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.

When will we stop pretending this is normal?

If we don’t act now, we sentence the planet to death./NASA image

While we’re all going about our daily business as though everything were normal, a petty dictator is amassing power in Washington and dismantling the Constitution.

While you’re at work, he’s filling lifetime judicial seats with cronies loyal only to him, thanks to an equally hate-filled and corrupt Senate Majority Leader.

While you’re running errands, he’s covering up his illegal activities and disobeying subpoenas from Congress.

All of our social compacts are being broken, our confidence betrayed.

He’s enacting policies he knows will exacerbate climate catastrophe.

He’s locking children in cages at the border and refusing them vaccines and medical help.

He’s starting to round up homeless people and talking about rounding up people with mental illnesses instead of raising the minimum wage, getting help for people with mental illnesses or doing anything about the unfettered access to guns that the NRA wants on the streets so it can make more money.

This administration is holding people in cages, forcing toddlers to attend immigration hearings alone — no parents, no attorneys, just the tiny toddler and the judge.

ICE is training more and more agents while the ones already out there flout the law by detaining people they have no right to round up in the first place. American citizens with Latin-sounding names are being denied passports or having them revoked. American citizens have been held in camps for weeks on end with no idea what’s happening to them. One young man had agreed to be deported just to get out of the detention camp when his case was discovered and he was freed.

People are dying in these camps and now the petty dictator talks about using community police to help round up homeless people to be placed in similar camps.

Still, we go about our business as though everything is normal while he and his cronies drum up support for another war-for-profit. Then they’ll recruit poor people with the promise of free college when you get back — if you get back — from however many times they can deploy you to the combat zone.

It’s called the poverty draft, and if you’re above needing that to look forward to a decent life, you still ought to care.

Meanwhile, women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, labor rights and more are being eroded at an incredible pace.

Striking auto workers are being denied their health care. All workers are being denied a living wage. In some states, government workers are denied collective bargaining rights.

Regulations that protect us at work, home and play are being overturned and we have no recourse in the courts because they’ve stacked the courts with their own people.

Doesn’t any of this bother you?

I met a man who was an activist in the Philippines during the time of Ferdinand Marcos, and he told me he thinks most Americans are still too comfortable and still in denial of what’s happening.

If ever there was a classic case for impeachment, it is this one, this time, this president. But Democrats in the House and Senate still worry whether it’s politically expedient, when they should worry more about the state of the Constitution, which, by the way spells out impeachment as the job of Congress in cases such as this.

The Amazon is on fire in a politically motivated attack against the indigenous peoples who were there first and against the Earth itself.

We allow our politicians to scoff at environmental activists and others who are working for a better world, and their lack of action could sentence us all to death within a couple of generations.

An election isn’t going to fix any of this, especially when both political parties are in the pocket of the 1 percent. It won’t matter whether you go along with the overly simplistic “vote blue, no matter who,” you’re going to lose. The fascists are firmly entrenched and we need to take to the streets.

Too many of us still go to work, run errands, take vacations and otherwise live as though there were no emergency, but there is, and the entire planet is in peril.

We don’t have any more time to take care of climate change gradually. We are on the precipice of economic and social collapse on a scale not seen since the end of the Bronze Age.

Tomorrow, I’ll join millions in a strike and for climate action; on Saturday I’ll take part in a public event to promote peace. On Sept. 30, I’ll march in Greensboro with the Poor People’s Campaign.

On days when I’m not taking action, I will continue to write to legislators, to call and visit them and let them know that I see them and I know how they’re voting.

I likely will do more civil disobedience.

I do this because I have great-grandchildren and I want them to live.

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.

 

 

 

 

Good riddance to Paul Ryan and friends. Now let’s get to work

Thank God and Greyhound he’s going. But it’s not enough. We need to begin to fix the damage he and his cronies have done.

Paul Ryan is leaving Congress, along with 30 other Republican House members, according to NPR, and 10 Democrats, plus three Republican Senators, according to Ballotpedia.

This does not count the four Democrats and 11 Republicans who have left already.

I can’t remember an exodus like this from Congress. But then, I’ve not known such cowardice and lack of ethics on such a scale in my lifetime, and I lived through Nixon.

This group of Republicans has allowed a toxic narcissistic sociopath, a liar, bully, con man, racist and misogynist free rein for more than a year. They have refused to protect the special prosecutor who is investigating very real crimes this creature likely committed, while relentlessly attacking the woman who should be in the White House to draw attention away from their own crimes.

They have stolen much of America’s treasure, allowed polluters to poison our air and water, stolen public lands, saber-rattled with nuclear powers, attacked anyone who tried to stand up to them and ripped apart families at a record rate just to keep out anyone they deem as “other.” They don’t care that crops are rotting in the fields because they know they have enough money to buy whatever they need, even if others of us starve.

They have attacked our access to health care, undermined education, broken trade agreements, built gas and oil pipelines to increase profits from fossil fuels while making safer, cleaner energy less accessible.

They have sold off prisons to people who are making a profit off of other people’s misery.

