We asked for reader response to two articles in Mouth #69 that posed basic questions about the direction of our movement under current ADAPT leadership. One was a dispatch from Sarah Triano and Laura Obara about discrimination leveled at them for being "walkie-talkies" at an ADAPT action. The question raised: How can we make every part of our movement more inclusive?
The second article, by Josie Byzek, concluded that what is styled as "nonviolent civil disobedience"is neither nonviolent nor civil. The question: Can we choose the path of non-violence and still change the world?
Responses are still roaring in. Here are excerpts from just a few.
Thank you for If It Aint Accessible, It Aint My Revolution.
As it was for the authors, Laguna Honda was my first national Adapt action.
I agree that people with certain disabilities were more welcome than others.
Your critique of the underbelly of our movement is spot on. Anyone who expects
you to pass the disability litmus test is just acting out internalized oppression.
Theres enough bullshit AB supremacy and work for all of us.
ADAPT, and for that matter the larger disability rights movement, is only as
strong as our individual commitment to advancing a more nuanced analysis of
disability and a complex understanding of liberation. Putting your experience
out there is a critical contribution to that process.
If these concerns are going to be adequately addressed we have to strengthen our relationships as opposed to our rhetoric. Stronger relationships lead to real trust and appreciation for each other. These are the tools we need most as we develop a disability-positive, inclusive model for direct action.
I berated myself for years for not putting my body on
the line with Adapt. The one Adapt action that I went on left me feeling like
I wanted to phone the manager and the architect of the movie theater complex
[where the action took place] to apologize. They had made an excellent effort
at providing access and needed at most a few minor modifications.
Righteous indignation is such a delicious emotion and definitely provides fuel but cannot succeed in the long run.
After 34 years of organizing, usually a short-lived profession, I was often asked, How did you stay in it so long? My response was always, My anger.
In marches with Dr. King, Lake Shore Drive in Chicago was often shut down, making it impossible for many to get home to watch the six oclock news. What a tragedy while Blacks could not vote or get an education and were being lynched.
I was fortunate one time to be allowed into one of the strategy sessions with Dr. King and his leadership team. It was not a meeting that included everyone who had marched that day. That group of about twenty people decided what the troops were going to do tomorrow, when and where. When someone in the meeting questioned marching in Cicero, a notoriously racist suburb of Chicago, King stood up and shouted, We cant vote! Black childrens minds are being wasted! Who wants to march in Cicero?
This was no lets love everybody comment that I have so often read in his writings. It was born of anger. Anger moved the leadership team and the next day the march was held in Cicero.
Yes, Kings underlying philosophy was nonviolence, but that did not mean not inconveniencing people. It also did not include just giving the police an easy task when it came to arrests. All marchers were instructed to go limp and force the police to carry them to the paddy wagons. The police had to figure out how to deal with the limp bodies, bad backs or not. According to Byzeks article, this is violence.
When ADAPT takes over a building, holding people hostage for an hour or two, is that violent? Then try visiting a nursing home where people are held hostage for a lifetime. That seems violent.Shel Trapp
Anger is fear with a party mask on. Most of us are desperately afraid afraid that more of us will die needlessly, in the black pit called institution where people are reduced to objects and humanity has fled the building. Afraid that right now another family is being told in an IEP meeting for the ninth year in a row, Jonathan is a Down Syndrome boy... reminding his parents that he is different and therefore does not belong with the rest.
Afraid because tomorrow another person will be injured and be faced with demons of his former self that tell him he is now worthless. He believes it because he believed the same about them until the accident. He believes it because he is a part of a community and a culture that harbors institutions and locks people away in hidden places. He knew that but never lifted a finger to stop it, and now help is coming for him.
I am afraid because I believed the bullshit I was told by professionals, that I was some great arbiter of judgment, told to make decisions about the lives of other people. I took on that role and it never occurred to me that it wasnt my place. Telling truth now, its a kind of penance.
