Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ralph Nader Did Not Steal My Vote

Note: I wrote this just days before the '04 election as a guest editorial in my hometown newspaper. I'm sorry Bush won. But I'm not sorry I voted for Nader. The Democrats have moved back to the left a little, very little. But, at least it's in the right direction. I hope Dennis Kocinich stays in long enough for me to vote for him in the primary.

I got mail; Three e-mails in as many days. Each one foretold the end of the world as we know it, if I cast my vote for Ralph Nader for President. God, I hope so!

Each email listed reasons why Nader is stealing votes from Al Gore and just how terrible that is for the world at-large and the USA in particular. Well, I’ve one thing to say about that.

Ralph Nader did not steal my vote. He earned it; and Al Gore lost it by moving so far to the right. Al and W. agreed 40 times in the second debate. Wow. My ex and I didn’t agree that much in a month let alone one night! Maybe they should consider a long term relationship.

When Gore and the other members of the Democratic Leadership Council decided that winning an election was more important than the issues and people they used to represent . . . I refused to vote for them. Well, not right away, but now for sure.

The further the Republicans move to the right, the further the Democrats move too. Now, most everyone in politics represents unfettered businesses, without restrictions, like those nasty OSHA rules or sexual harassment policies.

Who represents me . . . The little gal who is trying to make a buck and leave the world a better place for people, not business?

I voted for Clinton eight years ago, hoping his centrist rhetoric was a clever ploy to get elected. I held my nose and voted for him again four years ago, even though he failed us miserably on healthcare, education, the environment and countless other traditionally Democratic, let alone Progressive, values. After all, a Dole presidency would be worse . . . right?

I wonder. I can’t even remember what the differences were between the two now. Probably the same as now...Maybe that says it all.

Most people don’t vote. They are on to something. They see a corrupted political system and don’t see a place for them.

I’m all fed up with the politics of “whatever it takes to get elected,” of sacrificing what we want for what will sell, of pushing “character” instead of policies. I’m tired of believing we’ll get anything out of a system that pays lip service to core family values but its puts lips to work on corporate rear ends. I’m just not going to vote that way any more. Al and W. may talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.

The biggest forecasters of doom say that if I vote for Nader, we (Democrats, progressives) will miss opportunities to appoint supreme court justices with “big D” Democratic tendencies. Republicans have appointed Justices like Earl Warren and David Souter., Democrats have appointed justices like”Whizzer” White. Clinton’s appointees are progressive only in relation to Scalia and Thomas certainly not with Douglas, Marshall or Black.

Civil rights, women’s rights, disability rights were not won in the supreme court chamber. We won in the streets, where the injured made the uninjured so uncomfortable, they were forced to change. No supreme court leans left. The tides of change make them move that way.

Today’s politics is not about issues, not ideas, and certainly not ideals. It’s about money and image. Could Abraham Lincoln, or Janet Reno, or Madeline Albright run for President today? Naww. Not pretty enough, and if you’re not pretty enough, then you can’t raise the money. And, if you can’t raise the money, you might as well shoot your self in the foot. You’re not going anywhere.

We must have campaign finance reform before we can talk about real issues. Have you heard those words since John McCain dropped out? Only if you’ve been listening to Ralph Nader on C-Span, the only place he can get coverage.

I refuse to waste my vote on the candidate that raised the most money, or is the heir apparent, or has the best image. Substance, I want substance!

Yup, I’m willing to see Al Gore lose to get it. Maybe in the next election the Democrats won’t take my vote, and that of my fellow frustrated others, for granted. Maybe they will come back to our core working class values. I’m not budging.

Bush & The Salvation Army

Note: Originally published as a guest editorial in my hometown newspaper, July 2001

My husband and I discussed faith‑based initiatives often since President Bush raised the issue. Our neighbors might call it arguing. What they may not understand is that if one cannot not discuss an issue with passion (a.k.a. volume), it isn't worth discussing in the first place.

It's not that we're on opposite sides of the issue. We're much closer than that. I'm foursquare against it. Separating church from state is good for religious freedom, and even better for the rest of the freedoms we hold dear. I’m not anti religious, I’m anti moral superiority. He is, or more accurately was, neutral on the question. He believed it could be a good thing if handled correctly. Religious institutions can be closer to the people who need services.

What won him over to my position was the Salvation Army document exposed by The Washington Post. The internal and private communique, states they have a "firm commitment" from the White House to help them with a sticky little regulation. In exchange, they would throw their considerable resources to get the Bush faith-based initiatives passed.

The sticky little issue . . . permission to discriminate. In brief, the Salvation Army wants to discriminate against gays and lesbians, usurping the power of those states and the scores of cities that have domestic partner rights and sexual orientation clauses in their anti-discrimination laws.

Churches already have an exemption that allows them to choose employees based on religion. Now supporters of faith‑based social services want to go further. They want to revise an Office of Management and Budget regulation to say that religious charities do not have to provide benefits that are incompatible with their beliefs.

They propose an end‑run around "we the people." If that isn't smarmy enough, it looks like the White House enthusiastically agreed that "this approach would be a better alternative than the legislative process, which is more time‑consuming and more visible."

Yeah, that pesky legislative process set up by Jefferson, Madison and the other framers of our liberty so that "we the people" could make rules ensuring that neither government nor organized religion overly control us. Apparently, the White House and the Salvation Army would rather use slight of hand to accomplish what they could not win in a national debate. This is back door politics at its absolute worst and it stinks worse than day‑old road kill.

We've come to expect this kind of influence pedaling from drug companies and oil barons, whose only God is profit. But from a church? My level of cynicism just shot through the roof.

Is organized religion that corrupt? Where is the cry from the "moral majority" that their congregations are not for sale? Where are Eric Ivers or Daniel Bull's raves on the loss of local control.

Religious institutions should be building unity and love between people and not lobbying for or endorsing bigotry. It is as much a concern now as it was for our forefathers.

James Madison wrote in 1785,

"What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society?

" . . . in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny. . . Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another."

In this country you can't go to jail for merely being a bigot. But, bigotry should not be rewarded with our tax dollars.

People's History Trip: Selma & Montgomery

Note: This was published originally in my hometown newspaper, Feb. 2004 or 2005. I wanted to contribute to Black History Month.

