‘It’s not what we serve …’

Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer speaks to volunteer servers at 12 Baskets Cafe.

A year ago, I was arrested in Washington for disrupting the Senate as its members prepared to debate repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I was  sentenced to 48 hours of community service.

I went straight to 12 Baskets Cafe, where I’ve volunteered a couple of days a week since — long after my sentence was completed.

Almost every Tuesday and Thursday, you’ll fine me standing near the door, scraping plates into a large compost bin. My position allows me to greet everyone who comes in and to make sure people have had enough to eat before they leave.

I see all kinds of people, not just poor and/or homeless, but working people, retirees who want to stretch their budgets with some good, nutritious food.

The cafe is in Kairos West Community Center off Haywood Road at State Street in West Asheville, and it was classed as a community center when the permits were issued for the cafe to open.

The Rev. Dr. Shannon Spencer, who opened the cafe through the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative, puts it simply: “It’s not what we serve, it’s who we serve.”

Apparently, that changes everything. When you help people who have nothing, you become a “shelter,” and the city tries to shut you down.

The excuse is that there’s a school nearby and people have found some used needles in the area. So, the cries of, “Save the children!” begin, as though no people who suffer from addiction should be allowed to travel in circles that come within a few hundred yards of a school or church.

The trouble began when a group of itinerant people came through, enjoyed lunch and then set up camp in the side yard of the cafe.

The television news came in and interviewed tourists across the street at Sunny Point Cafe, and the tourists didn’t like looking at poor people while they were on vacation.

So, the local newspaper jumped on board to do a story and no one spoke to anyone from the cafe, even though there’s someone there who can speak every single weekday from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The story just said no one was available for comment.

When I worked as a reporter, the story would be held until someone could speak for the cafe. We didn’t print one-sided stories without several attempts to speak to someone. I have encountered public officials who refused to return calls, and in those cases, the stories that ran detailed attempts to reach someone — “So-and-So did not return seven calls to his office, three to his home and six to his mobile phone over the course of three days.” This one would have read, “We tried to call 12 Baskets at 6 p.m. one night.”

So, viewers and readers are left with the impression that homeless people are doing drugs in the yard, that neighbors are at wits’ end with the chaos and cafe staff are allowing it, when the reality is that our neighbors support us. Some bring us food from their gardens, others come in and enjoy a meal.

The problem here is that we live in a society that drives people into poverty with low wages and few worker protections and then vilifies them.

Many of the people who eat at the cafe are working; some have disabilities that keep them from working. A number of them are in recovery from addiction, and some are still using.

Every one of them is human. Every one of them deserves the dignity of a good meal and human contact.

If we’re a community center when working people eat with us, but an illegally operating shelter when our patrons are poor, the problem isn’t with us, it’s with the community.

If you want to know more about the cafe, come have lunch with us. The food comes from some of the best restaurants in town, from EarthFare, Mission Hospital and others. We seem to specialize in curry dishes from Indian restaurants’ buffets, but we have fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, muffins, pasta dishes … it’s different every day, and it’s all delicious.

What’s more, the company is wonderful. Just because people don’t have homes doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and human contact.

The name 12 Baskets, by the way, comes from the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes from 12 baskets of fish and bread.

Yeah, if you have to ask what Jesus would do, the answer is in our name. He took 12 baskets of food and fed 6,000 because they were hungry. He didn’t ask whether they could pay, he just fed them.

 

 

Fight poverty, not the poor

If I hear another person tell me poor people need to get a job, I may become violent — or at least verbally abusive.

Did you know most poor people who can work, do? Did you know that the vast majority of jobs being created in this economy are low-wage and part-time?

There was no real recovery after the meltdown of 2008. What there was, was a reset that took away most of the last of the living-wage jobs and left us with jobs that don’t pay the bills and don’t offer benefits like vacation, sick days, health insurance, disability insurance, a pension or 401K plan …

So, when a few people began camping outside 12 Baskets Cafe here in Asheville, the local (Sinclair Broadcasting) television station interviewed people and broadcast a story that seemed designed to stir people up.

Across the street from 12 Baskets Cafe (which the news station called 12 baskets) is Sunny Point Cafe, a real magnet for tourists because it serves local food prepared really well.

So, the WLOS TV “news” crew interviewed tourists, who knew nothing about 12 Baskets Cafe. The tourists, of course, don’t want to look at poor people in their vacation spot.

“Oh,” they say, “these people are bathing and sleeping right there by the road, where we can see them!”