And I am afraid because there are so few of us in Nevada wading into the river to save so many. There is absolutely no one to go upstream in a peaceful, non-violent way to shed some light on the ignoramuses who are throwing people into the freezing cold current.
I love Gandhi and I love King. I have damn near memorized Why We Cant Wait, but what King had, and what Gandhi had, that we dont, is numbers. Many of our people may try to speak up but have the lowest credibility of any faction on earth. What we say is interpreted by learned assholes who make big bucks off us or by parents who have been told they have a right to make decisions for the broken one.
The more vulnerable we are to interpretation, the more money we come attached to for the pros. That same money holds us hostage in places where non-violent protest will get us a broken arm, even a death sentence. There are no cameras to shine our images or the brutality we suffer onto the six oclock news.
Yes, I am afraid. So is everyone who is angry. And I dont know what we do about that. But I do know that the angrier I get, the calmer they get. They know that I am less effective when I am angry.
Perhaps they can smell my fear.Deirdre Hammon
As a baby boomer who came of age during the early Seventies, the question of how to create social and political change has been a central concern of my adult life.
When I was still a young, able-bodied woman, the Viet Nam war and radical feminism moved me and many others to protest in the streets. Disillusionment, disappointment and fear about the effects of this activism led me to join Marxist-feminist study groups, work on developing a womens center in our community, and eventually to attend graduate school in political science.
Now, as a middle-aged crip, I cant say Ive found the answer to the problem of creating change, but I have become a Buddhist and a strong supporter of true non-violence. Activism must be based on compassion for ourselves and for those who appear to be our opponents. Actions arising from anger perpetuate the anger and damage everyone. Thanks for addressing this issue.Susan Rhodes
As an aging gimp with lots of years of experience in a movement fueled by anger, I can attest to both the vigor and the non-sustainability of such a movement.
Anger is a heady drug and for sure has its place in the scheme of change. But any movement that starts and ends there is bound to belong to the young and is equally bound to peter out. In the struggle for disability rights we must first find our anger and then move on to something we can all participate in for an extended period. The struggle is not an easy one and the pendulum, like always, swings both ways. It is important that we find tools that do not injure our spirits and plan for the times ahead in the knowledge that well all be older.Terry Poxon
It may be next to impossible for a minority group to self-examine in public. Thats why I want to give Mouth a Medal of Courage youve probably earned the Purple Heart.
Just being counterculture, as our office is (or most of the time strives to be) means we have to look to each other for affirmation. When we quarrel its very painful, and when outsiders hear of it, doubly so. And yet I dont think we can be a healthy advocacy group unless we spend time clarifying our beliefs and non-beliefs. Its wearying at times, and some just throw up their hands and walk/roll away.
It really is like the old Sixties civil rights movement. We needed Josiah Williams to shout everybody into a frenzy and go to jail, then we needed Andy Young to come in and make peace. All gifts can contribute and were called to different roles.
I particularly was drawn to Josie Byzeks article because I believe, really believe, that love is the answer. Without a bigger yes behind the no of anger, our actions will profit nothing in the long run. People from our office are in this for the long run, for changing the hearts and minds of Georgians so that we will enjoy the gifts of all citizens.
In the meantime (whew! what a long meantime!) well be pursuing the pretty disgusting legal, administrative, and PR remedies that make some things better for some people.
Risking and pushing folks to rethink some assumptions is what youve always been about, so dont stop now.Joyce Ringer
We are living in very dangerous times and we suffer double because we are seeing the monster creeping fast while people are complacent enough to surrender more and more civil liberties.
Please be sure you have many people who agree with you.Luis M. Mendez
Anger is one of the deepest roots of any oppressed culture. The emotion seems legitimate in the face of the terrible knowledge that we have. I am more concerned when people cannot no, will not separate anger from hate.
Roots that serve to create cohesiveness in other cultures family units and geographical community for instance do not exist for us.
