We don’t fear much anymore, and that scares people in power

Cindy Sheehan flashes a peace sign outside the White House.

Cindy Sheehan lost her son,Casey, four years before I lost my Mike. He was killed in Iraq, in a war fought for power in an oil-rich region, in a country where we hoped we would be able to control the oil.

“I remember sitting out on the front porch the day after he was killed, wondering how the world could just be moving on,” Sheehan says. “People were going to work, the sun came up. … It was awful.”

But Sheehan did get up and move again, and with great determination, to create a world where people’s children don’t die from the foreign adventures of imperialist powers.

She bought land near the ranch of then-president George W. Bush and made sure Camp Casey was visible to anyone going to the ranch — a reminder that public policy has consequences, usually for people who don’t deserve those consequences.

I admired the hell out of her then, as I still do. But now I’ve gotten to know her a bit and I love her. I love her fierce determination to bring about peace, to educate others about the damage caused by wars — even those far away that seem to have little effect on most of us here in the US. I love how she stands up and speaks truth to power — even roundly criticizing Barack Obama again and again for his continued use of drones.

She holds Republicans and Democrats in equal disdain for the policies that perpetuate war and for their support of the war economy that bleeds the nation dry.

But all of us are complicit in these wars, whether we know what’s being perpetrated in our name or not. We’re complicit because we vote for the people who continue our overseas adventures, or we don’t vote at all.

We’re complicit because we should know what’s happening and we don’t, and even when we find out, most of us don’t take action to put a stop to it.

Before the Women’s March on Washington, Sheehan approached organizers to ask that they condemn war and the war economy, since war and the imperialism that feeds it are “the biggest purveyors of violence against women in the world.” The organizers said they would address other issues when all women are free.

“I took that to mean all Democratic white women,” Sheehan says.

Someone suggested she hold a mock women’s march on the Pentagon, and she decided a real march would be more effective. She set the date for Oct. 21 and put it up on social media (it’s on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/184236778838247/), with a Children’s Peace Festival the day before. Immediately, people started jumping on board, eager to help.

Most of the people who have become involved in the march so far are women, Sheehan says.

Sheehan is criticized often for her in-your-face style, but I agree with her and it’s my preferred style as well. Not everyone can stand up after the loss of a child and speak publicly to confront those responsible. It’s a skill some of us are born with, and it helps me fell less alone. I’m grateful Cindy and I have the ability to speak truth to power.

“They want us to go away and grieve quietly,” she says. “But why shouldn’t they have to have our grief thrown in their faces? Why should we be the only ones suffering?

“We’re doing what we do for a reason. We were thrust into it and we’re not afraid. I mean, what are you gonna do, kill my son again?”

Sheehan is not polite about her disdain for war, or about her fury at the way innocent young black men are being murdered by police and then vilified by media as petty criminals, as though the petty crimes they MAY have committed merit the death penalty without even a sham trial.

“They can’t lynch people anymore so they shoot them and claim they feared for their lives,” she says. “We are living in a police state.”

When people argue that she’s being unfair, that police have a dangerous job, Sheehan answers by posting on social media a list of jobs that are more dangerous (a higher number of injuries and deaths) than police work.

“Grounds maintenance. Grounds maintenance is more dangerous,” she says.

Neither Cindy nor I asked to do the work we do. We didn’t, as children, say, “Gee I hope one of my kids dies so I can be an activist fighting bad government policies.”

I would be much happier to have my son still with me. His death radicalized me, as Casey’s death did to Cindy.

Neither of us wanted to be a troublemaker. That’s just how our lives worked out, and neither of us is leaving this fight for the soul of our nation until we succeed or we die.

I plan to stand with Cindy Sheehan on Oct. 20 and 21. I plan to demand we stop wasting our precious children’s lives and spend that money on something useful — like creating jobs to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or making college free.

It’s time to listen to the women — especially those women who have been harmed the most by our really bad public policy. We’re not going to shut up until you do. And we’re not going to be polite about it, either.

