The team is also said to have had a list of US public holidays, and appropriate content ready to go so they would blend in.
“According to court documents, the IRA took several measures to hide its tracks, duping the technology companies who were unaware, or unable, to stop what was filtering through their systems.”
It’s lazy and it’s dangerous to share this stuff. It plays into the hands of the people who are trying to destroy our Democracy, and they’re winning because we won’t be responsible and learn about and discuss the issues.
Here’s a good rule: If the post only asks you to type “yes,” and/or like and share, if the post doesn’t present any real points to discuss, if your first reaction to the post is purely an emotional, “Fuck, yeah!” it’s probably generated by a troll.
Please resist the urge to type “yes” and share.
The only way we can stop the trolls seeking to divide and conquer us is to ignore and not share their posts.
From here on, every Hash It Out post I see will generate the following response: “You realize this comes from a troll farm, right?”
I am going to start unfriending people who keep sharing them.
We have a lot of work to do to try and restore our country to a working Democracy. I intend to do the work and I don’t intend to waste time and energy on people who just want to sit and share trolls’ clickbait instead of showing up to register voters, work for candidates, and most of all, have real discussions on real issues.
There’s too much at stake to waste time with people who will provoke division but who won’t do the work.
You never know who has a gun.
That’s what I told the sheriff’s deputy I spoke to yesterday when I called 911 to report a woman who tailgated me for several miles, shaking her fist and taking photos of my license plate with her phone.
We started out at a stoplight, and when it was safe to go, she just sat there, so I beeped. She didn’t move, so I beeped again, and when she still didn’t move, I drove around her, thinking maybe she was broken down.
As soon as I pulled out, she laid on her horn and took off after me. Every turn I made, she followed. At one intersection, I put on my turn signal and she did the same, so I went straight instead. She followed, still shaking her fist and taking photos of my car with her phone as she followed a little too closely.
When we had to stop for road construction, I’d had enough. I opened my car door and hollered, “I’m dialing 911 NOW!” I held my phone up so she could see me dial, just as traffic started to move. She turned left and took off like a bat out of hell.
The sheriff’s deputy I spoke to said I had done the right thing. If I’d been able to get her license plate, she’d have had to answer for her actions. But she was behind me and North Carolina only requires one plate, on the rear of the car.
She got away with her aggression, but maybe the fact that someone dialed 911 instead of being intimidated by her threats will make her think before doing it again.
I don’t usually call police on people but when I feel the person really is about to become violent toward me or someone else, I’ll do it. And by that I don’t mean being black at a swimming pool, napping in one’s own dorm, delivering newspapers or otherwise making racists uncomfortable by existing too close to them for their comfort.
And it’s not just violence that’s increasing. More and more, people are just plain rude and deliberately mean. Just last week, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. The friend is a transgender woman. A woman. But one nurse, a middle-aged woman, kept referring to her as “he.” I politely corrected her the first time, as did my friend, who said, “It’s she. I am female.”
Not five minutes later, the nurse did it again.
“It’s she,” I said, a little more firmly than the first time. The nurse said she was sorry.
Within a minute or two, she did it again. This time I was firmer.
“The proper pronoun here is she. You need to use it, this time and every time.”
It was not a mistake on her part. When you do it three times in five minutes, what it says is, “I don’t get trans because I’m not, so you will conform to MY reality and if you don’t like it, I really don’t care.”
Had she done it again, I would have gotten up and gone to Human Resources to report her. My friend has enough problems battling serious health issues with no health insurance, without being disrespected by her caregiver.
People see the rude, uncivilized boor in the White House and assume it’s OK for them to go with their basest instincts. It’s fine to just say whatever mean thing is on your mind. It’s OK to hate people who aren’t like you. It’s OK to threaten violence — even commit violent acts — if you feel like someone has dissed you, even though you’re free to dis anyone else because, well, you make America great again by doing that.
These behaviors must never be seen as normal, even when they happen routinely. We need to call them out each and every time.
So, with that said, what about interrupting the dining experiences of Mitch McConnell and others who are slashing this nation’s safety net, robbing Americans of their rights to vote and to control their own bodies, whose policies push people into poverty and then punish them for being poor? Is that too rude?
I say it’s not the same thing as threatening violence on someone who just drove around you when you were taking pleasure on holding them up at the light.
I say it’s not the same thing as disregarding someone’s humanity and making it conform to what you think it should be.
