An unjust system treats people arbitrarily

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

 

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

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

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

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

I alone was offered nothing in advance.

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

Was I going to be thrown in jail?

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

Why was I singled out?

Because they can, that’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Consider your privilege

At Wednesday’s kickoff of the National Poor People’s Campaign, Bishop Dr. William Barber II called for a commitment from those present to work on various aspects of the Poor People’s Campaign. Hundreds came forward to offer, time, money, their very bodies, to the campaign.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my privilege lately as I hear people vilify the poor and people of color.

“Poor people should obey the law,” says one white man who can afford to pay the $185 court cost that comes with the $15 speeding ticket. That same white man probably had no fear of being dragged from his car, beaten, shot or thrown in jail for “resisting arrest.” It never occurs to him that he could be jailed indefinitely for not having the money to pay court costs, or even be shot leaning over to get his registration and insurance card from the glove compartment. Then, as he’s bleeding out, the cop concocts a story that he smelled pot and feared for his life and gets away with your murder.

I know when I was stopped for speeding a couple of years ago, I was well aware of all of that. Later, as I wrote out the check for $195 — without ever seeing any official of the court, so I have no idea why I was charged $180 — I realized there was a time in my life I would not have been able to come up with the money.

That inability would lead to a bench warrant being issued, which could have landed me in jail at this time and in this place.

Oh, and your constitutionally guaranteed access to an attorney here in North Carolina comes with the proviso that if you are found guilty, you will have to pay the lawyer.

Now, add in the fact that many people who are not guilty consent to a plea rather than a trial because they don’t want to risk jail and you have innocent people being penalized by crippling debt just to avoid jail — and if they can’t pay up, they go to jail.

In other words, if you work at a low-paying job, you are more likely to land in our broken “justice” system, and you’re very likely to be caught up in the system for a long time, to wind up going to jail and then losing that low-paying job.

I don’t want to hear the cry of the privileged that these people should just look for better jobs — there are no better jobs for people who aren’t college-educated. And don;t pontificate that perhaps they should have made better choices when they were 16, like you did. You likely had choices; a lot of kids in poverty don’t. The good manufacturing jobs are gone, replaced by jobs that pay $10 an hour or less. Minimum wage is less than half of what it takes to live. Mom and Dad can both work full-time and still not be able to make ends meet.

That’s not laziness, that’s deliberate abuse on the part of a nation whose laws permit this abuse.

Here in North Carolina, we have honed the abuse of poor people to a fine art. We are the only state ever to take away an earned-income tax credit. We are the only state ever to cut the duration and the amount of unemployment insurance compensation. We have refused to take the federal money (that WE paid in federal taxes) to expand access to health care to a half million human beings.

We have so vilified poor people that when I talk about my son’s death from lack of access to health care, Republicans’ first reaction is to ask, “Was he working?”

That’s right, “Was he working?”

I spoke to a woman today whose 7-year-old son has autism. She wants to get him a therapy dog because he responds so well to animals. But the cost is $25,000 (it costs about $20,000 to train one of these dogs). She lives on disability because she has frequent seizures and other serious health problems. The organization told her there is no grant money to help low-income people get these dogs, but they put up a page for her son at their own web site. She is not permitted to put up her own Go Fund Me page.

What this tells me is that unless you’re wealthy, you can’t have one of these dogs. She is poor so her son is very, very unlikely to ever get this help.

She is not lazy. She worked until her health would no longer permit it, and she would work again if she could, although she likely would not find a high-wage job where she lives.

This is a person who deserves the help her son needs. She doesn’t love her child any less than people with money love their children. Her little boy deserves the help he needs.

Last night, I attended the kickoff of the National Poor People’s Campaign at a Antioch Baptist Church in Charlotte.

I stood with people whom others think are undeserving of anything — even life itself. I held their hands, sang with them, cheered with them, hugged them and cried with them. Now I will work with them to make sure they are afforded the dignity they deserve.

This is a fight for the soul of our culture.

Will we choose money over our soul?

Will we choose hatred over the love every major religion commands of us?

I’m standing on the side of love.

If you want to know more about the National Poor People’s Campaign, visit https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/.

 

 

So, what’s next?

Nine of us spent the day together, much of it holding hands to make sure nobody got lost. What a day!

We birthed a movement yesterday.

Millions of us came out to tell the people in power that we will not tolerate the dismantling of the social contract we have built over the last 300 years.

We came out and showed the world what a peaceful demonstration looks like. More than a million people in Washington demonstrated without a single arrest. Not one.

While we waited in a line a half mile long to board a train to the city, we sang freedom songs, chanted and learned a little about each other.

Things even got silly as we chanted, “What do we want? A RIDE! When do we want it? NOW!”