I don’t know much about Australian history. I can only speak about it in broad generalities… The British made it a penal colony. They nearly annihilated the aboriginal people who were there before them. They drink Foster’s beer, say things like, “g’day mate” and, they recently hosted the summer Olympics. That’s about it. I could not name a historically significant place or an important date in their history. But, more on that later.

A few years ago my husband and I were meandering through the deep-south on our way to New Orleans. We had no specific schedule to follow, no set time to be anywhere. So, when we saw the sign pointing us to Montgomery, Alabama we decided to check the place out.

The closer we got, the more excited we became. Montgomery: Where Dr. King rose to international prominence as a civil rights leader; where in 1955, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man ignited a civil rights movement; where 17,000 blacks made their already hard lives harder, by walking to work for thirteen straight months, rather than let Jim Crow laws control them any longer; the state capitol destination for the voting rights marchers from Selma. This was going to be one cool place to visit.

Our first stop was to the visitor’s center. The very nice ladies volunteering there were anxious to show off their hometown, only not the part we came to see. They did not want to talk about, nor could they tell us how to find, what we came to see. They wanted us to know the “father of modern gynecology” made his home in Montgomery, and other notable historical things like that. If we were to find the Montgomery we traveled to see, we weren’t going to find it at the visitor’s center.

We visited the Dr. King’s church there on Dexter Avenue. It was awesome. This is where history converged several times over. Dexter Avenue is a long, broad boulevard that travels from the downtown business district, climbs uphill and dead ends right onto the front steps of the state capitol building. Statues of Jefferson Davis and other confederate dignitaries surround the capitol. One of the state office buildings was named for Lurleen Wallace, wife of proud racist, George Wallace. In the same complex was Davis’ home, the first “white house” of the confederacy. Dr. King’s little church is at the bottom of that long, high hill.

It reminded me of David and Goliath. Dr. King’s church seemed dwarfed by the statues and buildings on the hill. Yet, there with Jefferson Davis looking on, little David toppled Goliath. Wow. In 1965, Selma’s voting rights marchers entered Dexter Avenue at the bottom of the hill. They walked past King’s church and straight up to the capitol steps demanding the right to vote. That must have been something to witness. And seeing the juxtaposition of the capitol to the church made what seemed like a really hard fight, a nearly impossible one.

By asking other pedestrians, city workers and others, we were able to find Dr. King’s home that was bombed in 1956, Dr. Ralph Abernathy’s church, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the civil right memorial that honors 40 men and women who died in the name of justice.

After all that, we knew we had to see Selma too. We drove the same 40 mile highway that the voting rights marchers traveled on their way to Montgomery. It was just off that highway where the KKK gunned down civil rights workers, Viola Liuzzo and Leroy Moton. It was next to the highway where weary marchers rested for the night in a sympathetic farmer’s field. We literally felt the history around us and it was amazing.

To get into Selma, you must cross a bridge… not a bridge… THE BRIDGE... the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where bloody Sunday happened. The Alabama Highway Patrol beat back the 600 marchers with billy clubs and tear gas as they crossed the bridge on their way to Montgomery. On the third try, with the help of a court order, the marchers, now numbering 3200, got past the bridge and set out to Montgomery. By the time they reached the capitol they were 25,000 strong. We stood on that same bridge.

At least part of Selma has embraced its role in history, and even celebrates it. There’s a small voting rights museum at the foot of the bridge. It exists through donations from visitors and left over grocery money. The people that run it, are the people who lived it. Just inside the front door is a wall of remembrance. People are invited to write, on post-it notes, their personal memories of the march, and the rest of us get the privilege of reading these wonderful historic nuggets. There are a thousand or more post-it notes on that wall. We stood there for an hour, reading peoples’ memories… what they ate, how much their feet hurt, how important the march was, how afraid and how brave and how proud they were. My husband and I would intermittently read one aloud, wipe tears away and at times, turn away to regain our composure… so simple a concept, so profound the impact.

There was a room of feet; yes, feet. There were plaster casts of the marcher’s feet, there were the shoes people wore on their feet, and there was even pictures of the blisters on their feet, all precious artifacts of a people in struggle. There was a room full of really good black and white photographs. Interestingly enough, the FBI took most of them. The museum got them through the Freedom of Information Act.

We asked the museum curator if Selma today is anything like Selma back then. We were curious because Selma had had the same mayor since before the ’65 march. She told us a story about being a little girl and having her mother take her to the store to buy new shoes for Easter. In her child-like enthusiasm, she walked into the shoe store and slipped her feet into the first pair of shiny shoes she saw. They were several sizes too big, but her mother was forced to buy them because they had touched her little black feet. Her mother was sorry, but she had to wear them to church on Easter, because there wasn’t enough money in the budget for two pair of Easter shoes.

“Yes,” she said in a pitch that seemed more like thinking than speaking, “No little girls have to suffer that indignity any more.” She felt some things were much better. Other things still had a long way to go.

We took a walking tour through Selma’s black neighborhood. Historical markers pointed where mass meetings took place. We saw where the northerners who came down to join in the struggle stayed. We saw the church were the march was first suggested and later organized. We saw the spot where the Rev. James Reeve was beaten and killed.

At each point along our two-day visit to Montgomery and Selma, we kept running into one man. We were walking out of the visitor center as he was walking in. We arrived at the civil rights monument just as he was leaving. He was coming up one end of the walking tour as we were heading down from the other direction. As we got closer to one another, he jogged over to our side of the street and asked in a voice more agitated than inquisitive, “Where are the bloody busses?”

“Busses?” we repeated.

He went on to ask in his Australian accent, “For two days I’ve been to all these historical places, and you are the only other tourists I’ve seen! Didn’t these places shape the US! Didn’t America become a different place because of these towns and the people in them… where are the tour busses?” We didn’t know what to say.

We had landed in Montgomery and Selma as a result of meandering, not design. We both love history, especially this kind of history, but we hadn’t really planned this trip as much as happened upon it. This “chap” had planned his month-long trip to the US around it.

