Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Collectively They Are Pretty Spectacular"

As Mike Miner eloquently put it, after coming to peer out my window, “Individually, no one's more invisible than a person in a wheelchair. Collectively they're pretty spectacular."

The comment was on the Chicago Reader’s (CR) web editor, Whet Moser’s blog. Senior editor, Martha Bayne, wrote the entry. CR is one of the city’s alternative newspapers with offices across the street from the national American Medical Association’s (AMA) headquarters on State Street. They had a bird’s eye view of ADAPT’s September 10, 2007, siege on the AMA; and I was lucky enough to be in that collectively spectacular group.

It is not about me, but…

At fifty-eight years old, and nearly 30 years in the disability rights movement, this was my first national ADAPT action. I attended local ADAPT events in St. Louis and maybe once in Chicago (Forgetfulness or dream, I am not sure). I readily acknowledge, a national action is way different.

I attended anti war-rallies, peace vigils, marches, parades, mass actions and other events concerning social justice issues in the past. Nonetheless, the ADAPT action definitely tops the list.

Photo Description: Pictures a crush of protesters, tightly packed into an area. We packed our wheelchairs in tightly and had others standing or sitting in between, making it impossible for anyone to get through. A successful blockade. A circle highlights one woman near the back.

Caption: My group broke from the rest and charged to block the underground parking ramp. As you can see, nothing is getting through. Circled… moi.

I was so proud to stand with my brothers and sisters with disabilities from across the US. I love their commitment, agitational nature, intellect, humor, the righteousness of our cause, and the selflessness it takes to do pull off such an action.

I could only attend the first day’s action. It was kismet that the AMA was our target. Doctors are one of the biggest barriers to community living. They profit from sending people to institutions that they, or their cronies, own. I am often critical of the medical establishment's insensitivity to people with disabilities in my blog and was glad be at the AMA in person. (See the list of demands ADAPT presented to the AMA.)

I know I will write about aspects of the action in the days to come. But where to start? Today I want to comment on comments.


After leaving that first day, the internet became my umbilical cord all that happened. I immediately began looking for details. ADAPT, Not Dead Yet and Disability rights bloggers, made me feel very connected with regular updates. I also read the Chicago Tribune, AP wire and the CR, coverage. If I could not be there in person, at least I was able to be there in spirit. The internet was link between me and the “actioneers”.

After each newspaper update, reader comments reveal how others perceived our fight; It was also a place where ADAPT members and supporters did a great job writing about the difference between what constitutes an inconvenience, verses the denial of basic civil liberties.

Many of the people who wrote comments were trapped in the AMA, State of Illinois building (day two action), or somewhere around AFSCME (day three).

To be kind, they did not get it. Even when spoon-fed the connection between the AMA, the state or union, all they understood was, “I’m mad. You are the reason I was late (didn’t eat lunch… missed my ride… got a headache); therefore you are wrong.” Rarely, did they see our targets as complicit in our oppression; they readily identified with the oppressors rather than the oppressed.

While was disappointed with that reaction I was not surprised. However, the venom that a few spewed did. One guy simply wrote, “I hate you.” Oh.

Another person, Sean, wrote:

Invoking the Civil Rights movement, no matter how inapt the analogy, is another way to make sure people don't take you seriously. When the disabled are routinely lynched, denied the right to vote or hold office, jerrymandered [sic] out of effective representation, and attacked with fire hoses and dogs while conducting a peaceful march while the law either turns a blind eye or actively participates, get back to us and we'll link arms with you and sing "We Shall Overcome."

No, Sean, but we certainly see plenty of people with disabilities murdered for no other reason than having a disability.

How? By:

  • dehydration and starvation
  • neglect and abuse
  • poisoning
  • organ donating
  • medical experimentation
  • infanticide
  • eugenics
  • being over medicated, and
  • a host of other horrors.

Many of these murders happened to people locked away in institutions and then buried in mass and/or unmarked graves.

What Sean (and others who cannot be bothered with understanding another person’s struggle) does not begin to understand is that people with disabilities ARE denied the right to vote, hold office nor have other rights of citizenship. To this day polling places remain physically inaccessible to wheelchairs and have paper ballots people with disabilities cannot read. It’s not necessary to gerrymander districts to deny people with disabilities the right to vote deny them representation. It is much easier than that in this society.

He is ignorant of, or cares less that, the law has turned a (his word) "blind" eye to, participated in, and even encouraged discriminating against people with disabilities for all history.

Until the last 2/3rds of the 20th century, we had no right to education, to eat in a restaurant of our choosing, see a movie, use public transportation, or even expect rights equal to others. Many of us could not have sex or choose marry, or have children based on our disability. Doctors did and still do sterilize us. Institutions have pulled out our teeth without justification; straitjacketed us; restrained us, both physically and chemically; lobotomized us; shocked us; and institutionalized us.

Sean, and the others, makes our fight harder. They unwittingly or callously (it really does not matter which) fight to maintain the status quo. He does not want us to overcome; or share a piece of the pie, or dream, or even crumb from the table he sits at comfortably. No, Sean would not link arms with sing and “We Shall Overcome,” with us, unless he has a dramatic conversion, or gets MS.

So, understanding the status of our relationship, we have only one choice. We should run over, and/or otherwise get around Sean, et al. If they are not with us, they are against us.

Others will understand. People who have a basic idea of fairness will understand. Their comments were sprinkled like confections between the flames. People who experience their own discrimination are more likely to understand; they will be our allies. To them, I say… “Join with us; welcome to the movement.”

Steve Drake of NDY sent me by far and away the best comment from the movement's newest supporter, Lager Beer Riot.


misscripchick said...

thank you for posting this. i just got out of a class where people (mostly led by the professor) were talking about arab men being gay (even if it was true, that's not a bad thing anyways), how we should just go over and throw a few bombs in baghdad (and the reason we can't is because people don't like to see people killed---like that is unreasonable???), and how women are only interested/capable of leading organizations that deal with social services instead of the "real" issues. so you see, i needed to run to the library, log on, and find someone who would not hold these values!

i'm glad you were able to be with ADAPT, i hope to go next time. i can't even imagine what that strong sense of community and solidarity must feel like.

it hurts that are people like sean out there and people who could only comprehend how the action affected THEM, instead of the thousands of people incarcerated in nursing homes. like you said, the reaction wasn't surprising though... same with the jerry lewis telethon stuff that went on..

R. Wolf said...

I just found your blog today which was emailed to me. What is worse than growing up disabled? It has to be overlooked because of being disabled AND a senior citizen!!
Anyways, I think I know you if your husband is named Mike and use to work at a disability org. in Springfield that I belonged to.

Keep up the good work of telling it like it is for us out here trying to survive the mentality of society.

Big Noise said...

To R. Wolf... Yes, I think you do know me if you know my husband is mike and he did work for CCDI in Springfield, years ago.

Glad you enjoy the blog.