An unjust system treats people arbitrarily

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

 

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

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

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

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

I alone was offered nothing in advance.

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

Was I going to be thrown in jail?

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

Why was I singled out?

Because they can, that’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sign the petition, and nothing will happen

Rep. John Ager is another of the representatives we elected from what was supposed to be a safe Republican district. We did not do it by signing online petitions, but by making phone calls and knocking on doors and getting out the vote. Here, John is speaking to the crowd of about 200 people at the March for Truth.

 

I don’t even keep count of how many times I’ve been asked to sign one or another online petition, as though it would make any difference at all in public policy.

Let me be honest here — I don’t ever sign them because they are meaningless. Government lawmakers and policymakers don’t give a damn about what we think. They care only about the people who fund their campaigns. That’s it.

Every time someone posts a petition on my timeline on Facebook, I explain that I don’t sign online petitions, and people argue that of course signing a meaningless petition is “taking action.”

No, it isn’t. Sitting at your computer and typing in your name and address is effortless, and the people in power know that. You risk nothing because you have done nothing. They know you’re not likely to get off your butt and take any real action.

A million signatures is one thing, but a million faxes, phone calls, e-mails or visits from real human beings shows them we mean business.

If you want to fill out a form that makes a difference, fill out a voter registration form, and follow it up by filling out a ballot. That’s what will make a difference.

Work to get a worthy candidate elected. Make phone calls, knock on doors. You can make phone calls after work, even for a half hour once a week. Get that candidate’s name out there.

I know this works because I live in the most gerrymandered district in the most gerrymandered state in the nation. In 2014, our Republican state representative was considered safer than anyone. He was going to be the next Speaker of the NC House.

But then something amazing happened. We, his constituents, got mad. Enough was enough. He refused to listen to us, hearing instead only the monied interests who had paid for his election.

I made calls, I showed up to knock on doors, and registered Republicans were happy to hear someone was running against him. People turned out to vote, and we sent that little weasel home.

That was in 2014. So, what happened to the seat in 2016? The Republicans couldn’t find anyone to oppose Brian Turner. He ran unopposed.

Across the county, Nathan Ramsey, a moderate Republican, was elected in 2012, and he was bullied into voting with the extreme right wing of the party.

Something good happened there, too: John Ager, a farmer who had never been in politics, decided to run. Again, his supporters worked hard and he won, both in 2014 and 2016. And no one ever signed an online petition saying his election would be a good thing.

These people who are trashing our Democracy think they’re safe. They don’t care what we want and no petition is going to change their behavior. The only way to make things better is to send them home, and you don’t do that with online petitions.

So, go ahead, sit at your desk and type in your name on meaningless petition after meaningless petition, and do you know what will change?

Not a damn thing, that’s what.

I know the petitions’ sponsors want you to think differently, but petitions are what they use to raise money. You sign their petition decrying the injustice du jour and then a screen pops up asking you to donate money, so — what? They can generate more petitions?

Get up off your butt and get out there. Attend a march, meet other human beings who share your interests and work with them to make change. Meet and talk to the candidates who are opposing those in power. Find out how you can help.

We don’t all have to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested. There are plenty of ways to be active without risking arrest. But we all need to find real ways to contribute because Democracy is participatory, and signing an online petition is not participating, it’s lazy.

 

 

A united front is dangerous to the enemy

We must stand together if we are to defeat the corporate forces.

We must stand together if we are to defeat the repressive corporate forces in this country.

A few days ago, a young woman saying she was with the Black Lives Matter Movement interrupted Bernie Sanders during an appearance in Seattle.

Turns out she was a provocateur — a self-described “radical Christian” and a Sarah Palin follower.

I won’t go into her choices here — they’re hers to make — but I will question people’s reaction to her action.

Several of my older white friends have said they no longer will support the Black Lives Matter Movement because of this one woman’s actions. I find that short-sighted and, quite frankly, deeply offensive.

The Black Lives Matter Movement came together in reaction to the deaths of unarmed young men. I lost a child to injustice and I can tell you, this movement is more than justified. I stand with these young people because we all need to stand together.

Whether or not this woman was affiliated with BLM isn’t the point here. The point is that her actions shouldn’t drive away those of us who believe in what Blacks Lives Matter is doing. I will continue to stand with Black Lives Matter.

The right-wingers in this country are more than pleased that we seem to be able to be split apart into smaller, less effective groups.

Even more important than that, who are we to tell our youth how to run a justice movement? The worst thing we can do as elders is to tell others “we’ve always done it this way, so you need to listen to us.” Remember, racism and other injustices are still with us, so we weren’t as right as we would like to think we were.

We had our youthful movement, and it did accomplish a lot. But we still have young, mostly black men and women being enslaved by a prison system that captures them right out of school. Private prison companies predict how many people they will have by assessing third-grade reading scores.

States run by old white men are restricting voting rights with laws that they know will affect blacks, poor people, elders and college students.

I recently was criticized for a comment on a Black Lives Matter page on Facebook and asked to take my comments to a White Allies page. In other words, let’s stay separate. We’ll keep the black people on one page and whites on another. How the hell does that help anyone? If what I say offends you, tell me why. How else are we going to unite and defeat the real enemy? Let’s have a discussion.

At the Proctor Institute in Clinton, Tenn., a few weeks ago, young people from the Black Lives Matter Movement reached out to us elders because they want to learn from us — and we eagerly met with them because we, too, have much to learn.

Look, I’m an old white woman. I know that. But I am most definitely affected by injustice toward anyone. I lost a son to an unjust health care system that deliberately neglected him for no reason other than he couldn’t afford to pay for his care. I sat by his side and held his hand as he breathed his last. Every time an unarmed young black man is shot and killed, I weep for the mother who didn’t even get to say goodbye to her child. I can’t know what it us to be black, but I do know what it is to lose a child to injustice, and if you haven’t been through that, you can’t know how it feels. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a passionate advocate. And I am grateful for every advocate for justice.

I am deeply, deeply invested in the justice movement. I am more than eager to learn from young people, from black and brown people, from anyone who will work toward a more just world with me.

This isn’t the 1960s. We didn’t have Facebook and Twitter. We didn’t have cell phones that could capture injustice in action; we had to rely on television cameras for that. Times have changed, but injustice hasn’t.

I have no right to tell anyone today that they should fight injustice the way we did 50 years ago. After all, we didn’t end war or racism or sexism. This generation has new ideas. I look forward to working with them.

 

 

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