We’ve thought a lot about his question since then. The history we experienced in Alabama is usually seen as “Black History”, something set aside and separate than part of the history of the United States. For that reason, only about twenty percent of Americans “own” or stake a claim to those historic events. How unfortunate. Because it is in that history we all came to live in a different nation, a better nation. How unfortunate for all our children, who only get the opportunity to hear about how people in two small towns changed the world for the better.

For them, it might as well be Australia.

Close 'em. Once and For All!

Note: This was originally published in my hometown newspaper. But, I can't remember when. (CRS)

In 1865 the Illinois General Assembly gave an order to the Illinois Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb. They were to establish an "Experimental School for the Instruction and Training of Idiots and Feeble-Minded Children". First located in Jacksonville, it was eventually moved to Lincoln and called the "Institution for the Education of Feeble-Minded Children."

This is how Lincoln Developmental Center began. It was to provide care, support, training, and education for "mentally deficient children". It had a hospital and shops where the "inmates", as they were called, manufactured brushes, mattresses, and shoes. Inmates also worked on a nearby farm owned and operated by the institution, not unlike the conditions at Big Muddy or other prisons. But, unlike the inmates in the penal system, they were not eligible for parole.

From such roots, is it any wonder that there were so many instances of mistreatment, negligence and abuse? We, as a society, believed that if we gave the inmates, jobs, shops, a hospital, and even a farm, they could have their own little society, just like, but away from "normal" people.

The cost of that segregation is evident. When people are forced into these institutions it creates the impression that they are incapable of performing even the most menial tasks. For that reason, most people with disabilities live in poverty, due to, in large measure, a staggering unemployment rate of over seventy percent. More than seventy percent of working-age, non-institutionalized people with disabilities, who say they want to work, are unemployed. Imagine assigning that figure to any other demographic group… would it be tolerated as it is for people with disabilities?

The fact is that what people with disabilities can do is unlimited. All they need to succeed is the right tools and support. Imagine trying to change a flat tire without any tools. Without a jack and tire iron and wrench it cannot be done. Employers believe that making an accommodation for someone with a disability is too expensive. They think that workman’s compensation and insurance rates will skyrocket. This is not true. Despite study after study that finds that show this, the old stereotype persists and rules people’s consciousness. Employing someone with a disability is no more risky or expensive than employing some one who is not.

The idea that we need LDC so people with disabilities can have somewhere to live is preposterous. Our housing needs are the same as anyone else’s. But then there’s the question of services and support. Why cannot these services be delivered in a neighborhood rather than an institution? They can and it’s even cheaper!

Until the passage of civil rights legislation in the ‘70s, people with disabilities had no voice. We were warehoused, and hidden away with no recourse. Illinois’ plan to re-open LDC is to return to those days of apartheid.

But, throughout history we've learned that apartheid does not work. It never has and it never will. As Americans we have made a commitment to diverse communities and building a multi-cultural society. Unfortunately, our institutions lag behind our ideals. A community cannot have true liberty if part of their people are segregated, warehoused and hidden away.

"There can be no justice until those who are uninjured by crime become as indignant as those who are," declared an ancient philosopher. Since the end of the Civil War we declared that all are equal under the law. It is time to include people with disabilities. It is time for all to become as indignant as those who cry for a place in our society. It is time to push the old, ill-fitting institutions.

I have an idea. Let's do open LDC. Only not as an institution to hide away people, but as a museum showing how far we have come since the days when we created institutions to keep people with disabilities out of sight, out of mind. We can honor the victims of this American Apartheid, and let it serve as a reminder that to segregate of a segment of society can only lead to the dehumanization of both the oppressed and the oppressor.

I Now Pronounce You...

Note: This was originally published in my hometown newspaper sometime in 2003.

My niece is getting married today. She’s the first of a long line of my nieces and nephews to get married. It’s an exciting time for all of us. But, her marriage is not without family controversy. She fell in love with a man who shares her worldview. They both actively help the poor, work for the disenfranchised, and attack bigotry. For my very conservative Catholic family it has raised a lot of questions. What will it mean for her future? How secure a life will she have? The one consolation they had was that he, like them, was a Catholic. Was.

The chief controversy arose when they told their parents they no longer considered themselves to be Catholic. They were not going to be married in the Catholic Church and that was that. My brother and sister-in-law, shrugged their shoulders and said to the rest of us, “This is the man she picked. It’s her decision, now ours’. There are no laws preventing this. What can we do about it?”

So this last year has been one of adjustment. Now my parents, sisters and brothers are getting used to this idea. Most of them are even are looking forward to a wedding that will be in a house, not a church.

The idea of marriage has been a fluid one through out history. The philosopher George Santanya taught us that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Early Christians were cautioned to not marry at all. Paul wrote that while it’s better to marry then burn in hell… it’s even better to be celibate. Why? It was a way to bring about an end to society, as a result stepping up the reign of God. For over a thousand years, marriage was primarily a financial transaction conducted between families. The wealthier the families, the less control the children had over their marriage prospects. Marriages formed political and economic alliances. There was a time when governments did not keep track of who was married to whom and did not issue marriage licenses.

Then, in the past few centuries, things began to change again. The idea of romantic love and union came into being. Parents no longer picked a partner and the institution of marriage has become a powerful legal and social institution. It supports close family relationships by providing a unique set of rights, privileges and responsibilities.

The Supreme Court decided that gays can now express their love without the fear of jail-time. The decision says that their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of any government. They wrote in their decision, “The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private live of the individual. Has this opened the door for same sex marriages? I sure hope so.

While slave owners encouraged marriage, there was no legal right marriage rights for slaves. They were property and if the property owner wanted to sell, trade or kill a partner’s spouse, he could. That is our history and it was wrong.

In our past we outlawed some marital unions. Thirty states had laws that prohibited black and white marriages. California outlawed the "intermarriage of white persons with Chinese, Negroes, mulattos, or persons of mixed blood descended from a Chinaman or Negro from the third generation inclusive.” It’s our history, and it was wrong.

As recently as1965, a Gallup poll revealed that 42 percent of northern whites supported laws against interracial marriage 72 percent of southern whites. In 1976, fifteen states that still had, so called, miscegenation laws, were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, because it is wrong to invade a person’s right to choose a partner. It’s our history and it was wrong.

And, now comes Bill Frist who wants to make a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. When will we learn?