The abject cruelty of Republicans at this point in history must be confronted, and its perpetrators made to feel uncomfortable.
They have stripped millions of people of their access to health care. In my book, that’s murder.
They’ve done nothing to stop ICE from stealing children from their parents at the border and then losing them in the foster care system. Stories of the abuse come to light every day — from the toddler who apparently was never bathed in more than two months of custody, to children in cages and the 1-year-old forced to appear in court as a defendant without representation. How does one defend oneself in court when one is too young to talk?
We have to challenge these abuses every time we see them. We have to stand up, even when it’s just one nurse disrespecting one patient.
This is something each one of us can do.
If you’re feeling paralyzed by the enormity of fascism taking over, remember that you can speak up about the smaller, everyday indignities these people are foisting upon us.
The creature currently squatting in the White House has emboldened the haters — the racists, homophobes, misogynists, gun-toting “Christians” and other small minds, the liars, the haters of every stripe. They think they’ve won, and if we don’t fight back at every turn, they will be victorious.
These are dark days, but our country has been through times like these, although not with someone so incompetent, so cruel, so inept, so dishonest, so small-minded in the White House. That part is unprecedented.
But we abolished slavery, we outlawed Jim Crow, we gave women the vote, we freed the captives from Japanese internment camps.
We can do this, but we all have to work on it, every moment, every day, every time we see it happening.
If you see a white person harassing a person of color, step up and defend the person of color. If a white person calls the police on a person of color for walking, napping, swimming, eating or otherwise just living, speak up.
This meanness must be challenged. Every. Damn. Time.
Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, and on hearing the news, most of the people I know and respect felt utter panic.
I felt it too, but then I calmed down a minute and thought about this.
We have had a court with a 5-4 conservative majority for years, even before the creature currently squatting in the White House soiled the linen there.
Justice Kennedy has been a pretty reliable conservative vote. Sure, he saved us a couple of times, but Justice Roberts was the one who saved the Affordable Care Act, not Justice Kennedy.
It was Kennedy who handed the nation to the oligarchs with his Citizens United vote. It was Kennedy who handed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to the institutional racists, who then proceeded to dismantle voting rights with utter impunity.
Elections have consequences. And to all those who wadded up their panties and stayed home on Election Day because the Democratic Party overruled their choice and instead put up a highly qualified, albeit flawed, candidate, this is the consequence — a “leader” who tears children from their parents and puts them in cages in detention centers and makes them go to immigration court alone and unrepresented, a man who brags about his violent tendencies and his sexual adventures, a liar, a racist and a sociopath.
We have this man who has appointed the least appropriate person to every job he could. Every department is headed by a person who wants to dismantle it.
We have a creature who should be impeached for his lies and his profiteering, and a Congress that just wants to take advantage of the chaos to make a profit before retiring.
But now is not the time for panic.
Panic is exactly what the enemy wants to instill in us.
Now is the time to stand up and do the work.
Register people to vote. Knock on doors and make phone calls to educate people. Take to the streets to protest.
We have been in this dark place before. Read the Dred Scott Decision. Read up on the Civil War and its real causes (Hint: It was only about states’ rights insomuch as it meant states had the right to enslave human beings). Read up on how the Chinese were excluded from participation in society in the 19th Century. Look at the numbers of people who were lynched during Jim Crow. Read up on how German-Americans were treated during World War I, and the kind of pressure exerted by Woodrow Wilson to get us into that war. Look at how Japanese-Americans were herded into internment camps during World War II, just because the land of their ancestors was now our enemy. The Muslim ban is nothing new.
This is America, a nation that tends to drift toward its worst nature. We committed genocide to capture this land and used enslaved people to build it. This is our legacy.
But we have shown that we can rise about our worst nature. We have stood up as a people and cried, “No more!” Time and again, we have shed blood to put this country on the right path, and it appears it is time to do so again.
During the 1960s, we committed atrocities in Vietnam and in our own country. We sent the National Guard onto college campuses, and they killed innocent college students at Kent State in Ohio. I still remember the images, the horror I felt that our government would kill its own youth to hang onto an unjust and unpopular war. We beat protesters of that war senseless in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.
We have been here before. We likely will be here again.
Now is the time to work.
I have made a commitment to nonviolence and I will stand by that commitment. Nonviolence is what got us civil rights in the 1950s and 60s. Nonviolent protest ended the Vietnam War. Nonviolence won India’s independence from Great Britain.
Nonviolence isn’t inaction, it’s action that rises above our basest instincts.