They have allowed gun manufacturers and extremists to dictate a horrific lack of gun policy.

They have attacked voting rights to the point that our elections no longer are deemed fair. And their theft of a Supreme Court seat has made them safe for another decade or longer.

They have impoverished millions by refusing to increase the minimum wage, which now is about one-third of what it would be if it had kept pace with inflation. They have choked unions to death to make sure workers have fewer rights now than they have had since the 1920s.

And after these millions have been impoverished by the Republicans’ corrupt public policy, these affected people are vilified as lazy, even when they work two jobs and still can’t make ends meet.

I believe the leadership of the Republican Party knew about Russian interference and they welcomed it. I believe they’re in it up to their eyeballs. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have threatened then-President Obama when he wanted to make what he knew public. He didn’t know how extensive the conspiracy was, but I think the Republicans did because I believe they were part of it.

This class of crooks came to Washington to enrich themselves and their uber-wealthy co-conspirators. They came to pick our collective pockets and now that they’ve been found out, they’re going to abscond with their booty.

The problem now is that the Democratic Party is about where the Republican Party was under Nixon, and true progressives are being squeezed out. Our alternative is the Green Party, which can’t win major elections because of the power of the two corrupt parties that hold power now.

A blue wave in November might improve things somewhat, but it likely will not be the change we need. It might mean a few patches to the huge tears in the fabric of our nation, but what we need now is radical change.

I’m part of the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival because I don’t think politicians are going to bring about the changes we need without some kind of revolution, and I’m standing for a peaceful one.

So far, 41 states and the District of Columbia have organized to be part of this campaign. Each organization is unique to its own state because each state’s needs are unique. But beginning on Mother’s Day, we will be seen and heard in state capitols and in Washington.

Right now, more than 40 million Americans live in poverty while there’s actually more than enough to support everyone comfortably.

We need to stand up to the powers of corruption and greed and we need to do it now.

Don’t be satisfied that the likes of Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy are leaving Congress; stand up and demand more. Demand a living wage, demand a cleaner environment, demand affordable health care, demand more money for education, demand military spending be cut drastically, demand fair immigration laws.

Demand a just society. Demand it and mean it, or it never will happen.

 

Listen to the voices rarely heard

Mirian Porrras Rosas of Nuestro Centro with family and friends after her talk at the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Town Hall. Photo by Ellen J. Perry

 

I learned an important lesson last night.

I learned that sometimes we need to set aside the rules and just listen.

I am on the NC State Coordinating Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. In this position, I organize events to get out the word, and these events, like the campaign itself, are meant to include people who are affected by poverty.

So, each speaker, either clergy from a wide range of faiths or people affected by poverty, is supposed to talk for three minutes. We have people who time the remarks and hold up cards to let speakers know how much time they have left.

I’m a stickler about this because when someone speaks longer, he or she takes away time from people who come later in the program. Last night’s event in Asheville was not going to be an exception.

But then Mirian Porrras Rosas of the organizaton, Nuestro Centro, stepped to the podium. She spoke first in Spanish, and at five minutes, I asked one of the other organizers whether we should gently let her know she had run over her allotted time.

Then I sat back down and shut up. She finished her remarks at about seven minutes and then invited her son and daughter and another woman to stand with her as she struggled to translate her words into English.

We, the white people who are usually the ones demanding that others get a translation, had been exposed to how that feels. We could only watch her body language and her facial expression as she issued a plea for this country to treat her and other immigrants with the dignity they deserve.

I sat back in my seat and paid attention, even though I didn’t understand the words.

As she spoke her words again, this time in English, I was taken by her simple eloquence, her poise and her determination that her children have a better life and that she and they be seen as fully human. I stopped worrying about time and started to learn.

Three generations ago, my family came to this country to find signs reading, “No Irish need apply.” Today, immigrant families are accused of being “illegals” whether they are here with or without documentation.

No human being is illegal.

We stole this nation from the people who were here when we, white Europeans, arrived. We committed genocide.

Perhaps we should be happy that the people coming now would rather join us than kill us.

Perhaps we should embrace the stranger, as every major religion demands we do.

Perhaps we should listen more and talk less if we want to know what people’s lives are like before we offer to help or to do something for them that they can — and want — to do themselves.

How many of us know what it’s like to sleep under a bridge in sub-freezing weather? How many of us live with the fear that the police will stop us because we speak English with an accent? How many of us are called lazy and worthless every day because, even though we work 60 or more hours a week, we still can’t pay our bills because our employers refuse to pay us a living wage in exchange for a week’s work?

And how many of us have sat down and listened — really listened — to the voices of people who are living these experiences?

I did that last night as I stopped worrying about the clock and started worrying about the woman standing in front of me and her family.

Perhaps we should suspend the rules a bit and listen. When we do, we will hear the voices of our own immigrant ancestors, of the people who worked as children in the textile mills of New England, of the migrant workers who harvest the food we eat, of the descendants of enslaved people who still struggle to achieve equality, of the prisoner who will never be free because of unjust sentencing laws.

Let them speak.

 

 

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