Banned from the building

A number of us who were arrested on May 30 were in court for the hearing on Wednesday.

 

I have been banned from the building where North Carolina legislators work.

I am told I have no right to address my legislators, even though the North Carolina Constitution guarantees me that right.

I am told I can’t go back until the second-degree, misdemeanor trespass charge against me has been resolved.

But the last time I was arrested for the same charge, I was never tried. The charges just sat there, unaddressed by the court, for two years before they were finally dismissed for failure to prosecute.

This is what they want to do: Keep those of us who disagree with the radical and cruel turn our state has taken in the last six years out of their way and silent.

I was arrested on May 30 for trying to go into the (public) office of NC Senate leader Phil Berger. Two guards blocked the door and told me it was private property. It is not. They told me I have no right to go in and wait to speak to him. I did and I do. They shushed me. If you know me, you know I will not be shushed.

Were we disruptive? After we were denied access, we did begin to chant, sing and pray. We were there to talk about health care, not to be disruptive and certainly not to be arrested, although we knew that was a distinct possibility.

What I really wanted was the chance to speak to Sen. Berger. I have tried again and again, but he refuses to see me. Instead he has had me arrested twice (then-Speaker, now US Senator, Thom Tillis had me arrested the first time).

My release form tells me I am to stay out of the General Assembly Building “until authorized to return.” It says nothing about who will authorize or when. In essence, it bans me for life, along with the 31 others who were arrested with me.

We challenged that order in court. Our hearing was Wednesday and I was appalled at the behavior of the judge who heard the case. He repeatedly interrupted our attorney with disrespectful comments and inane questions, once comparing the order to an order to keep disruptive people off the property of a Sheetz gas station.

Our attorney, Geeta Kapur, had to remind him that people have no constitutional right to speak to the employees of a gas station, but we do have the express right to address our legislators at the place where we pay them to be — in the building we paid to build and continue to pay to maintain.

After repeated interruptions as our attorney tried to explain our argument, she finally said, “Your honor, if you would stop interrupting me, I would be happy to answer the question.”

It was obvious he agreed with the order, which could have come from the General Assembly Police or the legislative leadership — neither of whom want to be bothered with anyone critical of their radical policies. It was also obvious the judge had no respect for us or our attorney. He was very much up front about that, and very obviously not impartial.

He amended the order to say we have to stay out until charges are dealt with, but that could mean two years if they do the same thing they did in 2015. Some of us can go into the building if we are invited for a specific meeting with a specific legislator. But those of us who have previous second-degree trespass arrests can’t — even though my previous two charges were dismissed. That means I continue to be punished for a crime for which I was not found guilty.

We are not willing to go quietly, though, and Rev. William Barber has promised we will appeal. In 2013, the order to keep out of the building was overturned quickly, and I imagine this one will be overturned on appeal.

The thing is, all of you should worry about this. It is not just an order to silence 31 people. If  it stands, this is an infringement on our rights as citizens, on our rights to assemble and speak freely, on our right to instruct our lawmakers. The radicals in that building want to silence us and to do their work in secret.

The US Supreme Court has found their voting restrictions illegal. The US Supreme Court has found their gerrymandered districts illegal. Both decisions were unanimous.

In other words, these people who are dismantling our social safety net, our education system and our voting rights are not in that building legally. Their very election was illegal.

When their candidate lost the governor’s office, they robbed the governor of many of his powers, including his power to appoint his own cabinet. They robbed the attorney general of his power to sue them over their illegal activities.

This is a coup and we the people are the only ones who can stop it. There are 32 of us who are not free to address our legislators where they do their work. We need others to go in and speak for us. We can’t let them silence us.

 

Why I go to Raleigh for Moral Mondays

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

This is from two weeks ago, when we had about 2,000 people. We had about the same size crowd last Monday when there was a tornado watch. We are dedicated to making change.

I think it’s important to talk about Moral Mondays here,  to explain why I got involved, why I got arrested on May 13, and why I continue to go for the rallies.

First of all, let me say in response to those who say we can’t accomplish anything with these demonstrations, I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t think we could make a difference, and I am willing to tolerate the vitriol of people who would discourage us because I think they are afraid of us and what we stand for.

I go because I feel a moral obligation to protest the General Assembly’s and the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Their ideological decision puts a half-million lives at risk in this state, and estimates are that at least 2,000 will die prematurely because of this decision,

Those lives matter to me. Each one of them matters. I don’t care if it is a homeless person who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. I believe each life has worth. If you don’t believe the same, please don’t call yourself pro-life in front of me.

My primary passion is health care, but when we take away unemployment compensation from more than 70,000 people, it has consequences. Most of them also lack access to health care because you can’t pay for COBRA if you don’t have any income, and most adults aren’t eligible for Medicaid here in NC.

When we de-fund schools, we rob children of the chance to rise out of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. They also will be the ones most likely to not have access to health care later on.

These issues are deeply connected to each other. Living wage impacts poverty, and all the stresses that come with it. People who have enough to live on are healthier overall because they don’t have the stresses associated with poverty.

I have visited my legislators repeatedly to educate them on the importance of access to health care and about the lower costs associated with access to care. My representative voted against Medicaid expansion. He voted to cut unemployment benefits. He supports a voter ID law that is a thinly disguised poll tax.

I am frustrated beyond words. I cannot fathom the reasoning behind barring access to health care for 500,000 people.