Once love and freedom become the central values for making a good marriage, the idea of same sex marriages becomes possible. If marriage is about loving each other, living together, and sharing resources, why shouldn’t they have the same recognition and protection that other couples enjoy? That is the question we face today.

A little known philosopher, my dad, used to say to me as I was growing up, “Some people live and learn, and some people just live… which will you be?”

Parents Get Your S*$&% Together and Drag Your A#*$ to School

Note: More than 15 years ago I wrote a serious polemic titled, “Parents Get Your Act Together and Take It to School”. I wanted to outline ideas and examples so parents of children with disabilities could be active participants when planning their child's educational program. I told parents that the law guaranteed parents the right to advocate for specific programs, services, classrooms and technologies that will allow their child to benefit from his/her educational programs. Equal partnership was the overall theme.

Well, that was then and this is now, and not much has changed. So it’s time to update it, Mothers from Hell 2 style. I hope you enjoy it.

Preparing for an IEP Meeting

If you've been to an IEP (Individualized Educational Purgatory) meeting, you already know that your role is “just the mom and dad." This perception comes from the fact that every school bureaucrat is an expert about your child. They have reinforced your own insecurity as a parent and as a homo-sapien. You already know that they will call you by your first name or address you as "mom". Since you only their last name, you are reduced to calling them "Dr. Johnson", "Mr. Kingery" or the ever popular, "hey YOU!"

If all that is not intimidating enough, you have to listen to school staff talk about your child in terms that makes you think they are talking about a rock. But, we love our little rock stars, don't we? And, we want to protect them. So, we cry, we holler, we
curse, we throw things. But no more!

This article can help you stand up and get even. I will guide you through this minefield of special education advocacy and help you regain your sense of humor and ability to perform neurosurgery in your leisure hours. After applying the tactics you learn here, can rest in the knowledge that you've made someone else's life hell on earth. And, after all, isn't that what IEP meetings are all about?

Preparation is the key to success. Follow these simple guides and I assure you that your child's IEP will never be the same.

Keep good notes all year long. When you see a school official outside of school, stalk him. Make notes of his coming and going. Did he walk into the Blockbuster next to the naughty device store? Good enough! Take a picture at just the right
angle…… and well, you know. Did you notice the school psychologist crossing a picket line? Click the shutter. Teamsters smack their lips at that sort of information.

Hang out at the local biker's bar. Find the guy named Bear. Invite him to attend the meeting with you. Urge him to wear his sleeveless shirt and denim vest that reveal his substantial muscles and tattoos. Tell him he doesn't have to talk much, just sit
near the door with his arms folded.

Request the meeting be held on neutral turf…… your neighbor's hot tub, your nudist club campgrounds or favorite bowling alley. Where ever it is, make sure the tables and chairs are as ill-fitted as the furniture they make you sit around when you visit
the school.

Write the district. Ask for a postponement until you are confirmed as Supreme Court Justice. Make sure to copy the speaker of the house and senate majority leader in the letter.

Visit your child's school. Pay particular attention how the teacher teaches. Suggest, in front of the children better methodology for delivering the lesson (Don't you think the children will remember that better if you wear Groucho glasses and carry a big fat cigar?) Then don't fall over laughing; you'll have to process the claims form.

Review your child's school records before the IEP meeting.

  • You have the right to have a qualified person explain the material in the records. Tell them that Jack Nicholson meets all your qualifications.
  • You have the right to challenge the contents of the records. Challenge the largest-oldest team member to a footrace. Winner gets to decide what goes in the official record. Start running sprints NOW, every morning, before the kids wake up.
  • You also have the right to insert a written statement about the contents of the files. Consider something like…… "I had hopedto avoid having the man-boob lecture with my son until he was out of grade school."

Practice writing goals. For example, you can write a goal for the supervisor of program, "The Supervisor will be able to smile earnestly when she says, "I adore being middle management, "after being passed over for a promotion with 80% believability. Or a goal for the speech therapist might look like this: "Ms. Chatter will refrain from using the word "we" (as in…… Are WE having a bad day?) when asking a question 100% of the time." Ask the team to incorporate the goals into their own permanent personnel record.

Study your rights. Contact your lawyer and have him explain the stalking, slander and libel laws in your state. It's a barrel of monkeys to walk on the edge of the legal line, safe in the knowledge no one can touch you.

Know what you want. An IRS audit for your least favorite bureaucrat? Voodoo lessons? More Valium? Some parents know
they are unhappy but cannot give one constructive suggestion to make their child's education program better. Look at your situation. What do you need to get you what you want? If you don't know what you want, how will you ever know when you get

Find out exactly where your meeting will be. A half-hour before the meeting begins, have four secret service looking types, donning sunglasses, standing feet apart, arms folded in front of them, on each corner of the block around the school. Instruct
them to talk into their wrists from time to time. Ask them to stay until they are sure the meeting has started.

Practice using the language in our study materials. Words like a "free appropriate public education" or "FAPE", can strike fear in even the most seasoned educator. Include the language when you speak: "Wow, those stairs are steep…… I
must be out of FAPE."

Ask who will be at the meeting. You can invite others if you wish. Recruit someone to go to the meeting with you. This is where "Bear," mentioned earlier, comes into the equation. Invite as many as you wish. It's always nice to have at least as many
people present as the school district.
Pick a primary spokesperson, if both parents attend the meeting. It's usually nice to pick the person who does not fall into profanity at the site of a school administrator. Save that parent for later on, when those much needed services start to swirl, just
before they are flushed down the toilet. Then, remove the spike collar and let him/her go.

Get your hands on a copy of, "10 ways to have more fun at an IEP meeting” for additional suggestions.

Once you've done your homework you are prepared to attend an IEP or any other meeting.

It's A Man's World-Dammit!

Note: Rennatta Frazier, mentioned in this article, was an african-american police officer in Springfield IL, our home. Se was railroaded and fired from the department and later, after this was published in the local paper, found innocent.

I work in a female dominated profession. In my office, I work with nine women and zero men. Counting step-children, I have five daughters. We all wish the very best for one another. I’m married to a feminist. His dreams for us often exceed our own. It could be easy for me to believe that sexism is on life support and society is ready to pull the plug. I seldom encounter it in my day-to-day life. But, I know it exists.

