Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gay Rights & Elizabeth Edwards

I know Elizabeth Edwards is younger than me by a couple of weeks; but I want to be a lot like her when I grow up.

On Sunday, she came out in support of gay marriage. At San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade kickoff event, she spoke about legalizing gay marriage. The fact she was there says a lot about her commitment to equal rights for everyone.

The San Francisco Gay Pride Parade is about as "out there" as gay pride parades get. She didn't release her position in a ream of documents sent to the media. She stood in the midst of the most gloriously flamboyant, gayest venue of gay pride and declared, "I don't know why somebody else's marriage has anything to do with me, I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage.'' Note that she did not say civil unions; she's talking about the "M" word. Good for her.

Her example of how to live with cancer serves as a powerful role model for everyone, not just those with cancer. As a former oncology nurse, I understand the fear that a cancer diagnosis brings to a woman and her family. Her strength and honesty demonstrates a way to keep going in the face of mortality and not-so-great odds.

And then there was yesterday. She successfully shut up the most vile, vicious, vane, venomous, and vulgar vampire to ever appear on television or in print. Since the very mention of this name makes me sick, let's just call her, AC.

AC was appearing on the Chris Mathews show on MSNBC spewing her typical disgusting attacks on anyone and everyone, including Elizabeth's husband, presidential candidate John Edwards. AC has said that John had a bumper sticker on his car that reads, "ask me about my dead son," a reference to Wade Edwards, who died in 2004 in an automobile accident. Earlier this week AC said that she will "just wish he [John Edwards] had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot." Elizabeth Edwards called in and effectively shut AC up, and made her look like what she is... an evil hate monger.

I am sure there were 'handlers" telling her not to call, to let it go. But, there are times, and I believe AC on a live TV show is one of those times, when one must confront the evil in front of them.

Edward R. Murrow did it to Joseph McCarthy in 1954 when he was on a "witch hunt" for communists. AC does not have the power Joe McCarthy had, but she certainly has the hatred down pat.

I am proud that Elizabeth Edwards is unwilling to let collective ignorance impair her recognition of the obvious. AC is the elephant in the room. She is a distraction for the unempowered who do not know who to blame for their plight. AC is a tool of the right that distracts the poor and disenfranchised to act (nee, vote) against their own self interests.

I applaud her cojones (or should that be ovaries?). Elizabeth Edwards is a rock star to me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why We Fight

This piece is not finished, but I've been itching to get it up (more than any other entry for some strange reason), so I decided to put up the draft.

I recently saw the documentary, “Why We Fight”. It really helped me clarify what we are doing in the Middle East.

For over four years we the people, have pressured the White House for an exit strategy in Iraq. We ask for timetables. We want to know when the Iraqis will stand up. And for four years the answer is always the same. We will leave when the mission is completed.

The next logical question is, “what is our mission?” Responses are as muddy as the Mississippi. Bush says: the US and allies, “will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime; that time lines are just what the terrorists want; that we cannot cut and run; we must maintain maximum flexibility; and so it goes.

Why are we so dissatisfied with the answers? Because they just don’t make sense. The Bush Administration's explanation is unbelievable because they are running a hoax on the American people.

We don’t have an exit strategy, because Bush never planned to leave Iraq. We have successfully colonized the richest oil fields on the planet. We destabilized the entire region, making other colonization possible. Why would an oil man want to leave? It’s ridiculous to think we’re going. Stop asking when.

In 1992, Paul Wolfowitz, then the Under Secretary of Defense wrote Defense Planning Guidance. It's more often called, th Bush Doctrine. The plan calls for preemptive war and a spreading of our type of “democracy”. Think capitalism… it’s not about sprouting more democratic governments, it’s about expanding an economic system. Political and corporate agendas influence our decisions about war. It’s about making business bigger, profits larger. It’s manifest destiny.

“Why We Fight” does a first-rate job of explaining why American foreign policy is consumed by the idea of military superiority. It shows that government’s ambition is very different than the best interests of its citizens. It made me understand that there is a stated reason to go to war and a real reason. Seeing the movie forced me to confront this new brand of imperialism. I cannot justify or ignore it any longer.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Holding on To Our History

The history of our country is filled with people's struggle and social movements. It is the Smithsonian Institute's mission to collect, preserve and interpret that history. Its collections give us a way to understand the experiences and customs of our institutions and the everyday lives of our citizens. The collected artifacts cover the gamut of American history and life.

It has the Woolworth's lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina. It was at that counter young students, black and white challenged the Jim Crow laws of the south. You can see Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs, a section of the Aids Quilt, and Lewis and Clark’s compass. It also has Ed Robert's wheelchair.

