The least we can do is listen to each other

I offered Pete Buttigieg a photo of my late son to remind him that we need to fix health care now. He accepted the photo. I hope he looks at it now and again and understands the urgency.

The first thing I noticed about Mayor Pete Buttigieg is that he’s not much taller than I am and that I probably outweigh him, unless his bones are made of lead. I could whup him in a fair fight — if I weren’t committed to nonviolence.

He came into Greenleaf Christian Church on Sunday and took his seat in the pew cross the aisle from me. He struck me as humble. He smiled at the people around him and waited for the service to begin.

He looked a little overwhelmed as his Episcopalian sensibilities were rocked by the jubilation of worship at Greenleaf, a church led by a black pastor but with a diverse membership of people of all races, from all kinds of backgrounds, gay and straight, able-bodied and with disabilities, rich and poor. But as the singing continued, he smiled and eventually got to his feet and clapped and rocked with the rest of us.

Mayor Pete had been invited to speak and answer questions at the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Congress in June, but had been unable to attend. When Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, invited him to answer the same questions as the other candidates fielded, Mayor Pete, accepted.

I never got the sense that this was a dog and pony show, produced to make us believe Pete Buttigieg is the answer to all our prayers. He sat through a two-hour service, sang with us, listened to the sermon and seemed to enjoy it.

I never got the sense that Rev. Barber wanted to promote him or tear him down. The Poor People’s Campaign is political in that it works to change the public policies that impoverish people, but it does not endorse candidates.

Rev. Barber has no problem with Mayor Pete’s (or anyone else’s) sexuality. Instead, he explained why sexual preferences and/or identity aren’t important to him.

“I don’t ask an airline pilot if he’s gay,” Rev. Barber told Buttigieg. “I ask whether he can fly the plane. I don’t ask a surgeon whether he’s gay, I ask whether he can do the operation.”

I don’t agree with Mayor Pete on some of the issues, but he appears sincere in his desire to serve and to try and tackle some of our biggest problems.

My problem with his policies is that he’s advocating incrementalism in the minimum wage and in health care, and I’m done waiting.

People who make $7.25 an hour — less than half of what it actually takes to live in any county in the nation — deserve to have relief now, not in four years, because by the time a $15 an hour wage is phased in, living wage will be $20. It’s not a matter of waiting patiently to be able to feed your family, it’s a matter of economic justice. People need relief NOW. So, how about we redirect a small percentage of our bloated “defense” budget to subsidize small businesses and nonprofits for a couple of years instead of making the poor wait?

So, I’m sorry, Mayor, but we need better on wages.

We also need immediate action on health care. A single-payer system was advocated by Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago. I think that’s long enough to wait.

My patience left me with the unnecessary death of my son in 2008, and it has not returned as the death toll continues to mount — a half million Americans dead since my son’s heart stopped beating.

I was privileged to talk to him about health care for a minute. I told him about my son as Mike’s picture appeared on the screen. I told him a half million people have died since I had to do something no parent should have to do — bury my child.

I wanted to ask him, “Isn’t that enough? If not, when will it be enough? After we lose another half million? “

Instead, I stuck to the script and gave him the facts on what’s happening here in North Carolina, whose legislators have steadfastly refused to expand access to health care to a half million of the poorest people in our state. Three of them die every day. I asked him what he plans to do to assure every human being on American soil has access to health care.

His answer was a public option that would allow the wealthiest among us to keep insurance companies in business and in control.

He did say that if someone shows up sick and isn’t insured, that person will be enrolled, retroactively, in the public plan.

“Everyone will have insurance,” he said.

My problem is that as long as these greedy, immoral thugs are allowed access to our health care system, they will continue to work to pervert it to serve their needs, not those of the people. We can’t allow them so much as a foot in the door.

Health insurance companies need to be banned. For-profit providers need to be banned. Health care should never, ever, ever be for-profit because profit-mongers will always find a way to deny people what they need to make a few more dollars of blood money.

At the end of the event, Mayor Pete came over to shake my hand and say how sorry he was about my son.

“You’ve already been graced with four more years of life than he got,” I said. “So, if you would like, if you think being reminded of how bad things are in our health care system will help you move us forward, you can take my photo of him with you. Look at it. His name was Michael and he was dearly loved.”

Mayor Pete reached out and took the photo, thanked me and then stood for a moment looking at it.

I believe he’s sincere, and he wants to, as he put it, “be useful.”

I want him to be more bold. I want him to stand up to the immorality of the 1 percent and say we need to address these issues now, and not some unspecified time down the road.

