Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The "Perils" of Being Inconvenienced

You are fighting a righteous fight. Your cause is just. You are facing powerful forces with little but your own courage. If ever the broad masses of people are going to be mobilized into supporting the cause; now is the time!


There are some people who just don’t want to be bothered. “Your cause may be just but please take your demonstration to another part of town”.

ADAPT, the militant, confrontational and proud of it; arm of the disability rights movement held its biannual meeting/demonstrations September 10-13 in Chicago. Each day hundreds of people with disabilities took over major office building to press their demands.

It is expected that the leaders of the American Medical Association, the political leaders of the state of Illinois and the leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees would have strong objections to being the targets of ADAPTs wrath. So were a vociferous few office workers and others to whom the blockades created an “inconvenience.”

Reading the internet stories about the takeovers unleashed some pissed off people.

“I support anyone’s right to speak their voice, but why involve innocent people and disrupt their lives?”

“Making a pest of yourself is not usually an effective way of gaining attention for your cause. All it does is gain attention for the fact that you're an annoying pest”.

“Look I'm all for protest, freedom of speech and taking a stand when something is wrong. That being said, it is not OK to take away the freedom of my fellow Americans who happen to work in a building that (you are) protesting in front of. That is what happened. You can poo poo the argument and say that it was only a few hours and you have to live in deplorable conditions, locked up, etc. I agree with you that is BS but locking me into the building does not help your case. Yes I understand now that you are pissed, but now I hate you. Think about that.”

Some people don’t know how to act when confronted with a moral question. On the one hand, there were quite a few who empathized with the general thrust of the protestors but were outraged that they themselves were actually confronted.

Nobody likes to be inconvenienced. Very few know how to respond when confronted with moral stands.

But, happily, many do.

Being inconvenienced has its own rewards

Fifteen years ago I was working for the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union in Washington, DC. There was a labor dispute at one of the major hotels (The Mayflower, if you’re familiar with D.C.). We were doing our best to annoy the guests. Hopefully, they would check out, complain to management, or show solidarity in some way, shape or form. Usually, however, the aggrieved guests would show us that their loyalty was with management and not with the workers.

One day, a cab pulled up in front of the hotel. A woman bound out of it. She was dragging her suitcase with one hand and holding a briefcase with the other. Sexist it is but, I couldn’t help notice she was quite attractive. But she was very upset and was talking very fast.

“Oh my God! I flew in for a conference at this hotel! I didn’t know there was a strike! There is a conference here that I am attending! My agency made my reservation! My grandfather was a Progressive Union coal miner! My Dad was a shop steward! I would never cross a picket line! What should I do"? She said with tears in her eyes! One of my responsibilities with the union was “guest relations” so I went to talk to the inconvenienced woman.

Our eyes met. I assured her that she could attend her conference. I asked her to complain to management and demand that her room be “comped” (free) and get the conference organizers to urge management to settle the strike immediately. I told her that every morning a 6:00 am we would be waking the hotel’s guest with greetings from our bull horns.

She walked the picket line everyday on her lunch break. She brought others to walk the picket line. She complained to management. She had the conference sponsor protest. The workers referred to her as my “girl friend.” This was a person who embraced her being inconvenienced. She brought encouragement to everyone who walked the line with her. My boss told me to get her name and address so we could send her our thanks. Unfortunately, she had checked out and I didn’t get her information. She was gone.

Five years later, I was smitten by a woman in an on-line chat room. I told her I had worked for the Hotel Workers Union in D.C. She was quiet for a moment. “Did you manage the strike at the Mayflower Hotel?” I had found my “girl friend.”

We are married now and are very happy about the way things turned out.

Not everyone who is inconvenienced in the struggle for justice is going to wind up with a great love, but you never know.

What we do know is when confronted with a demonstration; a strike, or other action, people need to get outside themselves. Consider why they are being inconvenienced, look for ways to support the cause and be proud that they were on the right side in the struggle for justice.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

AFSCME: Lost Its Way

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a union with a proud history. It led the way in actively organizing Black people. It battled for workers who were legally forbidden to unionize. It inspired many with its spirited struggles.

Dr. Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech amidst proud AFSCME workers. Dr. King gave his life supporting AFSCME members on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. Clearly, AFSCME made its mark standing with people of color and others on the outside of the predominant society.

September 12, 2007, ADAPT, a national organization of people with disabilities (PWDs) shut down the Illinois headquarters of AFSCME.

So What’s the Problem?

Why would an organization that represents the interests of people on the outside of society shutdown the headquarters of an organization that has a history of representing people also on the outside?

People with disabilities have always been excluded from the mainstream of society. Until the middle of the nineteenth century PWD’s were hidden in attics, sent out to beg, or left to die of neglect. Reformers encouraged the establishment of institutions for PWDs, where they could live and perhaps receive medical care. For 100 years, institutionalization was the primary way people with disabilities were treated. Inspired by the civil rights struggles of the late 1950’-early 1960’s, PWDs started agitating for their own rights. Among these rights were to live independently, outside of institutions.

There were and still are powerful forces that resist closing institutions. You have the owners and other people who make a living from these institutions; Doctors who commit people to places where they hold a financial stake. Then there is AFSCME.

AFSCME members spilled blood organizing the low paid and underappreciated workers. They succeeded in raising the pay and standard of living of these workers. But now, they perceive the job security of these employees and dues paying members in jeopardy by the struggle of PWDs to escape the claws of the institution.

“Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Institutions Have to Go”

AFSCME’s reputation is at stake.

Not only does AFSCME want to keep these monuments to the nineteenth century open; they even want to increase funding to these places where people are held against their will (interesting, AFSCME represents a large number of prison guards as well).

