Archive for progressive living

Happy Equal Pay Day

equal pay

Equal pay for equal work. Is that really too much to ask?

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day women’s earnings since Jan. 1, 2013, catch up with men’s earnings for 2013.

I fought this back in the early 1980s, when I discovered a man with the same experience I had, who was doing the same job I was, made 30 percent more than I did. He lived at home with his mom and I was raising two kids.

I went to the publisher to complain about the inequity, and he gave me a raise to equal what my male colleague was making. Then he called my male colleague into his office and gave him a raise, too. I wasn’t supposed to know about it, but I decided to be happy with my raise and not risk getting fired because I needed the job.

Once, when I interviewed for a job, I was told I wouldn’t be hired because I had children and this boss wanted to be my top priority. Again, I could have pressed it, but I didn’t want to work for someone like that.

When I was a child, a woman still could be fired for getting married or for having a baby. Women were passed over for promotions because they might get pregnant or because they had children, plus everyone knew they would be useless at least one or two days a month because of “female problems.”

Women could be bank tellers but not bank presidents; we could be nurses but not doctors; secretaries but not lawyers. If we chose to pursue a career, it was understood that we would sacrifice having children.

It took a lot of fighting to get past that crap, and we still haven’t achieved equality. We earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls that not an accident, but discrimination, and she’s right.

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this crap!” People often snap pictures of it in parking lots.

But I have been protesting for women’s equality since the 1960s. As early as 1958, I was thinking I was as smart as any of the boys in my class — and smarter than most of them, but I was being told my possibilities were limited. I find it appalling that it’s still true on so many levels.

My granddaughters are coming of age in a time when women are still paid only about three-quarters of what men make; I can only hope my great-granddaughter’s reality is a little better.


Phelps reaps what he sowed

Phelps14_1285527241_10_0_368781064Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church, has died, and there seems to be a lot of delight in that all over the Internet today.

I can’t say I’m happy, although Phelps and his followers did nothing to create any positive feelings.

But look at his face. There’s a pathetic sadness there. I can’t imagine living my life with so much hatred in my heart.

Phelps hated gays. I mean, he really hated gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people.

Before the Affordable Care Act passed, my nonprofit held a health care rally outside the Statehouse in Raleigh. I jumped through all the hoops and got a permit, but when I arrived to set up, there were the Westboro Baptist folks right across from me. Nobody wanted to go by them to attend our rally, so it was short.

As we broke down, Phelps’s people started calling us “pro-abortionists” because we wanted universal access to health care. They screamed hateful things at us. I told them God loves all of us — even them.

That set them off even more. We weren’t sure whether we should be amused, repulsed or scared. We went with repulsed.

I don’t know how anyone can spew hatred like that and claim to be a follower of Christ, who told us to love each other and to not judge one another.

I will not rejoice at the passing of Fred Phelps. In fact I’m saddened that he never learned how to be loving and kind. I’m sad he never felt the redemptive power of forgiveness.

I know people are lining up to piss on his grave. I won’t waste my time doing that.

He’s gone, but his followers, who are even more hate-filled than he was, are still with us. All of them will face judgment one day, albeit not from me. I will oppose everything they stand for, but I have no desire to engage them or vilify them. I’ll save my energy for more positive endeavors.

I support the people he considered enemies, organizations like the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality North Carolina, who work in positive ways to gain equality in our marriage laws for LGBT people.

Rather than stand and scream at people whose minds we never will change, I think it’s wiser to take a positive approach. You can’t attract reason with vitriol. People like Phelps and his followers are screamers. They don’t want to have a discussion, so it makes no sense to try and reason with them.

If you yell at me, I will walk away; if you want to have a discussion with me, fine, we can talk like adults.

I feel sorry for Fred Phelps and his followers. Their lives are miserable, their minds clouded and their hearts always in upheaval.

I can’t say I’ll miss Fred Phelps, but I am sad for his life without joy.


