Playing the ‘Dead Kid Card’

Hours after my third arrest, I spoke at a press conference about why I needed to speak to legislative leaders about access to health care.

The entire time my son was sick — just over three years — he played the Cancer Card.

If we asked him to do something, he whined, “But I have cancer!”

The expected reply from friends and family was, “Cancer, schmancer.”

He did this in public, at grocery store checkouts and anywhere it might get attention.

He loved attention.

But a week before he died, he sat me down for a talk. It started with, “You know, you’re being dealt an untrumpable card.”

“Excuse me?”

“The Dead Kid Card, Mom. You’re being dealt the Dead Kid Card.”

“I want nothing to do with that.”

“Too late. It’s being dealt. Now, what are you going to do with it?”

I didn’t want to talk about this. In fact, I was laboring under the misguided impression that my heart would stop when his did. I wouldn’t have to deal with the dead kid card because I was going with him.

But what if my heart kept beating?

I panicked. I couldn’t face life after he died, and he was making me think about it.

“OK, I’m going to work to make sure every human being has access to the care they need and I’m going to tell your story to further that goal.”

“That sounds good,” he said. “You have my blessing. Now, can I get a cup of coffee? I have cancer and I’m dying.” He smiled and settled back into his pillow.

Of course, my heart didn’t stop when his did. I sat there and wished it to, but it wouldn’t. So I got to work.

I tell my son’s story at every opportunity. I spent nearly 30 years telling other people’s stories as a newspaper reporter. I am a firm believer in the power of stories to explain complex policies and their effects on real people. My stories changed local and even state policies several times during my career. Now I had the most powerful story imaginable to tell — the story of how an extraordinary human being died from neglect.

If you want to say people who need health care are “just looking for a handout,” Mike’s story disproves that. He never wanted a handout and it was only his own experience that made him realize how important it is that everyone has access to care. He had been pretty much a Libertarian before that, determined to take care of his own needs — until he realized that wasn’t possible in a system like ours, where medical care is too expensive for anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy to afford.

I started telling his story. There were those who accused me of lying, who refused to believe my son — or I — deserved any sympathy. The local Tea Party tried for more than a year to get me fired from my job as a newspaper reporter because they saw how dangerous his story was.

On the morning of my fourth arrest, I walked with interfaith clergy as we carried a cardboard coffin to protest attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 25, 2017. RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley

I left my job — I volunteered to be laid off — 16 months after Mike died so that I could tell his story in public and demand something be done about our broken health care system. President Obama was working on health care and I wanted to be in that fight. I had been under a great deal of pressure to include the lies of the Right in my stories, unchallenged, as though their unsupported beliefs should carry as much weight as the truth.

I told Mike’s story across the state and in Washington. I was on national TV and speaking at large rallies, and I knew Mike was with me.

When Howard Dean took his photo at a rally of 5,000 people and the crowd started chanting his name, I could almost hear him laughing and chanting, “Yeah, Me, Me, Me!!”

Telling the story again and again is exhausting. It’s emotionally draining and it’s painful, sometimes even physically painful.

But I do it over and over and over because I have the Dead Kid Card and I have to keep playing it. People have to know that good people die when you take away their access to health care.

This summer, after I told his story again at a political rally, a woman approached me.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she said, “But I have a message from your son. He’s very, very proud of you.”

I smiled and thanked her and began to turn to walk away.

“Did you know he stand behind you while you speak?” she asked.

I turned back.

“Excuse me?”

“He’s right behind you when you speak and he’s smiling. He loves being the center of attention, doesn’t he?”

I choose to believe she’s not crazy.

I choose to believe Mike is with me, and when something stupid happens (think of a flat tire in the pouring rain), I can almost hear him laughing.

This most recent fight for health care has drained me more than any of the ones before it. These murdering thugs in Congress never cease to amaze me with their efforts to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care.

Lately, they have tried to stop me from having Mike’s photo with me. Mark Meadows’ people tried to confiscate it when I wanted to get into his town hall. I was taken out of the Senate Gallery in Washington because I had a 5×7 photo of him (with no frame because God knows I could jump out of the gallery and slash all the Republicans’ wrists with the broken glass before anyone could stop me), which they called a “poster.”

Mike’s story is powerful. I know that, and I use it to try and make people understand that good people die horrible deaths when they’re denied care.

I play the Dead Kid Card because it is the most powerful card in my deck, and I will not stop until every person in this country has access to affordable, quality health care.