Our great diversity makes us a cross section of society and also guarantees we will not have the general concord enjoyed by other minorities.
For those of us who choose to see this battlefield, the fight is even more problematic. We dont have the numbers. That lack of open support by the majority of people with disabilities virtually insures that some of us will display more militant behaviors in this quest for justice.
Are people who commit acts of violence in the name of justice undisciplined? Let us then also consider the throngs of people with disabilities who take it all in as if they are bystanders, innocent of knowledge or wrongdoing. They are not bystanders, and are by no means innocent. They condemn us each time they accept a pat on the head. They are the mortar that holds our oppression together.
Im not troubled by our anger, no. There are casualties on this battlefield who, if not killed outright, will be tortured every day of their lives. I am troubled when people are not angered by that. I am disgusted with those who take on the attitude of an oppressor in order to curry favor with him. That is not, however, what Byzek has done. She has openly expressed her opinion, and we are morally beholden to respect her right to do so. If we cannot, of what value is any fight for justice?
If I were to criticize anything, it would be her apologetic presentation. This is what I would have said and what I do say: If you commit an act of violence and I witness it, well be sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom. When court is adjourned and youre in a holding cell because I helped to convict you, Ill be making a public stink about how much I loathe that two persons of conscience were placed in terrible positions by lazy-minded citizens, disabled and non-.Betty Alfred
I am guilty of taking for granted that the world at large knows what ADAPT is and does, and why. Im not talking about the entire disability rights movement. Im talking only about Adapt and my own experience in it over the past ten years.
First and foremost, Adapt exists to fight for the freedom of people who remain imprisoned in nursing homes and institutions for the crime of disability.
Im going to say this again because its important: Adapt exists to fight for the freedom of people who remain imprisoned in nursing homes and institutions for the crime of disability.
As the bumper sticker on my car says, If you arent outraged, you arent paying attention!
Of course were angry. As for me, I wont stop being angry until every person who is locked away living in institutional terror has the basic freedom and civil rights that I enjoy. I wont stop being angry until we take power away from those who see nothing wrong with imprisoning us. I wont stop being angry until we do away with the double standard that gives people permission to accord less value to anyone who is different.
Luckily, my anger doesnt numb my soul as Byzek said hers does. It fuels the fire in my belly as much as the love I feel. Che Guevera once said, Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. Love and anger are not mutually exclusive, and anger is not a dirty word, or a bad thing to feel. How can we not be angry at the unconscionable imprisonment of our sisters and brothers whom we love?
It is the combination of my love and anger that I transform into positive action, some of that through Adapt, to do what is in my personal power toward freedom and justice for people with disabilities.
ADAPT, as an organization, both espouses and practices non-violence. Period. We offer non-violence training at actions. Any organization is unable to control the actions, the breaking points, of individual members. Thus there are absolutely rare occasions when someone acts outside the bounds of the non-violence we demand. And we deal with it.
However, I dont agree that blocking building entrances and passively resisting police are violent activities, as they now seem to Josie. [As for requiring police to carry people in their wheelchairs] dont tell me that there were no 300-pound men or women practicing passive resistance anywhere in the civil rights movement!
My first Adapt action was a life-changing experience. In my paid work in disability rights, I had known people who used sip-n-puff power wheelchairs. They had staff who helped them get up each day, use the bathroom, dress, eat, shop, clean and carry out virtually every other activity in their daily lives. Physically, they had no power and no privacy. Their special education had acculturated them to compliance, and most of their families had (over)protected them, never allowing them to take risks.
When I saw the twins of these friends at my first Adapt action, they were realizing their own power for the first time as they blocked doorways that no one could enter because of their presence. Or, as old hands, they were in leadership roles encouraging others and negotiating with the powers that be. They were empowered because they felt strong enough in our Adapt community to take power for themselves not because the Adapt power fairy had rolled by and touched them with a magic power-conferring wand.