Do you really want to own garbage?

gregoryAfter the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, several of the group from North Carolina decided to cross the street and visit the National Voting Rights Museum.

As we passed the chapel, we noticed a small crowd gathered, and seated near the front of the room was comedian and activist Dick Gregory. Several of us stopped to listen.

He seemed to be rambling a bit, and he was profane, dropping the F-bomb intermittently, but he was somewhat amusing.

It did disturb me, though, that he used the N-word to describe African-Americans. I’ve heard it a lot, especially from comedians, but I cringe every time I hear the word.

Young people tell me they want to own the word, and I tell them what my father told me when I was 16 and wanted ownership of the word, bitch.

“It’s garbage,” he said. “Why would you want to own garbage? To embrace it is to embrace hatred of strong women. Why would you want to do that?”

I feel the same way about the N-word. I refuse to utter it because I connect it with the hatred and violence of the Jim Crow era. The things that were done to my fellow human beings by people who used that word make me sick to my stomach.

I know that as a white person there are things about being black that I will never experience. I won’t be stopped for driving while black. I won’t be stopped for walking or running through a white neighborhood like an African-American doctor I knew was when he jogged in his own neighborhood. I don’t ever have to think about the color of my skin and I’m not followed through stores by security people because my skin color makes me a “high risk.”

On the bus ride down, an African-American man joked that I could be a spy and infiltrate hate groups. I told him the only problem with that is that I wouldn’t be able to hold my temper when they started spewing hate, and I can’t bring myself to use the N-word. Other than that, I’d be a great spy.

In Selma, another of my friends, an African-American man, asked Mr. Gregory why he used the N-word. It wasn’t a challenge, just a question.

Dick Gregory exploded. In the exchange that followed, my friend never raised his voice as he explained that Gregory had been one of his heroes for his civil rights work.

“I love you, man,” my friend said.

Gregory said he didn’t need my friend’s love and that people hadn’t sat down to listen to my friend. Then he called my friend “an ignorant n—–.”

That’s inexcusable. Gregory knows what African-Americans went through to try and gain the respect due any human being.

We were in Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday, March 8, 1965, when police tear-gassed and beat people who were marching to Montgomery to plead for the right to vote. Rep. John Lewis, then a young activist, had his skull fractured.

The violence was done by people who hated African-Americans simply because of the color of their skin. These people, who themselves embraced the N-word, hated African-Americans enough to kill them.

Excuse my language here, but why the fuck would anyone — especially someone who has spent his entire life fighting for justice — want to embrace that kind of hatred?


The “Christian” Taliban


I don’t want to live like so-called “Christians” would have me live.

I grew up among them in a fundamentalist Baptist church that got its kicks from judging people. When a young, unwed mom lost a set of twins, someone told her “See? God punishes.” I can still see those nasty lips mouthing the words in my mind’s eye. I can remember hoping there was punishment for her one day for being so mean.

We couldn’t dance, play cards, go to a multiplex theater where an R-rated movie was playing (lest someone think we were going to the R-rated movie), do yoga, listen to rock music … We kids did a lot of these things anyway because, well, we thought God put us here to embrace life.

Women couldn’t hold any leadership positions in the church — we couldn’t even serve Communion or teach Sunday School to anyone older than sixth grade. We could be missionaries but not lead churches. We weren’t supposed to use birth control but accept every child that was sent to us. If our husbands beat us, we probably deserved it. We were inferior to men in every way.

We had a guest preacher who said we were doing God’s work in Vietnam killing all those godless (racial epithet). When I objected, I was told to show respect and remember my place. That was about the time I realized that my place was anywhere other than with these hate-filled people.

These are the people who go around trying to make their views the law of the land, the same ones who helped push the jail-the-gays law in Uganda and the same ones who are pushing for laws that would allow people in this country to discriminate against gays.

I don’t dislike Christians — I am one — but I do really, really dislike the hate-spewing extremists.

Fundamentalism in any religion is dangerous. That’s where we get the Taliban and other Islamist extremist groups, not to mention the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church.

