I can’t sit down

 

Marching to the Capitol with a cardboard “coffin” on Wednesday morning. I was arrested for chanting, “Kill the bill!” Photo by Religion News

 

I have been arrested again, this time for trying to speak truth to US senators.

On Tuesday, 32 of us went into the Senate gallery to watch the vote on opening “debate” on a bill that could rob 50 million Americans of access to health care by 2026.

I was hauled out of the gallery before the action began because someone noticed I had a 5×7 photo of my late son. I just thought he might like to see the circus. Honestly, I wanted to hold him up for John McCain and Mitch McConnell to see.

I spoke before we marched to the Capitol from a church a quarter mile away, begging senators to be truly pro-life and drop their effort to murder tens of thousands of Americans each year by taking away their access to health care. A portion of my remarks was picked up by Now This and the video is circulating on Facebook. I’ll be honest, I’m a little tickled by that. The more people who know about my son, the better. We have to put the faces of real people suffering the real consequences of these people’s actions.

I know some people just stumbled over the word, “murder.”  It seems so harsh. But there is no other word to describe an action that you know will result in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.

So, we marched, then we stood in line for two hours waiting to get into the gallery. I got a little star struck watching Al Franken walk in. I had listened to a podcast of him being interviewed by Larry Wilmore on my drive up to Washington. He’s so smart and so funny. He’s shorter than I thought. I looked over at Mitch McConnell and remarked to the woman next to me that I think he looks even more turtle-like in person.

But before John McCain walked in and voted to open “debate” on a bill that no one has seen, I was hauled out of the gallery for having a photo of my late son. That’s right, I’m a dangerous subversive because I carried a photo.

As I was speaking to a cop, who was taking down my personal information, I heard the chanting start. Now, I don’t know if I was about to be arrested or simply banned from seeing the Senate at “work,” but I looked at the officer and took a deep breath.

The officer, whose name is Michael, and who is the same age my son was when he got sick, said, “Don’t do it.”

“I have to, ” I said. I turned my back to him and started chanting. Then with him behind me, I walked over to the line of people being taken out of the gallery.

It was a little like “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” where Spock, who is not charged with a crime, walks up to stand with Kirk and the others, saying, “I stand with my shipmates.”  I could almost hear my son laughing as that thought entered my head.

I kept chanting as Officer Michael caught up with me and held my elbow. They cuffed us behind our backs as we waited for the elevator, and my nose started itching immediately.

They took us to the building’s garage, where we were searched. As they took our jewelry, wallets, even the tissues I had tucked into my pocket, we sang freedom songs and hymns.

We sang in the paddy wagon, and we sang in the converted garage they had set up to process us. We sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “Hold On,” “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Not be Moved.” A rabbi among us taught us a Hebrew song.

The officers were all respectful and kind. Several of them even joked with us. One admitted quietly to me that he respected and admired us. Another whispered to me she was honored to be in our presence. They had several coolers filled with cold water and a half dozen big floor fans to keep the air moving in the garage to keep us comfortable. They took off the cuffs and cuffed everyone in front, which is a whole lot more comfortable. We sat on cafeteria chairs and chatted.

There were a few from the North Carolina Moral Monday Movement, including Rev. Rob Stephens and Jennifer “Jeff” Ginsburg, a hospice nurse who was arrested with me in Raleigh on May 30. Jeff, by the way, runs a small box turtle rescue operation, which makes her an expert on turtles. She agreed that McConnell is an evil turtle.

Others, including Dr. Margaret Flowers and Rev. Traci Blackmon, walked with us and sat with us, but didn’t participate in the action because of their previous arrests.

We were supposed to be given a $50 fine and released, but we were charged with disrupting the Senate, which is a slightly more serious charge and means we all have to go back for a court date.

If they think that intimidates me, they should think again. I’m fighting for the lives of every American. I’m fighting for health care as a human right. This fight is way bigger than one bereaved old woman.

After we were released, we were all hungry enough to be grateful for the cold pizza that was waiting for us across the street from where we were being held.

We called an Uber car to take us back to the church for the belongings we left there. The driver was a Muslim man from Afghanistan, who, when he found out who we were, refused to accept payment from us.

“I don’t take money from heroes,” he said.

After I gathered my things and started walking to the Metro station near the Capitol, I saw Sen. Lindsay Graham in the crosswalk. I approached and stuck out my hand.

“Senator Graham,” I said, “I’m from North Carolina.”

“Then we’re neighbors,” he said, smiling.

