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Trying to take care of my little piece of the planet

Something’s Rotten in NC

To borrow a sports metaphor, we’re playing catch-up in North Carolina, after being largely blind-sided (metaphor #2) by an out-of-state money barrage by Republican money men. This power grab has been outlined in last month’s piece in Politico. Scary stuff indeed. The inside Carolina counterpart to the Koch brothers, is Art Pope, described in the intro to the video below as what happens when you cross the Koch brothers with Karl Rove. But the interview itself is with Chris Kromm, The Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies. Chris was my bench mate in the Wake County Detention Center, following our arrests for civil disobedience on week five of the NAACP’s Moral Monday protests.

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Chris’s piece on “How Art Pope Killed Clean Elections” is well worth a read.

As much as I’d rather not think about it. We have to get our game on for 2014. Now.

Moral Monday Video (6-10-13)

No, I didn’t get arrested again. That would be violating the terms of my release from jail last week. So make note: news reports of the ~390 arrests during six weeks of Moral Mondays fail to point out that this represents 390 individual choices, not the same folks again and again. As you can see from the video I took yesterday, despite a downpour during the rally, there were easily 1500+ people there to bear witness. And as you can see from the two-by-two procession near the end, a significant portion of those practicing civil disobedience were clergy. North Carolina clergy, I might add, Governor. Not ‘outsiders‘ Some six hours after the video, I personally drove several of them from the detention center following their release, to Pullen Baptist Church where food and more friends awaited them.

So, in the weeks to come, please consider lending a hand. You could send money to the NC chapter of the NAACP. (Their State Treasurer was one of the friends I made late last night, a sweet woman about my age, who clearly puts in LONG hours for the movement.) You could safely attend the next rally, as thousands have done with zero chance of arrest. Or you can deliberately make the decision to commit civil disobedience by refusing to leave the General Assembly when asked. It doesn’t involve shouting, or being dragged, on confrontation of any kind. Other than a polite ‘no’ when told to exit. All parties involved know that neither is the ‘enemy’.

Regardless, take a look at your neighbors on the video. And be proud.

What a Difference a … Couple of Decades Makes

I know that this won’t be funny to anyone else but me. But I came across this memo last week while cleaning out my office. It struck me as absurd at the time (memo is dated 1992) enough so that I pilfered a copy. But the edict was honest-to-god serious, from our department’s home office on the third floor. Not just any third floor. We’re talking about a fairly prestigious medical school, in the oldest public university in the United States.

The point is: Despite the fact that I still love teaching ‘kids’, it is SO time for me to leave that noble work to others, in this age of instant access to literally the world’s knowledge.

Given that I was forged in the age of mimeograph machines, overhead transparencies, and pencil sharpeners.

Sharpeners

Why? Here’s Why.

As I said earlier, one of the benefits of spending more than ten hours in jail for civil disobedience, was the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals. Chris Kromm, my bench mate for several hours Monday/Tuesday, was largely quiet, but thoughtful with a sense of humor. I had no idea that he was about to publish one of the most insightful pieces on North Carolina politics I’ve ever read.
It was published moments ago.

I knew that I wasn’t up to the task of explaining why this time was different, why it forced my hand.
I knew I’d fall short if I tried to lay out why I felt that this time our legislators’ actions were outrageous enough for us to get arrested just to call attention to them.

After reading the article by Chris in The American Prospect, now I realize that sometimes you should just leave it to the pros.
Well done, sir. Thank you.

Am I Happy? It Depends on Your Definition.

I’m sure you’ve never wondered, but this is what I look like at 3:30AM.

Mugshot

No. I’m not proud of the look.
Nor of the fact that it’s from the Wake County Detention Center.
But as my only arrest in 58 years, I’m not ashamed of it either.

So far, I’ve heard two public complaints about Mega Moral Monday, the occasion of my intentional arrest.
One, that we’re wasting the taxpayers’ money by tying up the law enforcement officers and the court system in getting ourselves arrested by committing civil disobedience.
Two, that we’re obviously not serious, because some of those arrested have been singing and laughing during the process.

Both are fair questions.

Are we costing Wake County money? Yes. In the short run. But we minimize this impact by being 100% cooperative (other than the initial order to disperse). The 151 of us who were arrested on Monday night said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ because there was zero reason not to. The officers from the General Assembly, the City of Raleigh and the Wake County Sheriff’s and Detention Center were professional and polite, without exception. And our issue had nothing to do with them. So we tried to expedite the process, costing no more overtime than needed.
More importantly, in the long run our protest is focused on getting local agencies the resources they need – a concept the General Assembly seems to have missed. Deliberately.

Second, how can we be serious if we sometimes laugh, applaud our fellow arrestees, and sing spirituals? While that’s hard to see from the other side, the answer seems obvious to me. It is an expression of joy in taking action, by the only means left to us. Are we partying? Look at my picture. No. I am tired. I am moderately uncomfortable after ten hours on steel benches, with zip-tie handcuffs for the first couple. No, I am not scared. I am well protected by professionals from the sad cases they deal with night after night. And I am secure in the knowledge that I will sleep in my own bed, even though it won’t be until after sunrise. But I’m not enjoying the physical experience. But I have to confess that I did enjoy the opportunity to meet dozens of like-minded individuals, who believe, like me, that this step was the only semi-rational option we had to call attention to the impending train wreck that is the result of the GOP’s agenda: a regressive tax structure, a denial of voting rights, cuts in unemployment and Medicaid, trashing of environmental protections, the list goes on.

So, we’re not ‘happy’. But we are taking strength by actually DOING something. And sometimes, that calls for a song.