A few years ago, people were sporting WWJD (what would Jesus do) bracelets and other trinkets. It might be a good question to ask today.

The way I read the message, Jesus was about loving and not hating. He ate with the most “unclean” people, including tax collectors and women. He healed lepers instead of condemning them. He never said a word about same-sex relationships.

Jesus told his followers to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” In other words, we don’t own the laws of the world. We don’t get to demand that everyone live in accordance with our beliefs.

You can hate gays if you want, although that likely means I don’t want much to do with you. I don’t like to hear about who’s going to hell; in your eyes I’m probably one of them.

My father taught me when I was very young that you should take each person as an individual and decide whether you like that person or not. To generalize is to limit yourself and every group has good and bad in it.

It’s difficult for me to see the good in extremism, but I will generalize here: If you really hate someone for they way they’re made, I don’t want to spend time with you and I don’t want to hear about your hatred.

And I certainly don’t want you writing laws based on your hatred and expect me to abide by them.


Where the hell is your compassion?

poverty wages

I’m feeling down today and oh, so frustrated with people who want to blame misfortune on the victim for making the wrong “choice,” or for being an undocumented immigrant and collecting “benefits” (which they don’t, by the way), and assuming all poor people are lazy.

What the hell is wrong with you people? My son didn’t choose to be born with a birth defect that would leave him vulnerable to cancer. He didn’t choose to have insurance companies refuse to sell him a policy at any cost. He didn’t choose to have doctors deny him care. He didn’t choose to get cancer.

I am in the six weeks between when we found out my son was dying six years ago and when he died. I relive his final days and his death every year at this time and my patience with ignorance, selfishness and greed is pretty thin right now.

I see a lot of poor people who work two jobs and still can’t make ends meet because it costs about 2 1/2 times minimum wage to live even the simplest life here. That simple life doesn’t include cable TV, movies, eating out, gym memberships, mocha lattes and other things that middle-class people don’t even think about spending money on.

When you see a poor person with a cell phone and complain, what you’re saying is that low-income or homeless people don’t even deserve the basic capability to be in touch with the rest of the world.

What you’re saying is that you don’t care about that person’s story; you’re going to pass judgment based on your own sheltered and fortunate life.

You’re likely no more than six months away from homelessness yourself.

Let’s say your job moves overseas. Now you’re left with unemployment compensation that won’t even cover your mortgage and you can’t afford COBRA. So, what happens when you get an upper respiratory infection? You go to the ER and walk out with a prescription for antibiotics, a big bill and no follow-up care.

If that first round of antibiotics doesn’t work, you can go back to the ER and get another big bill, which you can’t pay because your unemployment is about to run out, and another prescription for an even more expensive antibiotic.

You haven’t been able to find another job except for part-time at a garden center, at minimum wage, which is even less money than your unemployment.

Now you’re 90 days behind on your mortgage and you’re selling some of your belongings to try and keep the house. You get a second part-time job and look for a third, but it just isn’t enough.

You’re still sick, but you can’t go back to the ER because you can’t afford whatever prescription the doctor writes for you. So you just hope you’ll get better.

Eventually, you run out of things to sell and the bank runs out of patience. You can stay with family members for awhile, but the welcome wears out eventually.

Or let’s say you have bipolar disorder. You try to keep things on an even keel, but sometimes the medications become ineffective and you just can’t function in a job because that’s too much stress for you to endure.

You lose your job and while waiting to be approved for disability, you also lose your home.

Or let’s say you develop type 2 diabetes, not because you’re a glutton but because it runs in your family. Your job doesn’t come with insurance so you can’t afford the supplies you need to monitor your blood glucose.

You decide to exercise and try to eat right. But diabetes affects every system in your body, especially when you can’t monitor and control your blood glucose levels, and you don’t know your blood pressure is climbing through the roof. You have a stroke and are left incapacitated. Or your kidneys fail and you need dialysis. Or you lose your eyesight.