Ed Roberts is one of our early Heros. At the University of California at Berkeley, in the tumultuous 60s, Ed and a group of students, The Rolling Quads, got organized. Ed understood that the struggle for independence was similar to other liberation movements... it was a civil rights issue; it was political. That seems obvious now, but at that time disability was defined as medical, more about function than about rights. Roberts died in 1995. After his Washington D.C. memorial service, "friends wheeled his chair to the [Smithsonian] Castle and left it there with a note explaining that this donation was a tribute to Roberts' amazing life." [1]

Here is what is written about his wheelchair:

Outfitted with the type of seat used in Porsche automobiles and a large headlight for traveling at night, this motorized wheelchair captures the unique personality of a man who dedicated his life to securing rights, freedoms, and improved quality of life for people with disabilities.

We owe Ed’s friends a real debt of gratitude. Generations to come will see that chair and come to know his accomplishments. They will recognize his talents, and by association with the independent living movement, our talents too. Brilliant!

Also in the Legacies Collection is Helen Keller's watch. After Keller died in 1968, a niece and nephew inherited her watch. They donated it to the Smithsonian in 1975 saying they believed their aunt would want the watch "placed where it would make the maximum impact…”

There is more...

  • ADAPT rally photographs of various demonstrations.
  • Pictures of activists that many of us know. There is one of a youthful Diane Coleman, and a long-haired, hippified, Bob Fleming.
  • Assorted tee shirts: “Not Dead Yet”, “ADAPT or Perish”, "I am not a case and I do not need to be managed."
  • A badge from Disabled People's Civil Rights Day, on the Washington Mall in1979.
  • A piece of street curb broken from a Denver intersection by activists from the independent living center in protest of the lack of curb cuts.
  • A "Piss on Pity" button.
  • Ads featuring people with disabilities; the kind we like to see, and the kind we don’t.
  • Artifacts that show our struggle for self-definition and autonomy... Homemade keys confiscated from patients at the Winnebago, Wisconsin, Mental Health Institute. Isolated people trying to get some measure of control over their lives. And,
  • more, so much more.

I am thankful that someone took the time to preserve these precious artifacts. I also wondered if more needed to be added to the collection. In other words, what isn't there? Illinoisans with disabilities have mightily contributed to our collective history.

  • In 1948, the University of Illinois became the first post-secondary institution to provide a support service program enabling students with disabilities to attend college. What documentation is there of the event. Where are those pictures?
  • Jean Driscoll earned a B.A. and M.S. at the University of Illinois. While living here she achieved what most only dream of. She is the only eight-time champion of the Boston Marathon in its 100+ year history. Jean is also the only person to ever break the course and world record at the Boston Marathon five times. Where is her racing wheelchair? Just think of the budding athletes that chair could inspire.
  • A "My Name is Rosa Parks" name tag. In September 1984, a band of people with disabilities rolled in front of a city bus in Chicago. They were protesting the Chicago Transit Authority's decision to buy 323 new buses; none would be accessible. Each wore a plain stick-on name tag that read, "My name is Rosa Parks."
  • Jamie Ziegler's bra. In Alton last year, at the Freedom Ride kick-off, she told her story. She is a former nursing home administrator who, due to illness, was forced into a nursing home, the only option she had to receive the care she needed. Without her permission, staff kept entering her bathroom, while she was in it. To protect her privacy she used her bra to create a lock. One end on the door handle, the other hooked to a support on the opposite wall. An individual act of defiance.
  • Mike Ervin is an excellent writer and advocate from Illinois. Are his articles and speeches saved and safely archived? I hope so.
  • Kathy Connour's, "Pat me on the head and I’ll bit your hand" bumper sticker. When I saw her with that bumper sticker at rallies or at the capitol, it always reminded me of a scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Would-be do-gooders would look at her, then the sticker. Their faces conveyed confusion, as if to say, "Who are those guys?"

The list barely scratches the surface of the personal triumphs and events that are our history. I know there is more. What is stashed away in someone’s basement or closet that will inspire the next generation of activists? What will happen to it? What are we doing to preserve them? What is already lost?

Illinois needs a repository for our precious artifacts. We need to know our past to build for the future. Could the collection be headquartered at the Disability Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a center for independent living, The Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL), CCDI?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know we’re making history every single day and the precious artifacts that tell our story must not be lost.

[1] Smithsonian Institution Press. Ed Roberts' wheelchair, about 1978> (31 May 2007)