Self Sufficient Steward

Cutting and Running?

On June third, I was arrested and charged with second degree trespassing and failure to disperse at a Moral Monday protest at the NC General Assembly. Tomorrow morning is my first court appearance. After several days of consideration, I’ve decided to accept the District Attorney’s plea agreement rather than plead ‘not guilty’. The agreement involves paying $180 in court costs and serving twenty-five hours of community service. Accepting it was not an easy decision, and most of those who are aware of my arrest will likely be disappointed in my choice. So, I’m going to try and explain my rationale.

First, why did I get arrested in the first place? For me that is easy. What was happening behind the closed doors of the General Assembly was in my view unconscionable, yet the majority of voters were ignorant of the policies that were being enacted in their name. The Democratic legislators in the minority were powerless, and so the NAACP, joined by a cross-section of citizens, committed civil disobedience week after week by refusing to leave the General Assembly rotunda when directed to do so. The resulting nine hundred plus arrests made news week after week. And citizens in their living rooms across the state, indeed across the nation began to ask why. The answer to that question required an airing of the specifics of the myriad of horrific bills that had been passed. And that exposure caused an increasing number of people to question the actions of their legislators, so that in time more people approved of the Moral Monday protestors, than approved of their legislators. So far, the movement has been a remarkable success.

The protest was about legislation involving voting rights, educational cuts, regressive tax rates, etc. It was not about access to the rotunda. In that sense, I have a hard time pleading ‘not guilty’ to the charge of trespassing. I knew the law. Frankly, I was not there to protest the law I was accused of violating. But I violated that law, and I am willing to pay the price demanded. Yes, as these cases proceed through the courts, that law will be challenged, and it may or may not be eventually overturned. But the attention of the public will be on the burden on the court system, not on the law itself, and most importantly not on the horrific legislation I was there to protest. If that particular trespassing law needs to be challenged, then a single case will have the same impact as nine hundred cases; the law will stand or it will fall. And a single case will not burden the court system and the taxpayers further. In addition, this situation is not analogous to the the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s or the Campaign for Southern Equality protests of today. Those protests directly challenge an unjust status quo, and each and every case reminds the public of that specific injustice directly. In our case, most people outside the movement would fail to connect the dots; while watching news coverage of a trespassing trial, they’re unlikely to ponder cuts to early voting.

Fast forward to September, and decision time for me. I lay out the pros and cons of accepting the plea agreement, versus continuing the protest by pleading ‘not guilty’ and forcing the case to trial. I attempted to divide the argument into how my choice would affect me personally, and how it would affect the overall goal of the protest. Personally, foregoing the plea deal is less risky for me than for many. As a retiree, I have time. I live within sixty miles of the courthouse, and I can afford a larger fine if that is the result. That said, I do not want to invest large amounts of time, or money, and I certainly do not relish the thought of actual jail time. However, I feel strongly about the issues that drove me to protest. If I didn’t have serious concerns about the wisdom of an ongoing number of Moral Monday-related trials, I honestly feel I would stand my ground. But I’m not. Because I think pursuing this further is a bad strategy when it comes to achieving our goals. I’ll try to articulate why.

Let me be clear. I am proud to have been arrested as part of this movement, and am not re-thinking the wisdom of that decision. Because I am firmly convinced that those protests achieved their goal – the enlightenment of many North Carolinians who would otherwise have remained ignorant about cuts to their school budgets, about steps taken to suppress future voting, about additional abortion restrictions, etc. The publicity surrounding those weeks of protest accomplished that goal. But the question I asked myself was: “What would the publicity surrounding months of Moral Monday trials accomplish?” Would it improve the public’s understanding of the new regressive tax structure? Would it highlight taxpayer money diverted from public education to private education? Would it explain the gutting of the state’s key environmental oversight commissions? I expect not. I don’t think that it will educate the voters. It will simply showcase taxpayer money being spent on trials of people like myself, who deliberately got ourselves arrested. I believe that many largely apolitical voters, feeling that these trials could have been avoided, will lose sympathy for our efforts. In short, I think continuing this process could backfire. And I believe it is time to declare victory and focus our energies on voter registration and education, so that we can overturn the acts of this past legislative session.

Finally, I fully realize that my position is somewhat heretical among people, zealots like myself, who feel strongly about the righteousness of the Moral Monday protests. But if our goal is repeal of these laws, then that must happen at the ballot box. And to win at the ballot box, we must convince large numbers of non-zealots of the wisdom of our efforts. We did just that with this summer’s rallies, and with the exposure generated by our arrests. I am proud to be associated with those who feel the need to continue along this path. But I do not believe that we will repeat our previous success by pursuing this avenue.

Moral Monday (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’.

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.

Am I Happy? It Depends on Your Definition.

I was arrested and taken to the Wake County Detention Center. I’m not proud of it. 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.

Hitting the Wall in the Culture Wars

Long ago, mom taught me not to discuss politics or religion with people. Well, she told me that anyway. I can’t say that I learned the concept, though it made more sense to me in the days when there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and you didn’t want to start a fight to make things worse. But in recent years the two sides hardened their positions and culled their respective herds of ideologically questionable members such that nobody could talk to anybody on the other side, because there were no bridge-builders left. To me, that seemed a sure recipe for disaster, so I have tried over the years to engage in dialogue across the great divide. I have attempted to remain civil. In the heat of ‘battle’ I have failed at that more than once, never neglecting to apologize and mend fences. I failed again today. And decided I’m done with bridge-building in at least one area. Namely, trying to have a rational discussion with an evangelical Christian who feels that they are on a mission.