I am glad I met him. I found him intelligent and sincere in his desire to address these problems; I just want him to be more eager to get it done now.

When I put a photo of Mayor Pete on my Facebook feed yesterday, it blew up with people being disrespectful. That really bothered me. To me, when someone reaches out and wants to talk, I want to listen, even if we disagree.

There are people who don’t deserve my respect and one of them is squatting in the Oval Office right now; another leads the Senate, and still more of them are in our courts and legislatures. They spew hate and seem to enjoy the cruelty of racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation for profit. These people don’t deserve respect.

On the other hand, someone who is well intentioned, but with whom I disagree, I will treat with respect.

Perhaps being a reporter and having to treat people with whom I disagree vehemently with respect taught me to listen better, to understand that the only person who agrees with me on everything is me.

I still will not vote for someone who won’t support Medicare for all in the primary, and I’m not sure what I’ll do in he general election.

But I liked Mayor Pete personally. I believe his desire to turn things around is sincere. I also think he might come a little closer to my views with time and maturity.

I had one prayer going into yesterday’s event: that we might move him toward a vision of a better nation, a more just nation, and that he might drop his incremental approach to racial, social and economic justice.

It’s my vote, not yours

We can’t afford to do this anymore. It’s time for Medicare for all.

I’ve taken a lot of criticism lately for saying I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support a single-payer health care system.

Here’s the thing: You don’t get to decide who gets my vote, not in the primary and not in the general election.

I have good reason for my position. I call it the Dead Kid Card (only because that’s what my son called it before he died from lack of access to health care). I suffered a loss most parents only have nightmares about. I sat beside my precious child as he breathed his last, and his cause of death was neglect for profit.

My son should not have died, nor should any of the half million people who have been murdered by our profit-driven “system” since his heart stopped beating.

Universal access to care was proposed by Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago, and we’re still waiting. The rest of the world has found ways to do it, but we still prostrate ourselves before the altar of profit. We spend twice as much per person as any other system in any advanced nation, and our outcomes are always the worst among the industrialized nations. Hell, Cuba has better outcomes than we do, and that’s because everyone has access to the care they need.

I’m not willing to wait any longer. I believe enough people have died, and it’s time to stop the unnecessary deaths so some insurance executive can take home another few million dollars and stash it in an overseas tax-sheltered account.

Health insurance companies are parasites. They add nothing of value to our system, but they suck billions of dollars out of our economy, and they deny lifesaving care that causes the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year.

OK, so now you’ll argue that some people love their plans. Well, I have a couple of problems with that. First of all, Medicare for all will get care to everyone, not just the few well-to-do people who have their access to care but don’t even think about people who have little or no access. That’s called selfishness, or greed. Remember, Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”

Secondly, we know that 70 percent of employer-sponsored plans are high-deductible — meaning you have to spend $1,000 or more before you see a penny in coverage — The average deductible is $3,000. This is in a society where nearly half of the people say they can’t pay a surprise bill of $400 without borrowing money.

No one can make me believe that most Americans love their health insurance in light of those statistics.

And it’s getting worse.

According to a study by The Commonwealth Fund, (https://www.commonwealthfund.org/ ), median household income in the United States between 2008 and 2018 grew 1.9% per year on average, rising from $53,000 to $64,202. But health care costs rose 6 percent per year in the same time, and the Affordable Care Act has been in effect for about half of that time.

“The most cost-burdened families live in southern states,” said Sara Collins, lead author of the report and vice president for health care coverage, access and tracking at The Commonwealth Fund.

In general, those states tend to have lower median incomes, so even if the sticker price for premiums and deductibles is lower than in higher-income regions, health insurance costs take up a greater share of Southerners’ income.

The next argument I get is that people who work for insurance companies need their jobs. Well, jobs administering Medicare will be plentiful. Even managers will be needed, although the CEOs who have been skimming billions in our national treasure can go and live on their blood money because they won’t be stealing any more from us.

The longer we wait to do this, the worse things are getting, as for-profit companies take over health care systems, especially in rural areas.

Rural hospitals are cutting services or closing altogether, especially in states that refuse to take the federal Medicaid expansion money that their citizens are already paying for. Here in Western North Carolina, women in labor have to travel up to two hours to get to a labor and delivery facility. Ambulance rides can cost up to a whopping $40,000. People are dying because they have to call an Uber because they can’t pay for an ambulance.