AFSCME refuses to support legislation to increase spending on home and community based services for PWDs. Henry Bayer, the leader of AFSCME in Illinois pledged his support for more federal spending on community care if ADAPT would agree to fight for MORE funding for institutions! AFSCME lobbied long and hard that institutions such as the Lincoln Developmental Center in Lincoln, Illinois and Bellfontaine in St. Louis, Missouri, remain open.

AFSCME does not see PWDs as human beings. To them, we are a source of jobs. More jobs will result in creating community settings for people with disabilities, not less. But AFSCME cannot see that. Instead of hanging on to an outmoded, demeaning, and shameful model of treating PWDs, AFSCME should be looking to the future.

AFSCME is leading other organizations who should know better. “Jobs with Justice” uncritically supports the institutionalization of PWDs. Their justification for this is supporting AFSCME members job security over the freedom for those incarcerated in state institutions.

Sadly, the leadership of AFSCME is exposing its back pedaling on basic trade union issues.

AFSCME is throwing away its militant history along with its progressive principles.

How many times has the AFSCME rank and file heard these words?

“…we could accomplish more by finding common ground and being productive rather than being divisive and confrontational.”

This is not management talking. This is AFSCME’s whining about the ADAPT demonstration.

Martin Luther King, III spoke at a national meeting of ADAPT several years ago. He spoke of the history of the Civil Rights Movement and compared it to the struggle of PWDs. His message: “Our struggles are entwined”.

Randy Alexander, Memphis ADAPT Organizer said of AFSCME;

"For an organization that has its roots in the civil rights movement, their treatment of people with disabilities is even more despicable. The union and its members make a lot of money by advocating keeping people with disabilities and older folks stuck in nursing homes and other institutions instead of being able to live in their own homes like other people. It's unconscionable that the union fights for workers' rights at the expense of our rights. In ADAPT, we know that you can't have one without the other."

AFSCME can no be considered a progressive organization as long as it stands in the doorway of progress.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Capitalism has Outlived its Usefullness

I watched the Minnesota Interstate Highway bridge collapse. I watched the amazing pictures of the New York City steam pipe explosion; and I watched the levees crumble and saw New Orleans flooded.

I wanted to write about how America’s infrastructure is falling apart. I was going to point out that there is insufficient money in the Federal Budget to upgrade and maintain the roads, bridges and utilities we all share and are imperative to our standard of living.

I was going to close by making the point that the war in Iraq is costing us well over two billion dollars a week and that the money could pay for rebuilding our infrastructure. I was going to show that it could go a long way to making good on the promise of decent health care service for us all.

But I started thinking; if we weren’t involved in a catastrophic war where would we spend the $300 million a day the war is costing us? Would this money go to rebuilding our power grid? Would prescription drugs be available to those who need them? Would our roads, bridges, rail roads, air traffic control systems be improved? Would health care for all be affordable?

Nahhh! I don’t think so. Since 2001 the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s have all received budget cuts of up to 4%. The Corps of Engineers, despite what they were doing in New Orleans, receives almost 2% less than in 2001.

These are the federal departments most directly responsible for the upkeep of our national infrastructure; they are not even close to staying even with the degeneration of our national infrastructure. The physical degeneration of our country didn’t start under the current administration. The infrastructure was crumbling under previous administrations as well.

Why? Isn’t our government supposed to meet the needs of we, the people? The truth is, government sees to the needs of those who control the national purse strings. The Investment Bankers, Wall Street Tycoons, Oil Company Magnates and the others who control 80% of our country’s wealth call the shots. If they want a tax cut, they get a tax cut. If they want less regulation, they get ‘em. If they want to increase their control over the world’s oil, the government does its best to accommodate them.

There are men and women in government who are decent and actually try to represent the interests of the majority of people. But the rich and powerful are winning the ideological class war; and large numbers of us who are not part of the economic elite have bought into their lies.

The big lie is that the rich deserve everything they have and if you are not happy; it’s your own fault. Not happy with your lack of health insurance? Eat healthier and you won’t need it. Not happy because your workplace closed and now you’re forced to work two jobs to make as much as one used too? It’s your own fault for not getting that Masters Degree in Business. Not happy because the color of your skin seems to draw the attention of the police as you drive? Quit whining – You should be more careful where you drive. You’re not happy because it’s impossible for your power chair to negotiate the curb cuts in your neighborhood? Blame your Mother for taking thalidomide. Not happy because it’s getting more expensive to gas up your car? Blame the environmentalists for blocking drilling off the coast of Florida. Not happy because that low paying job you had laid you off to hire new immigrants? Don’t blame the owners, blame the new immigrant. And so it goes.

They’ve got us so turned around that for the first time in history the have-nots are blaming folks who have less for our dissatisfaction. In fact, many of us are more likely to identify with the rich and powerful than with our neighbors and co-workers.

History is filled with examples of how economic systems become obsolete and are replaced. It was only a couple of hundred years ago with the start of the industrial revolution that the feudal system was replaced by capitalism. That was a good thing. Feudalism became a brake on the ability of society to move ahead. Capitalism filled the historical bill. People who had a stake in maintaining feudalism fought hard against the budding capitalists. There were revolutions aimed at overthrowing or restricting the power of the feudalists in Germany, France, England, the United States and just about the rest of the industrializing world. Back then it was the capitalists who were the revolutionaries.

It is time to end capitalism's reign. It no longer is capable of moving the standard of living for all forward. It is incapable of providing the breakthroughs to benefit humanity. Those who profit from capitalism are engaged in a giant war to maintain their privilege and make us think that these inequalities are right and just.