“I know you’re in a hurry, but I need to speak to you for just a moment.” I pulled out my photo of Mike. “This is my son who died from lack of access to health care. He was a good man, a hard worker, a community volunteer and the light of my life.”

He looked at the photo, somewhat shocked at being accosted, I think.

“”Please, please, sir, I beg you to think about the lives that will be lost, the families who will grieve, before you vote on any health care bill.”

“I will,” he said as he handed the photo back to me.

He voted against the first bill that night. I like to think he saw Mike in his head, but then he voted yes on the second bill.

I am exhausted. I am worried about my own health — I have a bunch of kidney stones — but I have access to decent care and I have to fight for those who do not.

I slept well last night, knowing I have done the right thing and that I will continue to fight these murderers. As long as my heart beats, I will continue this fight. This isn’t for or about me. This is about being truly pro-life. This is about loving my neighbor.

I’m not a hero, I’m just a person following my conscience and my faith. I know how it feels to lose a child, and I live in fear of losing my only surviving son, of outliving both of my children because of the greed of a few powerful men. This is what moves me to action.

I am standing for the lives of my fellow human beings.

I can’t sit down.

 

 

Banned from the building

A number of us who were arrested on May 30 were in court for the hearing on Wednesday.

 

I have been banned from the building where North Carolina legislators work.

I am told I have no right to address my legislators, even though the North Carolina Constitution guarantees me that right.

I am told I can’t go back until the second-degree, misdemeanor trespass charge against me has been resolved.

But the last time I was arrested for the same charge, I was never tried. The charges just sat there, unaddressed by the court, for two years before they were finally dismissed for failure to prosecute.

This is what they want to do: Keep those of us who disagree with the radical and cruel turn our state has taken in the last six years out of their way and silent.

I was arrested on May 30 for trying to go into the (public) office of NC Senate leader Phil Berger. Two guards blocked the door and told me it was private property. It is not. They told me I have no right to go in and wait to speak to him. I did and I do. They shushed me. If you know me, you know I will not be shushed.

Were we disruptive? After we were denied access, we did begin to chant, sing and pray. We were there to talk about health care, not to be disruptive and certainly not to be arrested, although we knew that was a distinct possibility.

What I really wanted was the chance to speak to Sen. Berger. I have tried again and again, but he refuses to see me. Instead he has had me arrested twice (then-Speaker, now US Senator, Thom Tillis had me arrested the first time).

My release form tells me I am to stay out of the General Assembly Building “until authorized to return.” It says nothing about who will authorize or when. In essence, it bans me for life, along with the 31 others who were arrested with me.

We challenged that order in court. Our hearing was Wednesday and I was appalled at the behavior of the judge who heard the case. He repeatedly interrupted our attorney with disrespectful comments and inane questions, once comparing the order to an order to keep disruptive people off the property of a Sheetz gas station.

Our attorney, Geeta Kapur, had to remind him that people have no constitutional right to speak to the employees of a gas station, but we do have the express right to address our legislators at the place where we pay them to be — in the building we paid to build and continue to pay to maintain.

After repeated interruptions as our attorney tried to explain our argument, she finally said, “Your honor, if you would stop interrupting me, I would be happy to answer the question.”

It was obvious he agreed with the order, which could have come from the General Assembly Police or the legislative leadership — neither of whom want to be bothered with anyone critical of their radical policies. It was also obvious the judge had no respect for us or our attorney. He was very much up front about that, and very obviously not impartial.

He amended the order to say we have to stay out until charges are dealt with, but that could mean two years if they do the same thing they did in 2015. Some of us can go into the building if we are invited for a specific meeting with a specific legislator. But those of us who have previous second-degree trespass arrests can’t — even though my previous two charges were dismissed. That means I continue to be punished for a crime for which I was not found guilty.

We are not willing to go quietly, though, and Rev. William Barber has promised we will appeal. In 2013, the order to keep out of the building was overturned quickly, and I imagine this one will be overturned on appeal.

The thing is, all of you should worry about this. It is not just an order to silence 31 people. If  it stands, this is an infringement on our rights as citizens, on our rights to assemble and speak freely, on our right to instruct our lawmakers. The radicals in that building want to silence us and to do their work in secret.

The US Supreme Court has found their voting restrictions illegal. The US Supreme Court has found their gerrymandered districts illegal. Both decisions were unanimous.

In other words, these people who are dismantling our social safety net, our education system and our voting rights are not in that building legally. Their very election was illegal.

When their candidate lost the governor’s office, they robbed the governor of many of his powers, including his power to appoint his own cabinet. They robbed the attorney general of his power to sue them over their illegal activities.