Under the current administration, the Affordable Care Act’s protections have been weakened. Premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed. Since the mandate that everyone buy insurance has been lifted, people of moderate means have dropped their coverage so they can afford to pay for food and shelter.

Meanwhile, plans have become more and more restrictive, putting drugs and care on tiers so that if a doctor comes to see you while you’re in the hospital and they are not on Tier 1 in your plan, you could be faced with thousands of dollars in uncovered care. That lifesaving antibiotic could wind up costing you $300 per pill.

So, when I hear a candidate say we can wait for Medicare for all, my response is, “Nope.”

Our corporate overlords may not care if you die from lack of access to care, but I do.

I will not vote for someone who thinks people can wait for health care, and you have no right to tell me I have to. People are dying NOW, and we have to fix this NOW. I really don’t care if the rich don’t like it. They’re not the ones I’m worried about.

My vote will ONLY go to someone who’s ready to fix this.

Stop denying your privilege. It’s truly offensive.

Last night, somebody shocked me by telling me I was talking “nonsense” when I insisted out current health care “system” is broken, and that we have to move to single-payer.

“We need to preserve our system,” she said, and proceeded to try and shame me into supporting Joe Biden or another “moderate” who’s beholden to the profit-mongers currently in charge.

I was appalled that anyone knowing how I lost my son to this mess would say that to me.

I told her she was talking privilege.

She has the privilege of being covered by an insurance plan she can afford, co-pays, deductibles and all.

She has the privilege of not needing immediate help that’s just unavailable because she can’t afford it.

She has the privilege of not having watched someone she loves more than life itself draw his last breath because nobody would help him.

She has the privilege of being able to wait for politicians get off their asses and do something about the 35 million Americans who have no insurance, and the millions more who have insurance with a deductible so high they can’t afford to use it.

She claimed she has no such thing as privilege, that she just wants people to be able to get health care.

But she can’t see that tens of millions of Americans are going without while she calls me stupid for wanting them to get immediate access.

She probably thinks we can wait a few years for the minimum wage to hit $15, too. But if you’re making $7.25 an hour, you can’t wait for that raise. You need that money now. If you think otherwise, your privilege is showing.

If you hold the people at our borders in contempt because they walked a thousand miles with their children to escape drug gangs — gangs that are the direct result of US drug policy — your privilege is showing.

If you think our policy of incarcerating people — non-citizens or citizens — in private, for-profit prisons, not feeding them enough (I know about conditions in private prisons because my brother is in one) and then “contracting” their labor out to the highest bidder, your privilege is showing.

If you think the people in Flint and other cities with lethal contaminants in their water can wait for it to be fixed, your privilege is showing.

If you think it’s OK to keep somebody in jail for months as they await trial for a nonviolent misdemeanor like falling asleep on a park bench, causing them to lose their jobs, housing and even their kids, just because they can’t come up with $250 cash bond, your privilege is showing.

If these things and other atrocities perpetrated by the fascists in Washington are OK, it’s because you have a warm bed, clean water, access to health care, reliable transportation, enough food — in other words, privilege.

If you think poor people are just lazy and only want a handout, your privilege is showing big time.

And if you’re white and male and you don’t see any problem with the way things are, you’re particularly privileged.

When you have such privilege and you deny it, I find that deeply offensive. When you call me stupid because you can’t see your privilege — even when it’s pointed out to you, you are even more despicable to me.

When you have such great privilege and you deny it, you are willfully ignorant, and there are few greater sins in my book.

I know it’s hard to recognize our own privilege, but we must if we are to move toward a just society for everyone, not just for you.

No more gradualism, no more excuses

New York Times photo

A “friend” came onto my Facebook page yesterday to explain to me why we need to fix health care gradually.

The first thing I did was ask whether she thinks a century is gradual enough, since it was Theodore Roosevelt who first proposed a single-payer health care system more than 100 years ago.

But then I thought about it and removed the post — and the friend.

This is a person who knows I lost my son to this broken system. Her post was immensely disrespectful, and before I removed the post, I asked whether it would take the death of a child of hers to make her understand how misguided her post on my timeline was.

And in the 11 1/2 years since my son died, another half million Americans have died the same way. That’s right, 500,000 — 45,000 a year, year in and year out. The Affordable Care Act helped for awhile, but now 70 percent of employer-sponsored plans have a deductible of $1,000 or more — some as high as $6,000 — not to mention co-pays and out-of-network charges. Even plans on the exchange are pricey unless you have a large subsidy. The year before I went on Medicare, my premiums were $1,300 for just me and the deductible was $3,000. My co-pay to see my regular doctor was $40, and a visit to a specialist was $75. When I needed outpatient surgery for a kidney stone, I was responsible for more than $6,000 of the $13,000 bill. And this was before our local hospital was sold to a for-profit corporation.