Let’s get over our fear of being called names and open our minds and our hearts to create an economic system where greed is not good but concern for our co-inhabitants of this planet is.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Savoring our Victories:

The following was written in August of 2006 for the newsletter of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois (CCDI). It concerned actions organized by the Campaign for Real Choice, led by Lester and Barbara Pritchart at the Illinois State Fair during Republican and Democratic day festivities. The Campaign for Real Choice advocates for the shutting down of State Institutions housing People with Disabilities.

Savoring Our Victories: A personal testimony from an advocate who took part in the Freedom Days rallies.

By Michael Meiselman, CCDI Lifetime Member

It was hot and uncomfortable. Nearly a hundred disability rights activists were surrounded by thousands of Democrats - it was Democrat day at the Illinois State Fair. We were wearing bright yellow t-shirts. The Democrats wore blue. We arrived two hours before the program was to start to ensure front row seats. We went to provide witness of our commitment to see our brothers and sisters freed from the yoke of state operated institutions. The Democrats were there for a photo opportunity for the upcoming campaign. As the buses carrying the party faithful arrived, more blue shirts surrounded us. Individuals carrying signs snaked into our midst. We moved our chairs, blankets and support dogs closer.

One hundred or so young African American people were led to fill the gap between the stage and us. If we were going to be able to keep our ground and make our statement, we were going to have to fight. Union leaders and party functionaries gave their marching orders to their troops: Occupy the area in front of the stage so the photographs would show a wall of support for the leaders of the Democratic Party. Slowly, our resistance began. Shoulders moved together, powerchairs inched forward. The stronger we became the weaker and more uncertain they became. Their leaders caucused while the yellow shirts became bolder in defending our rights and turf. We cheered as one of our own loudly lectured the blue shirts saying we weren't going to allow our issues to disappear.

The blue shirts started leaving. We could hardly believe it. Save for a few they were leaving the areas they had once infiltrated! One of the blue shirted leaders even asked if he could wear our yellow shirt. It was a rout! We looked at each other with pride. Those with arms high-fived each other!

Most of us rarely enjoy the power and purpose that we felt. We won. Our leaders, as good as they are didn't negotiate this victory. We didn't win in court. We won as a result of a ragtag action army.

The next day was Republican Day. We still had our yellow shirts - they had sport shirts and golf pants. Again, we showed up two hours early to take our position at the front of the stage. However, they would not let us in. Admission was by ticket only. We lined up in front of the entrance. They learned their lesson from the day before and soon we were welcomed guests enjoying front row access. In addition the Republican leadership agreed to meet with our leaders to discuss the issues.

It's a couple of days later, and I know a lot of us are still smiling. We are thinking of the young and powerful blue shirts complaining about being grabbed, yelled at (often in a language they couldn't understand) and being nudged by wheelchairs. We are thinking how our yellow shirt's held onto our turf! We are thinking of how fast the politicians caved to our moral authority.

This is the glory of building movements. To savor the victories together, however small, that comes from the passion, action and the unity of individuals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Prevent Crime and Play With Statistics

The following was published in the Springfield, Illinois State-Journal Register. It was written in response to a right wing gun nut.

May 18, 2007


A recent letter writer stated that somewhere between "764,000 to 2.5 million crimes are prevented by armed law-abiding people". I was curious if these crimes were prevented on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis so I decided to do my own test.

I am not going to admit if I own guns or not. That would be just what the Feds and the "Ultra-Liberals" would want. But the non-law abiding person don't know either. Let's just say my house looks like a house that could be defended by an armed law-abiding citizen.

Looking out my window I notice a man walking a dog. I thought he was probably a drug addict using the dog as a cover to sell his herojuana. He stopped in front of my house then proceeded. The thought that the occupant was carrying probably stopped him from trying to force me to use drugs. A car carrying young "hip hop" fans cruised slowly up the street. Again, they appeared to slow down as they passed my house. They looked but they did not attempt to enter. Another crime prevented. I heard the pick up truck a block away. They were revving their engine and burning rubber. I instinctively knew I was in trouble. But as they grew closer I saw the Confederate Flag flown from the cab and saw the NRA stickers on the bumper. I knew I had nothing to fear from those gentlemen. The next crew however, was different. Clad in those funny pants I couldn't tell where their legs started and where their waist ended. The one thing I knew was there was plenty of room to conceal some street heat. These hoods were casing out the neighborhood. I saw them analyzing which houses contained armed law abiding people and which ones did not. Add another crime not committed.

Three crimes did not take place in the time I have spent writing this letter. And I live on a dead end street with very little traffic! How many crimes were not committed if I lived on a busier street! If everyone just did their own research they too would know how many crimes have not taken place! It sure is reassuring to know how much safer I am the more people being armed. If we could only keep those non-law-abiding people off the streets! Oh, and let me make the decision about who is law-abiding and who is not!

Disability and the Left, Part Deux

Note: This article is a reaction to a paper by Bill Fletcher, Jr. You can read it here.

I want to thank Bill Fletcher, Jr. for his recent note concerning mental health concerns. Coming from an individual as well respected as Brother Fletcher I hope his message will not be lost.

Yet even a person as respected as Bill has to start his paper on mental health by asking people to take what he says seriously…to hear him out before laughing.

Mental illness, cognitive and physical disabilities have not and are not taken seriously by the left. In fact, most all on the left do not see any place for people with disabilities (PWDs) except as wards of the state.

