Protest Packs Asheville

Mountain Moral Monday
Adelante Juntos, Forward Together

The repressive ALEC agenda happening in North Carolina is slated to arrive in your state sooner or later, so this report on yesterday’s Mountain Moral Monday protest is more than local news. Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. Yesterday I participated, not only in a rally but in a movement against this agenda, as ten thousand of us gathered to protest the North Carolina legislature’s restrictive new voting rights law and their draconian cuts to the full spectrum of human services.

The homemade signs people carried told the story even better than the line-up of speakers and singers. My favorite, featuring a lion illustration, was, When Spiders Unite, They Can Tie Down a Lion, Ethiopian Proverb. Many placards linked the seemingly disparate issues. Some examples: NC protects the rights of, followed by a list with all items crossed out except one. Here’s the list and you can guess which one was left inviolate: Voters, Women, Minorities, Underprivileged, rich White Men, Lbgt People. I imagined families creating these signs on their living room floors; carpeted floors, stone floors, wooden floors. I imagined people bent over their kitchen tables with markers, in their apartments or houses or churches or senior housing complexes, thinking about what it was they cared about. Keep Your Hands Off My Voting Rights, Medicare, Water, Uterus! Yes, the NC legislators this session dipped their hands deep into every one of these areas, and did drastic harm. A man with a sign lettered in thick red marker holds it high. It says, CUTS HURT, blood is dripping from each letter.

In a six-month session, 1700 bills were introduced in the NC legislature, hundreds of them straight out of the ALEC manual. This organization promotes legislation all across the country that works against the people. Shame on You, said one protest sign. What About Progress? asked another. An elder couple strolled by carrying an American flag between them. A woman stood in front draped in a huge rainbow flag with the single word imprinted on it: PEACE. One of the “jailbird” women asked us from the stage to find out which members of our so-called representatives have attended the ALEC conferences, and which members have accepted money from millionaire Art Pope, whose outsized political machine has caused judges to buckle and legislators to fawn. You are supposed to work for us, not against us, said a sign carried by an outraged mother. Cruelty will not be re-elected, said another.  Our governor is a pusher for the ALEC agenda, proclaimed the next. These signs were mostly hand-lettered, and some were works of art. The woman sitting next to me was a middle-aged redhead who told me her people have been in these mountains since after the Revolutionary War. It took her all morning to create her beautiful colored drawing of a huge tree standing by the water, with glitter letters spelling out, We Shall Not Be Moved. She said if she didn’t know it would cost her job, she too would have gotten arrested in Raleigh along with the 930 others.

Mountain Moral Monday Rally Asheville NC 8/5/13
Person Waking Up and Fed Up

This is what democracy looks like. A labor speaker told us we have found our way back into union on issues. A speaker on Immigration Reform spoke about undocumented workers arrested at the Shogun Buffet Restaurant who are scheduled for deportation, without even being paid by the Shogun Buffet for their 70 hours a week labor at less than minimum wage. (August 19 ,8:00 AM, Wages Claim case at the Buncombe County Courthouse). His speech in Spanish was translated sentence by poetic sentence. He said we are like birds in the mountains singing with one marvelous voice. Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of The Campaign of Southern Equality, made me cry when she declared that, “Our elders need to know we will be recognized in their lifetimes.” She brilliantly linked gay rights to voting rights, saying that the restrictive new Voter ID law and Amendment One will both be defeated.

In between speakers, Emmy-award nominated, local blues singer Cat Williams belted out Stand By Me; the Green Grannies, who sing for the climate every third Saturday in front of the Vance Monument, led us in their version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic; Peggy Ratusz gave us a profound rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia with her lyrics, We’re not shades of black and white, we’re the human race and we unite tonight. While she sang, a little girl handed me a flyer to come back at 3 PM on August 8 to rally for FemCare, the reproductive health clinic closed down in Asheville last week, the last abortion clinic that had been open in North Carolina after the regulation bill passed in the NC legislature.