It took us four and a half hours to get from the bus to the rally, but we never lost our cool. We were part of it from the moment we stepped off the bus, together in our desire to pursue justice and prevent the carnage the 1 percent wants to release on our country.

Signs ranged from simple two-word slogans (Dump Trump) to profane (This pussy grabs back) to clever (Can’t comb over sexism) to profound ( I march because she deserves every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve her dreams).

One of my favorite signs from the Women’s March in Washington.

My little group of nine women never got into the march area because there was no room. We got close and then couldn’t move in any direction until someone else moved back and we followed, all holding onto each other. We did that three times as we tried to get across the mall to meet the North Carolina delegation, and weren’t successful.

No matter, we were there. We were part of history, and we won’t ever forget that.

While the official government count was 500,000, the mayor of DC said at noon (as crowds of us were still trying to get into the city) there were 680,000. Before the Administration shut down its Twitter account, the Metro Police estimated 1.5 million people. Now, there’s a real fact.

This is as close as we could get.

Then, the alternative-fact-er in chief came out and said he had 1.5 million people at his coronation.

He did not. Metro Police told us there were empty seats on every train into the city on Coronation Day. An elevator operator at L’Enfant Plaza told us he was able to squeeze in a quick nap or two, but that on March Day, he hadn’t had a single break.

There are those who say the march was all white people whining about losing, but the diversity was everywhere I looked. I walked beside blacks and whites, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Pagans and more.

This was not about losing an election (which actually, we didn’t, since we won the popular vote by 3 million). We were there for a purpose: to tell the people in power that we expect them to use it with wisdom, compassion and justice.

Now we have to show them we mean it.

I know how wonderful yesterday felt; I’m still basking in the joy of its solidarity. I plan to spend all day today basking in it.

But we have work to do, and lots of it.

What is your next step? What will you do to ensure we keep our liberties intact and move forward rather than backward toward hate and division?

The man who won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by 3 million is already talking about “alternative facts.” I call them lies and I will continue to call them out. We all have to do that.

They know that if you repeat a lie enough times, people begin to believe it. It’s how we got climate change deniers. It’s how people came to believe Hillary Clinton is a murderer. It’s how that man “won” the election.

This government already is talking about dismantling the entire social contract we have built — public education, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, Veterans services, disability services and more.

They actually are in the minority, but the public apathy they have fostered, the distrust of government, have had a profound effect on our elections.

We must vote, at the very, very least. As they try to take away our votes with laws aimed at suppressing the votes against them, we have to turn out in numbers so large that they’ll still lose.

And our votes must be informed votes. We must learn about the issues so that the “alternate facts” don’t blind us.

We need our legislators to know our names because we call, write and e-mail each of them at least once a week. If enough of us do that, they’ll know we’ll send them home if they don’t do OUR business.

Several years ago, when I approached Rep. Mark Meadows and introduced myself, he sneered, “Oh, I know who you are.” I was thrilled. I’m trouble.

We all need to be trouble, to keep showing up at demonstrations and letting our legislators know that we’re watching what they’re doing and how they’re voting.

We need to run for office, locally, at the state and at the federal levels.

I felt an energy yesterday that I haven’t felt in many, many years. There was an air of hope that we can change the course of history, and I believe we can.

But we won’t change anything if we just go home, share photos and say, “I was there.”

One friend, a former editor, just bought the Internet domain, www.alternativefacts.me, where I believe he will call out lies. He’s known to call out fake news posts; I assume he’ll do that and more with his web site.

You don’t have to build a web site, but you can call out lies on social media when you see them. Before you share a story, find another source so you know it’s true. I’m pretty careful, but I’ve been fooled a couple times when I didn’t check.

It is our job to continue the work we started yesterday.

We birthed a movement. Now we must nurture it, grow it, work for it and make sure it makes the difference we need.

What are you going to do next?

 

 

 

It isn’t about hate?

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel that President Barack Obama is staying the night, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City.  Obama is traveling in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP
People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel where President Barack Obama is staying Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Obama is in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. 

When President Obama arrived in Oklahoma City last night, he was greeted by a crowd of people waving the Confederate battle flag and shouting their displeasure.

While it’s true the majority of people there had come to support the President, this group of about 80 people made the whole city look bad.

I support their right to be there, and to heckle the country’s first African-American president with a symbol offensive to most African-Americans. It’s all protected by the First Amendment. However, when you scream hateful things at someone while waving a flag you know to be offensive to him, you lose your credibility when you say the flag is not a symbol of hate.

I know I said awful things about Bush, Cheney & company, and I stand by those things because it was about policy. I was willing to give Bush a chance after the Supreme Court anointed him, but he blew it all on two ill-advised wars, one of them an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with the attack on 9/11.