Last year at the annual meeting of Jobs with Justice in St. Louis the National Action planned a demonstration in favor of keeping a state institution for people with disabilities open. One of Jobs with Justice’s major supporters, AFCSME, wants to keep these state run institutions open as the employees are AFSCME members. When challenged whether this was in the best interest of the residents, comrades and friends deferred to a parent’s organization that supported the institutionalization of their children. Parents often do not represent the wants and needs of their children, disabled or not. But, one can hardly fault the parents for their thinking. The financial and emotional stigma attached to raising children with severe disabilities is multiplied by the lack of supports available for the care takers. Unfortunately, AFSCME’s interest and the interests of some parents took precedent over the desires and needs of the prisoners in these state institutions. No one contacted the residents, nor were any disability advocacy organizations, it was enough to get some parents approval.

Locking people with disabilities up in institutions has a history. The initial establishment of these institutions was progressive. Now they have become regressive. In the 1960s, faced with shrinking budgets, many state institutions were closed and the residents kicked out with no supports whatsoever. These closings and evictions had nothing to do with the welfare of the people with disabilities. They were simply measure taken in accord with capitalism. Economically they were unable to justify their existence.

We know now, however, that the overwhelming numbers of people with disabilities thrive outside traditional state institutions when they receive appropriate supports. In fact, a major goal of the disability rights movement is implementing “Olmstead” legislation (after a Supreme Court Cast of a couple of years ago). The Olmstead decision orders that money spent on an individual incarceration in a state institution should follow each person into the community and appropriate supports follow them.

The upsurge in the struggle for the civil rights of Black people in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s inspired many liberation movements. PWDs were also inspired. Berkeley, California gave rise to the Independent Living Movement. First fighting to gain admittance to the University and then facing many hurdles in being able to attend classes, people with disabilities took on the Administration and the attitudes of the campus community. Inspired by their success, Independent Living movements sprang up all across the USA. People in wheelchairs and their supporters took on public transportation. Chaining themselves to busses in cities from San Francisco, to Chicago, to Boston, access to so-called public transportation began to increase. In state after state, city after city struggles such as to make voting stations accessible, to allow people with disabilities to attend court without the humiliation of being carried up flights of stairs, for an end to segregated schools. People with disabilities fought for basic democratic rights. We support the struggle for Democratic Rights. We are active participants in many such struggles. For the most part though, we are absent from the struggles of PWDs. Why are PWDs fighting these struggles without the broad support of a concerned people? Because of the stigma attached to people with disabilities. It’s similar to white skin privilege. “At least I have it better than that poor soul” is what we say when we send money in to “Jerry’s kids” every Labor Day. We look at people with deformities, developmental disabilities, injuries and illnesses and turn away.

Today, especially after the tragedy at Virginia Tech there is more fear being spread about how dangerous people with disabilities are along with cries that more people need to be housed in state run institutions as a matter of public safety. Increasing louder voices call for preventive detention for people with mental disorders. Where is the left in opposing democratic rights?

I know there are revolutionaries and progressives who work with PWDs. I know there are progressives working with SEIU and AFSCME or are trying to organize the workers who serve PWDs. We should be uniting with the aspirations of the people who we work for and be very careful about the unity we have with those who profit off the institutionalization of PWDs.

I am not going to attempt a full-blown declaration concerning the disability rights movement here. It is long and complex. In fact, my own disability does not allow me the concentration needed to write much more.

Do some research. I suggest these books Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment by James I. Charlton, or Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract by Marta Russell. Google Disability rights and see what comes up. Check out my wife’s blog, mybignoise.blogspot.com/

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Abbie Hoffman and thie Seige of Miami

Abbie Hoffman and the Seige of Miami

Abbie Hoffman was out on bail appealing his conviction as part of the Chicago 8. Word was that he was coming to Miami to do some fundraising to defray the costs of the appeal.

A phone call from the Miami Peace Center led to an introduction to a long haired young man who introduced himself as Abbie Hoffman’s advance man. He would handle press relations and fund-raising. We gave him a desk at the Center for Dialogue (a defrocked Lutheran church that was now used by several peace and civil rights organizations). Right off the bat he insisted on having the mailing lists of all the radical/liberal organizations we were in touch with. Alarm sirens sang out. We told him we were all capable of keeping our contacts informed and saw no reason why he should have access. Abbie Hoffman’s advance man was a cop. We called Abbie in Chicago to tell him our suspicions. Abbie’s response was that it was impossible. We all shook our heads. Abbie claimed his advance man could not be an agent…he had long hair!

Abbie arrived in Miami and was taken to the home of Thalia and Dr. Philip Stern. Thalia was the mover and shaker of the peace movement in Miami. Her husband, the dentist, was a sometimes less than thrilled supporter of his wife. They lived in a beautiful home on Biscayne Bay. It wasn’t overly large. It wasn’t particularly opulent. It was a very comfortable upper middle class home with a built in swimming pool and a small sailboat tied to their own dock. Thalia was my mentor and close friend. The affair to take place that evening was the main fundraising event to take place. The next night Abbie would speak at the University of Miami and that would be the place for the students, radicals and others to meet Abbie. However, Thalia agreed that a few friends could attend the shindig at her house. We were to stay out by the pool though and not enter the house. OK. Everything was going fine except one older woman stayed outside with us young ones. It was Abbie Hoffman’s mother. She refused to enter the house as long as anyone else was being excluded. I fell in love with Abbie’s mom.

In order to appreciate what happened the next night at the University of Miami it is necessary to have an understanding of the state of the student/radical movement at that time. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had split into 3 factions. The Progressive Labor Party was a 1950’s split off from the Communist Party USA. They thought that revolution would come through the working class and they swore off drugs and long hair. The Weatherman/Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) 1 faction was based on drugs, long hair and the belief that young people would follow the lead of 3rd world nations and peoples and revolt against the empire. RYM 2 was somewhere in the middle. The three groupings all thought the other to be mortal enemies. At many campuses, physical confrontation between the three was the rule. The student movement at the University of Miami was unique in that all three factions still worked together. We knew we had differences but tried very hard to maintain cordial relationships. We would go out to the everglades once a week and shoot off our weaponry. Tom the leader of our Progressive Labor faction would supply ammunition and also offered Karate and self defense lessons to the RYM 2 and Weatherfolk.