No one has studied how many insured Americans die because they can’t afford that kind of money. Remember that a recent survey showed the majority of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $800 expense. Since most deductibles now are more than $1,000, where does that put the average family?

I’ll tell you one thing, it puts them in a place where they can’t afford health care. Sure, they’re able to get the colonoscopy or the mammogram, but if it shows any irregularity, now what? Can you afford the tests? How about the treatment?

Nearly half of cancer patients have to wipe out their entire life savings for treatment — and that’s with insurance. One in three will go bankrupt.

Once every 12 minutes another American dies from lack of access to health care. I’m betting their families would rather not have waited for reform.

If you think you need to tell me why we should wait to fix health care, do me a favor and restrain yourself. I’ve heard all your arguments and I don’t need to hear them again. It only re-opens the wound of my son’s unnecessary death again and again and again.

I understand that you don’t know what it’s like to watch your child breathe his last, and I hope you never do. But you need to understand that hearing you say we can wait for health care means you don’t give a damn about any of these deaths, even though you say “I’m sorry for your loss.”

If you come onto my timeline to tell me why we can wait, you are most assuredly not sorry for my loss, or for anyone else’s.

I think enough people have died, and you’ll never convince me it’s OK to let more people die.

I think your excuses are lame, and a lot of them are lies designed to keep the oligarchs in charge of our health care.

I think you’ve probably not lost a child to this mess, and I sincerely hope you never do.

And I still think we need to fix this now. There are no more excuses.

Republicans want a moderate; the people want change

Migrants are gathered inside the fence of a makeshift detention center in El Paso, Texas in March. (Photo by Sergio Flores for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

We’ve seen a number of writings by Republicans lately urging Democrats to run another “moderate.”

Here’s why we need to ignore them:

Moderate Republicans want to make the Democratic party their own because they can’t bring themselves vote for a fascist. That’s a good thing, but not for Democrats.

If we put up another moderate, we’ll get the same result: another loss. That’s because most Americans know we need real change and we need it now, not in another four or eight years. Young adults won’t vote for another moderate, and a lot of traditional Democrats won’t, either, so please stop telling me I’m dooming us because I refuse to pledge to “vote blue, no matter who.” That little bumper-sticker slogan was probably coined by a “moderate.”

Eighty-three percent of Americans want Medicare for all. Eighty-three percent. But none of the moderates will pursue that.

Our planet is suffering irreversible damage because of climate change. If we don’t so something drastic in the next decade, we face extinction because we can’t breathe methane, and methane levels are increasing at an alarming rate. A moderate won’t do anything radical because he or she is owned, or at least partly owned by fossil fuel interests.

Minimum wage NEEDS to be $15 or more an hour. A moderate won’t do that because his or her corporate overlords will forbid it.

We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, which is nothing more than a ramping up of existing policies put in place by a moderate. Yes, Obama was a moderate, and he deported more people than anyone before him. Obama created the camps, although they were nothing like what they have become. Still, I doubt a moderate will close them. Remember how Obama promised to close Gitmo? It’s still there.

As a result of this policy, human beings now are being rounded up and placed in conditions that we wouldn’t allow for animals. How long before we start killing some to make room for more?

We have a criminal thug in the Oval Office and the moderates in Congress do nothing to stop him.

The people offering this advice are REPUBLICANS looking out for their own interest, not ours. Where are your critical thinking skills, people? These are not “hard left” positions. These are mainstream positions, and we will not win back the Senate or the White House by embracing them.

We can’t endure another four years of fascist rule. The Republicans in the Senate have pushed through hundreds of right-wing judges, and another loss could corrupt our courts beyond repair.

Our deficit is rising precipitously and we can’t endure that for another four years.

Our air and water are dirtier than they’ve been in many decades.

Worst of all, we have lost our leadership position and any moral authority in the world.

A moderate won’t fix any of this. The attempt to get Democrats to run another moderate is nothing more than the 1 percent looking out for its own interests.

They’re scared because of the popularity of the true Democrats. Look at the party platform from 1976 and you’ll see the traditional values of the Democratic Party. You’ll also see they’re the same values being embraced by what Republicans are calling the “left wing” of the party, and by the majority of the American people.