President Obama has just finished crafting a deal with Iran that will bring them back into the world economy and allow for inspections of their nuclear program. He did it without “boots on the ground” or bombs in the air.

He did it quietly and without fanfare — and without public saber-rattling.

And he was attacked as soon as the deal was announced.

War is big business, and if we stabilize things in the Middle East, there might be no more war there. That would make the Military Industrial Complex unhappy.

And if, as our president wants, we revamp our “justice” system, big jail corporations lose money.

The right wing rules by fear — fear that Muslims are coming for us in our sleep. When I was a child, it was the Communists who were coming for us in our sleep. That’s why we fought in Vietnam, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here. That’s why we fought in Iraq, so we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

Do you see a pattern? Of course. But Fox News viewers won’t see it because they’re swallowing everything the fear-mongers have to say.

This president, although I disagree with him on some issues, has accomplished a great deal in spite of every effort by the Republicans to derail him.

Hate him all you want, but history likely will judge him as one of our best, and Bush will go down as our worst.

 

“No justice, no peace!”

njnpNo justice, no peace.

The first time I heard those words, I was disturbed.

Was it a call for armed revolution? Was it an invitation to overthrow the current order?

As it turns out, it is neither.

It is a call to treat all human beings with respect.

As it is, people in this country live without hope of things ever getting better. Unless you have experienced hopelessness, you can not understand what it can do to a person.

Let’s say you live in a poor neighborhood where there are few, if any jobs. You’re told if you stay in school things will get better, but you stay in school and you’re still treated as though your life doesn’t matter.

People with authority and power treat you as though you’re worthless. They can stop and frisk you for no reason and shoot to kill if you don’t comply.

It’s completely arbitrary. You can walk through the neighborhood one day and get stopped and humiliated the next.

When you walk into a store, people assume you’re there to steal and you get followed as you browse.

These indignities add up, one by one, day after day.

Michael Brown stayed in school and was about to start college, but that didn’t give him immunity from being shot six times by a white police officer.

The prosecutor said the police officer saw that Michael Brown matched the description that had been sent out as someone who had robbed a convenience store.

First of all, it has been established already that the officer did not have the description, and that, although there was an altercation at the store, the film appears to show Michael Brown putting money on the counter.

Second, if Michael Brown did steal cigars, that should not mean he gets the death penalty.

This is what I mean about living without hope that things will ever get better.

This child’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours. Is it any wonder that residents of Ferguson believe the police were fixing “evidence” while he lay there?

How can anyone be at peace when they live with the disrespect these human beings face every day?

Meanwhile, the people with power have to protect what they have. They have to make it appear that Michael Brown deserved to die and that the officer was completely justified in using deadly force.

How can they have any sense of peace when they’re living in fear of an uprising because of the injustices they perpetrate?

When I say, “No justice, no peace,” I mean that we can’t have peace on either side as long as part of the population lives with intimidation and fear, underpaid, disrespected and with no hope of anything changing.

Had Darryl Wilson been indicted and a trial held, even if he was exonerated, at least there would have been an open debate about what happened. We might not have been happy with the results, but there would have been at least a modicum of respect for Michael Brown and his family.

Instead, he will walk away, his actions condoned. That sends a powerful message to people whose lives are affected every day by indignities and disrespect. When you remove hope from someone’s life, they have nothing to lose by lashing out in anger. Their neighborhood feels like a prison, so what do what have to lose by rioting and lighting fires?

We can’t live in peace if a minority of the population spends all its time trying to protect itself and its power and wealth by denying the rights of others to live a decent life.

Things won’t get better until we truly understand the meaning of “No justice, no peace” as a call to respect others and not as a call to rebellion and violence.

Cry tonight, fight tomorrow

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this frustrated.

A minority of North Carolina’s registered voters just robbed hundreds of thousand of people of their rights.

Our state constitution has been amended to discriminate against people who aren’t legally married all in the name of “family values.”

Now we don’t just have a law discriminating against gays and lesbians by denying them the right to marry, we have enshrined it into our constitution and in the process robbed everyone who isn’t married legally of their rights and benefits.

People who were insured by the employers of their domestic partners will lose their insurance benefits and their rights to any say in the care of the people they love.

Parents will lose rights to their children, and children will lose health benefits.

People who suffer domestic abuse will lose their protections because they aren’t legally married to the person who’s beating the crap out of them. Sure, they can charge their abusers with assault, but they won’t have the added protections they had this morning. No order of protection, no arrest if he comes back to the house, unless he beats her senseless again or succeeds in killing her.

Let’s be clear about this: Amendment One will cause people to die — from lack of insurance, from domestic abuse — all in the process of mixing religion and the law. Because nearly everyone who objects to LGBT relationships does so for religious reasons.

