‘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.

 

It was Easter on this day in 2008

My sons, Danny and Mike, on Easter 1978.

Eleven years ago today it was Easter. Flowers were blooming, the air was warming, and my house was full of people here to say goodbye to my son.

Shannon and the kids celebrated with an Easter egg hunt in my back yard, and Mike watched some of it from the Mike-around on the deck.

I was trying not to think about death in this season of rebirth, but it lurked around every corner of my existence.

My house was abuzz with activity because Mike was dying.

People were visiting, not because of the holiday, but because of Mike’s impending death.

The food on the kitchen table and in the refrigerator was here because people brought it so I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking because Mike was dying.

I was taking more time than I should off work because Mike was dying. Soon I would be out of vacation days and would have to take unpaid leave.

I would find out a couple of days later that the publisher of the paper where I worked had overruled the editor who was charging me with vacation days after he discovered my colleagues had gotten together and donated 33 vacation days to me and my husband. One by one, they had gone into Human Resources and offered between one and three of their vacation days.

The publisher stood in the middle of the newsroom and announced that everyone would have their vacation days returned and my husband and I would be able to take whatever time off we needed and still be paid.

I’m still grateful for that, by the way.

There are so many things we take for granted, but the support of friends can’t be overvalued in times like this.

People from work and people from church visited. The contingent from Cary left late in the afternoon, leaving the house a good deal quieter. Mike seemed to appreciate it.

I remember the constant aching in my heart. I remember holding back tears every time I saw him, now weighing less than 100 pounds, unable to get up without help, unable to walk without the walker, unable to eat anything more than a little nibble.

But as soon as he opened his mouth and spoke, it was the same Mike. He was still irreverent and still funny. But my time with him was so damn limited now. I wanted to squeeze in every second I could with him. I even began to resent the naps he needed to take several times a day.

I need people to know that the pain I felt 11 years ago is still fresh, still unbearable after all this time because he should still be with us.

I need people to know that there are a half million others whose families feel this same pain because that’s about how many people who have died from lack of access to health care since my son died.

If this is OK with you, stop calling yourself “pro-life” or “Christian.” You are neither.

Jesus told us to heal the sick. He never charged a co-pay or a deductible. He never asked whether the sick person was working. He never asked to see an insurance card.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world that hasn’t found a way to do this. There are no excuses. I reject all of them because every other nation has access to care for ALL people.

I will not stop pushing for this. I will not go away. I will not give it a rest.

I will fight for access to care for every human being, because I DO follow the teachings of Christ, and because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone — not even on all the presidential candidates who insist this can wait if we’ll all just be patient. If you are one of these candidates, please know that you will not get my vote under any circumstances.

On this day 11 years ago, it was Easter, a day of rebirth. We would have just one week and two days left with him.

‘Profit before people’ is fascism, and fascism killed my son

Me and Mike on his wedding day.

Eleven years ago today, I brought my son home to die.

I can’t describe to you how that feels. Unless you have lived it, you can’t even begin to know.

It was the end of hope, if you can imagine that.

Early that morning, my son and I sat in his living room. I had a cup of coffee, he had finished his. He looked so thin, so frail, but I still hoped we might have a few months, a road trip to the Northeast, just a little time.

“I’m ready for this to be over, Mom,” he said.

He had fought like hell for three years — the first year of that fight devoted to having someone who could help him take notice of his plight. In Savannah, at Memorial Health System, he had been ignored — at one time, spending 11 days in a hospital room not being seen by a single doctor because they had written him off as not profitable enough to deserve to live. They even neglected to treat a life-threatening infection that developed in his surgical wound.

We had gotten him a consultation with Dr. Herb Hurwitz at Duke University Medical Center, and Hurwitz had adopted him. Hurwitz and his team fought like hell for my son, but it was too late already by the time we got to them.

Two weeks ago, Mike had been told he needed to gain two pounds. I had gone to the Duke Chapel that afternoon to beg for those two pounds. I just wanted more time. I wasn’t ready to let go of hope. In hindsight, I wasn’t ever going to be ready to let go of him.

We got to the clinic and Mike slipped off his leather coat and stepped on the scale. He had lost a pound. This was it. It was over.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, “I tried!” If only I could forget that moment. If only I could erase the image.

Dr. Hurwitz’s eyes filled with tears as he said, “You’re a good person, Mike. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.”

I have since found that most Republicans are cautious with their sympathy. They want to know whether he was working when he got sick, as though unemployment deserves the death penalty.

When I call them out on it, they insist, “some people just want a handout.”

First of all, nobody “just wants a handout.” People want the dignity of access to lifesaving care.