We all need to stand up and register voters, take to the streets, speak our truth to power.
We need to take back the narrative about what’s moral and what isn’t.
Denying health care to millions of people isn’t moral.
Sabotaging public education isn’t moral.
Denying a living wage to full-time workers isn’t moral.
Denying the vote to millions of people isn’t moral.
Handing tax breaks to billionaires while allowing children to go to bed hungry isn’t moral.
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice, as Martin Luther King said.
I am going to keep doing the work. I’ll get arrested again because the immoral people in power right now don’t want to hear my truth. I may wind up with some real jail time, but I will not stand down.
Democrats in Congress need to stand up RIGHT NOW and play hardball. We all do.
So, instead of allowing panic to consume us, we need to strengthen our resolve and do the work. It’s our only hope.
Anthony Bourdain’s suicide has shaken me.
I feel as though I have lost a friend. I think a lot of his fans feel this way.
He was a gifted writer who opened up the whole world to many of us. His words, both written and spoken, took us to places we likely never will be able to go.
Bourdain had a rare gift for storytelling, and an even rarer ability to make readers (and later, viewers) connect with him.
My late son introduced me to him after he read “Kitchen Confidential.”
“This is what my job is like,” Mike said after reading the book. “This is life in a restaurant kitchen.”
Mike loved the chaos of restaurant work. One night, months after he’d had to give up work because of his illness, while we watched Bourdain doing a double shift as a line cook, Mike sighed.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I miss that,” he said.
After my son’s death, it seemed Anthony Bourdain was a connection to Mike’s spirit. His love of travel and his respect for the foods of other cultures, his curiosity, his passion and his abiding love for meat in tubular form, all reminded me of my son.
He was a recovering addict, and I have no way of knowing whether his addiction contributed to his death. Mike was a recovering addict, too, but his recovery gave him reason to live.
I’m not angry at Bourdain for taking his life and depriving us of his wisdom. Perhaps I should be, but that’s not what I’m feeling.
You see, I’ve squirreled away extra pain pills, just in case. I’ve walked close to the edge of a precipice and thought about taking that one extra step, or considered turning the steering wheel toward a bridge abutment at 70 miles an hour.
I’ve battled depression my entire life, and after my son’s unnecessary death, I seriously considered checking out of this life.
Yes, I know I still have much good in my life, and it’s concentrating on that that’s kept me here. But it is a real struggle some days, and the struggle gets to be too much for some people, as it obviously did for Anthony Bourdain.
Don’t accuse me of being selfish for considering suicide because you don’t know the pain I endure some days. It is not a selfish act; it is an act of desperation, a way out of the unendurable. You can’t know what that’s like if you haven’t been there.
Suicide rates have gone up 25 or 30 percent since 2000 in this country. Think about that. It’s not happening in other countries, not in places where people have hope that their lives will improve. But we in this country are subjected to jobs that don’t pay half of what it takes to live, to denial of medical care, to crippling debt just for trying to get through college. Too many of us have no hope of a better future, and that becomes unendurable for increasing numbers of us.
But even for people who seem to have everything, as Bourdain did, can suffer indescribable pain. You can only do that for so long.
You don’t know who among your friends and family members is in pain. I have been surprised any number of times by the confession of someone I love that they have crept up to the edge of that same abyss.
When thoughts about dying come into my head, I think about the work I’m doing to try to make this country a better, more just place. Working with Rev. William Barber in the Moral Monday Forward Together Movement, and now the Poor People’s Campaign, has given me hope that things will improve, even as I watch them deteriorate.
Antidepressants did little to alleviate my depression, and therapy did even less. I combat it by staying busy as an activist, by staying connected to the people I love, by trying to make the world a little more just.
Still, there are moments I think about dying, about being at peace, being reunited with my son and my sister.
But, so far, I have been able to remember that on some level I still want to be here. I want to make a difference, and I can’t do that if I’m dead.
That’s what has worked for me. So far.
The worst enemy of a person with depression is isolation, and one of the hallmark symptoms of depression is isolation. We hunker down, pour a glass of wine — or two, or three — and stew in our own juices. The more we think about our misery, the more likely we are to end our lives.
So, if you know someone who might need a little encouragement, a little love, a listening ear, no matter how glamorous their life seems to be, reach out. You might be the connection to this life that keeps them here.
The suicide prevention hotline number is 800-273-8255.
The online chat address is: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
BOTH are available 24 hours everyday!