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 or the mainstream

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

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