Lest I forget, a dramatic reminder recently smacked me around. I staffed an exhibit for my agency last week. The exhibit was part of a statewide professional organization with a membership that is about 98% male. I don’t need to say what profession; it doesn’t matter. It would have been the same if it were butchers or boat captains.

It was on my husband’s (Michael) day off, so he accompanied me to the exhibit. I was happy for the company. We don’t get nearly enough time together these days.

My object lesson started the minute we walked in the door. I’d spoken to the exhibit coordinator a couple of times on the phone. He was friendly and personable. When we arrived with my exhibit in tow, I introduced myself. The coordinator looked at my husband and directed him to the agency’s booth. It felt odd, but I shrugged and started setting up.

When the male exhibitor next to us showed up, I introduced myself to my new neighbor. I also introduced my husband, saying he had come to spend the day with me. Mike nodded, and without saying a word, and went back to reading his newspaper. The neighbor struck up a conversation, not with me, with Mike. He even enlisted his help setting up his display.

Very few of the conference attendees stopped by my booth. Most of the visitors to the booth were other exhibitors, mostly women who worked for other agencies. We’d share information with one another while the conference attendees were in their sessions and with the attendees when they were on their breaks and other designated times during the day.

But on nearly every occasion when a man stopped by the booth, I’d introduce myself, and the man would look at my husband and start asking him questions. Now, Mike is a very smart guy, but knows little about my agency and the services we provide. So, he’d look to me and say, “Celia?” and I would respond.

If the visitor asked a follow-up question or comment, he would again direct it to Mike. Mike would turn to me and say “Celia?” and again I would respond. As the day progressed, I started standing when a man came up to the booth. I had hoped that would make us more equals and Mike less, since he’d remain seated. Still, each man would direct his questions or comments to Mike.

Crazy as it seemed initially, it soon became maddening. When men would ask questions I would lean into their line of sight, answer their questions, tell them about my agency and try to get them to make eye contact. Despite Mike’s turned back and silence my efforts mattered little. Mike still was the “master” of that 8x8 booth domain and I, his lowly servant; I wasn’t even an annoyance, I was invisible.

I could not help but think about Renatta Frazier and what has happened to her as an African-American female in a predominantly white male profession. I did some quick research on the Internet and found a study of women and policing. It said that women receive, at best, a cool reception from male officers and, at worst, open hostility.

It identified the presence of discrimination in the workplace by virtually all black women officers (92%) and more than half (57%) of the white women. It also found that the discrimination within the police departments exists on two levels -- gender and race.

Even if you’re one of those people that think statistics lie, you have to take the study seriously. Let’s suppose that one-third of the officers who responded were just being bitchy, or had an ax to grind… make up what ever reason you want, wouldn’t it still be a dramatic finding? It puts what is happening to Frazier into a context impossible to ignore. Institutional racism does exist in police departments across the nation. We’re not so special that it cannot happen here.

It isn’t enough that several mainly Black organizations are pursing justice for Renatta Frazier. Shouldn’t we give her the benefit of the doubt? If you were an elected official, wouldn’t you want to make this investigation a priority? If you were in Renatta Frazier’s union wouldn’t you fervently defend your union sister? If you were a caring human being wouldn’t you want to offer her your support? Wouldn’t you?

Baseball Bambina

Note: I originally wrote this about 20 years ago for a class i was taking. It's been published in several small publications over the years. I still cry with pride about my daughter when I read it.

Like many parents of kids with disabilities, I have learned as much from my daughter as I gave to her. She was like a pin-ball wizard… awesome to watch her do her stuff.

At age 3 my daughter, Campbell was non-verbal and far behind other children in motor development. For an entire semester she sat in front of a mirror with a tongue depressor in her mouth, learning how to make vowel sounds, the first sounds that babies make when they babble. At six she was able to speak so I could understand her. She was eight when her speech became intelligible enough for strangers to pick up her speech patterns and words.

In her sixth year we finally got a diagnosis: mild cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and a few minor labels thrown in just to make life interesting. It was also in her sixth year when she declared that she was going to play soft-ball; not “special” softball, but the softball her friends in the neighborhood were playing. She didn’t want to play some pick up game in the “hood”. No, she wanted on a team that was part of a league, the kind that kept stats, had fundraisers, and trips to get ice cream after games. I was against it, but how could I tell her that?

So I “accidentally” missed the two sign-up days, making sure our to-do list was long and our time in the neighborhood was limited. I didn’t want the kids in the neighborhood reminding her. Trips to grandma’s house and to an old friend’s house provided the diversions necessary to carry out my crime. Afterward, when it was too late, I could lament, “Gosh, honey, I’m sorry. I just completely forgot about those being sign-up days.” I had become what I hated the most… a liar. But, it was necessary to protect my child and protect her from the world of hurt playing softball would bring. Much later I recognized that I was protecting myself, not my daughter.

One afternoon someone came a knocking at my door. I opened it and a man named Jack told me he was from the league. He said they needed two more girls to finish out one more team and that he would coach the team. He had heard from some of the kids in the neighborhood that Campbell wanted to sign up, so he thought he’d drop by and get her on a team. It was impossible for me to say, “No” since Campbell was next to me squealing and doing a pretty darn good impersonation of a human pogo stick. I was trapped… I signed her up.

On the day of the first practice I went to the field with my heart in my throat and it only got worse from there. She was awful. My heart felt like Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941… invaded, bombed and destroyed.

Now, I have always been a “walk-to-the-beat-of-your-own-drummer”, kind of hippie-chick. I like and promote diversity and uniqueness. Who would want to be “normal?” So, I was shocked at my own reaction. Out there, on the field, she was part of 15 member team. All of them had jeans on, except for one, my daughter. She was wearing camel-colored corduroys. All I wanted for her was to be able to blend in, look the same, homogenize. Fourteen of them were stretching their cooperative muscles, to catch pop-flies, hit homeruns and line drives. I wanted her body to react the same way. I didn’t want it to be so hard for her. Why can’t she have fantasies about being the first female Willie Mays?