The following is an exact transcript (names redacted) of a Facebook conversation, which followed the passage of the North Carolina constitutional Amendment One yesterday, which outlawed any form of civil union other than a marriage between a man and a woman.

I admit that I picked the fight by weighing in on someone’s post, and that I became increasingly snarky.

My old friend “Anne” leads off with her post, soon to be joined by “Cathy”, a kindred spirit.

* * *

Anne: “The Lord is hearing the cries of HIS people and is healing our land! Praise the Lord for this victory!” (passage of Amendment One)

Anne: “For my brothers and sister who struggle with homosexuality I am committed to pray that the Lord will show you the truth that will set you free! I truly love you with the love of the Lord who created YOU and wants to know HIS truth!”

Me: “Despite the best efforts of our forefathers, yesterday we weakened that wall separating church and state. The ‘cries’ I hear are theirs, and those of tolerance-loving people of all faiths.”

Cathy: “The “separation of church and state” (which is wording that doesn’t even exist in the constitution) was to keep the affairs of government out of the church, not to keep morality and truth out of government. Just because people have a “right to choose” doesn’t make their choices right. If I “choose” to slap someone can I justify that based upon my individual “rights”? Yet everyday we murder thousands of unborn children and devise ways to live lifestyles that are Biblically wrong and we do it all in the name of “choice”. The champions of “CHOICE” would be quick to prosecute me for my violent behavior in slapping someone or tearing down a forest, but will justify their own murderous and devious behavior against an unborn child and the GOD-instituted way of marriage and the family. Choice is the biggest lie to be shoved down the throats of the nations of the world. And tolerance is really only tolerance if Christians are okay with the wrong, wicked, and immoral things the world wants to do. Tolerance is something liberals want to beat conservatives down with, but it isn’t something that liberals want to extend to conservatives. It’s such a double standard.”

Me: “You are correct that the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ does not appear in the Constitution. You should have stopped there. It is a concept espoused in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, interpreting the intent of the Constitution. The word ‘God’ does not exist in the Constitution either. And the separation was most certainly to keep religion out of government, thus the phrase: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”. You won a battle yesterday. You will lose this war.”

Anne (to me): “No…YOU have already lost the war you just don’t see it yet…but one day my friend, EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is LORD! And just because you don’t believe that does not make it any less true that YOUR knee will bow as well my friend. The sad part is that unless you come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ, you will not be a part of the miracle of heaven…and that breaks my heart!”

Cathy: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. AND WHOSOEVER WAS NOT FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE WAS CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE.”

“This is how the war ends. Christ is victorious. Saved, born again, believers will be found written in the book of life. All others who rejected Christ are not in the book. I pray that your heart will be touched with the truth.”

Me: “From the ALL CAPS, I suspect that you’d prefer me in the lake of fire. Let’s each keep a book. You can have the bible and leave me the Constitution.”

Cathy: “I would absolutely NOT prefer anyone in the lake of fire. However, God believes in choice also. We each choose where our eternity will be. The all caps was only to show the emphasis on the seriousness of our choices. There are choices that lead to light and life and there are choices that lead to darkness and death. I can assure you that the choice of a nation to forsake the Creator and kill unborn babies and defy God’s plan for marriage will lead to darkness and death. I don’t know why you believe that Christians are haters. Standing firmly on rock solid truth is not hate. It actually says: I love the Lord enough that I will not compromise what He has said, and I love others enough to try and show them that Christ loves them and wants them to choose Him. Not eternity in the lake of fire. The constitution is considered by God to be part of the wood, hay, and stubble that will all be burned away. The Bible is eternal. I’ll gladly keep it. And as twisted as the Constitution has become, I’d much rather keep the one that hasn’t changed ever and has no amendments to it. It is perfect in its entirety. I’ll gladly let you have the ever-shifting, ever-changing, subject to human interpretation from generation to generation constitution. I’ll keep the KJV!”

Anne (to me): “Your response to my last post is typical of so many liberals who read something and make it say what you want it to say…your words were strickly for affect and it does not work anymore. You obviously did not read the last past of the post as I said that it saddened me that you may not spend eternity in heaven…how do you translate that into “I prefer that you’d spend eternity in the lake of fire”? I have learned to expect this kind of anger from the left and those who support the things that are happening in our world that is causing it to crumble. As I have said so many times all I want is for you to know Christ…the one who saves and wants you to know HIM. Think what you want but that is the absolute truth…and by the way, the constitution belongs to ME as well…and the bible is yours too, maybe you should read it as much as you do the constitution.”

“There is way to much personal interpretation of the constitution and as Cathy said, it has changed so many times over the years that no one recognizes it anymore!”

Me: “OK. This conversation has become satire. Not a single word in the Constitution has changed. The original sits under glass for all to read. Amendments are equally documented, only added after a defined process and ratified by voters in 3/4 of the states. The Bible on the other hand was written in languages other than English, over hundreds of years, by dozens of writers documenting events decades in the past. After that, there have been translations and interpretations, some clearly done for political reasons, for example the KJV. Regardless, your interpretation is apparently the only true god that has ever existed, and he works through you, with the intent of gaining dominion over all of the rest of us.”

“I can no longer have a conversation with someone who is so convinced that her personal version of God needs to rule my world, that she is incapable of reason.”

‎Cathy (to me): “:( my heart is sad for you.”

Anne (to me): “What you don’t like is that I am incapable of YOUR reason…and that makes you so mad. I have no personal ‘version’ of God, there is only one…and I would never try to rule your world…That is the Lords job. No matter what I am going to pray for you!”

* * *

Is it asking to much to be able to have a conversation about the meaning of a constitutional amendment?

Apparently so.