The TV “news” reports that “12 baskets … gives food to homeless people.”

Wrong. 12 Baskets Cafe rescues food from restaurants, grocery stores and caterers and serves it, restaurant style and free of charge, to everyone who comes. And not everyone who comes is homeless.

The people who live and work in the neighborhood support the cafe, no matter what the “news” tells you. People stop by often with food from their gardens. One woman brings fresh flowers every week.

12 Baskets Cafe is a place where everyone is treated with the basic dignity that should be offered to every human being. Just walk into the space and see people looking after each other’s children, people enjoying conversation with others they’re meeting for the first time. The volunteers who serve and clean up are encouraged to sit down and enjoy a meal and good company.

This is a positive space, a loving place, and the food is good. People were paying $10 a plate for it the day before.

In a time when some 40 percent of food is thrown away, no one, no one, should go hungry.

Part of the problem here is that the powers that be would love us to think there isn’t enough to go around, so perhaps we won’t realize they’re pillaging our resources while more than 140 million Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, just one check away from financial disaster.

Well, there is enough to go around. There is an abundance.

What we all need to understand is that poverty is a political construct. When you send all the money to the top 1 percent, nothing trickles down.

Economic science shows that money given to the wealthy is stashed away, hoarded, because they don’t have to spend it. On the other hand, every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.73 in the economy (https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-boosts-retailers-and-local-economies).

When you give low-wage people money, they spend it on necessities. When you give rich people money, they stash it in an offshore account.

When you deny people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work, they become homeless, sick and hungry. It really is that simple.

Homeless people aren’t lazy or morally inferior. They’re people like you and me who have been forced into poverty by bad public policy.

Perhaps it’s time to change the policy-makers so we can have enough food, a living wage, decent public education, health care and affordable, safe housing for everyone.

 

Whom do you serve?

Was it OK for the owner of the Red Hen in Virginia to refuse service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders? While a part of me cheered, I have to say, no, it was more like stooping to her level.

 

I was away for a week, camping at Acadia National Park in Maine with no phone service or Internet. It was a much needed break from social justice work and I come back ready to fight again.

Probably the biggest story while I was away was that the owner of the Red Hen, a restaurant in Virginia, asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave.

So, while the right-wing “Christians” celebrated that the Supreme Court decided in favor of a gay-hating cake baker, they cried foul over the left refusing service to someone who supports all the hate-filled policies of this administration.

As usual, the hypocrisy is breathtaking.

It’s just fine for a “Christian” to refuse to serve two men who are committing to share their lives, but we who believe Jesus wants us to heal the sick, feed the hungry and welcome the stranger have to serve a hate-peddling public official.

Yes, she probably should have been served with love, which is what we are told to do. We are held to a higher standard.

But we are human. I cheered a little inside when I saw the story. Sanders doesn’t even begin to see the irony in the situation. That is born of selfishness. It’s only about her and what she wants:

“I want to eat here. I want what’s mine and as much of what’s yours as I can grab, especially if I see you as ‘less than’ in some way.

“I am superior because I am in this country already.

“I am superior because I am white.

“I am superior because I am rich.

“My god is superior to yours and you have to see my god the way I do because I have more power than you.

“I can mistreat anyone for any reason because my god says I can.

“My god says my privilege comes from moral superiority and that the poor are lazy and that gays are going to burn in hell and immigrants deserve to lose their children.

“And I am not going to share my privilege with anyone.”

My God tells me to share what I have, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, embrace the stranger.

This is a woman who defends taking children from their parents, who defends banning Muslims from this country, who defends suppressing the vote along racial lines, who defends taking access to health care away from millions of Americans, tens of thousands of whom will die. This is a woman who defends a racist, misogynistic, toxic sociopath — Every. Damn. Day.

We could feed every hungry child, pay every person who works full time a living wage, make sure every human being has access to health care, fully fund every school, allow every adult access to the vote, all while spending less on war and promoting peace.

But we choose immorality as a public policy, and when people who disagree with these immoral policies stand up and do what little they can do, we call them exclusionary, all while cheering for a ban on Muslims, for ripping children from their parents, for suppression of the vote and a Supreme Court decision allowing a homophobe to use religion as a cloak to peddle hate, we are not Christian as a nation. We are not moral.

Those of us who are frustrated beyond words at the immoral direction of this nation and its devastating policies, we feel helpless. We feel as though we can’t shout loudly enough to drown out the hate Americans are cheering for right now.