Don’t fall for the lies of the Republicans and the oligarchy. Insist on a real Democrat to oppose the current administration and you’ll ensure a victory in 2020.

Why do I feel so angry all the time? Why doesn’t everyone?

With my vacation half over (I spent a week on Cape Cod camping with my sisters and leave tomorrow to spend a few days with friends before my granddaughter and her husband and daughter come to visit next week), I feel rested and restless at the same time.

I had an argument with my sister over whether we should shoot for an immediate move to Medicare for all, or whether it should be done gradually.

“I’m done with gradualism, ” I told her.

During the 12 minutes we’d been talking about this, another person died the way Mike did. I’ve heard every argument, and in the time it will take you to recite them to me, another person will have died the way Mike did. When you add them all up, it’s about a half million human beings, just in the 11 years since Mike died.

And now you want me to wait some more. Are we waiting until my other son dies? Maybe one of his kids or grandkids? How long are we supposed to wait?

I didn’t get all this out before she yelled at me to let her finish her argument. In that time, another person died. and since that time, another 100-plus people have died. I turned my head and started reading something on my phone because I didn’t want an ugly scene, but I knew I couldn’t convince her I’m right. She pays through the nose, but she has access to care. She had surgery in the last year for a condition that would have killed her had she been uninsured.

I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for that.

I tried to tell her all this, but I just started crying instead because even after 11 years, the pain of my son’s death is as fresh and raw as ever, and in the time I took to try and explain that, another American died from lack of access to health care and his or her family is plunged into the same endless grief I experience every day.

Meanwhile, children languish in filthy cages with no sanitary supplies and no beds, separated from their parents in a strange land where they don;t know what people are even saying to them.

Meanwhile, the Earth continues to burn, hurtling us toward extinction in a few short generations.

Meanwhile, we contemplate war on Iran.

Meanwhile, the water in Flint and dozens of other American cities is still poisoned.

Meanwhile, the election districts are still gerrymandered and the elections are controlled by two utterly corrupt parties.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest of us continue to steal and hoard our wealth while half of our families live near or below the poverty level because those with the most money won’t pay a living wage for a week’s work and then they get to call poor people lazy because they don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs.

Meanwhile, we all go about our business, taking care of ourselves but not noticing how much trouble we’re in as a nation, as a species.

Meanwhile, a third of our nation continues to defend the hatred and ignorance spewing from the Oval Office, and we have yet to rise up in sufficient numbers to prod our so-called leaders into action to remove this criminal from office.

All the while, complacent people scream at me to “VOTE BLUE, NO MATTER WHO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

No. No to all of it.

I will not shut up. I will not wait. I will not be patient. And I will not vote for another Wall Street-sponsored candidate.

I’m done with all of it. This is more than a national emergency, it’s a planetary one. It’s about our continued existence as a species, and you’re asking me to wait patiently?

Every day we wait, dozens more people die.

Every day we wait, children in Flint and other cities face irreversible brain damage from lead in their water.

Every day we wait, people languish in jail, losing their jobs and homes and children because they don’t have $500 bail money. So they wait in jail for months to be tried for a crime they may not even have committed.

Every day we wait, we edge closer to extinction.

Wake up. Stop waiting for somebody else to save us. We have to save ourselves, and we can’t do that by being patient.

‘What are you gonna do?’

Sherri White-Williamson, a specialist in energy regulation and law, who is retired from the EPA, now works to make all out energy safer and renewable, issued a challenge to everyone on the Poor People’s Campaign Truth and Poverty Bus Tour to go home and DO something.

In the three years my son battled cancer, he often played the Cancer Card.

What that meant was if he wanted something, or if he didn’t want to do something, he would whine, “But I have cancer!”  Then he would laugh, whether he got his way or not.

In the days before his death, he told me I was about to get a card that would be hard to top — the Dead Kid Card.

“I don’t want it,” I said. “I want nothing to do with it.”

He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter what you want. It’s there. It’s being dealt as we speak. What I want to know is what are you gonna do with it.”

I told him I didn’t know and he shook his head again.

“Nope, I want to know. What are you gonna do?”

I thought for a moment and told him I will work for access to health care for everyone. Real access, not a high-deductible insurance policy that just puts money in the pockets of the 1 percent, but real, meaningful access.

He sank back into his pillow and smiled.

“Good. I approve. You have my blessing,” he said. “Go get ’em.”

Eleven years later, I’m still working on it.

Last week, I went with some of my fellow activists in the NC Poor People’s Campaign on the National Emergency Truth and Poverty Bus Tour across the state to visit people affected by poverty.

