Playing the ‘Dead Kid Card’

Hours after my third arrest, I spoke at a press conference about why I needed to speak to legislative leaders about access to health care.

The entire time my son was sick — just over three years — he played the Cancer Card.

If we asked him to do something, he whined, “But I have cancer!”

The expected reply from friends and family was, “Cancer, schmancer.”

He did this in public, at grocery store checkouts and anywhere it might get attention.

He loved attention.

But a week before he died, he sat me down for a talk. It started with, “You know, you’re being dealt an untrumpable card.”

“Excuse me?”

“The Dead Kid Card, Mom. You’re being dealt the Dead Kid Card.”

“I want nothing to do with that.”

“Too late. It’s being dealt. Now, what are you going to do with it?”

I didn’t want to talk about this. In fact, I was laboring under the misguided impression that my heart would stop when his did. I wouldn’t have to deal with the dead kid card because I was going with him.

But what if my heart kept beating?

I panicked. I couldn’t face life after he died, and he was making me think about it.

“OK, I’m going to work to make sure every human being has access to the care they need and I’m going to tell your story to further that goal.”

“That sounds good,” he said. “You have my blessing. Now, can I get a cup of coffee? I have cancer and I’m dying.” He smiled and settled back into his pillow.

Of course, my heart didn’t stop when his did. I sat there and wished it to, but it wouldn’t. So I got to work.

I tell my son’s story at every opportunity. I spent nearly 30 years telling other people’s stories as a newspaper reporter. I am a firm believer in the power of stories to explain complex policies and their effects on real people. My stories changed local and even state policies several times during my career. Now I had the most powerful story imaginable to tell — the story of how an extraordinary human being died from neglect.

If you want to say people who need health care are “just looking for a handout,” Mike’s story disproves that. He never wanted a handout and it was only his own experience that made him realize how important it is that everyone has access to care. He had been pretty much a Libertarian before that, determined to take care of his own needs — until he realized that wasn’t possible in a system like ours, where medical care is too expensive for anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy to afford.

I started telling his story. There were those who accused me of lying, who refused to believe my son — or I — deserved any sympathy. The local Tea Party tried for more than a year to get me fired from my job as a newspaper reporter because they saw how dangerous his story was.

On the morning of my fourth arrest, I walked with interfaith clergy as we carried a cardboard coffin to protest attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 25, 2017. RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley

I left my job — I volunteered to be laid off — 16 months after Mike died so that I could tell his story in public and demand something be done about our broken health care system. President Obama was working on health care and I wanted to be in that fight. I had been under a great deal of pressure to include the lies of the Right in my stories, unchallenged, as though their unsupported beliefs should carry as much weight as the truth.

I told Mike’s story across the state and in Washington. I was on national TV and speaking at large rallies, and I knew Mike was with me.

When Howard Dean took his photo at a rally of 5,000 people and the crowd started chanting his name, I could almost hear him laughing and chanting, “Yeah, Me, Me, Me!!”

Telling the story again and again is exhausting. It’s emotionally draining and it’s painful, sometimes even physically painful.

But I do it over and over and over because I have the Dead Kid Card and I have to keep playing it. People have to know that good people die when you take away their access to health care.

This summer, after I told his story again at a political rally, a woman approached me.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she said, “But I have a message from your son. He’s very, very proud of you.”

I smiled and thanked her and began to turn to walk away.

“Did you know he stand behind you while you speak?” she asked.

I turned back.

“Excuse me?”

“He’s right behind you when you speak and he’s smiling. He loves being the center of attention, doesn’t he?”

I choose to believe she’s not crazy.

I choose to believe Mike is with me, and when something stupid happens (think of a flat tire in the pouring rain), I can almost hear him laughing.

This most recent fight for health care has drained me more than any of the ones before it. These murdering thugs in Congress never cease to amaze me with their efforts to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care.

Lately, they have tried to stop me from having Mike’s photo with me. Mark Meadows’ people tried to confiscate it when I wanted to get into his town hall. I was taken out of the Senate Gallery in Washington because I had a 5×7 photo of him (with no frame because God knows I could jump out of the gallery and slash all the Republicans’ wrists with the broken glass before anyone could stop me), which they called a “poster.”

Mike’s story is powerful. I know that, and I use it to try and make people understand that good people die horrible deaths when they’re denied care.

I play the Dead Kid Card because it is the most powerful card in my deck, and I will not stop until every person in this country has access to affordable, quality health care.

No one deserves to die the way my son did. No one.

 

 

The irony of McCain’s cancer diagnosis

Photo by NBC News.

Not that many people get this, but is is more than a little ironic that John McCain’s brain tumor postponed the vote to take away access to health care for millions of Americans.

McCain was a sure “yes” vote on the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act that Sen. Mitch McConnell was pushing. I don’t know that this diagnosis will change McCain’s mind on that vote.

Still, I would not wish this on him and I am grateful that he has access to the care he will need if he is to beat this.

My son never had that chance.

I’m being criticized today for saying this because McCain is a mean-spirited man who has fallen in willingly with thugs and thieves. He was set to help take away access to health care for 23 million Americans.

That is the aiding and abetting of murder.

