Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blogger Awards: Andy Stephenson

I dont usually pay much attention to these things, but Deltoid makes a case that a vote should be made this time. First, some background. William Rivers Pitt delivers a eulogy for Stephenson:

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

- Words inscribed on the gravestone of Brandon Lee

It was late July 2004, and it was a hot day for Seattle. The park was filled with activists, organizers and regular folks, there to hear a battery of speakers who had come together for this stop on the Rolling Thunder Democracy Tour. I spent a couple of hours that day in a crowded tent with election reform activist Andy Stephenson, running a teach-in on electronic touch-screen voting machines, corporate control of the vote, and what could be done about it.

I threw in my two cents here and there, but this was Andy’s show. He had thrown his entire life into the fight for election reform, he had crisscrossed the country a dozen times, he had raided the offices of public officials with camcorder in hand to ask questions and demand answers, he had run for the office of Secretary of State in Washington on a platform of reforming the way we run elections in this country, and on that hot July day in Seattle, he was despondent.

As we sweltered in the tent, Andy ticked off all the problems we were sure to face in the coming November presidential election. There was no independent vetting of these voting machines, he explained, so there was no way to tell if the hardware and software within was counting things properly. There were no paper ballots involved, so recounts were a thing of the past. Votes tallied on these machines wound be transferred via unsecured modem to central processing computers – which were basically PCs with Windows software – that had no security and could be easily tampered with. The companies distributing these machines and counting the votes were run by men who gave money to, and in some instances actively worked for, the Bush for President campaign.

I watched the crowd slump lower and lower into their seats as Andy rattled off the grim news. Meek hands were raised here and there. “What can we do about it?” people asked. Not much more than I’ve done, I could feel Andy thinking, and what I’ve done hasn’t fixed this damned situation one bit. He squared his shoulders and replied, “Get in touch with your Secretary of State and explain the situation. Write letters to the editor. Let people know this is happening. Do what you can.”

Flash forward to a cold day in January 2005. I walked the route of the Bush inauguration in Washington DC, counting the protesters and the Bush supporters who were squaring off in shouting matches on every corner. It wasn’t Boston cold, but it was cold enough, the chill in the air enhanced by the overwhelming police and military presence. I made my way down to the main protest gathering point, and there in the crowd was a familiar face.

Andy Stephenson stood off to the side, red hair sliding out from under a black wool cap, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his pea coat, ruddy face downcast as he watched the parade go by. We looked at each other a moment, no words available to capture the bottomless depths we felt yawning before us, and then turned to watch the show. When Bush went by in his rolling cannonball of an armored limousine, Andy and I and everyone gathered on that corner turned our backs.

Later that night we sat together with a large crew of activists in a bar that had come to be our gathering point for post-action decompression in DC. I looked over at one point and saw Andy weeping silently, shoulders shaking as all of the frustration and anger poured out of him. Everything he had warned us about in July had happened – in Ohio, in Florida, in New Mexico – and on that night he felt like an utter failure.

Several of us gathered around him to console him. I took his hand and said, “You know, Andy, it could be worse.” He looked up at me and asked, “How on Earth could it be worse?” I looked at him with straight-faced solemnity and said, “You could be straight.” He smiled that utterly incomparable Andy Stephenson smile and laughed until he was fit to split.

That was the last time I saw him.

Andy Stephenson passed away Thursday night from complications due to pancreatic cancer. A series of strokes caused by the cancer in his bloodstream and a post-operative infection carried him to his rest. At his side were his family and Ted, his partner of nineteen years. All across the country, thousands and thousands of people who had rallied to help him heard the news, and bent their heads, and wept. He was 43 years old.

The story of Andy Stephenson’s life and death carries with it all the brightness, and all the unspeakable darkness, that exists today in modern American politics. Here was a man of rare passion, an activist who poured his life into a cause, who continued fighting for this cause even after stricken with his disease, who encompassed the death of his sister and kept working, who never stopped believing that one person could make a difference.

Still, there is that darkness. It has been said that you can best know a person by knowing his enemies. In Andy’s case, his enemies rank among the foulest, most despicable sub-humans ever to draw breath. A small cadre of graveyard rats..


Now at this point I feel I have to break off Pitt's otherwise eloquent eulogy. Ordinarily, in a eulogy some restrained and dignified language is used to respect the occasion and memorialize the departed.

Pitt's peroration:

Andy will be remembered by his friends and family in Seattle this coming weekend. We will gather, we will sing his songs and tell his stories. We will remember the life of a man who gave of himself far more than he received, who was a patriot in the best sense of the word, whose smile could outshine the stars. We will rededicate ourselves to the causes he espoused, and we will prevail with his spirit as the wind at our backs.

Andy believed he had failed that night in January. If I could have one more chance to speak with him, I would tell him how wrong he was that night. You won, Andy. You were the best of us.


This is well said. One of the solutions to the problems of humanity is democracy. Not the only thing, but important nonetheless. And if we are to have democracy, then integrity in the voting systems and the counting is of course essential. Stephenson and others were fighting the good fight, and have not failed, but like Viking Heroes, go to Valhalla because they fought, not because they won.

A Sadly No commenter provides some useful information into pancreatic cancer, which took Stephenson away:

My father hates the pancreas, as every good surgeon does. It is a nasty little organ, full of awful things and prone to falling apart horribly under stress. It is necessary to be profoundly delicate with it under normal circumstances.