 

 

 

 

Ten years later, we’re still not getting health care to people in need

Ten years ago today I brought my son home to die.

It seems like so much longer than that since I’ve heard is crazy laugh or heard him cuss.

It seems like yesterday when I realize that the pain is still as fresh as ever.

His doctor had told him two weeks earlier that if he didn’t start putting weight on, it would be clear that the chemo wasn’t working. They wanted to see him gain 2 pounds. That’s all, just 2 pounds.

I had gone to Duke Chapel to pray for those 2 pounds, telling God in the middle of this opulent place that 2 pounds wasn’t too much to ask, was it?

I also knew it might not happen. I knew my son’s days were limited, but I wanted as many days as I could have. As I sat in that beautiful place, I began to think about what would be after he was gone, what I would do in the midst of unimaginable grief. It was there that I began to think about how I might work toward a public policy that meant other mothers wouldn’t have to endure the pain I was facing. I feel as though my mission began in that sacred space.

If my son had gotten the care he needed, he wouldn’t have developed cancer. If we had lived in any other developed nation in the world, my son’s medical needs would have been met. This needed — still needs — to happen here.

As we sat in his living room before going to the chemo appointment, he looked at me and said, “I’m ready for this to be over.”

I was not.

But when we got to the clinic and he stepped on the scale, he had lost another pound.

“I tried,” he said, fighting back tears. “I really tried.”

We had fought this cancer for three years. The hospital in Savannah, Memorial Health System, had nearly killed him three times in the first year, and Dr. Herbert Hurwitz had taken him on at Duke University Medical Center and worked as hard as we did to try to save his life.

He was (and still is) accused by some of being lazy and wanting a handout because he didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars for his care.

He was treated in Savannah as someone who didn’t deserve care. It felt as though his very humanity was being denied. His surgeon was so obvious about his lack of concern and caring that I was tempted to slap him, and I am committed to nonviolence. I did drop the F-bomb when the doctor said they wouldn’t do any more to save him except “maybe a little chemo.”

He had been forced to leave his wife and depend on others to pay his bills as he waited 37 months for the disability he deserved. He was dead nine days before the first check came.

But until this day, we’d held out hope that we might be able to save his life. Even if he was to work to pay off his medical bills into his 80s, we hoped we could keep him with us.

Today, a Tuesday in 2008, was the day we learned there was no more hope. My son was facing death and I was facing life without him.

As we left the clinic, I was pushing Mike in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk to the parking garage. He turned to me as we entered the parking garage.

“How much time do you think I have?” he asked. “Two weeks?”

“Oh, God, I hope it’s more than that,” I said. I was talking to God as much as I was answering my son’s question.

I called his dad to tell him the news and he began sobbing.

“There has to be something we can do,” he said. “I survived colon cancer, I thought he would, too.”

“You had the best care money could buy,” I said. “You got to go to the Mayo Clinic; Mike was relegated to a backwater health clinic with people who held him in utter disdain because he couldn’t pay. Your lawyer got you disability in three weeks; Mike’s still waiting after three years. What the fuck made you think everything would be OK? His experience was the exact opposite of yours and you were never even aware enough to see that through your privilege. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to hear this from you.”

We stopped at his apartment, where his roommate, James, and my daughter-in-law were already waiting. They helped me load his few belongings into my car and promised to follow us within a few hours. Mike took an extra dose of pain pills because the four-hour ride would be extremely painful otherwise. He had resisted using pain meds, but his medical team had finally convinced him he deserved to have relief from the constant pain.

We had to stop halfway home to get a memory foam pillow because he had no fat left on his backside and he was uncomfortable. We bought a walkie-talkie so he could call us whenever he needed anything, and we took turns with it so someone would always be on Mike duty.

We didn’t know how much more time we would have with him on this day 10 years ago, but we were determined to soak up every moment we had left to us.