Secondly, health care is not ever a handout. It is a basic human right, and we have a word for people who would deny others a basic human right that they, themselves, have. We call them fascists.

If you think my son deserved to die because insurance companies wouldn’t cover him and doctors at Memorial Health System in Savannah, Ga., wouldn’t care for him, you are a fascist in my book. “Profit before people” is about the shortest accurate definition of fascism there is.

I think that moment when we realized there was nothing more we could do was when I became convinced that my heart would stop when his did. I couldn’t picture life without him, so I would go with him.

As we were headed back to the parking garage, Mike turned around in his wheelchair and said, “What do you think I have, Mom? Two weeks?”

“God, I hope it’s more than that,” I said.

It wasn’t. In two weeks to the day, he would die. His heart would stop and mine would keep beating.

If you think I sound pissed as I watch the Democratic Party try to prepare me to accept another “centrist” candidate for president, another 1960s-era Republican who doesn’t care how many people die as long as the economy is growing, you’re right. I am.

You can curse me all you want for refusing to play that game any longer. Somewhere near a half million people have died the same way my son did in these last 11 years.

I do what I do so your child won’t die the way mine did.

I have every right to withhold my vote from people who don’t care enough about these human lives to fight for them.

In fact, I expect the same commitment from everyone who knows we need a universal health care system NOW. Not in another 11 years, but within two.

Believe me, I’d rather be with my son than be battling this kind of ignorance here now.

DO NOT try to convince me to vote for another right-winger for president. The creature currently squatting in the White House is not my fault. I voted for your “centrist” in 2016. You didn’t learn from that defeat. You will not get my vote again unless you put up an acceptable candidate.

Eleven years ago today, I learned what it was to lose all hope. We would have exactly two weeks left with my son.

 

 

Don’t blame me if you put up a candidate I can’t vote for

Until Beto says he will support Medicare for All, he will not get my support. Neither will any other candidate. Not in the primary and not in the general election.

Beto O’Rourke hasn’t said he supports Medicare for All.

Beto O’Rourke won’t get my vote unless he does.

John Hickenlooper said he doesn’t think health care for everyone should be a “litmus test for Democrats.”

John Hickenlooper won’t get my vote.

Jay Inslee has said, “Right now we need to embrace the things that we can have to move toward universal health coverage.”

Jay Inslee won’t get my vote.

Others have said we should “move toward” a single-payer system.

Even those who are willing to improve and expand Medicare want us to take our time getting there.

Unless “move toward” means everyone is covered within two years of your inauguration, you won’t get my vote.

I’m serious about this, and I will not move one bit on it.

A public option is no longer enough. People are dying every damn day while we dither on how we might move forward, while at the same time never moving forward.

It has been nine years since the Affordable Care Act passed. It did get 15 million more people insurance, but those numbers are falling since the current administration decided to sabotage the law, and even having insurance insures little more than the insurance companies’ profit.

How does a person making $10 an hour afford employer-sponsored insurance (which makes the person ineligible to buy affordable insurance through the Marketplace) that costs $700 a month and has a $6,000 deductible?

As one friend said to me last year, “I’d have to take out a $6,000 loan to get sick and that’s before all the co-pays.”

So, we still have about 33 million uninsured in the US, and millions more whose insurance gives them little or no access to health care. If it’s not deductibles and co-pays, it’s in- or out-of network, it’s denial outright denial of claims that the insurance company should pay for, but will deny if it can get away with it. It’s denial of a lifesaving drug because the policy’s formulary is so limited.

Insurance companies are still in charge and we must put an end to that.

And nearly all the Democrats are saying they won’t support an immediate move to Medicare for all. They don’t want to hurt Big Insurance by making it do what it’s supposed to, and they don’t want to get rid of the robber barons who run the for-profit insurance companies. Republicans think everything is fine, so we’re not even going to talk about them here.

Eleven years ago today, I was heading to Cary, where my son lived, so I could take him to his Tuesday chemo appointment. I still had hope we might have a few months left with him, that we might take a road trip during the summer so he could see friends and family in the Northeast one last time.

Mike had been sentenced to death, not because he had committed any crime, but because a birth defect was a pre-existing condition and the poor, struggling insurance companies likely wouldn’t make a profit off of him. So he was condemned to a slow, torturous death.

Doctors had been allowed to turn him away because he couldn’t pay.  The emergency room had met its legal obligation by giving him a laxative instead of looking for the malignant tumor that was blocking his colon.

Medicaid had been allowed to deny him access to care unless he separated from his beloved wife, and the Social Security Administration was allowed to take 36 months to approve his claim. The letter came 11 years ago March 10 — 36 months after he applied following a Stage 3 cancer diagnosis. His first check would come nine days after he died.