Mega Moral Monday

Still clearing the cobwebs after a nap, following yesterday’s arrest and detention at the NAACP’s Mega Moral Monday. I met some amazing people; at one point about nine hours into the detention I noted that I was the only one in my group of six men remaining to be processed that was NOT a man of the cloth. Their level of commitment, most being from several hours away in western NC, was impressive. So a few photos from the day; courtesy of the News and Observer, which had a good summary.

Crowd

Example

My friend, Dr. Charles Van der Horst, arrested at an earlier Moral Monday rally.

Entering

NotEasy2

Cuffed

Yeah, I had to sneak in one of me.

ManofGod

Future

This is why we do this. They deserve a North Carolina that speaks for them.

Busted

Home earlier this morning after being released from the Wake County Detention Center at 4:30AM. Too tired to write coherently after ten hours in jail, but happy.

Yeah. Happy. A memorable evening with phenomenal people; 150 fellow arrestees, along with good friends like Tom High (in the video on the left) who waited outside all night to greet us on our release, and good public servants, the officers who largely treated us with respect, and always with dignity.

If you care for proof, I’m the shaggy-haired guy getting led away in cuffs in the lead-off footage.

Meanwhile, I need some sleep.

And So It Begins

It’s a quiet Sunday morning here in rural Chatham County.

Since I started kindergarten in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1960, Sunday was the last day of the week to squeeze in the things I wanted or needed to do, before Monday morning.
And Monday was when the world outside called the shots, for at least five days. Week after week.
Until today. Because I retired on Friday.

So here are a few shots from my brief stroll around this morning, some wild roses, some primrose and some peas.
Because my thoughts about this new reality aren’t well-formed enough for words just yet.

Wild roses

Primrose

Peas

A Duel With Myself

Rants are easy. Because when you’re absolutely certain that your solution is the right one, finding the words to make your point borders on fun.

This is not fun. This is hard. Because I’m genuinely conflicted. Not just between the rational me and the emotional me, but within each camp there are arguments and counter-arguments over what (if anything) to do about guns. I have been out of town, on the road since Friday’s tragedy, and while I realize that many well thought out arguments have been penned and publicly shared, I have yet to try and absorb any of them. So far, I have simply been having a difficult conversation with myself.

On December 11th, in an incredible stroke of poor timing, I commented on Facebook that I’m not your typical liberal, stating: ‘I own firearms. Get over it.’ On December 14th, a twenty year-old with no criminal record murdered twenty children who were less than eight years old, and their teachers.

The murderer committed this crime with a gun not terribly different from one that I own.

If headlines and social media are any indication, that act last Friday sounded an alarm to this nation. But cynically, so have similar massacres in high schools and colleges and places of worship and work across this nation. Year after year. Tragedy after tragedy, with dozens of innocent victims. And each time it happens, we wake to the alarm, but then hit the snooze button and drift back down into slumber. Until it blares again, announcing more gun-related funerals.

I yearn for a solution, knowing that as a gun owner, I am in large measure, the problem.

The liberal in me accepts that gun ownership should be regulated and monitored, and believes that more guns in the public sphere does not make us safer. I also agree that certain semi-auto weapons (banned until 2004) should have stayed banned, along with high capacity ammo clips and armor-piercing cartridges. But the ‘other’ me absolutely balks at the thought of making private possession of handguns illegal, or similar attempts to disarm law abiding citizens. In my conflicted opinion, there are practical, legal and cultural hurdles to such draconian measures, making them simply untenable. And frankly, if such bans were imposed tomorrow, I would ignore them.

As I said: ‘I’m part of the problem.’ Or am I?

I believe that an upstanding citizen has the right to protect themselves. In my case, as a rural resident, I am the first responder, with the nearest 911-dispatched law officer a minimum of twenty minutes away. Thus, I own a gun and am proficient in its use. It’s my job. That said, I don’t need a thirty-round magazine for personal defense. Neither does any other law-abiding citizen. Do criminals have them already? Hell yes. So give law enforcement the best tools possible, but get as many of the high capacity non-hunting weapons used in Columbine and Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook, off the street as possible beginning with their manufacture and importation. Despite the fact that you’ll never make them disappear, this alone will help. Because, this is not about criminals (who will have them). This is about crazy.

So, in addition to banning hi-cap magazines (again) and assault weapons (again), and beefing up gun registration and background checks, and all the other ‘assaults on the Second Amendment’ that conservatives scream about, there is one other infringement on civil liberties that absolutely needs to happen, and this one will infuriate the liberals. We need to take a serious look at dismantling the statutes that protect the privacy of batshit crazy people. And of the mental health professionals and families that shield them with good intent, like the mother of Friday’s monster. Because none of these horrific crimes were committed by hardened criminals. No, these crimes were committed by people with long histories of serious mental illness, who should never have been within a mile of a gun of any kind. And who used completely legal means to acquire them. That is a travesty. And if addressing it tramples on their civil rights. Tough shit.

So, yes, we need to make changes. But both sides have to give some ground. Because while this country would be better off if only the police had guns, that genie left the bottle long ago and ain’t coming back. So, yes let’s turn off the spigot, ending the flood of guns not designed for hunting or self-defense, and let’s monitor purchases of weapons and ammo. But let’s also break down privacy barriers that protect the ‘rights’ of psychotics, while endangering the rest of us. And our children.

Yeah. I’m square in the middle on this one.

Best. Politician. Ever. (in my lifetime)

No. That is not an oxymoron. Politicians can be a force for good. But mainly I’m just referring to his mad political skills. With people. With understanding policy. With language. And with other politicians.

Today is the last day of his last campaign.

And he’s going to squeeze every ounce from it that is humanly possible.

Thanks, Mr. President. I shall not see your likes again.