We saw people doing, including the first homeless/formerly homeless Street Medic Team, based here in Asheville. We met homeless activists in Charlotte, several of whom got on the bus and traveled with us.

We met environmental activists in Robeson, Scotland and Duplin counties. One of them was Sherri White-Williamson, who retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and now works across Eastern NC as an activist fighting the deforestation causing catastrophic flooding, the proliferation of industrialized hog and poultry farming and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other fossil fuel enterprises.

Sherri spoke to us in Robeson County and again in Duplin, and she told us to go home and do something.”

“You’re all excited now, enthusiastic about working to improve things,” she told us. “But coming here and learning what’s happening is not enough. You have to go home and do something.

“What are you gonna do?

In the 11 years since my son breathed his last, somewhere near a half million Americans have died from lack of access to care.

I worked for the Affordable Care Act, even though I was uncomfortable leaving insurance companies in the mix because I feared they would work to sabotage the law — which is exactly what has happened.

So, I continue to work to educate people about why we need to do what every other so-called developed country has done — find a way to get access to health care to everyone.

But I can’t work in a vacuum. Health care is not the only issue we need to address because if we get health care to everyone and we don’t fix the environmental devastation or raise the minimum wage, stop the endless wars or fix voter suppression, we’re still screwed.

We need activists for this fight. We need people to work with us.

We as a nation need you to pick your issue or issues and join the fight.

We don’t need online petitions because they never, ever, ever result in any change. Never. Sitting at your computer and typing in your name, e-mail address and phone number does nothing more than give some political hack your contact information so they can inundate you with requests for money.

Donating to a cause is great — the Poor People’s Campaign could sure use some financial help, as could any number of other causes — but these are perilous times and we need people to be in the streets.

We need people who can register voters and educate people on the issues — God knows the corporate media don’t peddle much beyond propaganda.

We need people to run for office — school board, city council, county commission, state legislature — and work for real change.

We can’t do this if people just stay home and go along to get along.

We need you in this fight because this is a fight for our very existence as a species.

What are you gonna do?

Think about it. We don’t have a whole lot of time left.

 

Where do we go from here?

I’m not sure voting can get us out of this mess we’re in, but not voting certainly won’t.

 

We live in an empire in decline. In fact, this is far from the early stages of collapse.
I don’t know if we can stop it now, especially since those at the top won’t act on any of the emergencies we face.
We have refused to fix health care, even as tens of thousands of people die each year.
We refuse to act on climate change, even though scientists say if we don’t, this planet will become uninhabitable for humans. My great-grandchildren could be the among the last generation of humans who can live on this planet.
Our elections have become so rigged thanks to big money that our votes in some districts are next to meaningless.
The number of people living in poverty grows each year because we refuse to make business pay employees a fair wage. And poverty is lethal in too many cases.
Our infrastructure is crumbling and we refuse to invest anything to fix it.
I don’t expect any action against the criminal regime now occupying the White House, no matter what kinds of crimes are uncovered. In other words, we’re screwed and elections might not be able to save us.
Our obsession with military spending exacerbates all our other problems because we can’t pay to fix anything if we don’t stop investing in war.
But war is extremely profitable. That’s why the United States has been at war for almost all of its history.
And we can’t pay for anything until we get the wealthy to pay taxes again.
I’m not sure what we need to do, but we’d better do it fast.
I think impeachment needs to happen, but I doubt it will, no matter what kinds of crimes are uncovered. The Republicans in the Senate and those of both parties in the House who refuse to take any action against the crimes being committed, or the criminal committing them, are the ones to blame here. But they might lose campaign donations, so our lives, our county, our very existence, take a back seat to these campaign donations.
Nothing will happen unless we the people demand that it happen.
A phone call or an e-mail won’t do the trick. They ignore us. We can dial the phone or tap the keyboard until our fingers bleed, but they won’t listen because they believe the system is sufficiently rigged so that they can’t lose.
My two senators and my “representative” refuse to speak to me.
Thom Tillis’s people have actually hung up on me, and when Tillis was here as leader of the NC Senate, he had me arrested twice for trying to talk to him about health care.
Mark Meadows refuses me entry into his town halls.
Richard Burr won’t even allow me an appointment to speak to a member of his staff.
I’m afraid that even if we get a terrific turnout at the polls in 2020, we still won’t have enough of an effect to get the changes we absolutely need to see as quickly as we need to see them.
If we’re going to have an effect, we must take to the streets.
On May 1, this state’s teachers and the Poor People’s Campaign will march on Raleigh. We’re hoping to see tens of thousands of people on Halifax Mall outside of the General Assembly Building. If you want to see change, I expect to see you there.
If you recall, the Moral Monday Movement changed public opinion on our politicians here in North Carolina, but even with all that, we still have a Republican majority on the legislature here, although it no longer is a veto-proof majority, and we have a Democratic governor now.
Change takes time, and I’m not sure we have enough time left to us to fix this.
Also, don’t think this one rally will change anything. We need to combine direct action with a demand for fair elections, and then we all need to vote, and I mean every damn one of us. Vote for the person of your choice — it IS your vote after all — but vote.
And keep showing up. I’ve been doing health care activism for 11 years now and little has happened, but if I give up, I’m afraid we’re all screwed.
This is an emergency of epic proportions. If we can’t make change, and I mean really fast, we truly are doomed, not just politically, but literally.