It is also important to understand the conditions at the University of Miami. There were an awful lot of violently anti-communist Cuban exile students there. They were people who were eager to literally kill Communists and those who supported the Cuban Revolution.

We on the left knew that we were facing real dangers at Abbie’s speech and were serious about providing protection.

The three factions had a meeting where we split up responsibilities for Abbie’s protection. The Weathermen would be responsible for the perimeter. They would search suspicious looking people before they entered the area where Abbie was speaking. Progressive Labor would patrol where the audience was. RYM 2 would protect the stage where Abbie was speaking.

Outside of the Student Union Building was a large patio with chairs and tables. There was an elevated walkway from the Student Union to other classroom buildings nearby. The audience would be in that open patio area.

The crowd started arriving early. Our Weathermen went to work. They confiscated several weapons and kept others from entering the area. Progressive Labor staunchly carried out their responsibilities keeping a lookout for weapons and suspicious incidents.

The time came for Abbie to speak. Accompanied by the RYM 2 faction Abbie took the stage. All hell broke loose. Salt and pepper shakers which had been on the tables in the patio were being hurled at Abbie. Other less identifiable objects were being thrown and intercepted by the RYM2 guards. Fights broke out in the audience as the Progressive Labor contingent duked it out with the anti-Abbie Cubans. Above the din and ducking condiments, Abbie yells out, “What’s going on? Are you all in PL?” Hearing this Tom, the leader of the PL forces stood tall and raised his fist in the air and yelled back, “Long Live the Progressive Labor Party” and led his troops off the battle plain.

Our defensive strategy broken, RYM 1 and RYM 2 quickly agreed to get Abbie out of there.

We regrouped at a friendly professor’s house. Concerned that his bail would be revoked Abbie was concerned that the news would refer to the happenings as a riot. When they did not he relaxed. We all shared some dope. Abbie left with the professor’s wife. Abbie’s wife, Anita, and the rest of us smoked a few more joints then fell asleep.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Draft Board Secretary is not the Enemy-1968

The Vietnam War was raging, people of color were fighting for their rights, the women’s movement was just gaining steam. My generation was swept up in conflict. But like many young men in the late 1960's, my most intense personal struggle was with my draft board. It started shortly after my 18th birthday when I received my draft card in the mail. I stared at the card, memorized the numbers on it – 1A, Local Board #169, and the signature of the Board Secretary, Carolyn Copher. I bombarded my draft board with literature about the war. I sent missive after missive concerning my own attempt to be a conscienscous objector. I sent them packages of stuff just to take up more room in my files. I was doing my bit to choke the war machine on paperwork. I received a receipt for each of these from the draft board, all signed “Carolyn Copher, Board Secretary.”

The draft board wasn’t just on the receiving end in this mini-war. They had an offense too!. I’ve lost track of how many notices I received to appear for a physical, to be examined by a psychiatrist, to come in for a hearing, and orders to appear to be inducted into the U.S. military – all of them signed by Carolyn Copher, Board Secretary.

This woman was trying to get me killed or put in jail. I tried to imagine what this tool of the military/industrial complex looked like. She had to be old, I thought, and ugly! She’s never had sex and that explains why she can do what she does. That was before I met Carolyn.

I went to the draft board to put even more fodder into my file. She was sitting at her desk surrounded by file cabinets. I handed her the new documentation to be filed. I asked which drawer was mine. She responded that I had the a whole cabinet to my self! Our eyes met and we giggled. She didn’t look or act like the wicked witch of the East.

One day I read in the local newspaper that as a result of a sting operation, Local Board #169's secretary had been arrested for accepting a bribe. Some wealthy kid figured he was going to bust the draft by busting a local board secretary. He went to the FBI and told them he was going to offer Carolyn Copher $10,000 to get a student deferment and wouldn’t they like to wire him to get the goods on this corrupt individual. They did.

Carolyn Copher was facing 5 years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. Ironically, this is the same punishment that I faced for refusing induction at the end of the paper war between myself and Local Board #169.

Walter Cronkite had by this time come out against the war. Paul Harvey had come out against the war. Public opinion had turned against the war.

Carolyn Copher was found guilty and received the maximum sentence.

A couple of days later I received a phone call from Carolyn Copher.

“I want to talk to you” she said. She gave me her address and directions.

I drove to a small dusty farm in the southwest part of the county. The house she lived in was small but neat. She was very pregnant. Born and raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas, she married young and moved to Miami. He bought the small farm and they went deep into debt. Carolyn took the civil service exam and got the job at the draft board. She told me how her husband left because life on the farm was too hard and didn’t come back even after he knew she was pregnant.

She told me how corrupt the draft board was. She told me how the bankers and business executives on the board got deferments for their friends and relatives. She told me that these people were determined to send me to prison. She told me the things they did to bolster the government’s case to silence me.

This corruption led to her corruption. She took the money. “Why not? I needed it - it’s not easy building a family on a secretary’s pay!”

Now she was facing jail, hard-time, Alderson Federal Penitentiary for Women. She was going to give birth in prison. She had the baby tested and knew that it had Down’s Syndrome.

We brought Carolyn’s story to the U.S. Attorney. He wasn’t interested. The local underground paper ran the story but that was preaching to the choir. The mainstream media ignored the story.

