Saturday, September 15, 2007

March On, ADAPT

My husband and I are “the road less traveled” people, figuratively and literally.

Figuratively, we read books that rarely make it past a first printing; NY Times best seller list… piffle! We enjoy documentaries and independent films. If we go to the movie and there are more than 15 people in the theater, we know we picked the wrong movie (exempting Pixar and Harry Potter movies). Moreover, we love, get giddy-with-excitement about, political mass action.

Literally, our getaways are blue highway adventures.1 We can bore you for hours, nay days, with two-story outhouse tales. Let us tell you about the world’s largest sculpture of a walnut, the best road-side stand to get Indian Fry Bread (aka: manna from God) and a little mine museum run by a fella who wants to make sure the people who died in his town’s mining disaster aren’t forgotten. We stop at e-v-e-r-y historical marker. (I can hear my children groaning, as they are reminded of that memory, from here.)

However, with regard to marches, the opposite is true for me. It is all about the destination; I want to go on the interstate highway of marches. I wanna zoom past all the scenery, stop only to pee, get where we're going using the straightest line, and arriving as fast as possible. Just like a family car trip, it's a means to the end; and not much of a fun one at that. The 2007 ADAPT Action in Chicago last week, reminded me of that.

On Marching

There is a rhythm, an ebb and flow, to a demonstration. First, there is the lining up. Excitement builds as we find our groups, meet our teams, and get our colors. Then, as adrenalin builds, all you want to do is hit the road!

The march begins; then stops, then starts, then stops again. At last, it is on the move. The chanting begins and builds; the singing swells.

It is difficult to contain a roving throng of people. Discipline and security keep a march together. One break in the line and the results are similar to a hurricane making landfall; it just falls apart. It is heat that keeps a hurricane and a march strong. As a result, there is the inevitable and nearly constant reminder to, “tighten up” coming from the organizers. Marcher crankiness ensues, chanting strains, and the singing drifts off-key. Marching becomes drudgery for marchers and march organizers.

Marching in my hometown of Chicago was especially difficult. The crumbling infrastructure threatened every marcher. Potholes, dips, chunks of road, broken grates, and openings between bridge parts all entice ankles to turn and tires to flatten or get stuck.

I had never marched single-file before. We shared the road with the city’s traffic. Concentrated vehicle exhaust fumes are noxious and force your head to throb. It is the body’s way of saying, “Get the hell out of here!”

I love the sound of my city. Normally, horns honking sound like nightingales to me; the roar of the “L,” a lullaby. But, not when my head is pounding; I finally understand what small town folk mean when they talk about the noisy city.

Ahhh… but the destination, the action at the end of the march, that is like 4th grade recess. It is unabashed, shameless fun for my comrades and me.

On the Action

Finally, stuff to do. Raise a little ruckus; show our tuckus; play a little music-kus? I was ready for some murderball!

I was in the green group… the last group on the first day of the Action. We had three ADAPT organizers leading us. In hindsight, I see that our leader’s behavior became more intense, conspiratorial, as we closed in on our target (the American Medical Association [AMA]). Had I not been sucking carbon monoxide for two hours, I might have noticed then.

Suddenly our group leaders broke away from the main group, screaming at us to follow. And, we did, passionately and unrestrained; though we had no idea where we were going. We bolted down the side street, and turned down the next. We were now racing down hill, below street level, and parallel with the other marchers. Now that was fun!

On the side street, a young traffic warden looked up and saw our band of 30+ stampeding toward him. You could see the unmistakable look of terror in his eyes as he saw us break ranks and head his way. His “deer-in-the-headlights” expression betrayed his “look-like-you’re-in-control” training. As we blew past, he grabbed his walkie-talkie and gave up our position.

At the bottom of the hill, we re-grouped and made swift plans to take control of the parking garage. We had hoped to get inside, but the gate was in lock-down. Instead, we filed our wheelchairs into and occupied the ramp. No one was getting past us.

After the initial rush of adrenalin, we settled in, and started getting to know one another. We had been in a single file line for nearly three hours; first lining up, then marching. Now we could actually see one another.

I found that a friend, Rene, was in my group. I had not seen him until we were there for an hour. It was great catching up with him. I introduced myself to other activists I had seen elsewhere, but never met. Several women from the F.R.I.D.A. (Feminist Reaction in Disability Activism) list serve were there too. Now I can put a few faces with names. Along with seasoned activists, I met people at their first demonstration. They gave me hope for our future; their bright-eyed enthusiasm was contagious.

Since we separated from the rest, I worried we would not have good communication; I should not have. ADAPT organizers went out of their way to make sure we had the latest information, praise us for our tenacity to remain at our post, etc.

At my age, sitting and not moving is easy. With the company around me, why would I even want to? Besides, we had a parking garage to blockade.

Rock-On Adapt

Negotiations ran hot and cold; ADAPT, thoughtful and firm, negotiated throughout the day. The demands presented to the AMA were spot on, as they were with all the targets. At the end of the siege, after the police cited and moved protesters, we gathered in the plaza in front of the AMA for a short rally and then lined up to march back to the hotel.

ADAPT’s role is controversial; yet fills a vital and important function for our movement. Are they the radical fringe. No. The Weather Underground was a fringe group. ADAPT isn't blowing up any buildings.

Are they disruptive? They sure are. Do they do things to get attention? Well, that is exactly the point. Are they single-minded in their freedom fight? Absolutely they are; and that is why I am proud of my association with them at the national action this year.


I did not line up to march back. I can be compliant for only so long. I had my own little break away. Wandering off in another direction, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. However, I did go back to the hotel and stayed there until the marchers returned. Only then, I crossed the street and made my way to the Metra station to go back to my hotel.

From that vantage point, I watch them for a long time. Tears well in my eyes at the beauty and diversity of us all. It was a really good day.

Our People, United… Will Never Be Defeated.


misscripchick said...

thanks for posting this! i haven't been to an action yet and was definitely sitting on the edge of my seat to find out why the organizers were breaking away from the line :)

i hear a lot of people disrespect ADAPT (vice versa i guess too) but like you said, everyone plays a role in the movement. i worked for sen. harkin's disab. policy counsel this summer and it was a nice surprise to learn that bob kafka was one of his number 1 people that he counts on and calls on a daily/weekly basis.

Kay Olson said...

Thanks so much for describing the emotions of the day. I haven't been on any ADAPT actions -- or actually many large protests or marches -- usually just a few dozen people at most. But the energy is the same. Glad to here it was like that in Chicago last week.