As Rev. Dr. William Barber says, “We Christians are called on to love everybody.”

It’s that simple.

It’s also incredibly difficult. How can I love and serve a woman who stands against everything I believe? How can I be kind to someone who thinks the way my son died is OK?

I am not perfect. I am striving to live out my ideals — those ideals preached by Jesus, whom I follow.

I am exhausted, but I am not going to give up. If Sarah Huckabee Sanders is hungry, I am called to feed her, like it or not. I am called to love her, and perhaps my example will touch her.

Jesus didn’t say I can’t talk to her about the error of her ways and try to reach her with that love. In fact, he tells me that’s the only way.

I have to agree with Rev. Barber: “Standing down is not an option … I would rather die having tried and see nothing change than to live, not try, and see nothing change.”

That’s why I’m back. That’s why I fight. That’s why I’ll never stop fighting.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

This is NOT Blue Apron

Canned vegetables are lower in nutrients and higher in sodium than fresh, but the current occupant of the White House thinks it’s OK, as long as it’s poor people who are forced to eat them.

 

The current occupant of the White House has a new plan to feed poor people: Send them boxes of cheap, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient foods.

Again and again, I’ve seen the idea compared to Blue Apron, a gourmet food vendor that sends out boxes of food together with recipes for fabulous meals.

The comparison is wrong. The only thing this idea has in common with Blue Apron is that it’s delivered in a cardboard box.

If you get food from Blue Apron, you get a choice of foods, and the foods are fresh, not canned. You aren’t shipped canned peas and carrots, boxed milk and cheap cereal.

You don’t get steak tartar, you get Hamburger Helper, and probably just a cheap knock-off of that.

The right complained about the “nanny state” when Michelle Obama started advocating fresh, wholesome food for children. But now they want to choose what food poor people should eat, and what they’re choosing is bad food.

While advocates work to get fresh food to people in poverty, many of whom don’t have ready access to a supermarket, this administration is ready to squash these efforts in favor of boxes of unhealthy crap.

Research has shown again and again that processed food is less healthy than fresh food, that a diet high in processed foods (white flour, white sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils …) leaves us more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic cancer.

But when we consider poor people as inferior, when we think we’re more worthy of anything than another human being, we are the ones who are morally bankrupt.

Jesus didn’t feed the thousands canned tuna on stale white bread, he fed them fresh fish and bread. When he went to the wedding in Cana and the host ran out of wine, Jesus turned water into fine wine, not high fructose corn syrup-laden soda. Read the passage in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

Our public policy (our failure to raise minimum wage to a living wage, for example), puts people in poverty. Minimum wage right now is about one-third of what it takes to live comfortably. Housing subsidies don’t even come close to serving the people who need help to stretch their meager wages. Child care subsidies have years-long waiting lists. Food stamps are a fraction of what it really costs to supply children (and adults) with the nutrition they need. Ask anyone who receives them. They give people about $5 a day. Try and feed yourself on that.

As food advocates work to get fresh fruits and vegetables onto the plates of children, this clown announces poor people only deserve canned food, and that the government should choose what they’re allowed to have — and that it should be junk food, as though poor people are just junk.

Meanwhile, those of us with privilege, those of us who still hold onto some semblance of a middle-class income, donate our cast-off clothing, our broken toys and chipped dinnerware, and we think the poor should be grateful for that.

We blame poor people for their own poverty, while we knock them down and apply our boot heels to their necks. We deny them healthy food, an equal education, safe housing, health care and a living wage and then call them lazy and accuse them of trying to get something for nothing.

The real culprits are the very wealthy who are buying up members of Congress and grabbing all the nation’s wealth for themselves. They don’t till the soil or harvest the crops, they don’t manufacture anything, they don’t make or serve food or clean up after themselves, they just take. And to justify their hoarding of our nation’s wealth, they spread propaganda about how the poor are robbing us blind. They use scandals to distract us while they pick our pockets.

This whole idea is deeply, deeply immoral. It is theft from the local farmer who grows and sells crops at tailgate markets that accept SNAP cards. It is theft from people who are struggling and it is the slow poisoning of poor people, who, after all, are still people. We all deserve to eat healthy foods and we deserve the dignity of choosing what foods we will eat.

This is not Blue Apron. Stop comparing the two right now.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Nobody wants a handout. Nobody.

We’re supposed to be helping the poor, not punishing them or blaming them.

I have no tolerance for mean-spiritedness.