To my brothers registered at Local Board #169, Carolyn Copher represented the draft, the war – everything that was evil. I know that some people cheered when she got caught. I couldn’t cheer. Catching Carolyn wasn’t the same as stopping the draft or ending the war and social injustice. We aimed too low.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Copher after that. I do know that she was another casualty of the war. I also know that the people responsible for the war - the people responsible for deciding who got deferments and who did not, maintained their lofty positions in society. They didn’t go to jail–their sons didn’t go to war. Carolyn Copher paid for their sins.

Left has blind spot on disability issues

There is a struggle going on and we are on the wrong side. On September 23, as part of the Jobs with Justice national meeting, there was a demonstration that put JwJ squarely on the side of the oppressors and exploiters.

The Bellefontaine Habilitation Center outside St. Louis is a nearly 100 year old institution built to separate people with disabilities away from mainstream society. It is one of many such institutions built in a time when locking people with disabilities up was what passed for treatment.

Across the country rank and file activists are fighting for liberation; to tear down the walls of places like Bellefontaine that keeps an entire class of people living separate and apart from family and friends. The disability rights movement is engaged in a battle to shut down state-run institutions that segregate and imprison people with disabilities.

The primary aspect is not jobs but to continue the apartheid of people with disabilities. Would Jobs with Justice join with AFSCME in fighting for more prisons? After all, AFSCME stands to gain members with each additional jail guard position. So what is so progressive about places like Bellefontaine?

People on the left should familiarize themselves with disability issues and the disability rights movement. After all, many of us are starting to think about if our futures are going to be in some nursing home or other place of care or confinement.

The disability rights movement has a history. We have our own “Brown v Board of Education”. In July 1999, the Supreme Court issued the Olmstead v. L.C. decision. The court’s decision in that case decreed that Federal, state and local governments develop more opportunities for individuals with disabilities through more integrated housing options. The Olmstead decision requires that the states administer their services, programs and activities “in the most integrated setting appropriate…”

Let me offer a quote from Marta Russell in her book “Beyond Ramps”,


Nobody wants to go into a nursing home. That should tell us something. . .

-Wade Blank, co~founder of ADAPT

The truth has always been dangerous to the rule of the rogue, the exploiter, the robber. So the truth must be suppressed.

-Eugene Debs

The question for the entrepreneurial nation remained, what to do with the "unproductive," those not exploitable as laborers? And ultimately, how can disabled people be made of use to the economic order? The solution has been to make disablement big business.

Under the Money Model of disability, the disabled human being is a commodity around which social policies are created or rejected based on their market value. The corporate "solution" to disablement-institutionalization in a nursing home-evolved from the cold realization that disabled people could be commodified; we could be made to serve profit because federal financing (Medicaid funds 60 percent, Medicare 15 percent, private insurance 25 percent) guarantees an endless source of revenue. Disabled people are "worth" more to the Gross Domestic Product when we occupy a "bed" instead of a home. When we individually generate $30,000~$82,000 in annual revenues, the electronic brokers on Wall Street count us as assets and we contribute to companies' net worth. The "final solution"--corporate dominion over disability policy-measures a person's "worth" by its dollar value to the economy.

In order to optimize profits, the nursing home industry must maintain control over the lives of the disabled. Our current public policy predicament is an acknowledgement that the Money Model is well in place-but the prisoners of profit are intent upon revolt.


Wade Blank, co-founder of ADAPT, Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, began his long career as a disability advocate while he was employed by a Denver, Colorado, nursing home to set up a ward for young disabled people. His short-lived nursing home career fell within the years when legislatures were ending the old form of institutionalization by closing the doors of state institutions for the disabled, and nursing homes were finding that housing the displaced individuals could be very profitable.

The old sort, well documented by Wolf Wolfensberger in The Origin and Nature of Our Institutional Models, ran the gamut on social "solutions" for disability. Wolfensberger traces the original societal goals of institutions for mentally disabled people: first the professional's goal was to make the "deviant" un-deviant through behavior modification; that gave way to sheltering the deviant from society by isolation; and next, the goal was to protect society from the deviant through inexpensive warehousing, segregation, and sterilization. But eventually experience and research led professionals to a loss of rationale for all of the above practices. Wolfensberger concluded, "Today, of course, we know that most retarded adults make an adequate adjustment in the community, and that they are more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of social injustice." The experts realized that "deviance" was largely a social construct.

Disability historian Dr. Paul Longmore explains that the first widely held view of physical disability is the "moral model;" that is, society believed that disablement was a "deviance," caused by a lack of moral character or intervening supernatural forces, in any case, dangerous to society. The next historical view is the medical model-that disability is biological by nature but must be con~ trolled by curing the "defects "-and resulted in medical and paternalistic social intervention such as sterilization, segregation, and institutionalization…

Jobs with Justice and AFSCME come down on the other side, praising state legislators for halting the creation of community based group homes in favor of keeping Bellefontaine open. Our progressives make a point in that the Governor of Missouri is a right wing asshole and his policies must be opposed. But it was Lenin who said; “Even a broken clock is right two times a day”.

I would suggest that people read “Beyond Ramps” by Marta Russell and check out a couple of on line sites like http://www.ragged-edge-mag.com/ or the mainstream http://www.dredf.org/

New Orleans, Katrina and Race

“This place is going to look like Little SOMALIA.” That’s what Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force told Army Times on September 2nd... five days after Katrina hit New Orleans. “We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

At the same time babies died for lack of milk. Older people died from exposure or dehydration. People with illnesses and/or disabilities died from a lack of medicine or treatments. People died from exposure. Families were torn apart with nothing in place to help them find one another. Too few busses arrive to carry people to relative safety.

Lieutenant General Steven Blum told reporters half of the troops had just returned from assignments overseas and are "highly proficient in the use of lethal force." He pledged to "put down" violence "in a quick and efficient manner."