We in North Carolina have taken a huge step back. We have placed hate and bigotry into our constitution, and people will die because of it.

I’m sick to my stomach tonight. I’m going to have a stiff drink and a short pity-party, then I’m going to bed because I’ll need my energy in the morning when the fight begins anew.

I want justice, and I can be damned tenacious.

‘I’ll do anything’

A rainy Monday in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. Occupiers believe they're about to be evicted and arrested, even though they were told they could stay for four months just a few weeks ago.

I drove some winter tents and heaters from a military tent surplus store near my house to Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, last week. As I was in the office arranging to have my U-Haul loaded, a man came in, cap in hand, and asked if the company was hiring.

“We might be soon,” the woman said. “But it’s really hard, heavy work.”

The man looked to be in his 40s.

“That’s OK,” he said. “I can do that. I’ll do anything.”

He hadn’t worked in a year, and because the job he had before that — setting up mobile homes — was as an independent contractor, he wasn’t collecting unemployment benefits.

That’s a trick contractors play often. You can work for the same place for years, be there on time every day and work hard, and still not be able to collect when you get canned. They avoid paying benefits and they avoid having any responsibility if something happens to you.

The man had applied to several home center stores, but was turned away because he had bad credit. That’s right, Home Depot does a credit check on you when you apply for a job and then turns you away if your score is too low.

He’ll stop back in at the tent surplus company and maybe they’ll have a job for him. They won’t do a credit check, either.

It stiffened my resolve to stay involved with the Occupy Movement, and to be more involved with the one here in Asheville.

The 1 percent is getting out its big guns to get rid of us, though. Reportedly, the federal Department Homeland Security has been advising mayors on conference calls about how to break up the camps. Here in Asheville, ours has moved a couple of times and dozens of people have been arrested.

Occupy is not going away, no matter how many camps are broken up. We will gather elsewhere. We will gather on private property if we have to — there are churches and other organizations that support what we are doing. We will continue to educate people about the many ways the 1 percent is screwing us. We will continue to have direct actions.

This movement is not fading away as the media would have us believe. There were more tents in Freedom Plaza when I was there than there were when I left six weeks ago, and McPherson Square is even more crowded. Both camps have received notice that they will be broken up, but neither is moving. No one is afraid of being arrested because we all are committed to making meaningful change.

The media keep demanding a list of demands. We keep telling them what’s happening to Americans and they say we’re unfocused. Perhaps it seems that way because there are so many things wrong. We all have our favorite issues — I have worked toward quality health care for all Americans, others have worked for a living wage, safe and affordable housing, labor rights, education, mental health and disability rights, a cleaner environment and a move toward sustainable and renewable energy sources. None of us has made much headway on any of these justice issues. The 1 percent’s corrupt money is like a brushfire. No sooner do we put it out in one place than another flame pops up.

Under the banner of the Occupy movement, we are working together now, and we are not going away.

The message is clear

 

I’m in the first 9. Can you spot me?

The mainstream media have been saying our message isn’t clear. Well, I don’t know how to make it any clearer.

We want corrupt corporate influence out of our government.

Without the influence of Wall Street, we would have had strong financial reform already.

Without the influence of big banks, we would have gotten credit reform with teeth.

Without the influence of insurance, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing companies, we would have gotten meaningful health care reform.

Without the influence of the military industrial complex we wouldn’t have wars and other overseas adventures going on.

We want our Democracy back.

The word “mob” is being used to describe what we’re doing, but we are not a mob.

We are nonviolent.

We are acting by consensus, and that’s very hard to do.  It takes painstaking detail and total agreement on each action. In Washington that first night, we spent an hour discussing whether people would sleep in Freedom Plaza, which is illegal, or on city sidewalks, which is legal. The decision came down to stay on the plaza.

Yesterday, after the October 2011 permit expired, the police told demonstrators they won’t interfere for four months.

There has been no violence at Freedom Plaza, although there was the Smithsonian incident where an editor for the American Standard infiltrated our march and shoved a security guard, leading to the pepper-spraying of dozens of marchers. Even after we were hit with pepper spray, several of us walked around calming protesters and reminding them that this is a nonviolent movement and that goes for verbal expression too.

The thing that makes us look muddled is that advovates for a dozen different issues finally have come together. My primary issue is health care; others are working for an end to our wars, an end to the use of unmanned drones, true finance reform, education, poverty, justice system reform, and end to the death penalty, a real living wage … So you’ll see any number of signs.

But we all want the same thing: to get corporations out of government and have it work for the people again.

What scares the 1 percent is that we, the 99 percent, have come together. We are one for economic, social and civil justice.

 

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