But Medicaid — once it had broken up his marriage — paid the drug companies, so they got their profit. The total cost of his chemo alone was about $600,000. The ostomy supply people got paid thousands of dollars over that 36 months, while the only help my son was offered was $10 a month in food stamps. He turned it down.

This is what life looks like for somebody who needs access to health care. This is what death looks like for someone who is denied that access.

People who own homes and have savings are reduced to the poverty in which my son was forced to exist. Most cancer patients go through their entire life’s savings in two years, leaving their families destitute, whether or not they survive.

Medical expenses account for two-thirds of bankruptcies in this nation. You can not be prepared for this unless you’re immensely wealthy, and every one of these Democratic candidates can put together millions of dollars, so they have no idea what it’s like for the rest of us.

I have taken a lot of heat for saying that I will not vote for a person who won’t support an immediate move to single-payer. But scream at me all you like, I will not support anyone who won’t work on fixing this first thing.

I have been patient. But close to a half million people have died since my son did. Jesus, people, how many more will it take before you get it?

Does it have to be your child before you see the scale of this disaster?

No one — I repeat, no one — will get my vote without a promise to make this (and climate change and living wages) a top priority. I can not be mollified with any promises except this one: “I will move on Day 1 to change this health care system to one that will care for everyone. I will not abandon this until we have a system in place.”

If you won’t make that promise, you can’t have my vote. Not in the primaries and not in the general election.

To the DNC: If you force another 1960s-era Republican on me, you will lose my vote. I will not be a good girl and get in line again. It’s up to you to make sure we get a candidate who will work on what 70 percent of voters overall — and 52 percent of Republican voters — want.

I know I’m not alone in this, and if enough of us come out and say we will blame the DNC if we get another “centrist” who won’t act on health care, living wages, voting rights, climate change and the war economy, perhaps the DNC will quit trying to block the candidates who will give us what we want.

If it means another four years of the current administration, it’s your fault, not mine. I am done being nice.

Eleven years ago today, I was packing the car to head out to my son’s. I had no idea that we had just 17 days left with him. I couldn’t imagine life without him, so I began to believe my heart would stop when his did. Part of me still wishes it had.

I wouldn’t wish the pain my family and I have endured on anyone, and for that reason, I will oppose any candidate who won’t promise to make a real solution to this mess a top priority. And a real solution means results within two years. I think that’s perfectly reasonable.

I can’t get my son back, but I can work so no more mothers lose their children the way I lost mine.

If you think you can change my mind, think again. I will not be placated by anything short of universal, affordable access to quality care. The rest of the world has it, and we will too.

 

 

A lesson in what Jesus would not do

El Greco, “The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind.”

Walking around the Legislature Building the other day, talking to Democrats and Republicans about the necessity of expanding access to health care, it happened again: Every Republican asked me whether my son was working when he got sick.

I gave them my usual answer: Yes, he was working and he was a full-time student with a 3.75 GPA. Now let me ask you a question. When did unemployment become punishable by death?

Every one of them replied, “Well, you know, some people just want a handout.”

“No,” I replied, “nobody wants a handout. I’ve worked with people in poverty. I’ve been in poverty. Nobody wants a handout.

“And another thing. Health care is not a handout. Never. Health care is a basic human right.

“And do you know what we call people who deny basic human rights to others?

“We call them fascists.”

I’m pretty sure every one of these Republicans calls themselves a Christian, so I’d like to offer a little pop quiz to them.

Question 1: Jesus is walking along and a blind man approaches him, begging for help. Does Jesus:

A) Tell the man he needs to get a job with health insurance.

B) Ask to see the man’s health insurance card and then say, “Oh, this isn’t covered under your plan. We can squeeze you in this afternoon, but you’ll have to bring $2300 cash. We don’t take checks.”

C) Tell the blind man to go to the Emergency Room so someone can take a look at him there.

D) Heal the blind man, no questions asked.

Question 2: Jesus is walking along the road and he feels as though power has drained from him. He turns to see an old woman, stooped low, who has had vaginal bleeding for years. She has touched the hem of his robe, hoping to be healed. Does Jesus:

A) Recoil in horror at the unclean woman and demand she be removed from his presence.

B) Tell her she can get free feminine hygiene supplies at the County Health Department.

C) Tell her she’s guilty of Eve’s Original Sin and what’s happened to her is exactly what she deserves.

D) Smile and say, “Your faith has healed you,” as she stands straight, no longer bleeding and thanks him profusely.