When did New Orleans join the axis of evil? What did the primarily black citizens of New Orleans do to be compared to Somalia? Did we really expect the National Guard attack the survivors of this American tragedy? Don’t we believe the National Guard’s role is to protect and defend not create a military state for the innocent?

Of course, New Orleans needs to be safe and protected from the criminal elements that exist there. But, is this why the rescue mission was so delayed? The numbers of criminals are quite small compare to the throngs of displaced, law-abiding people. They could have done both simultaneously as they are doing now.

The National Guard should have been in New Orleans before the hurricane with amphibious vehicles, MREs, water and medicine. The National Guard should have been evacuating the victims of Katrina before she hit landfall. Federal, state and local officials knew the threat, knew that the levee was vulnerable, that the poor had no way to get out of its path, and knew Katrina was hurricane of their nightmares. Yet they did so little. Why?

Officials continue to receive a lot of criticism for not having a plan. But they did. The poor, elderly and disabled were to either stay and ride it out, or go to the superdome. We watched an interview with the head of emergency services as people flocked into the Superdome before Katrina made landfall. A reporter asked him about the services the people were going to receive. He said he was there to house them… not to feed them. You see, that was the plan. They made that plan despite knowing how fragile the levee was, despite the mock disaster failure.

There were no plans for food, for meeting hygienic needs, for keeping families together or anything else. That is the kind of planning that officials make for poor and other disenfranchised. The displaced know it and it’s why they are angry. You would be too.

When Katrina peeled the roof off the superdome, she exposed the ugly, hypocritical lie of American equality. Who was left? People who are poor, disabled, and of color. They know why it took five days for government to make a footprint at the convention center and other places where people were herded. They know that, in this society, they do not matter.

It’s not often that mainstream America gets to see what happens to people who fall through the safety net. It is ugly and horrifying. The institutional racism, and discrimination exposed by Katrina should make us realize that we have become complacent. We still have much to do to make America what it should be.

What is happening evokes in us some of the same feelings we had in the ‘60s when we saw young black people bitten by dogs, tear-gassed and attacked with fire hoses. The civil rights movement truly took on a national character when we saw what was happening in the south back then. What’s happening in New Orleans today stirs within us the same emotions and disbelief. And again, white people are shocked at the disparity, and have trouble accepting what is happening right here in America.

Let’s not forget these feelings, because the fight against injustice continues. Nationally, it continues as we continue to look for the living and the dead in the gulf coast, it continues as we discuss the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Locally, it continues when city officials fail to meet consent decrees. It continues when bond issues for new school are up for a vote. And, it continues when your neighbors deny a small group of disabled people a home in your neighborhood.

Confederate Supporters

Throughout our history there have been those who have wrapped themselves in the American Constitution to oppose progress. A recent letter writer, Mr. James Shaner, Sr., quoted former Chief Justice Roger Taney to back up the neo-conservative’s “strict constructionist” argument. Briefly, that position says that the founders principles and original intent were clear” and should not be challenged.

Forget for a moment, that the founders included a method for amending the constitution (a process which has happened 27 times in our history). Let’s just look at Justice Taney. He is most famous for writing the majority decision in the Dred Scott case which was decided by a 7 to 2 vote in 1857. This decision overturned all restrictions on attempts to limit the spread of slavery into the territories. How did such a reprehensible decision be reached?

The majority of the Supreme Court felt that the original intent of the framers of the Constitution must be upheld. To that end Taney wrote; The Constitution and histories of that time (the founding of our Country) show, free or slave, Black people were not considered to be citizens. He went on that if “persons of the negro race…were recognized as citizens in any State of the Union”, they would be able to “go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done (with) the inevitable producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.”

Let’s look at the language of the U.S. Constitution in 1857.

Article 1, Section 2 said that;

“Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.”

This language was changed by the 14th amendment which was passed 11 years after Dred Scott. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment says “the basis of representation … shall be in proportion … to the number of male citizens 21 years of age.”

Even this language was changed. It took another 70 years before women were included with the passage of the 19th Amendment. It took several decades more to lower the voting age to 18 with the 26th Amendment.

Could Justice Taney have thought that the original language of Article 1, Section 2 supported his position?

Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution originally read that “No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri. After his masters death he sued for his freedom. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Using the principles and original intent of the framers of the Constitution, the court ruled that Mr. Scott was not a citizen and was returned to slavery.

If the people who talk about “activist courts” that “stray from the original intent” of the Founding Fathers really want to bring back slavery and take away women’s right to vote to go along with the “original intent” of our founding fathers, they should tell us that. If these people regret the South lost the civil war giving rise to the 13th and 14th Amendments, they should speak up or shut up!

afscme sells out disabled

The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled misses the boat in their recent letter defending the institutionalizing of people with disabilities. The only advocacy that this group does is to keep institutions like in Lincoln Developmental Center open. Is this to benefit the inmates of such places or is it to insure that dues money from the employees there continues to flow into the coffers of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

For some reason the leadership of AFSCME is betraying the union ideal of fighting for a better society in their efforts to keep these establishments open. The top leadership of AFSCME has been oblivious to the advances being made in how best to liberate people with disabilities from huge tax eating “Developmental Centers”. AFSCME should learn from the Service Employees International Union that also has had many of its members providing care for people with disabilities. Within the SEIU a number of leaders saw that Institutions were a vestige of the past and saw the need for union representation of people who provide care in community settings or as personal assistants. In Illinois SEIU local 880 just received recognition as the bargaining agent for these workers and is developing a working relationship with real disability rights organizations. It is interesting that after years of ignoring this fertile new area to be organized, AFSCME petitioned to be part of the statewide recognition vote. The national leadership of the AFL-CIO slapped down Illinois’ AFSCME leaders and AFSCME was taken off the workers’ ballot.