One day

 

Me and Mike on his wedding day.

Today was Monday in 2008, Mike’s last full day with us.

The house was empty except for Rob, Mike and me, and he seemed to appreciate the quiet. He was allowed to smoke in the house because as much as I hate tobacco, I was not about to deprive him of it.

Somebody, I don’t recall who it was, had suggested in these final two weeks that he should quit smoking — conquer that final addiction — before he died. His response was to smile and light a cigarette. He didn’t want to die totally virtuous, after all.

There wasn’t much left he could eat, and none of it was particularly good for him. He could still drink coffee with almond milk. He also could take a few bites of Frosted Flakes doused in chocolate almond milk. And he could nibble on good chocolate. He had given up Cadbury Creme Eggs because everyone knew they were his favorite candy and we were inundated with them. For years, he had bought all he could in the weeks before Easter, claiming he would make them last until the next spring. But they were usually gone within a month of Easter. During these final few weeks of his life, it seemed no one crossed the doorway to his room without an offering of a half dozen or more.

Finally, a few days before he died, he told me he couldn’t eat another one.

“I’m Cadbury Creme Egged out,” he said as he gazed at the one in his hand. “I think I’ll have to wait until next … ” he paused and looked up at me. “I think I’ll have to let other people have them. I keep forgetting I won’t be here next year.”

It was said matter-of-factly, as though he had forgotten his raincoat on a drizzly day. But it slapped me in the face and forced me back into the moment. I had to live in the moment because I had so little time left to do that with him.

Rob went to work that evening and Mike and I watched Star Trek and nibbled on good dark chocolate. We watched an episode from the original series and then the episode of Deep Space Nine where the Klingon character, Worf, joins the crew.

“You know, I’m having a good time here,” he told me as Worf stepped onto the space station on the television.

Here he was, confined to a hospital bed in a small bedroom. His life had been reduced to a tiny room with a bed, a dresser, a single chair and a TV, and he managed to find joy.

“I have everything I need here,” he said. “I have my TV, my Playstation, Boo Bankie, Idiot Bear and you, my personal valet.”

Boo Bankie was the tangled remnants of the blanket I had crocheted him when he was a kid. As it had unraveled, he had tied the ends together until it resembled a blue football-shaped mass with bits of red in it. I still have it under my pillow.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to complain about anything again,” I told him.

“Oh, I have faith you’ll find a way,” he said, smiling.

If only we’d been able to get him the screening tests he needed. If only he’d been able to get health insurance. If only even one doctor in Savannah had given a rat’s ass about his precious life. If only we hadn’t lived in the most ignorant and immoral nation on Earth when it comes to health care.

Here we are, the richest nation ever to exist and we can’t even offer the basic level of health care to our people that every developed nation — and even some developing nations — offers its people. Our health care outcomes are the worst among the developed nations, and worse than many developing nations, even though we spend about double per capita what other nations spend. How can people not understand that?

People still tell me we can’t afford it because they believe the lies put out there by Big insurance and Big Pharma. We could have saved my son’s life for a fraction of the cost of allowing him to die. We could save tens of thousands of lives every year, one precious soul at a time, instead of killing them with criminal neglect.

Mike was developing a pressure sore on his elbow. He didn’t want me to bother wrapping it in soft cloth, but I insisted. Lifting his arm was like picking up a broomstick. He had no muscle left.

When I finished wrapping the sore, he sighed.

“You were right,” he said. “This does feel better. Thanks.”

He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. I sat and watched him for a little while, just trying to be present in the moment. I knew we had few moments left.

On this day, in this moment, I had just 18 hours left with him.

