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.

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