Question 3: Jesus is walking along and a man comes to him in a panic. The man’s son is possessed by a demon and the father is afraid it will kill the child. Does Jesus:

A) Tell the father there’s no such thing as demons and he should take the child to see a good neurologist.

B) Tell the father this looks like a mental illness and that’s not covered under his employer’s plan, but the next time the child has a “fit,” the parents should call the police, who will come and handcuff the boy, throw him in the back of a squad car and take him to the ER, where he’ll be handcuffed to a gurney until a psychiatric bed becomes available. Could be a couple of days.

C) Tell the father the demon is punishment for his own sins, so he’d better figure out what he did and pray really hard for forgiveness, and if he prays hard enough, the child will be healed. If the child remains possessed, it’s because the parents aren’t praying hard enough. (The irony here is that the disciples asked why they couldn’t heal the sick and Jesus told them their faith wasn’t strong enough — just in case you thought I didn’t know my Bible stuff.)

D) Heal the child, no co-pays or deductibles charged, no questions asked.

I’m not going to tell you the answers. You can figure them out for yourself. I think if you’re the Christian you say you are, if you read the words of the man you claim to follow and take them seriously, you’ll get the answers right.

I think if you truly believe we can and should allow people to die because those of us with the privilege of access to health care think they’re somehow undeserving of what we have, then you’ll fail this quiz.

What’s worse, though, is that you fail as a moral human being, no matter what faith you claim.

The sacred walks among us in many unexpected forms

Onstage at the annual Moral March on Raleigh, from the left, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman; NC NAACP Health Care Committee Chair Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler; Debbie Bracer, whose son died from lack of access to health care, and me. 
Yesterday, I stood onstage at the 13th Annual Moral March on Raleigh, in solidarity with a woman whose son died from lack of access to health care.
Debbie is a couple years younger than I am. She still has two sons, but she weeps every time she utters the name of the one she doesn’t have anymore. Still. Two years out.
He was denied the drug he needed to survive because he wasn’t rich enough to afford it, and he died. She spoke about the pain of not being able to touch him, or hear his voice, as tears dripped onto her jacket.
She used a cane to stand, and I stood on her other side, my arm around her shoulders. Others stood with us to emphasize that we stand together for access to health care for everyone.
Before she spoke, she looked out at the crowd. Previously, she had told me she didn’t know if she could get through her speech, so I told her I’d be there to finish it for her if she couldn’t get through it.
But as she looked out at the crowd, she stood a little straighter. She handed the photo of her son to me and whispered, “I can do this.”
And then she did.
He looked just like his mama. They had the same smile, the same eyes.
Debbie feels as though the world doesn’t just hate her for being black, but also because she is a lesbian. She left a bad marriage after her third son was born and realized she had married for all the wrong reasons.
I wondered how anyone could hate a loving mother, a woman who fought so hard for her child’s life, when she told me, “I have two strikes against me in the eyes of powerful people.”
As I left the stage with Debbie, I recalled a middle school Sunday school class from a dozen or so years ago.
The lesson was “The Unexpected Jesus,” and the kids and I discussed what Jesus would look like if he came back today. We discussed the parameters first: It would have to be someone reviled by many Christians. It would have to be someone powerless in today’s power structure.
We talked about the Unexpected Jesus, the Jesus who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, who spurned and challenged the powerful. We talked about the carpenter’s son, who recruited a few fishermen and changed the world.
So, we agreed that this Unexpected Jesus could come in many forms, not just that of a Jewish carpenter’s son from a small village in Galilee.
Suddenly someone said, “I think he’d come back as a big black lesbian.”
The room was quiet for a moment, and then we all blurted out something to the effect of, “Perfect!”
Now every time I see a black lesbian suffering because of her skin color and/or sexual orientation, I see Jesus.
I saw Jesus in Debbie yesterday, in the kindness and love of a woman who has lost something so precious it can’t be verbalized. All she can do us weep at the mention of her precious child’s name. I saw a woman whose human value is called into question because of her skin color and sexual orientation instead of a woman crushed by the grief of losing her child to injustice.
But I don’t see Jesus only in the life of my new friend. Jesus is so much more than that.
I see Jesus in the Latino child in a cage.
I see Jesus in the veteran who can’t get treatment for PTSD.
I see Jesus in the girl who has been kidnapped into sexual slavery.
I see Jesus in the faithful Muslim.
I see Jesus in the bereaved mother whose son died from lack of access to health care.
I see him in the low-wage worker whose rent and electric bill are coming due the same day and whose children are hungry and ill-clothed, and in the trans man who’s being harassed in the rest room, and in the homeless person who’s being chased from the sheltered doorway during a rainstorm.
I do not see him in the people calling for a wall at the Southern border, or in the people refusing to vote to increase the minimum wage to a living wage. I don’t see him in the people who make excuses for racism or misogyny. I don’t see him in the people who deny others the health care to which they themselves have full access, or in the people who accuse poor people of being lazy.
If you see Jesus in the powerful and not in the powerless, perhaps you need to re-read the red print in the Gospels. Perhaps you also need to go back and read the laws in the Old Testament — not the ones that talk about sex, but the ones that talk about treatment of the poor and downtrodden.
I’m tired of white privilege. I’m tired of the vitriol against people who are different, whoever or whatever they are.
I’m tired of the war on the poor.
Remember, Jesus was a poor man, likely a dark-skinned man. He spoke out against wealth and the privilege it brings. If you don’t see the sacred in Debbie, you need to re-examine your faith.

