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.

Why I march

Here I am on the day of my second arrest, May 13, 2015. I'll be in Raleigh again on Saturday with tens of thousands of others who want a better life for people here in North Carolina.

Here I am on the day of my second arrest, May 13, 2015. I’ll be in Raleigh again on Saturday with tens of thousands of others who want a better life for people here in North Carolina.

This Saturday is the 10th annual Moral March in Raleigh, sponsored by the HKonJ Coalition.

HKonJ stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street and originated as a march to remind elected officials that we stand together for sound public policies.

The Moral March and HKonJ are part of the Forward Together Moral Movement, a beautifully diverse effort to get our government to listen to reason and stop harming the people they were elected to represent.

We are young and old, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist and agnostic; we are gay and straight, black, white, brown and mixed-race; we are immigrants and citizens liberal and conservative, men and women, students, professionals, laborers, executives and unemployed, we are people with and without disabilities, and out unity makes us strong.

When the Democrats led the General Assembly, they were’t perfect, but they would sit down and talk to us — and they would listen. They didn’t always do what we wanted, but they were open to discussion.

Then the Republicans took control and everything changed. Discussion wasn’t an option anymore. They came in and immediately began making bad policies — cutting funds for education, gutting unemployment insurance, denying access to health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, limiting women’s access to reproductive care, allowing our waterways to be polluted by Big Energy, increasing access to guns, cutting access to the vote, gerrymandering district lines and more.

I know first-hand what it is to lose someone I loved to bad public policy. My son died from lack of access to health care because our system cares more about profit than about human lives. I want to tell my son’s story to some of the people who are voting to deny a half million people access to health care. Others in the movement were or are unemployed, or affected by coal ash spills or are teachers who can’t make ends meet on their low salaries. Still others are fast-food workers who work two and three jobs and still can’t feed their families.

When we tried to make appointments to talk to them, most of our legislators ignored us. Those who did agree to meet with us individually were not open to listening.

We tried writing letters, but that didn’t do any good.

Meanwhile teachers began leaving the state in record numbers. People who lost jobs through no fault of their own — and who lost their access to health care in the process — had to take low-wage jobs, Many lost their homes. Worst of all, people died — and continue to die every day — because they can’t get access to health care.

So, we started going into the General Assembly Building to try and talk to legislators, as is our right under the North Carolina Constitution. We found the doors to the observation galleries locked. We stood in the rotunda and sang and prayed, and our legislators had us all arrested.

By the end of 2013, about 1,000 people had been arrested. In 2014, nearly all of us had all our charges dropped because we had been arrested for trespassing in a public building that was open. The charges of carrying signs (I only had this photo of my son) and chanting and loud singing were thrown out almost immediately as violations of our First Amendment rights.

Still, we had to go to Raleigh every month for court dates and we often were forced to sit in court all day, waiting for a call that didn’t come. I went seven times before my charges were dismissed on appeal. I was found guilty by a judge on my sixth trip.

In 2015, they waited for us to go into the building, then closed it and told us we had to leave. We stayed because we knew legislative leaders were in their offices and we wanted to speak to them. We were arrested again.

The Moral Movement has made a difference. Our voting rights lawsuits are making their way through the courts, and just last week, two Congressional districts were found to be illegal because they were drawn based on race.

We aren’t just protesting, though — we are educating people, and we are registering people to vote. Many of us have signed a pledge to register 50 new voters before Election Day.

This Moral March won’t involve any arrests; it is an opportunity for all of us to come together to ask out government to do what’s best for the people, not the bidding of corporate overlords.

We will march, we will sing, we will chant and we will hear the stories of people whose lives have been torn apart by the bad policies of this government.

Our theme is Our Time, Our Vote, and we’ll be talking about how to get a government that’s more in tune with the needs of the governed.

This is an important event for anyone who hopes for a better North Carolina.

 

 

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