Sunday June 19th, 17 vehicles carried 55 marchers from 6 regions of the state to Gracewood Regional Hospital, a last vestige institution that would have been closed down if it were not for some parents of residents opposed to shutting its doors. The state of Georgia supports legislation which can lock us up, segregate us, and detain us for someone else's profit. They can place us on feeding tubes out of convenience to nursing home and hospice staffs. They then can withhold food and water, forcing people with disabilities through the most torturous and horrific experience of dying that even our nation's worst criminals and animals are protected from. Things here and all across the country must change.
Like some ghetto run public housing the government provides to the poorest of the poor, Gracewood was an old run-down, near should be condemned soon, if not already institution still profiting at the expense of 250-275 people confined there. They locked down the facility and closed doors trying to keep people separate from the message we were trying to bring. We slithered down every road leading past every wing shouting messages of hope to our brothers and sisters incarcerated because of cruel legislation. We began our march here because we wanted those confined there to know that they too could live similar lives of freedom and independence. We wanted them to know that there were people on the outside who did care about their ordeal even if their own families did not; that state and national efforts were happening on their behalf to free them from situation.
We wanted them to hear us so that they would ask what was going on outside of the four walls that had segregated them from the rest of life for so long. We wanted them to ask how we had gained our own freedom, how we had taken control of our own lives. We wanted them, more than anything to question the relevance of the system that continues to isolate them from the rest of the world. We wanted them to challenge the authority binding them there in that institution. We wanted them to demand justice be served for in questioning their circumstance, realities could then begin to change. People introduced to hope, begin to hope themselves. When prisoners learn of a way to escape to freedom, that escape that freedom becomes the focus of being; to know there is a chance is to know there is possibility. It's time for governing bodies to do the right thing and set our people free. 30 residents of Gracewood demanded access to community after our march.
Monday, June 20th was mostly a chill day wherein those who had been part of the movement for some time could over meal share story with those new to disability and our push for civil rights. Walton Options hosted a grill out to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On Tuesday, June 21st, Georgia ADAPT was escorted by the State Patrol as march from the student dorms at the University of Georgia to City Hall for a meeting with Athens Mayor Heidi Davison, who agreed to work with us on future occasion to strengthen Athens as a model city for all people with disabilities. She also agreed to call the Governor on our behalf. We then marched to Broad Street for an ADA rally in which Vicci Decker from the Institute of Human Development and Disability, Marc Christensen from People First, Peggy Chavis from Multiple Choices, and Doug Hatch from ADAPT and I from Endeavor Freedom each gave speech. We then lit candles and together ignited an ADA torch promising to work to form a broader coalition with all other disability rights groups in Athens. Later that evening a reception was held for former residents of River's Crossing followed by a candle light vigil to honor ADAPT supporters who had died in the last 6 years.
Wednesday, June 22nd, the 6th Anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Olmstead vs. LC/EW began with a rally at the King Center in Atlanta where Lois Curtis was presented an award. We were then privileged to hear an inspiring speech from Fred Taylor, a contemporary and fellow marcher of Martin Luther King. He invigorated us with message of universal struggle in which those opposed have always had to rise up in defiance of powerful odds, to fight for their God given right to freedom. Even in our country where we have from inception had recognized articles protecting the liberties of certain citizens and rights as human beings, many minorities have still had to fight for their inalienable and deserved rights to be included under those articles.
Native Americans, African Americans, women, Latinos, disabled, gays and every
other minority have found it of vital necessity to rise up against the tyrannical
policies of biased government considered justifiable by law. Government does
not give us liberty freely; citizens must demand liberty from government. Fred
let us know that we were just a part of the many peoples which had been abandoned
and victimized over the years by accepted policy; we were just another part
of a long and continuous history of public injustice. Terry Schindler Schiavo
was just another in a long line of public lynching.
After marching from the King Center to the Capitol in Atlanta we were met by Senator Adelman, who gave inspiring speech in support of Olmstead, MiCASSA, and Money Follows the Person. Samuel Mitchell and I then gave speech to rally the troops and prepare them to step it up as stepping it up was necessary otherwise we would always be stepped on and continually squashed by a callous, unjust system which doles out life sentences to people who have committed no crime beyond being disabled by circumstance. We then went inside and gathered beneath the capitol rotunda preparing for an assault on the Governor's office. Before action could begin Abel Ortiz came out to speak to the group and made excuses about why the governor and staff did not participate in the 6th anniversary celebration. More empty rhetoric lead to heckling by our group until noticeably disturbed, he fled like a coward, sensitive to the ferocity of our demands.