No one deserves to die the way my son did. No one.

 

 

It’s time to get serious about opposing the oligarchs

We need a strong, progressive candidate who will illustrate the real difference between the parties.

 

Matt Coffay has dropped out of the race for the 11th District Congressional seat in North Carolina.

Now what?

There is another candidate named Phillip Price and I have e-mailed him to request a meeting. I want to know where he stands because I’m not ready to vote for another moderate who won’t work for my interests.

I don’t want someone who’s happy with the Affordable Care Act; I want someone who will push for a single-payer system.

I want someone who will push to regulate Big Pharma and rein in the drug companies’ abuses.

I want someone who will fight to raise the minimum wage to $18. Three years ago, $15 would have been adequate, but time marches on, as does inflation. $18 now, not in five years.

I want someone who will work for universal voter registration. Everyone in, no one out, just like I want in health care.

I want someone who will understand the dire risk of global warming and who will demand action immediately, in spite of what Big Oil wants. I want to see solar panels and wind turbines popping up in the landscape like weeds in my garden.

I’m looking for a candidate who will work on re-funding education and strengthening schools, colleges and universities.

I want someone who will actually reduce spending on the war machine.

I want to see someone who’s unashamed to support Planned Parenthood.

I want someone who’ll work to stop the militarization of our local police forces.

I’m tired of moderates who aren’t willing to challenge the corporate overlords. Nothing will change until we the people make those changes. and moderates won’t work with us.

I voted for Hillary Clinton, not because I agreed with her on everything, but to try and keep the Orange One out of the White House. She is qualified to be president, but she is in bed with the big corporations.

She doesn’t get Black Lives Matter. The issue of institutional racism is somehow out of her grasp.

She doesn’t get the need for an immediate hike in the minimum wage to make it a living wage. If you’re making $7.25 an hour, you need that raise now. It’s only about 40 percent of what’s needed to live in any city in the United States and less than that in many places. If you’re in business, you don’t get to enrich yourself on the backs of others. If you can’t pay a fair wage, you shouldn’t be in business.

She wasn’t for an immediate move to single-payer because the insurance overlords don’t want it and they would have withdrawn support.

It was, in part, purists who put this clown in the White House because they wouldn’t vote for someone who disagreed with any of their stands. I get that and I’m not a purist.

I do, however, want a candidate I can back wholeheartedly. I want a true progressive because more and more Americans are beginning to understand the need for progressive policies.

So, can we at least try to recruit a progressive without the Democratic Party getting its panties in a bunch?

Mark Meadows is an oligarch. He has no idea how we struggle with bills or how terrified we are of getting sick in one of the worst health care systems in the world. He cares only about himself and his little circle of the pampered and privileged.

We need someone strong to run against that. We need to be able to show people there is a very real difference between the parties because if there isn’t, we truly are lost as a nation.

 

 

 

Unbeatable? Really?

Mark Meadows is my congressman.

I say that with a deep sense of shame and frustration. He is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun and not quite as modern.

Meadows leads the Freedom Caucus, which believes in nothing more than its freedom to take basic rights away from the rest of us.

It was Meadows who inadvertently saved us from Trumpcare by refusing to vote for it because it didn’t take away enough. It left mandates for coverage of mental illness and addiction, and Meadows objected to that.

Meadows has no respect for human life, although he calls himself “pro-life” and “Christian,” even though the only life he supports (other than his own, of course) is that of the fetus, and the last time he followed any of the teachings of Christ — well, I don’t know when that might have been.

He is an advocate of taxing the poor, not raising their wages and not giving them food, shelter or health care. He sees public education as a form of welfare, and he wants all forms of welfare abolished.

Apparently, he thinks Jesus actually said, “I got mine, get your own.”

So, why is such a despicable character still in office?

Because my party shrugs its shoulders and says, “His district is gerrymandered and the Koch Brothers fund him.”

OK, so we just give up? That’s it?

This last time we put up a pretty good candidate, a retired engineer who was born and raised here, a man whose name invokes history, Rick Bryson, of the Bryson City Brysons.

But no one would donate to his campaign. “It’s a lost cause,” people said. “We can’t beat Meadows.”

And you know what? We didn’t because we went into it believing we would lose and we were unwilling to fight.

This is why I considered leaving the party. I’m damn sick of this we-can’t-beat-them attitude.

Damn right we can’t beat them, not unless we actually try. Bryson called Meadows out on his misogyny and on keeping a sexual predator on the payroll for months after the man’s aggression was made public, but his voice was barely heard because it costs money in this climate to have any voice at all.