This is a coup and we the people are the only ones who can stop it. There are 32 of us who are not free to address our legislators where they do their work. We need others to go in and speak for us. We can’t let them silence us.

 

Hoping won’t stop this. We must resist.

My friend and Moral Monday colleague, Rev. Curtis Gatewood being arrested last week -- again -- in protest of the unjust actions of the NC General Assembly.

My friend and Moral Monday colleague, Rev. Curtis Gatewood being arrested last week — again — in protest of the unjust actions of the NC General Assembly.

Stop pretending that the Electoral College or the Department of Justice will come to our rescue like a prince in shining armor to stop the Orange One from taking office on Jan. 20.

The election was in all likelihood stolen by a combination of Russian interference and a little tampering with the technology by GOP operatives, but we are creatures of habit and we won’t hold a new election, nor will we hand the office to the person who won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

We have been trained to be lazy and accept what happens — that’s why more than half of us didn’t even bother to vote in the most important election of our lifetimes.

It’s not going to happen, so just get over it.

Blaming voters for the slow-motion coup that has been plotted and executed since Nixon devised the Southern Strategy will not change things, it will only serve to further divide us.

Trying to persuade people who voted for him that they were conned won’t work, either, because they have been brainwashed by the propaganda machine that is Fox News. Arguing with them is a waste of time and energy because they operate in a different reality with different facts. They already believe he won in a landslide.

To continue to concentrate on the sheep who have been led to the slaughter does nothing but divide us, and that weakens us.

I am being realistic here. This man will take office and he will appoint right-wing justices that will change the direction of our nation for decades. He will destroy what little remains of our social safety net and he likely will get us into devastating wars.

My friend and resistance colleague, Rev. Kojo Nantumbe, was arrested last week with more than 50 others.

My friend and resistance colleague, Rev. Kojo Nantambu, was arrested last week with more than 50 others. (Photo by Kevin Smith)

So what do we do?

We resist. We band together and work to defeat this vile creature at every turn, using everything we can.

Look at what we are doing here in North Carolina. We have spent the last four years protesting, educating and putting our bodies on the line.

We have sued to overturn unjust laws, and we have won.

We have been arrested by the thousands and brought national attention to the travesties wrought by these right-wing ideologues.

We still have a veto-proof GOP majority in the legislature, but we have a new governor and attorney general. And the courts have ordered the ridiculously gerrymandered districts to be redrawn and new elections held next year.

We continue to resist. Just last week, we packed the gallery to witness the power grab that was about to take place. Some 60 of our number were arrested for refusing to leave, charged with trespass in a public building while it was open to the public (I have been arrested and charged with that twice and have yet to be convicted).

We write to our legislators, even when we know damn well they won’t listen.

Two years ago, I worked my ass off to defeat my state representative, Tim Moffitt, who was among the worst of them. I knocked on doors, I made phone calls, I registered people to vote and gave them rides to the polls. His opponent, Brian Turner, won (and ran unopposed this last time).

We can resist. We can put our bodies on the line when necessary. We can show up and let them know we see and will resist what they are doing.

So, please stop waiting for the Justice Department or the Electoral College to save us.

We must do the work ourselves, together, in solidarity.

 

 

Why I go to Raleigh for Moral Mondays

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

I think it’s important to talk about Moral Mondays here,  to explain why I got involved, why I got arrested on May 13, and why I continue to go for the rallies.

First of all, let me say in response to those who say we can’t accomplish anything with these demonstrations, I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think we could make a difference, and I am willing to tolerate the vitriol of people who would discourage us because I think they are afraid of us and what we stand for.

I go because I feel a moral obligation to protest the General Assembly’s and the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Their ideological decision puts a half-million lives at risk in this state, and estimates are that at least 2,000 will die prematurely because of this decision,

Those lives matter to me. Each one of them matters. I don’t care if it is a homeless person who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. I believe each life has worth. If you don’t believe the same, please don’t call yourself pro-life in front of me.

My primary passion is health care, but when we take away unemployment compensation from more than 70,000 people, it has consequences. Most of them also lack access to health care because you can’t pay for COBRA if you don’t have any income, and most adults aren’t eligible for Medicaid here in NC.

When we de-fund schools, we rob children of the chance to rise out of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. They also will be the ones most likely to not have access to health care later on.

These issues are deeply connected to each other. Living wage impacts poverty, and all the stresses that come with it. People who have enough to live on are healthier overall because they don’t have the stresses associated with poverty.