Tell me where the “choices” are in these scenarios. Tell me about “personal responsibility.”

Have you ever tried to survive on less than $1,000 a month? That’s what someone on disability has to do.

Have you ever tried to eat for $2.50 a day? That’s what someone on food stamps has to do, and most of the people who get food stamps are working people and their children.

Have you ever waited for a bus in freezing rain because you can’t afford a car?

Let’s talk about responsibility — our responsibility as human beings.

The Old Testament prophets talked about justice and compassion. In the New Testament, Jesus condemned people who refused to help people in need. Nowhere did he say, “I got mine, get your own.”

I am starting to un-friend people who post these things on Facebook. I no longer want to be friends with people who would allow others to suffer and even die out of selfishness and greed.

Don’t tell me you’re compassionate and then post something that calls poor people lazy or says they’re the victims of their own bad choices.

People don’t choose to be poor and sick and hungry. They don’t choose to work at jobs that don’t pay them enough to survive.

And don’t tell me I’m judging you unfairly; I am not. If you think poor people should suffer and not get help, you are not compassionate, and I’m tired of hearing from you.




Marching into history

Charlie Van Der Horst and I danced onstage as Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" played.

The Moral March on Raleigh was historic.  Between 80,000 and 100,000 came from across the state and from across the nation to protest the radical agenda that is decimating our public education system and shredding the social safety net.

I don’t doubt the crowd estimate because police told us each block holds 15,000 to 20,000 people and we filled up five blocks, with a large number of people unable to even get onto Fayetteville Street.

More than 100 buses came, including five from Asheville.

Last year’s event saw about 12,000 people; this one was, as the Raleigh News & Observer said, “mammoth.”

Charlie Van Der Horst, Nicole Dozier and I were there to speak out against the refusal of our legislature to expand Medicaid. Charlie is a physician and professor at University of NC at Chapel Hill and Nicole is a policy analyst at the NC Justice Center.

Other speakers talked about marriage equality, reproductive rights for women, workers’ rights, poverty, unemployment insurance and jobs, education, the environment and more.

Most of the national media ignored this huge rally for social and economic justice in North Carolina. Talking Points Memo called it “the biggest march you never heard of.”

But those of us who were there were fired up even before Rev. William Barber took the stage to deliver a fiery sermon about caring for “the least of these,” as Jesus called the poor and the marginalized.

As usual, he reiterated that this is not about conservative or liberal; it’s not about Democrats or Republicans. These rallies began eight years ago, before the Republicans took the majority in the legislature. This movement is about right versus wrong; it’s about the morality of leaving people behind instead of lifting them up. This is about greed and lust for power.

The high point of the day was just after we sang, “We Shall Overcome.” Rev. Barber started to speak again and the sun burst through the clouds.

“The sun is out! Even the Universe is blessing us!” Rev. Barber said to deafening cheers.

Although Rev. Barber is a Christian, members of several faiths — and people who claim no faith but who are guided by justice and morality — have embraced this movement, and it is spreading. Georgia and Florida have started Moral Monday movements.

This rally is just the beginning, though. It must be followed up with a mobilization of voters. All we need do is carry around some voter registration forms, which you can pick up at your county Board of Elections office.

Then, ask people if they are registered to vote. If not, offer to help them register and hand them a form, then take the form and drop it off at the Board of Elections office.

We are out to change the political landscape from one of deprivation for the poor to one of lifting everyone up. We can do this.


Godspeed, Henry and George

At an Oct. 1, 2013, press conference with George Miller and Henry Waxman

At an Oct. 1, 2013, press conference with George Miller and Henry Waxman

Two of my favorite members of the House of Representatives have announced they will retire at the end of this session — George Miller and Henry Waxman.

Both have been strong advocates of the social safety net and of health reform. Without them and their tireless efforts, there would be no Affordable Care Act.

I met Rep. Miller back in the late 1980s when I was a reporter attending a conference on family issues at the Watergate Hotel. This was back when Gannett would pay to send its reporters to conferences and seminars.