But that’s not enough. We have to call him out on his claims of being Christian and pro-life because he is neither.

I’m not good at raising money. It’s just not a talent I possess. But I am good at calling people out on hypocrisy, and Meadows is about as hypocritical as it gets.

Meadows claims to follow someone who told us to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit people in prison and love one another. He shows no evidence of doing any of those things.

Two years ago, I went to one of his town halls. I was the second person in the door and I was told I had to write down my question. So I asked whether he was planning on fixing the flaws in the Affordable Care Act, you know, since he was a follower of Christ, who instructed him to care for the sick.

I was told the questions would be asked in the order they were submitted, good or bad. My question was submitted second and eight questions were asked. Mine was not among them.

So I walked up to Meadows afterward to ask him why he lied, but I never got the chance. I got as far as introducing myself and he said, “Oh, I know who you are,” and he turned his back to me.

That was it. “I know who you are.”

He knows I’m the woman who lost her son to a broken health care system, but he doesn’t care about that. He cares about getting more money for himself and his cronies and the rest of us can die for all he cares.

This is my Congressman and I’m supposed to shrug and say, “Oh well, we can’t beat him.” Really?

There has to be someone in the 11th district who has the know-how to do this. Gerrymandered or not, it can be done. We ousted Tim Moffitt from the North Carolina House in 2014, even though we were told it was impossible. The district was gerrymandered and there was a ton of money behind Moffitt. He was next in line to be speaker of the House. But Brian Turner and his volunteers made calls, knocked on doors, held town hall meetings — in short, we worked our butts off. And we won.

It can be done. We don’t have to settle for such an immoral man. Meadows does not represent us; he represents the people who fund him.

We can do this. We can defeat him. We should at least try.

 

 

We have crossed the line into an uncivil society

Rachel Alexander was one of the 102 victims of Sunday's massacre in Orlando. She faces mounds of medical bills.

Rachel Alexander was one of the 102 victims of Sunday’s massacre in Orlando. She faces mounds of medical bills.

Rachel Alexander is one of 53 surviving gunshot victims from Sunday’s massacre at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and she has another problem — finding a way to pay what will be massive medical bills.

It wasn’t enough that she was targeted because she frequented a business that caters to LGBT people; now she faces lifelong debt or bankruptcy because the state where she lives has chosen to not expand Medicaid, and even if she does have insurance, the deductibles and co-pays will be massive.

In other words, not only can we as a nation do nothing about gun violence; we can’t do a damn thing about access to health care, either.

The money from the Gun Lobby has been used to bribe Congress into total inaction on access to guns, and the money from Big Pharma and Big Insurance has prevented adequate access to medical care for millions of Americans, especially in states like Florida.

The Affordable Care Act provided some badly needed insurance reform, but it left the insurance companies intact and still in charge. It provided insurance coverage to some 22 million Americans, but because the Supreme Court voted to reject the mandate for states to expand Medicaid, it left another 22 million Americans uninsured, and millions more with insurance plans they can’t afford to use because of high deductibles and co-pays.

If you’re in your mid-20s, as many of the victims were, and you work an entry-level job, that $5,000 deductible you have to meet before you start getting benefits might as well be $5 million.

The 102 people who were shot by a religious zealot (and, according to some, a self-loathing gay man), who despite being on the no-fly list was able to buy an AK-15, were victims of a society that cares not at all about human lives, and now the 53 survivors face choosing between a lifetime of debt and bankruptcy.

If you’re not outraged by this, you’re part of the problem.

If you think we don’t need to do something about access to guns, you have bought into the hate and malice being peddled by the NRA and others.

If you don’t want your tax money to go to paying for health care for everyone, and you consider yourself a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew, go back and read your scripture because all three sacred texts talk about loving and caring for each other. Nowhere do any of these texts tell us to adopt an I-got-mine-get-your-own attitude.

If your member of Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Gun Lobby, Big Pharma and/or Big Insurance and you vote for him or her anyway, you are part of the problem. If you don’t vote, you are part of the problem.

We have crossed a line here, and I think it was after Sandy Hook, when we failed to do anything about access to guns. We are no longer a civilized society. We are devolving into chaos.

It’s long past time to fix this. We must pass sensible gun laws. We must offer universal access to health care.

To do this, people of conscience must vote. We must vote in every election, in every race. We must demand better or we never will return to being a civilized society.