You can’t erase their lives

Me, singing as I was arrested for the fifth time for trying to talk to lawmakers about fixing our broken health care system.

I got arrested again.

For the fifth time, I was arrested for trying to speak to lawmakers about the mess that is our health care system.

They don’t care.

They don’t care that tens of thousands of people die prematurely every year, and that millions can’t afford the care they need, even with insurance.

They practice the religion of I-got-mine-get-your-own, as they and their families all have the best care this country has to offer.

I was a speaker at the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Washington on Monday, and we had a coffin in front of the stage to illustrate the fact that innocent people are dying every day from lack of access to health care and from industrial pollution.

And as these things happen, those in power continue to roll back environmental regulations and chip away at the Affordable Care Act, which has given millions of Americans access to the care they need.

As I was about to step up to the microphone, the police told organizers that they had to remove the coffin.

Several times, I have been denied entry to legislators’ offices and public events because I won’t surrender the photo I carry of my late son. That’s why I have the T-shirt with his photo on it. So far, no one has tried to confiscate that. But the forced removal of the casket became the same thing as the attempted confiscation of my son’s photo.

Something in me snapped.

It’s as though they want to erase the lives they have sacrificed on the altar of greed.

I stepped up to the mic.

“You can force us to remove this symbol, but that doesn’t change the fact that my son lived!” I said. “He DID exist. He was here. He was loved. And he was murdered by a broken system.”

The crowd began to chant, “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” But the casket was removed anyway.

The problem is, these people who have the power to save tens of thousands of lives a year refuse to make any move to do so. In fact, the “Justice” Department has announced it no longer will defend the Affordable Care Act in court when states challenge it.

These powerful people call themselves “pro-life,” and “Christian,” as they try to take away women’s rights to control their own bodies, and I’m not just talking about abortion. I’m talking about attacks on contraception and on women’s health clinics, which are the only access to health care many poor women have.

As it says on the T-shirt with my son’s photo on it, “When you take away access to care, real people die.”

And closing women’s clinics is taking away access to care.

When you care more about whether a woman is having “moral” sex than her very life, you are not pro-life.

When you care more about whether a business has to serve a gay couple than you do about real people’s lives, you are not pro-life.

When you think people should have to work three full-time jobs at minimum wage just to make a living wage, you are not pro-life.

When you attack education, you are not pro-life.

When you attack Meals on Wheels, food stamps and free and reduced-price school lunches, you are not pro-life.

When you put people who have committed nonviolent crimes into for-profit prisons, you are not pro-life.

When you think we’re OK spending more than half of all our nation’s discretionary dollars on the war economy, you are not pro-life.

When you tear children from their parents’ arms and place them in cages in an old Walmart, you are not pro-life.

When you hate someone because of the color of their skin or the name of the god they worship, you are not pro-life.

When you rob people of the right to vote to determine the destiny of their own nation, you are not pro-life.

When you’re OK with children’s lives being snuffed out so that you can continue to have unfettered access to high-powered, military-grade guns, you are not pro-life.

When you think it’s perfectly OK to poison the water and the land of poor people, you are not pro-life.

These murderers seem just a little uncomfortable being reminded of the lives they have been responsible for ending.

Bad public policy is lethal, and they don’t want to be reminded of that. They only want to think of themselves and how much more money and power they can amass.

But people are beginning to rise up. Thousands have been arrested during nonviolent protests in the last month, and more are coming.

We are coming for the corrupt people in power.

We are coming to end the greed that fuels our government now.

We are coming to save the lives being lost to that greed.

We are the ones who are pro-life.

We are the ones who are moral.

We are the ones you should fear because we will win, maybe not in November, but eventually.

Your days are numbered.

We. Will. Win.

You can take away my son’s coffin, you can try to confiscate his photo, you can call me names, you can arrest me.

But you will not erase my beloved son’s life. I will not allow that.

 

 

 

 

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