Watching her made my chest hurt. So I left her there, with the other kids and coaches to fend for herself, while I cruised around K-Mart until practice was over. The tears I had successfully held back at the diamond flowed freely there. I left the store making only one purchase… a softball. When I returned to the diamond at dusk, Campbell and one coach were the only ones there. I waved at them, told Campbell to get in the car and sped off back to the sanctuary of our home.

Subsequent practices weren’t much better. Same diamond. Same drippy exodus. Same K-mart. I wanted to encourage her adventuresome spirit risk taking, or, at the very least, match her grit. If she was willing to listen to other children chide her for not being as agile, I should let her do it. I could not.

One day we were in the kitchen cooking and talking.

Me: Do you like baseball, Campbell?
Campbell: It’s my favorite sport!
Me: Yeah?
C: Yeah.
Me: Well, what do you like about it?
C: We get team pictures and shirts and at the end of the year, we get a trophy.
Me: Oh (Wow, she has really given this some thought. She wanted to be part of a team. Something bigger then herself, part of a community of people.)
C: I’m not very good.
Me: Does that bother you?
C: Sometimes. I want to whack the ball and hit a home run.
Me: (In my most grown up Mommy voice) You know what I always say, honey. If you try your best that is all anyone can ask. Some times being the very best at something isn’t fun at all. Sometimes trying something new, something hard is its own reward… and softball is supposed to be fun. (Translation: I AM NOT HAVING FUN!)
C: I want a trophy.

I really tried hard to get her off the team. I confessed to the coach that she had cerebral palsy. “Hey coach, the kid is disabled!” The dreaded “d” word should scare him away. She would promptly be declared not good enough to play the “ABs” (able-bodied). I was sure he’d drop her faster than Brittany Spears dropped that first husband, Jason Alexander. Maybe we could send her to the minor league.

I called Jack. He let me ramble on longer than was necessary. Then in a soft, easy tone he said, “Oh, I don’t know… Her swing appears to be leveling off. She even connected with a few after you left practice.

Guilt wells up inside me.

“Even good kids have days when they can’t hit, can’t catch. She’s too old for the minors…, “he goes on, “Maybe the league president could make an exception, but she’s one of the tallest girls on the team now… you don’t want to send her down.” He continues, “Look, this is a learning experience for all the girls. I plan to play them all at least half the game. I believe she will get better. I’ll work with her… give her extra help. It will be fine.”

That bastard! How could I pull her now? She had the perfect coach. He was soft-spoken, warm, had the right philosophy about children’s sports. He didn’t even flinch when I said “disabled.” Now, with no choice ahead of me, I resigned myself to the fact that she was going to play ball.

On the day of the first game, I was holding Campbell’s had so tight she cried out, “Mom, you’re hurting me!” I was so scared. If one person even mumbled a dis’ at my daughter, they were getting their tires slashed.

Coach Jack put her in halfway through the game… at shortstop. I was hoping for outfield. No one managed to catch a ball that half of the inning: but Campbell was first at-bat. She was hit by the first ball. The Nazi umpire would not let her take a base because she made no attempt to get out of the way of the ball… she couldn’t! Her reaction time isn’t that good. Another pitch hit her in the foot. She just stood there, in the correct stance, and didn’t move… until she was called out.

She dropped her bat, and ran directly into my arms. I enveloped her into my arms and in my biggest grown up voice asked, “What hurts worse… getting hit or called out?” I could explain to her that major leaguers strike out all the time, Hell, the best of them only hit three out of ten.

She sobbed, “The fact I got hit.”

A voice in my head screamed, “Goddamn cerebral palsy, how dare you chain my baby down… I will find you and kill you.” But, I said nothing and held her tight.

After a while (like I was aware of time), Coach Jack came over to Campbell. He knelt down on one knee and very softly said, “I need you at shortstop. You are part of a team, the team is on the field, and I need you at shortstop.” I continued to hold tight… but she broke the hold. She took her cap and glove from Jack and went out on the field. I desperately wanted to say something. Maybe thank him… but I could not look up, could not talk.

As is the case with little league, she was up to bat the next inning and I was not ready. My heart was pounding in my chest and my ears were ringing. I prayed that the parents in the bleachers and her team mates would see how hard she was trying. Please let them be kind, just this once.

She entered the batter’s box and swung at the first pitch, but missed. Then another swing… “Whack!” She hit a beautiful little grounder that traveled 12-15 feet along and just inside the third base line. My baby was on first!

The next batter at the plate took a swing and Campbell stole second. SHE STOLE SECOND BASE. And then third. My emotions, my hormones and my adrenaline raced through my body as if Lance Armstrong was their coach.

The next batter hit a long line drive into the Kalahari Desert and Campbell ran home, jumping two-footed onto home plate. I know you’ll think I’m exaggerating, but confetti fell from the sky. Her team clapped for her… so did their parents. The coaches patted her on the back and said things like, “way to go, kid!”

She went on to finish the season. She never was good, but let me tell you, she was great! She finished the season getting a team picture and trophy. She never asked to play softball again. She moved on to other challenges like swimming, bicycling and stilt walking.

We both learned valuable lessons that summer. For me, there were many:

  • Much as we want to, we cannot protect our children.
  • Our children should have the right to try and to fail.
  • Often our greatest fears go unrealized (thank goodness). And
  • We often entertain angels unaware (what a wonderful coach).
For Campbell, she was learning to be a citizen… and learning what it means to have a disability in this culture, and learning what it means to be part of a team (something she still enjoys today).

Amanda Baggs: The Many Shapes of Personhood

Amanda Baggs holds little back when it comes to talking about the lives of people with cognitive disabilities.

Amanda is diagnosed as a low functioning person with autism. Despite that label, she learned English, which she describes as her second language. She is using it to tell us about her, her life, her fight for personhood, dignity and justice, not just for herself but for all people who have cognitive disabilities and those who have been dehumanized.

In her* video and website ( she is spot on, tough and upsetting. Upsetting because I am guilty of her indictment that people do not believe there is a language of autism and as a society we care little to change that.

Baggs says: “I find it very interesting by the way, that failure to learn your language is seen as a deficit, but failure to learn my language is seen as natural that people like me are officially as mysterious and puzzling rather than anyone admitting that it is themselves who are confused not autistic people or other cognitively disabled people who are inherently confusing.”