To me, that doesn’t matter right now because when I say everyone deserves access to quality health care, I mean exactly that.

No one deserves to die the way my son did. No one. Period.

It would be the height of hypocrisy to stand up in public and say no one deserves to die the way my son did and then turn around and wish it on someone else, even if that someone is not a good person.

Conservatives say they don’t want universal health care because some people just want a handout.

That’s bullshit.

In my 30 years as a reporter covering social justice issues and in my nine years of health care advocacy work, I have not met anyone who just wants a handout.

My son wanted health care. He worked hard and he went to school and he was a community volunteer who gave selflessly of himself to help others.

And don’t tell me, “OK, your son deserved to live, but some people are lazy …” Who the hell are you to decide who deserves to live? Where do you get off condemning someone to die because you deem them too lazy, or too mean?

No one deserves to go without access to health care. No one. Period, end of discussion.

I don’t know John McCain personally, and I am not going to judge him other than to say he has done and said some incredibly mean-spirited things. Still, he does deserve health care.

I am grateful that his family doesn’t have to watch him die from medical neglect. Having watched my son die from lack of access to care, I am steadfast in my desire to see no one else die that way.

 

 

 

 

The deceitful, shameful, hate-filled NC GOP played us again

Late in the afternoon Wednesday, state representatives waited for word that the Senate had taken action to repeal HB2. The Senate didn’t do its job.

I don’t know why anyone thought the North Carolina Republicans could be trusted.

Again and again, they have played us for fools, and we keep thinking they might do the right thing, just once.

Nope.

The GOP leaders brokered a deal with Governor-elect Roy Cooper and the City of Charlotte, and yesterday, they reneged on the deal.

So, first, some background:

Earlier this year, Charlotte passed a law offering protection to transgender people, codifying their ability to use the rest room of the gender with which they identify. Immediately, the NC General Assembly was called into special session and the GOP rammed through a bill, known as HB2, that nullified Charlotte’s law.

But there’s more. The so-called Bathroom Bill was about a lot more than bathrooms. It robbed local governments of the ability to set a minimum wage higher than that of the state. It robbed local governments of the ability to pass any non-discrimination legislation. It robbed workers of the ability to sue employers for discrimination in state courts.

Retribution was swift. States began banning business travel to North Carolina. Sports organizations pulled their games and tournaments from the state, costing us tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

And the whole rest of the world saw us as backward and hateful.

And while the majority of North Carolinians are not backward and hateful, the state Republican Party has gerrymandered voting districts so that it takes more than two Democratic votes to do the same thing as one Republican vote. They they passed a law that would make it more difficult for African-Americans, students and the elderly to vote (because these groups tend to vote for Democrats).

The voting districts have been struck down twice by the courts, and the state will have to redistrict yet again and pay for another election in the fall of 2017 because the 2016 election was so tainted by the districts as the GOP drew them.

The federal courts also struck down most of the provisions in the voting law.

Gov. McCrory, the only governor in the country to lose re-election, was defeated because of HB2.

So, last week, McCrory called another special session to pass legislation to send much needed help to areas of the state devastated by flooding from Hurricane Matthew and by recent wildfires.

The GOP used that special session to call another special session, in which they stripped power from the incoming governor. Then they went home, and McCrory signed the bill.

News came on Monday that the General Assembly was willing to repeal HB2 — the entire thing — if Charlotte would agree to repeal its anti-discrimination law. The incoming governor urged the city to take the deal, and Charlotte repealed its ordinance.

I went to Raleigh, hoping to witness the GOP doing the right thing for once, but I came home disappointed.

Instead of the clean repeal of the bill that was promised, Republicans added an amendment that would have prevented local governments from passing any anti-discrimination ordinances for six months.

Democrats balked, and rightly so. The so-called cooling-off period was not part of the deal, and the whole idea of repeal was so that cities and counties could have the autonomy to ban discrimination.

Republicans doubled down, amending the amendment to extend the “cooling-off” period to 30 days beyond the end of the 2017 legislative session. It also would have given them the option to extend the moratorium again and again.

In other words, the GOP was never sincere about working with Democrats.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, issued a statement after the session closed.

“Our elected officials should have worked to protect all the people of North Carolina but instead they wasted our time and tax money,” the statement read in part. “Both the House and the Senate’s all white Republican caucus have proven that they are not fit to govern North Carolina.”

Toward the end of the special session, which cost taxpayers $42,000, Republicans in the Senate stood up and insulted everyone who disagrees with their narrow-hate-filled vision of what North Carolina should be. They called us lunatics and accused us of being “under the influence of California and other places.”

They lied through their teeth about what had happened during the day, even though we who sat in the Gallery witnessed it.

After the Senate failed to pass the repeal, I spoke to Rep. Chris Sgro, who is a gay man and executive director of Equality NC, and he held out hope that something good could come of the special session.

It turned out his hope was misplaced, along with the hopes of the hundreds of North Carolinians who came out to witness the state GOP finally doing the right thing.

This state’s Republican Party is incapable of doing the right thing. Its leadership is made up of lying, thieving, narrow-minded thugs who care nothing for the people of this state — they people they are supposed to serve.

I was there yesterday. All day and into the evening. I saw what happened.

Once again, we were betrayed.

 

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