It is too bad that the leadership of AFSCME has led them to create organizations like the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, to try to hold on to the status quo rather that look to the future. If AFSCME devoted more of its energy to organizing the unorganized and for an egalitarian future they would recognize that the interests of their members and the lives of people with disabilities are not antagonistic. AFSCME can do the right thing and still have its membership grow.

Coney Island

When I was not quite three years old, my family moved from Brooklyn, New York to Chicago. We would visit family on our week vacation every summer. It was on one of those trips that I first went to Coney Island. My Uncle Zuskie took me the first time. The subway trip was memorable. The train route took us on an elevated trip through Brooklyn. Looking out the train window and seeing no guardrail keeping us from falling to the street below got the adrenalin flowing. Good preparation for the thrills that lay ahead.

My brother and I drove miniature racecars – we rammed each other with the magnificent bumper cars – we played pinball and ski-ball in the arcades where we also watched penny movies. We gawked as the rickety steeplechase where riders rode mechanical horses around a buildings roof. We stood in line forever gladly soaking up the smells of the French fries and hot dogs grilling at Nathan’s. We stared in awe at the crowds on the beach from the boardwalk.

I only visited Coney Island a few times after that. It was always as exciting.

As I grew older, Coney Island grew from an amusement park into a cultural icon.

The history of the place entered my consciousness. To “the huddled masses” Coney Island was a blessing. It was a place for rest and relaxation. When my Aunt Bess and Uncle Sam retired from the cloak industry they took an apartment on Ocean Ave. My Mother tells how the family would visit them for pinochle (and it was often) they would give my Mother a quarter and instruction to go to the arcade and win a couple of packs of cigarettes. She never disappointed. My father-in-law talked of standing on a soapbox on the boardwalk in the 1930’s and raising money for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fighting the fascists in Spain.

It was the playground, recreation center and propaganda center for this country’s greatest concentration of the working class.

Racism at the Springfield Clinic



There are pictures of the Confederate flag, Confederate generals, including one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan on exhibit in Springfield. They are displayed not at an art gallery or museum but in the exam rooms of the main campus of the Springfield Clinic!

I was treated at the Clinic for a splinter. There was a picture of a handsome confederate soldier, bloody but unbowed, proudly holding aloft the Confederate flag. I commented to the doctor that I didn’t think it appropriate for that to be displayed. It was not the first complaint; there were others about a portrait of General Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.

I emailed Springfield Clinic. I did not hear from them for a week. I sent them another email. I received a call several days later telling me my “feedback” had been sent to another level of management. That higher level said my “feedback” had been sent to an even higher level of management. They would be holding a closed meeting to determine what to do.

Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Otten told me after that meeting that the art work would stay on the walls of the examination rooms. “There is Civil War memorabilia all over Springfield”, she said. “We are just blocks away from the Abraham Lincoln Museum”. I agreed that was true and asked if the Clinic was giving the Confederacy equal time. She hung up.

Ms. Otten said the art in question was not in bad taste. The Confederate flag is a symbol of bigotry and racism. We rejoice that the Union won the civil war and put an end to slavery. Even today the flag of the Confederacy represents hatred, violence and death.

If the leadership of Springfield Clinic wants to share these displays they should donate them to a museum or rent an art gallery.

Springfield Clinic should remove these representations of racism immediately.

Illinois' Not-So-Universal Healtcare Plan

We have questions as to how many eggs we should be putting in the Governor’s health care plan. It’s not so much a matter of the bill’s passage or not. It is more a question of how much this legislation does to advance the cause of universal/single payer access to health care.

First, we agree that reforms are a good thing. We don’t have to win everything all at once. But we must keep our eye on the prize and our organizing around health care must revolve around that.

What is the prize, the vision that we have for healthcare? Everyone is covered regardless of income, job status, age, or health status. You can go to any doctor you want without worrying about co-payments, deductibles or premiums. All healthcare services are covered, including hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription drugs, long-term care and mental health care.

A problem with the current campaign for the Governor’s plan is it draws a line of demarcation between itself and universal health care. By the Governor’s own admission, his plan will only help one third of the state’s 1.8 million uninsured residents get coverage. Worse is that supporters of the Governor’s bill are putting this forward as a positive thing. Several of the chants at the recent demonstration before the Chamber of Commerce clearly stated that we weren’t in favor of “free loafers” being covered and stressed how “our” plan encouraged “responsibility”. This line of delineation was also very noticeable a couple of months ago when the Coalition for better health care threw its multi-media presentation at a special large meeting. The presentation put forward as a positive that it would only cover the deserving.

Other indications of the weaknesses of the Governor’s bill include that it utilized subsidies to the insurance industry. This will lead to serious problems over who will the insurance companies agree to cover. Money that would be better spent in insuring health care for all will instead go to subsidizing insurance company profits. The only way to cheapen the cost of these private plans would be to strip down coverage with higher deductibles, bigger co-pays, and the exclusion of important services. The Governor’s plan does nothing for the millions of Illinoisans who already are saddled with inadequate insurance plans. Instead it expands these defective plans to more people.

There is a bill H. B. 311 in the Illinois Legislature, sponsored by Mary Flowers of Chicago and Mike Boland from Moline that supports Universal Healthcare.

I’m not sure if we know the answer to the questions we started off with. We do know we should dialogue on this though. We are anxious to hear your thoughts.

Please send this to others involved in the struggle for healthcare. Let’s include as many as we can in this important discussion.

Much of this information came from http://www.healthcareforallillinois.org/

This is the web site of the people who were dissatisfied with Campaign for Better Health Care’s support for the Governor’s bill.