If you want to help Rachel, you can visit her Go Fund Me account at www.gofundme.com/laurawillprevaill.  To donate to a fund for all the victims, visit www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund.

If you don’t know how to reach your member of Congress, visit www.house.gov/representatives/find/.

The way forward

Josh Brannon, Congressional candidate for the 5th District in NC.

Josh Brannon, Congressional candidate for the 5th District in NC.

I met Josh Brannon two years ago at a Moral Monday event. He was running for Congress in NC District 5, opposing Tea Party darling Virginia Foxx.

This year, he’s running again.

Before Bernie Sanders ever announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for president, Brannon was running on an almost identical platform. It’s the same platform he’s running on this year.

Here in my district, the 11th, we have Mark Meadows, a far-right extremist who was one of the architects of the 2014 government shutdown. In 2014, we put up an incredibly weak candidate, a man who is homophobic and Islamophobic and who had pretty poor people skills.

This year, we have Rick Bryson, a native of Bryson City (yes, the town is named for his family), who has a plan to draw good jobs to the region and who will support progressive policies across the board.

Rick Bryson, candidate for Congress in North Carolina District 11.

Rick Bryson, candidate for Congress in North Carolina District 11.

So, here’s the deal. We can work for people like Josh Brannon and Rick Bryson, people who will lead us to a better, fairer, more progressive future, or we can sit and whine because Bernie didn’t take it all.

You can’t change the direction of the nation in a single vote, much as we who supported Bernie wished it to be so.

The extremists on the right started small. I remember hearing in the fundamentalist church I attended as a child in the 1960s that “we” needed to start with school boards and town councils and work our way up; that this was the only way to take over the country.

And that’s what they did. As a reporter, I learned the buzz words they used to identify one of their own in an election.

“Family values,” “traditional values,” “creation science,” and more. When I heard these words, I knew to ask questions about policy, and most of the time, the true colors of a religious zealot came out.

Asking a Right to Life Party member about nuclear policy, I got the answer that we kill more people with abortion than with nukes. I asked about economic policy and got more of the same. No matter what I asked, the answer was about abortion. In a race that was nonpartisan, that was important for people to know.

School board members decide what will be in our schools’ curricula whether they will learn the science of evolution or the religion or “creation science;” whether they learn the truth about human reproduction or the proven failures of “just say no” abstinence education.

We all know now what happens to education, health care, voting rights, workers’ rights and more when we elect right-wing zealots to state legislatures. Just look at places like North Carolina, Kansas and Texas.

When we don’t vote and the zealots do, we get what they want, not what most Americans want.

Still, most of us sit home on Election Day, especially in off-year and primary elections. I don’t know what people who don’t bother to vote are thinking when they decide not to go to the polls.

And I understand that we who supported Bernie Sanders are really, really disappointed that he didn’t win.

But we have to remember that a president can’t get a whole lot done without support from Congress, and if we allow the radicals and zealots to control Congress, we won’t see any progress toward a more just society.

So, my fellow Bernie fans, we must work toward a Congress that will allow progress and not regression. We have to get out there and roll up our sleeves for people like Josh Brannon and Rick Bryson.

So, just because your choices for president aren’t your first choice, it still is wrong to sit out an election — any election, from school board to city council to state legislature to Congress to president.

Get out and vote this year, even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for president. There are plenty of people down-ticket who will make this a better nation, but they can’t do it without our votes.

Rick Bryson will represent we the people

Rick Bryson, candidate for Congress in North Carolina District 11.

Rick Bryson, candidate for Congress in North Carolina District 11.

This really is a first for me, announcing in public my support for a Congressional candidate.

I spent 30 years as a newspaper reporter, then six years running a nonprofit, so it was inappropriate for me to support candidates officially and openly.

But this year, I’m speaking up. We can’t allow the reign of the right-wing to continue, and Mark Meadows is about as far to the right as a person can get. Our option in 2014 was another candidate who stands far to the right on issues such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and true religious freedom (he is blatantly anti-Muslim).

This time, we have a chance to vote for someone who truly has decent human values. He believes, as I do, that anyone who works a 40-hour week should be able to pay their bills without government help. That means we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. If we do that, we won’t need to pay for food stamps or rent subsidies for people who work full-time.

Bryson believes that access to quality health care should be a basic human right and that we can’t allow the Affordable Care Act to be diminished; instead we need to add to its protections by making access to care universal. He points out that the pharmaceutical industry has four lobbyists for each member of Congress. I don’t imagine the health insurance industry is far behind.