Reverend Barber of the NAACP, who started Moral Mondays in Raleigh, gave us the history of resistance and reminded us that we have reversed the course of history before, that we are children of a multicultural movement, that we can use our hearts to love the legislators even while we stand against their actions. Because he has schooled himself to add all sexualities to his litany of all those who are being brought together in this movement, I could tolerate his overuse of the Lord, and let go of his tendency toward the military lexicon of enemy, warrior, army of resistance, right winning out over wrong. He ended his exhortation with a secular plea for peace: We are saved by hope. As I left the rally, I passed one more amazing sign, held by a teacher who told me that North Carolina is now 50th in the nation in teacher salary increase. Her sign was a quote from Audre Lorde: The learning process is something you can ignite— like a riot!

And then I saw the two children. I will let these future citizens have the last word. Here are their handmade signs.



 Adelante Juntos!Forward Together, Not One Step Back. 

Praise All Our Choices

Eastbourne-Lammas-Festival-2011-54-200x300Today is the sacred midpoint between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox. For this Lammas festival and the first harvest of summer, I share a poem by Marge Piercy. It not only reminds us of Habondia’s gifts, but it highlights the right of choice, which women are again seeing violated. This week the only abortion clinic in my town was shut down by the state of North Carolina, following the legislature’s passing yet another appalling measure, this one designed to regulate such clinics out of existence. Can we celebrate Lammas, can we dance while the fiery gasps of the dying patriarchy torch our choices? How do we stand as witness to suffering while claiming our sacrament of joy? Piercy shows us a way. We can dance today as a way to enliven and empower ourselves in the face of suffering. We can move towards life even as the toppling structures around us move toward death. Dance and joy and celebration must be enacted as ways to address oppression. It is not a superficial pleasure, this Sabbath of Mutual Respect. It is the deepest dance there is.

The Sabbath of Mutual Respect

In the natural year come two thanksgivings,
the harvest of summer and the harvest of fall,
two times when we eat and drink and remember our dead
under the golden basin of the moon of plenty.

Abundance, Habondia, food for the winter,
too much now and survival later. After
the plant bears, it dies into seed.
The blowing grasses nourish us, wheat
and corn and rye, millet and rice, oat
and barley and buckwheat, all the servicable
grasses of the pasture that the cow grazes,
the lamb, the horse, the goat; the grasses
that quicken into meat and cheese and milk,
the humble necessary mute vegetable bees,
the armies of the grasses waving their
golden banners of ripe seed.
The sensual
round fruit that gleams with the sun
stored in its sweetness.
The succulent
ephemera of the summer garden, bloodwarm
tomatoes, tender small squash, crisp
beans, the milky corn, the red peppers
exploding like cherry bombs in the mouth.

We praise abundance by eating of it,
reveling in choice on a table set with roses
and lilies and phlox, zucchini and lettuce
and eggplant before the long winter
of root crops.
Fertility and choice:
every row dug in spring means weeks
of labor. Plant too much and the seedlings
choke in weeds as the warm rain soaks them.
The goddess of abundance Habondia is also
the spirit of labor and choice.
In another
life, dear sister, I too would bear six fat
children. In another life, my sister, I too
would love another woman and raise one child
together as if that pushed from both our wombs.
In another life, sister, I too would dwell
solitary and splendid as a lighthouse on the rocks
or be born to mate for life like the faithful goose.
Praise all our choices. Praise any woman
who chooses, and make safe her choice.

Habondia, Artemis, Cybele, Demeter, Ishtar,
Aphrodite, Au Set, Hecate, Themis, Lilith,
Thea, Gaia, Bridgit, The Great Grandmother of Us
All, Yemanja, Cerridwen, Freya, Corn Maiden,
Mawu, Amaterasu, Maires, Nut, Spider-Woman,
Neith, Au Zit, Hathor, Inanna, Shin Moo,
Diti, Arinna, Anath, Tiamat, Astoreth:
the names flesh out our histories, our choices,
our passions and what we will never embody
but pass by with respect. When I consecrate
my body in the temple of our history,
when I pledge myself to remain empty
and clear for the voices coming through
I do not choose for you or lessen your choice.