Our state’s computer system is their first excuse. It isn’t up to the task, they say. But then they decline to mention that we turned down federal money to upgrade the system.

When I reminded them of that, they said we have to fix Medicaid first. Well, North Carolina’s Medicaid system was a national model until its funding was slashed two years ago. Restore the funding and the system will be a model again. Instead, though, they are going to try and privatize it the way they did with the mental health system a decade ago. That “reform,” you may recall, was an unmitigated disaster.

When I explain that, they usually have a meeting they have to rush off to.

They aren’t listening, and it frustrates those of us who oppose what they’re doing. My heart breaks for people who will die because of these misguided decisions; it breaks for the families of those casualties.

Unless you have held the hand of a loved one as he or she dies unnecessarily, you can’t know the pain.

As a person of faith, I take seriously the Bible’s instruction to care for “the least of these.” And it is not just Christianity that requires this of people; it is a basic tenet of every major religion, and it is important to just about every atheist I know.

That’s why nearly 400 people have gone into the Legislature Building and been arrested. Dozens of them are clergy. Some are teachers and professors, students, old, young, black, white, Asian, hippies and lawyers.  This is a diverse crowd, and its members are passionate about justice for all North Carolinians, not just the wealthiest.

As the ones being arrested go into the building, they are cheered by a crowd of thousands. Hundreds of people move to the side of the building to await the departure of prison buses filled with people who are not afraid to speak truth to power.

When I was arrested, those cheering voices assured me I was doing the right thing. They gave me courage and hope.

I do not go to Moral Mondays for political reasons; I go for moral reasons. I go because if I do nothing, I am as much to blame as those taking the immoral actions.

I go because every life has worth.

We the people mean business

This was taken May 13, the night I got arrested.

This was taken May 13, the night I got arrested.

Moral Monday is rolling around again, and I plan to go to Raleigh to support those people who are volunteering to be arrested.

I was arrested on May 13 and I am banned from Legislature property until my case is resolved. I go to court on July 1.

My friend, Sarah Skinner, and I are going and there’s room for two or three more people in my car. If we get enough people we can rent a 12-passenger van for the trip.

Sarah has been my traveling companion on several trips, including two to Washington for rallies and another two for the Occupy movement and one to Charlotte to take part in the Planned Parenthood demonstration during the Democratic National Convention.

We are fellow unreconstructed hippies.

Because Sarah is a breast cancer survivor, she started dying her hair pink during October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now she calls the pink hair her “war paint,” so you’ll be able to spot us on Monday by her shocking pink mop-top.

We need more people to go to Raleigh and tell the General Assembly they work for us, and we are not happy. They may think we’re a nuisance, but they’re about to find out we’re much more than that — we are a movement.

So far, 157 people have been arrested for second-degree trespass, which is a misdemeanor. I doubt we’ll be placed on the no-fly list or locked up for an extended period.

I spent three hours in the jailhouse — some of the early protesters who were arrested have spent as much as eight or nine hours being processed. I think the processing is streamlined now that they know we’re going to be there in ever-increasing numbers.

I went to protest the refusal to expand Medicaid and the proposal to privatize it; others were there to protest the laws that harm unemployed people, students, workers, the environment, voters and low-income people.

There are so many reasons to protest it’s hard to pick just one. I have never seen anything like this group of legislators, and I’ve been aware of government abuses of power for 50 years.

When I have tried talking to these legislators, I get the brush-off or I get excuses filled with half-truths and out-and-out lies. When you call them on their lies, they change the subject or move on to another talking point. They aren’t listening.

They were elected to serve us, not corporate overlords, and yet they are serving the wealthiest and most powerful at our expense.

Sen. Tom Apodaca said we should know how he feels and he isn’t about to change his mind, no matter what the people think.

I don’t know what it will take to change the minds of some legislators, but we only need to reach a few to stop them from having a super-majority. Then we can work to throw the bums out in 2014.

As I said, Sarah and I are going. Anyone want to join us?

If you’re don’t stand up to protest injustice, you become part of it.

Let them know you care

The mindset of the American Tea Party.

The mindset of the American Tea Party.

The Tea Party-infused North Carolina General Assembly lost no time on the opening day of the legislative session letting us all know just how far-right they are.

Without consulting the new governor, who also is a Republican, they voted to go back on the decision by the previous governor to form a partnership with the federal government to build our health benefits exchange (the marketplace where people will buy insurance starting next year). They also voted to reject the Medicaid expansion, even though the state will pay nothing for the first three years and then just 10 percent thereafter.

North Carolina has 500,000 people who would benefit from the expansion and who otherwise will have no access to health care. Some will die.

Not that NC legislators care.

Fortunately, this decision is not up to them; it is up to Gov. Pat McCrory.

Which leaves us a little hope since he has not announced his decision yet.

So, we have to move quickly. Here’s what you can do. Visit http://www.governor.state.nc.us/contact and e-mail or call the governor to let him know you take this issue seriously.

The lives of a half-million people could be at risk if McCrory decides against expanding Medicaid to everyone whose income falls below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

What’s worse is that move is financially foolish. The federal government will foot the entire bill for the first three years and 90 percent thereafter. Compare that to the cost of more heart attacks, more strokes, more amputations, more kidney failure, more asthma, more advanced cancers and more intractable psychiatric illnesses among these 500,000 people.

There’s no compassion in the decision not to expand Medicaid, just a backward ideology.

Please let the governor know we need to expand Medicaid. If he hears from enough of us, he might listen.

 

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