Bryson wants to see more support for public education, not less. He wants an intelligent electorate with decent critical-thinking skills. That’s not what Mark Meadows wants; he has supported privatizing education.

We have become very adept at blaming the victim in this country by labeling people who need help as “takers,” but these people are left behind by bad public policy, and the corporate shills who sit in Congress now are only too happy to take more away from working people and give it to the super-wealthy by privatizing public programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

The people here in Western North Carolina have suffered the loss of thousands of good manufacturing jobs, many of them with union protections, which have been replaced with low-wage jobs. The state has been able to force workers into these jobs by cutting unemployment compensation to the bone and shortening its duration.

Rick Bryson proposes a project similar to the Research Triangle, but sprinkling it across Western North Carolina. He calls the plan Generation NOW. It would bring higher wage telecommunications, clean energy, bio-medicine, agribusiness, computer modeling, recreation, design, and other similar jobs to the region.

Anyone who knows me knows my most passionate issue is health care, but we can’t fix health care and nothing else.

I find Rick Bryson’s stands on all the issues to be reasonable and kind. He is intelligent and articulate, and he loves these mountain communities because he has deep, deep roots here. His family has been here for generations (Bryson City is named for them).

I can’t think of anyone who would represent the people of District 11 better than he will.

The best way any of us can help is to turn out on June 7 (early voting starts May 26) and vote in the primary. We can do this if we work together, and if we don’t, we stand to lose a lot more than an election in November.

 

No more prayers, no more promises. Act now on guns

I took this off of Facebook this morning because it is so powerful.

I took this off of Facebook this morning because it is so powerful.

Ten more people.

Ten human beings.

Ten more corpses.

Ten more bereaved families.

When does it end?

When do we as Americans rise up and tell our legislators that we have had enough?

Something was supposed to happen after Sandy Hook, but nothing did. And the members of Congress who did nothing weren’t fired in 2014. We let them get away with it.

Instead, we blame mental illness.

Well, we’re not doing anything about mental illnesses, either.

Here in North Carolina, our legislature just cut another $310 million out of the mental health budget over the next two years.

So, people who need treatment are getting nothing. But they can get guns.

And not just guns that are good for hunting, either; they’re getting assault weapons, weapons that can kill a dozen people in a few seconds.

The meaning of the Second Amendment has been twisted beyond recognition, thanks to the NRA and gun manufacturers and their purchase of our members of Congress, and we have allowed it to happen.

I say that because I’ll bet not 5 percent of constituents have written to their members of Congress to demand something be done. I say this because these accessories to murder keep being returned to office.

If you’re fed up with hearing the lists of the dead, if you’re fed up with footage of funerals and memorials, if you’re fed up with having to teach your children how to try to stay alive during a shooting, stop voting for people with blood on their hands.

Stop voting for candidates who try to place the stigma on people with mental illnesses when the stigma belongs on them — the people who refuse to outlaw assault weapons, the people who refuse to require universal background checks.

The day of the shooting, I was in a store talking to a woman behind the counter, who believed nothing can be done.

“Regulating guns worked in Australia,” I said.

“That’s not the United States,” she replied. “It can’t work here.”

“So, you’re saying we should do nothing?” I asked.

“No, I think we all should arm ourselves.”

I politely disagreed with her and left the store.

I don’t want to live without hope that we can manage to do anything.

Something needs to be done and we have to stop being distracted by talk of mental illness, because that’s not the cause of mass murders.

The cause of shooting sprees is guns. It is the nearly unfettered access to guns, all kinds of guns — handguns, shotguns, semi-automatic guns — by anyone who wants them. It is the expansion of open-carry rights to the point that we can’t even feel safe in restaurants, stores and parks in our own communities.

Legislators are in the pockets of gun lobbyists, and they’re making our country more dangerous every year.

Now we have mass shootings almost every week, and the response is always the same: The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers.

Well, here’s what’s in my thoughts and prayers: We must get rid of the murdering thugs who have done this to our country. We must all wake up and let our legislators know we’re done allowing this perversion of the Constitution and that we will vote against them, no matter what their stands are on anything else.

We want an assault weapon ban now. We want universal background checks now.

No more posturing, no more pandering to the gun lobby.

We are done. If this crop of legislators won’t do anything about it, we will send men and women who will to Washington and to our state capitols.

No more shootings. No more bodies. Do something or go home.

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