Habondia, the real abundance, is the power
to say yes and to say no, to open
and to close, to take or to leave
and not to be taken by force or law
or fear or poverty or hunger.
To bear children or not to bear by choice
is holy. To bear children unwanted
is to be used like a public sewer.
To be sterilized unchosen is to have
your heart cut out. To love women
is holy and holy is the free love of men
and precious to live taking whichever comes
and precious to live unmated as a peachtree.

Praise the lives you did not choose.
They will heal you, tell your story, fight
for you. You eat the bread of their labor.
You drink the wine of their joy. I tell you
after I went under the surgeon’s knife
for the laparoscopy I felt like a trumpet
an Amazon was blowing sonorous charges on.
Then my womb learned to open on the full
moon without pain and my pleasure deepened
till my body shuddered like troubled water.
When my friend gave birth I held her in joy
as the child’s head thrust from her vagina
like the sun rising at dawn wet and red.

Praise our choices, sisters, for each doorway
open to us was taken by squads of fighting
women who paid years of trouble and struggle,
who paid their wombs, their sleep, their lives
that we might walk through these gates upright.
Doorways are sacred to women for we
are the doorways of life and we must choose
what comes in and what goes out. Freedom
is our real abundance.

c. Marge Piercy

Ding Dong the DOMA’s Dead

images-4For over forty years I have lived my adult life in a country that has not recognized my right to love, but I never expected to be affected so deeply when DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court today. What the ruling brings up in me are feelings I never even suspected were hidden. I want to understand these tears and tremors. The surge of longing to be seen and accepted is making me shaky. Why now?

Why not now. Why not a tsunami after forty years of stuffing down and damming up such natural longings for societal acceptance? My tumult and tears show me the pain I have hidden. It feels terrifying to allow hope. Yet, believing that DING DONG the DOMA’s DEAD brings a cleansing exhilaration! No matter how disappointed I may feel at another juncture down the road, right now the release of hope feels a bit like taking the risk of falling in love. You know it’s maybe dangerous, but you don’t care. But a tumult of questions arises and stirs confusion. Will I now expect too much? Will I want to live with my love in an equal rights state? Not where I live now? No one ever promised that sweeping change would be easy.

The repeal of DOMA is causing an abrupt societal lifting of long shame. Since shame is socially induced, it can only be lifted in a socially-witnessed context.DING DONG the DOMA’s DEAD and, pow, we are no more to be treated as shadow citizens, whose plea for passing invisible was the most we could ask. Yet how can shadow citizens enter the full sunlight of freedom to love without blinking and stumbling? For decades I have held myself in a certain posture of resistance and ready defense. I have, in my bones, the experience of profound social exclusions and wounding remarks. The legal restrictions have been, before now, air I breathed, forgetting its poisons in order to keep breathing.

Long ago on this same date as DOMA’s overturn, my mother and my father married one another. There they were, scared and ecstatic, two who loved one another, making a vow to bond as a mated pair. They faced the unknown as I do, and the risk they took was fully as foolish and demanding as the one I face today, should I marry the woman I adore. But this is the first time in my life that my society allows and endorses my taking that risk!My mother and my father took their right to love for granted. That is the difference.

For me at the age of sixty-six, this fresh air of acceptance releases so much untapped energy within me that I hardly recognize my breadth! May this be the true legacy of DOMA dead— that millions, like me, will pour our released love and power and joy, out into the wide world. I end by thanking each person who took each small action along the long path to overturning DOMA. Each has been  a drop of water in the stream. Today, in a stunning waterfall, the stream of change cascades thunderously over the edge, into the pool where we all have the freedom to love.


Mother’s Day Proclamation

Did you know that women who lost their sons started Mother’s Day as a protest to the carnage of the Civil War?IMG_0281 Women all over the world are still losing their children to war. Here is the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, written in Boston, 1870 by Julia Ward Howe:

“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have heart, whether our baptism be that of water or tears! Say firmly: 

‘We will not have our great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limits of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period considered with its objects to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, and the great and general interests of peace.”

For the love of all mothers’ sons and daughters, let’s take Julia Ward Howe’s eloquent plea to heart. Let’s look around at our own lives, and search out where and how we can make peace. If you are so moved, please comment on how you will contribute to a peaceful world.