That’s why I don’t read the comments on social-justice articles, especially when I’ve written them. I can’t bear the victim-blaming we do in this country.

When I tell my son’s story — that he died from lack of access to health care — people ask whether he was working. Of course he was working. What if he wasn’t? You really think he deserved to die if he wasn’t?

I wrote a story for a local paper about how poor people get trapped in the justice system because they don’t have the money to get out. As I said, I’m not checking the comments online. But someone sent me a personal e-mail to tell me this: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” I wanted to ask what the hell was wrong with her, but instead I asked whether falling asleep on a park bench warranted jail time in her book. She had signed her e-mail “respectively,” and I told her the correct word is “respectfully,” which should be reserved for times when she was actually being respectful.

Who the hell have we become as a nation when we pay people just one-third of what it takes to live in exchange for a full week’s work and then call them lazy when they need help?

And every time I call someone out on this victim-blaming, they say, “Well, some people just want a handout.”

No.  No, they don’t. People just want what should rightfully be theirs in exchange for 40 hours of labor. People want to have enough to eat, a warm, safe place to sleep, basic health care, an education for their children.

What the hell is wrong with us when we can hear these tragic stories and then blame the victims for their pain?

We have lost our way. We are no longer a great society — if we ever were one.

We built this nation on the backs of slaves, and we still practice systemic racism, sexism and hatred in so many forms.

We cheer a man who calls Mexicans criminals and who admits to sexual assault, who has cheated on all three of his wives and who spouts white nationalist code words. And we tell the grieving mother of yet another black man gunned down by police that her child must have been a criminal. We blackball a talented black man who takes a knee for the national anthem in protest of these killings and say he should find a better way to protest.

What would be an appropriate way to protest the murders of unarmed young black men? I’ll bet it would be to take it to a place where it wouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

I am done with this mean-spiritedness and I will call it out from now on. If you want to blame the victims of our bad public policies for their pain, do it out of earshot of me. I have no patience for it anymore.

We can’t go much lower

Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with this, I guarantee it.

 

The level of hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Republicans say Al Franken needs to resign because he may have kissed women (adults) without permission and he was in an extremely inappropriate gag photo.

But they believe Jesus supports Roy Moore, who was banned from a shopping mall for stalking teenage girls when he was in his 30s and who has had nearly a dozen women come forward to report inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were under age 18. Moore also was removed from his court bench twice for failing to follow court orders to remove Christian symbols from his courtroom.

That’s not the Jesus I know.

The Jesus I follow (not worship — he never wanted to be worshiped, he wanted to be followed) demands we care for the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty. He demands that we love our enemies. That’s the one I have trouble with when my enemies want to strip 68 million Americans — including 9 million children — of their access to health care, to keep millions of people in poverty while further enriching the 1 percent at the top of our deeply immoral economic system.

For decades, the policy of the Republican party has been to take from the poor and middle class and give to the very wealthiest. They don’t care if people die, just as long as every pregnancy results in the live birth of a person they can neglect and kill later.

The so-called tax “reform” bill is proof of that.

The failure to reauthorize funding for CHIP and community care clinics and the sustained attacks on the Affordable Care Act prove that.

It is more important to Republicans for these deeply unjust and immoral policies to be carried out than the saving of my life or yours.

I walked through all three Senate office buildings in Washington yesterday, delivering letters begging for the re-authorization of CHIP and community care clinics and the shoring up of the Affordable Care Act. The letter had a photo of my late son and a reminder that when you strip access to care away from people, they die.

Republicans care more about moving wealth up than they do about any human life, and then they call themselves “pro-life,” and Christian, when they are neither.

As a party (and I won’t judge the intent of individuals here) Republicans are anti-life. They are pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-gun and pro-corporations. They choose support for these things over support of human life every single time.

Every. Single. Time.

And then they invoke Jesus.

Well, when Jesus said to care for the sick, he didn’t mean to turn people who can’t pay away. He didn’t mean to attack systems that help people who aren’t wealthy so that tens of thousands die from medical neglect every year.

When Jesus said to clothe the naked, he did not mean that we should keep minimum wage at about one-third of what it actually costs to live and then criticize people for not being able to buy coats and shoes for their children.

When Jesus said to feed the hungry, he did not mean we should cut food stamps, Meals on Wheels and free and reduced-price meal programs in schools.

When Jesus told us to visit people in prison, he did not mean we should turn over control of prisons to profiteers, who would starve prisoners to squeeze a little more money out of it.