Ten years ago today, I brought my precious son home to die. We would have just 14 more days.

It seems like forever. It seems like yesterday. I still miss him to the very depths of my soul.

No one should have to die the way he did. No mother should have to watch a child die the way he did.

Ten years into this grief, I rededicate myself to the mission. I will fight for universal access to quality health care. I will fight until we achieve health care justice or I will die trying.

I will not stop. I will not shut up. I will not go away.

 

 

Either way, it’s a victory for Democrats

This gives me hope that we can defeat Republicans everywhere in November.

It appears Democrat Conor Lamb has won the seat in Congress vacated by Republican anti-choice philanderer Tim Murphy (you may recall, he resigned his seat in disgrace after pressuring his lover to have an abortion).

He defeated a well known Republican, Rick Saccone, who was a member of the state legislature, endorsed by the local newspaper, and who stood for all the Republican “values.”

The win, if indeed it comes to that after the absentee ballots are counted, is huge.

Even if, in the end, Lamb loses by a few votes, this should scare the piss out of Republicans. This was a safe district for them and they spent $9 million to preserve this seat. It looks as though they failed, but even if they didn’t, they all but closed a 20-point gap. That’s huge. If they can do that, they’ll take every close race for Congress in November.

I understand Lamb stands for a woman’s right to choose. That’s important. But he’s more for fixing the Affordable Care Act than for expanding Medicaid. I would still have voted for him in this special election, even though offering everyone a single-payer system is of paramount importance to me.

See what I did here? I compromised, because electing Lamb is an important step in fixing the mess in Washington. I don’t demand perfection from my candidates because there’s no one who’s going to agree with my every stand on every issue except me, and I’m not running.

We won’t get rid of the people who are working feverishly to break every system in our country until we step up and vote in every election for the better of the two candidates. And, yes, I said the better of the two candidates because we have a two-party system, whether we like it or not.

I left the Democratic Party because it has moved so far to the right, but I will still vote in every election and I will probably vote for the Democrat because that’s the candidate who stands the best chance of beating the Republican, and I will NEVER vote for the Republican, even if that person is pro-choice and anti-gun. It’s too likely that moderate Republican will still vote with the party.

We have a very sensible woman running as a Republican in a primary against a man whose stands on the issues are insanely right-wing here in North Carolina. She asked for my support and I turned her down because she will vote with the Republicans if and when she gets to Washington. If she were to pledge to vote for single-payer and against any more restrictions on abortion, if she were to promise to vote against the gun lobby, I might consider supporting her, but I doubt it.

Republicans are wrong on just about every issue, and we as voters have to put a stop to their stranglehold on power. They are dismantling every system they can put their hands on — health care, education, food security (Meals on Wheels, food stamps and school lunches), environmental protection, workers’ rights, justice …

We can only defeat them by registering and voting. Really, we can turn out for marches — women’s marches, health care marches, anti-gun marches, pro-choice marches, workers’ marches … but nothing will change until we all vote.

Historically, higher turnout on Election Day almost always favors Democrats. That’s why Republicans work so hard to reduce the number of people eligible to vote.

What happened in Pennsylvania is that people turned out to vote in a heavily Republican district (the current occupant of the White House won by 20 points here). If people had decided they couldn’t win and just stayed home, we would not be celebrating the probable win of a Democrat in this district.

This race is proof that we can defeat Republicans, even in heavily gerrymandered, heavily Republican districts. All we have to do is register and vote — all of us, every last one.

These hate-filled racists are not Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I worried about the stage 2 diagnosis, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The children will save us

 

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

 

I think something snapped on Valentine’s Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handguns kill innocent people more than they protect anyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land of the free, my ass, right?

You know what we can do?

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is NOT Blue Apron

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Listen to the voices rarely heard

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

 

I learned an important lesson last night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No human being is illegal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let them speak.

 

 

Nobody wants a handout. Nobody.

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

I have no tolerance for mean-spiritedness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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