At my first action I saw people with disabilities leading groups of people with disabilities, articulating the desires of people with disabilities, demanding equity and equal rights for people with disabilities. From my perspective as a staff member at a local Arc, I was used to seeing parents and parent associations and service providers and non-disabled advocates being the ones to approach the political powers. For the first time I was experiencing what the Self Determination I had long advocated actually looks like in practice.
For many years I have also been part of groups and committees wracking their collective brains for ways to get people from minority groups, or families with young children, or people with a variety of disabilities, involved and participating in our advocacy work. Almost always the efforts, though well intended, were fruitless. I never understood why until I became part of Adapt. People participate when they feel they make a difference, when there is a return for them, or a benefit for those they love. There is no question that people representing every diversity characteristic imaginable feel power and benefit in Adapt because it is the most diverse group in which I have participated in my 55 years.
Are we perfect? Model role models? Always even-tempered, unbiased and politically correct? Do we cause the power mongers and muckety-mucks to hide in fear and do our bidding before the words have left our mouths? Of course not. Thankfully, not. Our all-too-real and human imperfections have guaranteed us plenty to do in the days and years ahead. And the glacial pace of politics has guaranteed us more work than we wish we had.
But we are committed, and we are proud, and we will not stop until we move whomever and whatever we have to in order to free our people because we are Adapt.Marsha Rose Katz
The late Ed Roberts often talked about how anger was a positive emotion. Not because it was an end in itself, but because it motivated people to work for change. I had the wonderful opportunity to know Ed later in his life, when much of his work had been done, when people waited in line for a chance to speak with him. Eds great motivator was not anger, though there were plenty of times I saw him angry. His great motivator was love. He loved everyone he met. I dont mean he liked everyone; I dont think he did. But he was in love with humanity. He wanted to meet you and to know your story. He wanted to include you in his glory.
I recall Ed and his capacity for love with fondness and respect because Byzeks article focused on anger, and also because of another article in the same issue, a story about the Supreme Court beheading the ADA. Ed played a part in the ADA becoming law. And the Courts decision in Williams v. Toyota asks a crucial question that none of us seem to want to answer: What is a disability? What makes someone who uses a wheelchair disabled and someone who wears glasses not? What makes someone who is culturally Deaf disabled and someone who cant hear because of old age not? How have we come to our own definitions of disability?
The problem with the disability label is that our society has concluded its not a natural state. I dont mean its not natural to have a disability. Its very natural; it happens to every living thing. But we have decided that this natural occurrence of all life is not a good thing. What could we possibly achieve from this conclusion? Separation.
We do it in our own community. I separate myself from you because you do not have a mobility impairment. You separate yourself from me because I do not have a communication impairment. And so on, and on, and on. Reasons to include ourselves in one group or exclude ourselves from another never end.
We keep the concept of disability because it separates. Millions of people make money off of us as long as we have our labels, they keep their jobs. Millions more feel good because they imagine their lives to be better than ours; they can give their money or time or pity.
Disability is not a question of legitimacy, its not even a question of who deserves what and who doesnt. Its not a question of deficiencies or differences. Its a question of separation. We in the United States have had experience with this kind of separation before, with disastrous results. Slavery tore our country apart. White Americans believed that people who werent white were different and different meant inferior. Weve made the same leap with disability. Society believes that since disabling conditions make us inferior it can therefore choose to discriminate against us or be charitable toward us. Or both.
We discover as we try to define disability that it simply cant be done.
That doesnt mean it wont be done.
Our society, then, is fueled by a need for separation. And what does this separateness lead to? Anger! And what does anger lead to? More separation.
Where does that leave us? Im not Ed. Im not in love with humanity. Im tired of being discriminated against because I use a wheelchair. Im weary of having to defend myself because I think differently from some of my peers. But I try. Because as trite as it sounds I do believe the Beatles had the answer all those years ago: all you need is love.
Love may not answer all our prayers, but we know from our history where hate gets us.
Las Cruces, New Mexico