I hadn’t heard much about Rep. Miller, but his presentation impressed me. He talked about women — and men — having choices such as job sharing and part-time work to give parents more time with family. He talked about the Family Leave Act, which then-President Reagan refused to sign.

I paid a lot more attention to him after that, and he was and still is consistently progressive. When liberal was a dirty word, he was proud to be one. He never backed off his belief that all people deserve a decent life and that government can help more people achieve it.

I got to meet Henry Waxman last Oct. 1, when I participated in a press conference in Washington. I was surprised at his height, for one thing. I don’t know why, but I always thought he was much taller. Perhaps it was the magnitude of his influence in progressive policy that made him seem larger than life.

Miller and Waxman both were first elected during the Watergate era. Both of them went up against titans of industry, including the tobacco industry in 1994.

The two were among the crafters of the Affordable Care Act, which was as much the product of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s relentless efforts as it was the president’s. Waxman said that the law was the realization of a lifelong dream.

It was an honor to stand with them on Oct. 1, and to thank them in person for the work they have done over the years.

Miller commented that we both were young the first time we met. With all the battles going on now between people of reason and the far right wing, it’s enough to make anyone want to get the hell out of Washington.

I know there are younger members who will rise to take their places, but I will miss these two of the most progressive voices in the House.


Screw the platitudes! Let’s be bold!

sotuI was disappointed at last night’s State of the Union Address. I wanted bold, and what we got was tepid, with a few inspirational quotes thrown in.

“I believe when women succeed, the nation succeeds.”

“Time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.”

“With our feet set in the present and our eyes cast to the future, America will be a great nation.”

“America does not stand still, and neither will I.”

“No American working full time should be living in poverty.”

But he talked about support for the natural gas industry, which is destroying the environment wherever it “extracts” gas using the method known as fracking. I wanted to hear that fracking won’t be promoted. I wanted to hear the president propose a ban on fracking and bigger tax breaks for solar and wind power.

He talked about using an executive order to increase the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10, which still leaves workers far short of a living wage. If you’re going to use your executive power, Mr. President, be bold. The vast majority of Americans would approve of a $15 minimum wage, which is a living wage.

Perhaps the president is so used to making timid proposals and having them shot down by Republicans that he can’t be bold anymore.

Well, Mr. President, you have two years left. You can’t run again. Show us what you have and make it good. If the Republicans want to stand in your way, fine; let the American people know that’s what they’re doing.

I’m thinking no more Mr. Nice Guy because they’ll just crap all over you no matter what you do.

We are locked in a battle for the very life of our Democracy. Corporate powers want to run things their way, which means slave wages, rape of the environment, intrusions on women’s right to control their own bodies and worse.

We must stand up. If we can’t be bold, we will lose.



yaraYesterday in Raleigh, I was found guilty of second-degree trespass for being in the rotunda of the General Assembly on May 13.

The photo above is of Yara Allen being on arrested the same day I was. We sang all the way to jail, and she was tried and found guilty with me yesterday.

I was at the legislative building with Yara and others who were trying to get the ultra-conservative legislative leaders to hear why we oppose their onslaught of laws harming working people, women, children, voters and the poor.

My issue was health care, and I carried a photo of my son, Michael, who died from lack of access to care.

I had tried writing, e-mailing, calling and even going in person with Rev. William Barber to see House Speaker Thom Tillis. He literally ran away from us.

In this year alone, about 2,800 people will die because they lack access to health care. We could prevent it by expanding Medicaid, but these people refuse to do that, even though it costs states nothing to expand Medicaid until 2017, and then it’s just 10 percent of the costs that states will have to bear.

For that little cost, we could save 2,800 human lives every year. They don’t care.

These same legislators slashed access to abortion, saying they’re pro-life, but they’re not. They’re anti-abortion, and that’s different. Pro-life means you want to save people’s lives even AFTER they emerge from the birth canal.

I also oppose the slashing of unemployment benefits and the massive cuts to education, the dangers to the environment and of course, the arrogance of these people.