We then charged toward the governor's office to demand proper respect. We flooded all sides of his office until we had every door blocked with associates of the governor trapped inside and unable to leave. We chanted, "Just like a nursing home you can't get out" as we effectively disrupted their appointments, there would be no business as usual. If they wanted to make all of there regularly scheduled meetings, they would have to settle our grievances quickly. One part of our posse followed me, made up mainly of old school Macon and some old and new school Athens people; we took the right side of the office as Kate, Mark, and Sammy lead assaults on the other entrances/exits.
Christy and I backed in tight against the door while Darlene Coggins, Julie Prough, Mark Dyer, Jack Nicholson, Tyrone Johnson, and Dano Blaxton crowded in around us to create further impediment for the authorities. There was a thousand pounds of motorized wheelchair blockading any departure from the governor's office. We would be a formidable barrier to removal as later turned out to be the case once Capitol police realized we were not moving willingly. It took a forceful display from authority to even begin to budge us as officers strained and tugged against the weight of our chairs locked in place and our group's sheer desire to hold on to each other at all costs against them.
We had situated ourselves in a way that all of us could lean forward towards center and lock on to each other; this made it that much more difficult for officers to remove us as barrier. Each time they tried to pry one of us away, we just tighten our grips on the remaining members of the group determined not to lose another of the pack. As they were yanking Jack back away from the group, Darlene, Julie, and Mark leaned towards Christy and I, and we assembled ourselves into a circle of interlocking arms.
The police yanked and tugged trying to separate us from each other. Julie was dropped to the floor as some officers pulled on the frames of chairs and some move us bodily. They grew furious in opposition to our defiance. Once it got to be just Christy and I, we were that much more determined to hold on and not let them break our link to each other. We did not want them to defeat us wholly. Finally with assistance from other Atlanta city officers, they were able to succeed in removing us as a barrier to the normal routine of state business. However, it was not until we had already been promised two meetings - one the following July 5th in time for celebrating the ADA and one next October 5th in time for National Disability Employment Month.
I was proud of the way that Georgia Adapt came together. Nobody backed down when it came time to escalate our demands. We projected a united front and that is why we succeeded. The further government can divide people from each other the easier for them to subject us to their desires and wishes, imposing on us rules and regulations which may not be beneficial for the people. It is when people come together in recognition of their similarities rather than their differences that we can unite in true strength with the power of mass numbers. We control their right to govern and if they cannot govern and conduct themselves in a way that honors the edicts and will of the people; it is the duty of the people to remove them from office. Sonny, consider yourself forewarned and tell your friends they are not immune to being targeted by our group. The people united will never be defeated.
Update: www.endeavorfreedom.org - Georgia ADAPT met with Able Ortiz We met
with Abel Ortiz today and went through the list of demands that we had generated
for the Long Road Home campaign. We discussed many ways to empower individuals
with disabilities, while, at the same time, reducing the Medicaid burden of
the state. It was discussed how nursing homes have become dumping grounds for
people who have no more family supports and nowhere left to go. Many of them
are able bodied and do not even need an Independent Care Waiver to give them
access to personal freedoms and their own independence. We discussed several
models of leading states and how they were able to generate and enormous cost
reduction to the long term care budget by moving to a model which fully implements
community based services so that people are supported, families are supported
before being forced through institutionalization. All of us felt really good
about how the meeting took place and how it unfolded. A lot of good dialogue
was shared with many significant points being revealed on both sides. Now that
the groundwork has been laid, we will see what kind of action the state puts
behind their promises.
For our friends camped out in the Tennessee Governor's office for the 16th day, Georgia ADAPT supports your every effort. We stand with you in citizenship to hold accountable politicians who think they can sell us out our lives without a challenge to the corporate powers influencing legislation. Civil disobedience is the last option of a group which can no longer stay idly by allowing them free reign over our lives. Like Tim Wheat said, "This is true democracy in action." - www.mcil.org