She explains that her language is a physical conversation with all parts of her environment. In the first four minutes of her eight-minute video, she teaches us what that looks and sounds like. Her body rocks and her hands flap, both movements that society and the medical community use to document her lack of consciousness.

Looking at her, I remember others who look like Amanda. My teachers told me that people with autism are totally unaware of their surroundings, that their movements had no purpose, that people who were that cognitively disabled could not learn one language, let alone two. The idea that there was a validity and purpose was unthinkable. Many years ago I asked a young mother of a child with autism to explain it to me. She described it as a veil that surrounded her child and little or nothing could penetrate the veil. Now I learn just the opposite is true.

Amanda is using her video to educate. Just because she lives in a world and uses a language very different from mine, she and others like Amanda, must have the same rights and dignity any human would expect. They also have the right to make their own choices, choose where to live, and with whom, and all the choices most of us take for granted. She teaches us about the degrading and shameful living options for people with autism. She speaks of the abuse and the death threats she endured.

“…in a world in which those determine whether you have any rights, there are people being tortured, people dying because they are considered non persons, because their kind of thought is so unusual to be considered thought at all. Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible.”
~ Amanda Baggs

*To view Amanda Baggs Video and read the 700+ responses to it, visit and type in her name.

Today’s Health Care System: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Note: This was originally published in a Disability Rights newsletter at the end of 2006 or early 2007

We have a health care system based on profit. This should scare the beegeebers out of us and stop each and every one of us in our tracks. It's scarier than all the dooms day dogma we hear about on the news. Decisions about the tests used to diagnose us, the drugs we take, the surgeries we need, and every other healthcare service is dictated by the bottom line - on who can line their pockets on our backs. So-called non-profit hospitals and clinics must keep up with their competition by buying the newest high tech machines, specialize in medical cash-cows like cancer, heart disease or birthing centers and then spend millions on advertising why they should have our business.

For people with disabilities, it's a double whammy! Not only do we share the same crisis as people without disabilities, but we face institutional care if, god forbid, we cannot purchase the supports we need to stay out of institutions. All the logic in the world cannot explain why state and federal safety-net programs continue to pay for the most costly, most dehumanizing care when it costs significantly less to live in the community with support, unless---you follow the money. Then the fog clears, and what was hidden comes into the full light of day.

Corporations Reign Over Disability Policy in America

In her breathtaking analysis on this subject in her book, Beyond Ramps , Marta Russell writes: "The question for the entrepreneurial nation remained, what to do with the "unproductive", those not exploitable as laborers? And ultimately, how can people with disabilities be made of use to the economic order? The solution has been to make disablement big business."

She calls this the Money Model of Disability. People with disabilities are commodities. Social policies are born and die based on market value. Institutionalization is the corporate response to disability. We are "commodified", we are part of the gross national product, much like housing starts and the price of corn.

Eight years ago, when Russell wrote Beyond Ramps, each person with a disability generated from $30,000 to $82,000 in annual revenues. While I don't have today's number, it has to be much more.

Follow the Money

So far in 2006 the Illinois hospital and nursing home industry has contributed over 1.4 million dollars to state and local campaigns, health services nearly a half-million, health professionals (our doctors and pharmacists) nearly $600,000. That's not counting the insurance industry, non-profits, PACs, drug companies, welfare and social work organizations.

Federal campaigns reap a much larger harvest. Health professionals and their PACs, so far this year, donated over $34 million to political campaigns, five million from HMOs, $8.6 million from hospitals and nursing homes and $12 million from drug companies (so far in 2006). Count on it, there will be more.

What does all this money add up to? Influence. If we've learned anything from the Jack Abramoff scandal, it's that money buys you a lot of face time with legislators. Their lobbyists, their issues move higher up the influence chart the more money they give. It's a new twist on supply and demand theory. They provide an endless supply of money. Our legislators demand money to run their campaigns.

What to do?

How do we fight corporate giants and end our own exploitation at their hands? There are several things we can do. We need to realize that simply talking to a legislator about the right thing to do, while important, won't solve the problem. We need strategies that circumvent money. We need to be in the streets, taking our issues directly to the people. Much like the fight for civil rights in the 50's/60's.

Some Action Steps

1. Read Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract, by Marta Russell. ISBN 1-56751-106-6. $18.95. Buy it if you can, she deserves the royalty. You can get it a little cheaper by using online booksellers like Ask your family, friends, and co-workers to read it too. Once you get good and angry…

2. Become active in your local disability advocacy group - or organize one (CCDI and ADAPT can help you do this).

3. Get politically active. Register voters. Talk about our issues, whenever and wherever you can.

4. Support regulatory oversight of the healthcare industry.

5. Support campaign finance reform.

6. Fight corporate subsidies.

7. Work for electoral reform. One person-one vote and proportional representation.

8. Fight for living wages and income maintenance. There must be a standard of living that no person should fall below.

9. Make the term "single-payer universal coverage healthcare" your mantra.

10. Call out the for profit system. There are reasons why our health care system doesn't meet our needs. We are people not commodities.

Most importantly, don't be defeated by the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" line used on so many of us. This isn't about any weakness inside you. There's an entire system out there holding you and your brothers and sisters with disabilities underwater and at times gasping for breath. Be proud and "fight like hell for the living.*”

*Quote from Mother Mary Jones, the woman that U.S. President Calvin Coolidge called the “most dangerous woman in America” because of her work with coal miners in the early part of the 20th century.

Side Show TV: Step Right Up for a Look at Disability on the Small Screen

Note: This was originally published in a Disability Rights Newsletter, Spring 2007

Extra Extra! Sideshow Freaks form superhero team in a new show on Comedy Central! Characters include a blind, anti-Semitic premature baby and conjoined twins. On Boston Legal, Denny Crane is wooing a chain-smoking, magically materializing dwarf. South Park features two characters with disabilities, Jimmy and Timmy. They have also had "special" episodes titled, "Krazy Kripples", and "Helen Keller: The Musical".