 

 

 

One final belly laugh

Mike being Mike. His main mission in life was to amuse himself and others. He was a proud jackass and I still believe he chose to leave us on April Fool’s Day.

 

It was Sunday on this date 11 years ago. The crew from Savannah spent the morning and early afternoon with us, and when Mike was tired and needed a nap, they headed back south.

I took the opportunity to soak in the hot tub for a bit with two friends who were helping Mike plan his memorial service. He didn’t want to leave anything to chance. That service would reflect his desires for a funeral he’d be sorry to miss.

As we came back into the house, there was an insistent knock on the door, as though someone wanted to deliver an urgent message. When I opened the door, there was a woman I’d seen drive by a couple times, but I didn’t know her. She was tastefully dressed, a little overweight, had an unnatural shade of blonde hair and way too much makeup.

“What the hell are you doing parking all these cars on my street!” she demanded. “People have to drive here, you know. You don’t own the street and I’m getting tired of dodging all these party cars! I don’t know how long you’ve lived here, but you should know we don’t put up with that in this neighborhood …”

She ranted on for a minute or two and when she finally stopped to take a breath, I spoke.

“First of all, this is not your street. My taxes pay for as much of it as yours do,” I said.

She opened her mouth to speak again, her face still angry. I held up my hand.
“Nope,” I said, “I’m not done. These cars belong to friends of my son. They’ve come to say goodbye. He’ll be dead in a few days and then you can have your road back.”

I started to close the door and she put up her hand to stop me.

“Wait! Oh my god! Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes,” I said sweetly, “you can drive carefully so none of these people has to the add the burden of car repairs to that of the grief of losing a friend.”

And I closed the door.

Even 11 years ago, some people were mean-spirited by nature and not afraid to show everyone they encountered that they wanted people to do everything their way.

Later another neighbor would see me outside and ask, “I saw a lot of cars over the last week or so. I know it’s not always a good thing, so I just said a quick prayer that everything’s OK.”

Now, that’s the way to ask why there are so many cars parked on the street.

The nasty neighbor has never spoken to me again.

Mike woke up a little while after the angry neighbor left, and I told him what had happened. He had a good laugh over that.

“Oh, I wish I could have seen her face,” he said. “I’ll bet she was horrified. Good for you, Mom. Good play.”

It would be our final Cancer Card moment, his final belly laugh.

In 48 hours, he would be gone and I would never hear that laugh again.

When people tell me we should fix health care gradually so businesses and the economy don’t get hurt, I ask why they want to put the welfare of corrupt insurance companies and Big Pharma over that of the 35 million Americans who still don’t have access to health care, plus another 12 million or so whose insurance has such high co-pays and deductibles that they can’t afford to use it. That, after all, is the very basis of fascism — money over people, the good of corporations above the welfare of human beings.

Some 30,000-plus people are dying every year the same way my son did. and we have done almost nothing.

Yes, insurance companies can’t deny people with pre-existing conditions insurance anymore. In states where Medicaid has been expanded, poor people finally have real access to care.

But Big Insurance and Big Pharma don’t want these changes to stand and they’re paying out huge amounts of money to walk back what little ground we have gained.

Every day we don’t fix this, people die unnecessarily. Every damn day, more family members and friends go through the hell my family and I have gone through. In fact, about three times every hour, another American dies of lack of access to care, just they way my precious son did.

As I count down these days again every year, I spend a good part of my time in tears.

Why can’t we see that people shouldn’t be dying like this when it would actually be cheaper to take care of them — both economically and morally? I tried to explain this to someone yesterday who just said, “I don’t believe you. We can’t afford it,” and turned her back, completely unwilling to listen to anything not sanctioned by the liars at Fox News. I wanted to scream, to call her a fucking fascist, but I walked away instead.

On this beautiful spring day 11 years ago, I so desperately wanted to hold onto him. I still wish I could go back and get him. I think I’d want to take him along on the coming cross-country road trip with my pregnant granddaughter. I can’t even imagine what an adventure that would have been.

I tried to soak up all I could of him during these final days.

On this Sunday 11 years ago, everybody cleared out. James, Mike’s closest friend, and Janet, who still loved Mike and who was still adored by him, went back to pick up mail and check in with their bosses. Janet’s boss would fire her for not coming in on Monday; James’s boss told him to take whatever time he needed. They were both planning on returning Wednesday. Mike would not be here to greet them.

On this beautiful Sunday 11 years ago, we would have just two days left with Mike.

 

a world of progress site | woven by WEBterranean