I have visited my legislators repeatedly to educate them on the importance of access to health care and about the lower costs associated with access to care. My representative voted against Medicaid expansion. He voted to cut unemployment benefits. He supports a voter ID law that is a thinly disguised poll tax.

I am frustrated beyond words. I cannot fathom the reasoning behind barring access to health care for 500,000 people.

Our state’s computer system is their first excuse. It isn’t up to the task, they say. But then they decline to mention that we turned down federal money to upgrade the system.

When I reminded them of that, they said we have to fix Medicaid first. Well, North Carolina’s Medicaid system was a national model until its funding was slashed two years ago. Restore the funding and the system will be a model again. Instead, though, they are going to try and privatize it the way they did with the mental health system a decade ago. That “reform,” you may recall, was an unmitigated disaster.

When I explain that, they usually have a meeting they have to rush off to.

They aren’t listening, and it frustrates those of us who oppose what they’re doing. My heart breaks for people who will die because of these misguided decisions; it breaks for the families of those casualties.

Unless you have held the hand of a loved one as he or she dies unnecessarily, you can’t know the pain.

As a person of faith, I take seriously the Bible’s instruction to care for “the least of these.” And it is not just Christianity that requires this of people; it is a basic tenet of every major religion, and it is important to just about every atheist I know.

That’s why nearly 400 people have gone into the Legislature Building and been arrested. Dozens of them are clergy. Some are teachers and professors, students, old, young, black, white, Asian, hippies and lawyers.  This is a diverse crowd, and its members are passionate about justice for all North Carolinians, not just the wealthiest.

As the ones being arrested go into the building, they are cheered by a crowd of thousands. Hundreds of people move to the side of the building to await the departure of prison buses filled with people who are not afraid to speak truth to power.

When I was arrested, those cheering voices assured me I was doing the right thing. They gave me courage and hope.

I do not go to Moral Mondays for political reasons; I go for moral reasons. I go because if I do nothing, I am as much to blame as those taking the immoral actions.

I go because every life has worth.

We the people mean business

This was taken May 13, the night I got arrested.

This was taken May 13, the night I got arrested.

Moral Monday is rolling around again, and I plan to go to Raleigh to support those people who are volunteering to be arrested.

I was arrested on May 13 and I am banned from Legislature property until my case is resolved. I go to court on July 1.

My friend, Sarah Skinner, and I are going and there’s room for two or three more people in my car. If we get enough people we can rent a 12-passenger van for the trip.

Sarah has been my traveling companion on several trips, including two to Washington for rallies and another two for the Occupy movement and one to Charlotte to take part in the Planned Parenthood demonstration during the Democratic National Convention.

We are fellow unreconstructed hippies.

Because Sarah is a breast cancer survivor, she started dying her hair pink during October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now she calls the pink hair her “war paint,” so you’ll be able to spot us on Monday by her shocking pink mop-top.

We need more people to go to Raleigh and tell the General Assembly they work for us, and we are not happy. They may think we’re a nuisance, but they’re about to find out we’re much more than that — we are a movement.

So far, 157 people have been arrested for second-degree trespass, which is a misdemeanor. I doubt we’ll be placed on the no-fly list or locked up for an extended period.

I spent three hours in the jailhouse — some of the early protesters who were arrested have spent as much as eight or nine hours being processed. I think the processing is streamlined now that they know we’re going to be there in ever-increasing numbers.

I went to protest the refusal to expand Medicaid and the proposal to privatize it; others were there to protest the laws that harm unemployed people, students, workers, the environment, voters and low-income people.

There are so many reasons to protest it’s hard to pick just one. I have never seen anything like this group of legislators, and I’ve been aware of government abuses of power for 50 years.

When I have tried talking to these legislators, I get the brush-off or I get excuses filled with half-truths and out-and-out lies. When you call them on their lies, they change the subject or move on to another talking point. They aren’t listening.

They were elected to serve us, not corporate overlords, and yet they are serving the wealthiest and most powerful at our expense.

Sen. Tom Apodaca said we should know how he feels and he isn’t about to change his mind, no matter what the people think.

I don’t know what it will take to change the minds of some legislators, but we only need to reach a few to stop them from having a super-majority. Then we can work to throw the bums out in 2014.

As I said, Sarah and I are going. Anyone want to join us?

If you’re don’t stand up to protest injustice, you become part of it.

Standing for justice

singingI stood with 48 other people from all across North Carolina as we were arrested for second degree trespass and loud singing.

 

This was the third “Moral Monday,” in which demonstrators go into the NC Legislature Building and refuse to leave.