We in the Moral Mondays movement went into the General Assembly building to be heard, and we were arrested because they could hear us.

Yesterday, the judge merged eight cases. She gave the state six hours to present its case and then rushed through the defense, continually asking our attorneys to hurry it up because of the “late hour.” In all, we had less than two hours to present the defense of eight people.

The judge found the two men not guilty and the six women guilty, even though we all did the same thing.

We all were welcomed into the building as officers held the door for us. We were singing as we entered the building, so they can’t say they didn’t know what our intentions were. In fact, the chief of the General Assembly police stood outside the building. He could have stopped us, but he let us in. More officers showed us where to go once we were in the building. Then, a few minutes later, those same officers arrested us for being in the building.

One judge has been hearing most of the cases, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to her judgments.

Our attorneys use the same arguments trial after trial, but the verdicts are mixed.

We were arrested for political reasons. Our freedom of expression was compromised.

One of the women convicted yesterday said she believes we are political prisoners. That might sound harsh, but the police chief was asked by the DA to just issue citations, and he refused. He arrested us to try and intimidate others.

He heard my testimony yesterday and told me afterward that he didn’t know the significance of the photo I carried at the protest. He said he can’t imagine the pain of outliving a child. I told him I hope he never has to bear it.

So, I am a convicted criminal because of my “political” view that everyone deserves access to health care. I am in good company. There are 941 of us here in NC just for this one movement. But there are thousands more — tens of thousands more — in the American history books, not to mention millions more around the world who have stood up to tyrants.

Right now, we rabblerousers are more popular that the NC legislature because people understand what’s at stake.

I’m not giving up. My attorney has filed an appeal already. I refuse to be intimidated by this immoral crew in Raleigh. I am not afraid, and I will not back down.



Thugs in Durham

Police in Durham, dressed in riot gear, released tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

Police in Durham, dressed in riot gear, released tear gas into a crowd of protesters.

Last night, protesters in Durham, NC, were attacked by the city’s police, who were dressed in riot gear for a vigil-turned-protest.

My friend, Laurel Ashton, was driving to the vigil for Jesus Huerta, a 17-year-old who died while in police custody, when she stopped at a traffic light to see people running away from police and her car was engulfed in tear gas.

“I hope everyone is safe and far away from the police right now,” she wrote.

Huerta was in the back seat of a police car in November, arrested for trespass, when police say he shot himself in the head with a gun that did not belong to police. Since police are supposed to search people before they are placed in the car, no one knows where the gun came from or to whom it belonged.

Both Huerta’s family and police called for peaceful protest, but Thursday night’s vigil turned violent. Police say participants carried banners and shouted obscenities at them and began throwing bottles and other objects at them.

Police answered with tear gas and billy clubs, just as they did at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

As protesters neared police headquarters, they were met by a line of officers in riot gear, as though those in the protest were presumed to be violent.

Police knew about the vigil, and although no one had applied for a permit, they say they allowed the event to go on. But they met protesters with a barricade of officers dressed for combat. What the hell did they expect the response to be?

Nothing bad happened until after protesters were met by riot police and some of the protesters began shouting.

Those doing the shouting were in the wrong, but did they deserve being met with full force? I don’t think so. It was an over-reaction by police.

There must be a better way to do this. Are police so frightened of citizens that they have to show up to a vigil in riot gear? Do they not realize this will provoke people who already distrust them?

The whole thing could have been defused by police offering to protect vigil participants instead of attacking them. Police are supposed to keep the peace, not provoke violence.

We need answers to the questions surrounding the death of a 17-year-old who was arrested for trespassing. We do not need attacks from police on the people who are asking the questions.

We now also need answers to questions about why police over-reacted and why participants in a protest were told they would be arrested for unlawful assembly after police allowed the march to go on and why protesters were met with tear gas and billy clubs.

I’m not saying everyone in the crowd was blameless, but the response was overblown and overly violent.



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