"Meet the Fooses" is a documentary about your average ordinary family with one exception, they are little people. On TLC, we can tune in weekly to watch the Roloff family, also dwarfs. Apparently, watching little people drive, shop, coach, fight and clean is much more entertaining than watching taller people do it. On the Roloff website, you can vote on where they should take their next trip. Won't that be fun! Let's watch little people navigate white water rafting, or Moscow, or whatever… woooooo!

The only reason these characters fill the screen is so non-disabled people can ogle, laugh and thank god they are not like the people they see on-screen. Is it any different than Barnum & Bailey's sideshow? You know, the one called the "Greatest Show on Earth".

Discovery Health Channel is paving the way for the modern day sideshow by using the thin guise of medical investigation to parade a vast array of people with disabilities in front of audiences who are tucked away safe in the comfort and anonymity of their own homes. In today's world it is generally regarded as distasteful or morally wrong to pay your ticket price and step inside a dimly lit tent so you can witness the "Dog Faced Boy," "The Incredible Half Woman," or the "Face Eating Tumor." Sadly these are actual titles from shows that have aired on Discovery Health over the past year, and yes, they are as bad as they sound.

I hate being tragically un-hip; but in this case, I am and I wear my un-hipness with pride… disability pride. Until characters with disabilities are seen as more than their disabled parts, I will consider it all exploitation.

Yes, I know that many will disagree and proclaim that I've lost my sense of humor. Some will say, "Look, getting any person with a disability on screen, large and small, is progress. We were totally invisible before!"

I grew up in the '50s. Everyday I could turn on the television and watch the "savage" Indians scalp white people; believing that was progress is ludicrous. Native Americans are still trying to live that image down and Chief Illiniwik is still prancing around Champaign despite a decade of protest. Being visible isn't progress.

"The Station Agent" is a wonderful movie about a guy who doesn't drive, is secretive, more than a little morose and happens to be a dwarf; He is played masterfully by Peter Dinklage. The same movie could be made with a non-disabled character in the title role and it would still be a good movie. His being a dwarf is one aspect of the complex character, not the reason for his screen time.

Dinklage is also currently featured in a guest starring role on the FX show Nip/Tuck, a surprisingly deep plastic surgery drama that is governed by one main principle: the closer a character is to superficial physical perfection, the more tragically flawed their life becomes. Dinklage plays a nanny who is employed to look after a baby with a disability. In typical Nip/Tuck fashion his character has also begun an extra marital affair with the six foot tall, drop dead gorgeous wife of one of the equally handsome plastic surgeons. The show is complicated and if I explain anymore of the plot I'll have to employ the use of pie graphs and flow charts, but Dinklage's casting on the show was a stroke of genius. I can't wait to see where the writers choose to take his character.

Sometimes positive images of people with disabilities come in unlikely packages. Johnny Knoxville, (from the TV show and movie, "Jackass") made a movie called, The Ringer. I went ready to hate it. But, I didn't.

Knoxville's character, wants to rig the Special Olympics by posing as a participant. He planned to bet on himself and become rich. He was almost immediately outted by the real participants, who are better people and better athletes than him. It's not a great movie, and I was glad I only paid a matinee price to see it. But it did handle the issue of disability better than most movies and many actors with disabilities got their SAG cards.

Another example is Josh Blue. He won "Last Comic Standing". He also happens to have CP. His humor is based on his life experiences. Some of it has to do with having cerebral palsy, but his act is not based on it. Some people with disabilities are showing up in commercials for laundry soap and cell phones.

The point is we need to see more characters that show that disability is a natural part of the human experience, and only one aspect of who we are. Recently one of the stars of Gray's Anatomy came out and admitted he is gay. He added that he didn't think that it was that big a deal and hoped people would see that his homosexuality was just one aspect of who he is.

The more the entertainment industry integrates us into the fabric of life, the better our non-disabled friends can see us for who we really are. Until then, when you see a positive representation of someone with a disability in the media write them and encourage them. Likewise, when you see a negative image, get angry, get up, and get loud.

Jessica Hayes assisted with the research for this piece

Bad Rap: Political Correctness

Originally published in a Disability Rights newsletter, Spring 2007

Growing up I had a cousin nicknamed “Butchie” or “Butchie Baby”. As he grew into adulthood, he asked us to call him by his name, August or Auggie. It was a difficult transition for all of us. Decades later, some still fall back to the old name. Auggie’s request meant he wanted us to see he was no longer a Butchie. He was a man and wanted us to acknowledge that. Every family has similar story. I do not know one person who refused such a request.

Yet, on a broader level, this is political correctness and many say it has gone too far. Critics charge that no one can say anything about anyone without offending. As if it’s about offending. Some say it is tyranny to be expected to talk decently about others. They say it’s their right to be politically incorrect. Just Google the phrase “politically correct” and you will see what I mean.

Are the names we call others a window to understanding and acknowledgement, or nothing more than what we use to communicate and they convey nothing more than information? As I write this, Senator Joe Biden peddling backwards as fast as he can. He is getting a lot of flack for saying Senator Barach Obama stands out in relationship to other African-Americans because he is so articulate and clean. Biden says he simply chose the wrong words. I think it tells us how he feels about African-Americans at his core.

As people with disabilities we have a personal stake in what is politically correct. It’s more than harmless name calling; it defines who we are and our struggle for equality and justice. Who benefits from calling a group struggling for equality by the old names? Obviously, it benefits those who have the power and want to maintain the status quo.

Demanding an understanding of another’s culture, status or position in a society is far from tyranny. It can be a matter of life and death. For example the “N” word dehumanized a people and made it easy to oppress and hang them.

For people with disabilities, it meant a sub-human existence, abuse and death. Imbeciles went to insane asylums. Freaks worked in circus sideshows. Spastics were hidden from the public. Those words described the individual in totality and their position on society. If we are to change the hearts and minds of others, we need new words that convey the dignity and equality we fight for.

The words we use are exceedingly important. Each is a “little packet of meaning [that] infers understanding”. ( Likewise, the words people use represent whether or not others accept the change we want to see. If they continue to use the “old words or names” then they have rejected the meaning and status that the new words (worlds) bring.

Words create a combination of mental pictures, beliefs, principles, orientation and more. People with disabilities, as members of an oppressed group, need to embrace political correctness. It is our friend and a powerful tool we can use to create change. Don’t make fun of it, stand up for it.