Pancreatic resection is among the worst surgical nightmares remaining in this modern world, where most surgeries can be done with little bitty cameras and servos in a gas-inflated cavity. Doing a pancreatic resection requires that the stomach be sliced open from stem to stern, the entire bowel - that is, everything below the stomach - be pulled out, and then you can finally do what you need to to the pancreas.

That is, cut off a tiny little piece of it, very delicately and sloooowly.

The whole time, this requires a superhuman effort from all involved. Nurses keeping intestines in place outside of the body, monitoring heartbeat and breathing and keeping them niiiice and stable during the most traumatic experience a normal human body will ever endure. It is a long surgery, so there is a substantial amount of commitment from people who could as well just leave the room a lot of the time - anesthesiologists, scrubs.

Pancreatic resection has a morbidity rate, depending on the skill of the operating techs and the equipment available, of as little as 70%. That is, within six months, you get one of those suckers done and chances are very good you will be dead - and for good reason. You’ve had a team of tired, agitated professionals slinging around a shit-filled tube in your torn-open gut for hours on end, trying to get at the most bilious little asshole of a gland in your body and poke it and cauterize it. There are so many things that can go wrong, something not going wrong is almost cause for alarm.

It says a lot, then, that there are near to no cases where pancreatic resection is refused.

Pancreatic cancer is a death sentence, a horrific death sentence; it’s a spreading, consuming horror in one of the nerve-blood-and-flesh-richest area of the body you don’t use to screw. If you survive six months without the surgery, you’ll wish you hadn’t. It is so bad that dying horribly of massive sepsis is a step up.


Everyone knows that cancer treatment has its best chance of success if diagnosed and treated early, pancreatic cancer especially so.

Stephenson had no medical insurance, like millions of Americans. So friends of his launched an Internet campaign to raise the funds ($50,000) necessary for surgery, using tools such as blogs and Paypal.

Elizabeth Ferrari - central to the fundraising effort - is quoted by Sadly No to explain the difficulties they had with this process:

What followed was a coordinated effort to block Andy [Stephenson]’s medical care or his benefit from the medical care we could secure for him. In specific, the Bush right had its agents make small donations so they could then call Paypal with allegations of fraud that froze Andy’s account. They also called Paypal, misrepresenting themselves as the hospital to “verify” that this effort was a scam.

And it got more vicious from there. Due to the frozen funds and the confusion it caused us all, Andy’s surgery date was cancelled by Johns Hopkins. It was with great difficulty that we were able to persuade the doctor to be put Andy back into the surgical rotation. That cost him two weeks while he suffered from the most aggressive, invasive form of cancer.

[…]

After Andy was admitted to the hospital, the rumors turned into threats. A bounty was offered by the Bush right for anyone who could sneak into his hospital room. It was said he was getting a face lift. A telegram was sent just to see if it could be successfully delivered. The harassment was nonstop. And we tried to shield Andy from it, with less success than we would have liked.

[…]

Andy left the hospital and spent two weeks recovering at a friend’s house, learning how to eat again, learning how to move, weaning himself from the morphine that he’d needed post surgery. During this time, one of his supporters in Baltimore had her car vandalized – a message was sent. Shortly after he left to return to Seattle, his second East Coast hostess was stalked to her home and watched as someone tried to open her front door. His supporters everywhere were systematically intimidated and all the while, they tried to keep it from Andy.

Andy then went back home to Seattle, looking forward to a medical course of chemotherapy and radiation. Once he arrived, he found that an anonymous tipster had managed to get his Medicaid shut down. It took us two weeks to get him back in the system. Andy had anaplastic pancreatic cancer and was again forced to wait weeks for follow up care.

By this time, Andy’s stalkers had set up a website. It purported to be concerned that the funds for his surgery were raised fraudulently. Thankfully by this time, Andy spent very time on line. But it wore on his core advocates who were repeatedly attacked, defamed and baited.

[…]

As late as week before Andy died, we couldn’t keep the poisonous campaign from him. He felt well enough to log into to his email and found a multipage denunciation, supposedly being filed with his state’s attorney general. He called me, not so much in a panic. Panic was no longer a speed Andy had. He called me in despair, because he could no longer fight the barrage of hatred being leveled at him. I don’t remember what I said to him but I hope it helped for a moment.

The attack from the Bush right never paused, not even through the agony of Andy’s last days. Not at all. Even the fact of his death is being disputed. Two days after his passing, his advocates are still being harassed, still receiving anonymous hate calls, “It was a scam.” The friend planning his service was visited by two men impersonating sheriffs on the morning after Andy passed. They were there to ask about fraud, they said.

Andy’s physical death has not stopped the attack, has not slowed the hatred, has not stemmed the steady stream of intimidation.


John Le Carre famously said ahead of the Iraq invasion that "the United States has gone mad." Yes it has, and not in a funny way, in a terrible and frightening way. Not to mention Karl Rove and neo-confederacy, American political discourse in the form of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Free Republic and the like is appalling. Not just the lies, the bad policy and arguably criminal activity of modern government - the utter immorality, the deranged, hateful rhetoric, the total disregard for truth, justice, compassion and human decency of these enablers, propagandists and cheerleaders is what is shocking. These people are cyber-stormtroopers. And they show dangerous signs now of donning the brownshirt and hitting the streets, causing real hurt to those who dare to oppose.

One of the brownshirt blogs, DUmmie FUnnie, is in the running for 'Funniest Blog' category. ha ha. Go now to Weblog Awards and vote for Sadly No to prevent the brownshirt victory.

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