When Jesus said to give drink to the thirsty, he did not mean offer only water laced with lead to poor children in Flint, Michigan.

When Jesus said to spread the Good News of redemption, he did not mean to discriminate against people who don’t have white skin or discriminate against people who don’t share your religious views.

When Jesus said not to hate, he meant you should go ahead and make that wedding cake for the gay couple who want to celebrate the joining of their lives.

When Jesus told us to love one another as he has loved us, that is precisely what he meant. He did not mean we should elect sexual predators to powerful positions because they are as mean-spirited and hate-filled as Republicans are today.

He didn’t support unfettered access to guns.

He didn’t support corporations as people.

He didn’t support racism.

He didn’t support misogyny.

He didn’t support war.

He didn’t support fascism.

He did not support the economic terrorism of keeping people who can’t make bail or who can’t pay court costs for minor infractions of the law in jail for months or years.

Jesus wants nothing to do with today’s Republican party, I guarantee you.

Jesus is weeping for the poor in this nation. And he will judge the people who have harmed them.

Get ready to sit with the goats on Judgment Day if you support the likes of Roy Moore or if you believe Jesus would. If you call yourself Christian and you don’t know what that means, read Matthew 25, starting at verse 31.

If you really want to work toward a more just society, join the Poor People’s Campaign (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org).

 

While you were distracted, 9 million children lost access to health care

Nearly 9 million children in low-income families were enrolled in CHIP — until the Republicans, who control Congress, let it expire.

It’s not enough that I lost a son to lack of access to health care.

It’s not enough that my only surviving child has no insurance.

Now the Republicans in Congress have stripped my grandson and my great-granddaughter of their access to care.

At midnight on Sept. 30, Congress — which is controlled by Republicans —  allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, to expire.

In addition, funding for community health centers expired at the same time.

So, Republicans, tell me again how you’re pro-life because you’re against a woman’s right to not bring a child into a world where no one cares if it dies in infancy or childhood, simply because you believe their parents are your moral inferiors because they’re poor and “just want a handout.”

Oh, and you’re also against paying people a living wage in exchange for a week’s work, making it nearly impossible for anyone to escape poverty.

You support keeping people in poverty and then criticizing them for being poor. Then you yank their children’s health care.

There is no defense for this. None.

This is terrorism. It is murder.

I have no problem offering a handout to children like my grandson and my great-granddaughter. I can’t understand why Republicans would have a problem with it.

I have no problem with the government funding clinics that care for people like my son, who works two part-time jobs as he enters his fourth year drug-free.

No one in my family has ever asked for a handout. We simply want what is available to people in every other industrialized nation on earth — health care.

While we’re on the subject of health care, let’s talk about the “failure” of the Affordable Care Act, which, by the way, would have saved my son’s life.

A record number of Americans have health insurance now, and while some of these policies are pretty crappy, they still are better than nothing.

Before the ACA, some 45,000 people died every single year from lack of access to care — that’s one every 12 minutes. Today, it’s between 15,000 and 20,000, the majority of those being in states that have refused to expand Medicaid to cover the working poor — the very people for whom they say they have sympathy.

My granddaughter was in high school when her daughter was born. She finished high school and now works and is in nursing school. She’s exhausted most of the time, but she’s determined to make it.

Tell me again how she and her baby deserve to die. I’d just love to hear your rationalization.

My grandson is in high school. He tells me he wants to be a teacher. He loves photography and he works at a restaurant so he can afford new photography equipment and to put gas in the car so he can go to the nature preserve and shoot birds and alligators. When he’s not driving, he’ll try to convince whoever is to slam on the brakes when he sees a good photo. His CHIP would have expired in March anyway, so no big deal if he gets sick a few months early, right?

And my great-granddaughter, who’s 4 1/2, well, she doesn’t even have a job. Perhaps she should learn to pull her own weight, right? I mean, where does that lazy little thing get off wanting to play when she could be out there helping to build roads or working at Home Depot?

No, wait — Home Depot doesn’t hire many full-time people anymore because it would have to offer them health insurance. Can’t have people getting health insurance when it might cut into profits, now, can we?

We’re flying flags at half-staff today because a domestic terrorist killed 20 people and injured 400. And while that’s a tragedy, I think 9 million children without access to care and millions more people losing access because their local clinic closed, is far, far worse.

When we can allow children to die from lack of access to care, we surely have lost our collective soul.

We are a despicable nation and we deserve to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

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