Two weeks ago, there were just a few demonstrators, and 19 were arrested.

The action, led by the NC NAACP, is to protest the avalanche of backward legislation coming out of the General Assembly. Many of us have tried to talk to our legislators and have gotten nowhere. We’re met with lies and half-truths about the laws they’re passing — if they meet with us at all.

Tim Moffitt, my representative, called the Voter ID law a leg-up for people trying to get out of poverty because an ID will help them get a job.

“I wouldn’t hire somebody without a photo ID,” he said. “Would you?”

Actually, I would hire someone who doesn’t have a license, I said.

“I call it a $6 investment in someone’s future,” he said.

That would be fine as long as someone doesn’t need that $6 for food.

Nathan Ramsey told me we can’t expand Medicaid because the state’s computer system isn’t ready for it. I told him I happen to know we turned down federal money to get it ready. Then he said, “we have to fix Medicaid before we can expand it.”

I told him our Medicaid system was a national model until it was seriously under-funded two years ago, so all we have to do is fully fund it again.

They’re used to dealing with people who aren’t familiar enough with issues to see through a snow job, I guess.

We have e-mailed and called and gone in person to talk to legislators who don’t give a damn what we think or what’s best for the people they supposedly serve. They have said as much with their actions and even with such words as, “I am the Senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

Each week’s bills have become more outrageous than the week before and there’s not any let-up.

Rev. William Barber, the head of the NC NAACP, led a group of about 300 of us into the building a month ago and we delivered letters to legislators, who ignored us. Thom Tillis actually ran away from us.

So, two weeks ago, a few dozen people went into the Legislature Building, “The People’s House,” as the Rev. Barber calls it, and 19 refused to leave. They were arrested.

Last week, more people went and 30 were arrested.

Last night, hundreds of people went in, singing and chanting, and 49 of us were arrested.

I have never been arrested before, but it is time to stand up for justice.

My issue is health care, but they have attacked us on so many fronts, we have united to say we will not stand for these injustices. As we chanted last night, “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

We were arrested as we sang “We Shall not be Moved,” and led away with our hands bound by zip-ties, still singing as they loaded us onto the elevator. We had our belongings taken from us and were loaded onto a bus, where we chanted and sang some more. We worked together to open the bus windows to alleviate the stifling heat. Of course, that allowed our chants and songs to be heard by the crowd of hundreds across the street, who cheered and waved as each of us was loaded onto the bus, still singing.

As the bus pulled out, we chanted, “The people, united, will never be defeated!” People standing on the sidewalk said they could hear us and several were moved to tears.

We were proud, we were defiant; we were not intimidated, and we chanted all the way to the jailhouse. The chant became musical and some people began to harmonize. It was a beautiful, powerful sound and it gave each of us courage.

Once in the jailhouse garage, we began to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” and we continued to sing as we were led inside and placed on steel benches, our voices echoing in the cavernous garage.

One by one, our zip-ties were removed and we were searched and processed. One person began to sing, “Freedom, freedom freedom, freedom, oh-oh, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom,” and soon several of us were singing and harmonizing. The song became a prayer as we swayed and sang, and the police watched.

We were processed, one by one, and moved to the next bench, where we sang again.

“Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, oh-oh, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom.”

They made us take our shoelaces out of our shoes and we joked about how much cuter our shoes had been with laces as they flopped when we walked.

Those of us who have been arrested have been banned from the Legislative Building until our court cases have been resolved, so the people who were arrested in previous weeks stood across the street, singing and chanting encouragement.

The first of us were released in about three hours, and we were met by a cheering crowd that included a legislator or two. We walked into the waiting arms of Rev. Barber and Rev. Curtis Gatewood, and then were led to food and drink before we were shuttled back to our cars.

I spent the night with my friend, Carol, who stayed up until after 2 a.m. with me, searching the Web for news of the Moral Mondays demonstration. I had seen the first news report while we were being booked on News 14, and now there were several.

State Sen. Tom Apodaca called us a “nuisance,” and said we all should know by now that he doesn’t care what we think.

Well, I believe the movement will grow. I believe the legislators will have to care because we will not go away. Those of us who have been arrested and threatened with real jail time if we go back will be replaced by people who will join the movement. Each week it will grow.

Moral Mondays will continue for awhile at least, and the movement will need more people to stand up for justice.

Our freedom requires people who are willing to fight, so if you want to go, whether you can be arrested or not, check the NC NAACP web site, sign up and go to Raleigh next Monday or the Monday after …

If we don’t take action now, things will only get worse.

 

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