Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Grassroots: Reseeded*

Over the summer I've been working with others to reorganize a local chapter of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities into a grassroots Action Team; I feel invigorated. I've decided that grassroots work is just what one needs to recharge your advocacy batteries.

When I was a young activist, I was unsure about what I was doing and if I was doing it right. All I knew was that I was the mother of a child with a disability; I had no choice but to fight for her future. I had a cause. I met a small number of moms and others, who were ready to fight too.

We met a lot of success. It does not take a whole lot of angry moms to scare city fathers. It felt good bringing the struggle to the Board of Education and to City Hall; or wherever we had to go to level the obstacles in my child's way. Like many of you, I learned a lot in these early struggles and we made improvements for all people with disabilities.

Those experiences changed my life. I became a professional advocate. I got a job with an advocacy organization. I was appointed to boards and committees. I sat on advisory groups, planning committees, accountability teams, and more.

I got "a seat at the table" and became a bit more "respectable." There is not a thing wrong with having a place at the table. We need good people at the table negotiating and looking out for our interests. But for me, it is boring. My boss jokingly told me I had "poor meeting behavior."

She is right. At meetings, people sound a bit like Charlie Brown's Mom. I interrupt. I get frustrated with the process. Restless leg syndrome takes over my lower quadrants; I have to get up and walk around; I take too many trips to the bathroom longing for graffiti filled stalls to stimulate my brain.

I know this is supposed to be an honor. Someone thinks your work is good and you get invited to participate at a higher level. However, I have decided that, it's not me.

The realization took seed when I attended the ADAPT action in Chicago this year. We took over the entrances to the American Medical Association (AMA). My job, along with a couple dozen others was to block the entrance to the underground parking ramp. We sat there for hours while the organizers negotiated with the AMA. No words can express the utter joy I felt sitting there, blocking that parking garage entrance. There was a camaraderie I hadn't felt in years and didn't realize I was missing.

Later, I went to Alton IL with F.R.I.D.A. to participate in a memorial service & march for Dorothy Dixon. Dorothy, who had a developmental disability, was tortured for months by her caregivers until her body could no longer take the abuse and she died. We marched from IMPACT CIL to her home, raising our voices and fists, vowing to let no more Dorothys die inhumanely.

The Action Team has been the icing on the cake. We've been very successful on several initiatives we started. My plan is to write about them soon and publish them here on my blog.

So for me (and maybe you?) it's back to basics, back to the grassroots where we struggle because we have too. Back to the grassroots where we look forward to meetings instead of dread them. Back to the grassroots where the struggle for change takes seed and the impetus for change originates. I've found my niche again.

I'd like to thank my husband, Michael, for helping me organize and edit this piece.

The title of this piece, Grassroots: Reseeded, is a shortened version of the title of an article that appeared in The Nation, Grassroots Reseeded: Suites vs Streets. I loved it so much, I could not think of anything better. So, I give them the credit here.


Anonymous said...

I daughter couldn't be more proud of her mother than I am of you. Give'em hell grandma!

AmberFRIDA said...

Hi Cilla!!! It has been a total pleasure working with you and of course we will continue to seek out opportunities to do things the grassroots way. FREE OUR PEOPLE!

Terri said...

I to find grassroots efforts totally energizing, Nothing is more frustrating than the artificial barriers that keep systems from change and growth--good, old-fashioned activism is the antidote!

Jeri said...

I absolutely hate meetings - what a waste of time. I have a photo of a conference room with the words Torture Chamber stamped over the photo.

Go out there and get 'em!

Chuck said...

I have been working professionally for three years now. There have been many challenges for me, one of them is to learn patience. The other is to work with some I don't like, and I have learned not to judge as much; but I too long to block a doorway, grab a megaphone, and shout my fury, pain, and frustration at what is being done to many people who are disabled.

Yet I haven't reached the table, where I may, or may not do some good. So I strive to be the best advocate I can be, swallow the anger and use its energy to move forward, and prey that some day we can all be acknowledge as deserving of respect, equal rights not just under the law, but in the minds of our society, and the funding to do the things needed to make real lasting change.

I some times jokingly say to friends that, Sadly, I have great job security, but I'd give a lot to become obsolete.