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Friday, June 11, 2010

Anger: Political and Crippled

There is a fascinating article in the Washington Post dated June 9. The article by Dana Milbank, "Nancy Pelosi, the Liberal House Speaker, is Heckled by Liberals", is a mixture of astute political observation, rhetoric and ignorance in terms of disability issues. Those that follow disability rights will know I am referring to an ADAPT protest that briefly made the news early this week. ADPAT hit the news because they loudly heckled Nancy Pelosi. The news coverage was superficial at best--filler on a slow news day. In contrast, Milbank's article struck a chord with me. In her estimation, the ADPAT protest was the culmination of 17 months of anger that has been building against Obama. Who is angry with Obama? Why liberals of course who have collectively decided to "eat their own", specifically the "celebrated San Francisco liberal" Nancy Pelosi. Who are the angriest group of liberals? Yes, we crippled people are angry, very angry. In fact we are filled with rage! That's right the ADPAT protest was not about reason or politics but rage. A "wheelchair-bound woman named Carrie James" is singled out as your archetypical angry cripple. James screamed from her table with 15 other people "Our homes, not nursing homes". The protesters all wore orange t-shirts that proclaimed the "Community Choice Act Now" and had the audacity to unfurl bed sheet banners. In response Pelosi's body guards rushed forward and formed a protective ring around her. Pelosi refused to stop her speech and for "an excruciating half-hour. The hecklers screamed themselves hoarse, dominating Pelosi's speech through her concluding lines".

According to Milbank, some political movements unravel gradually but the ADAPT protest was proof positive that "Obama's hope-and-change left has faded" while conservative political movements such as the Tea Party are gaining popularity. I have no idea if Milbank's assessment is correct. If I am any indication, she may be right. I am disillusioned with Obama penchant to compromise, compromise and compromise some more characterized by some as "split the baby politics". Regardless, what fascinated me about Milbank's article was the way the ADAPT protesters were described and the reaction to their protest. ADAPT is angry, protesters filled with rage, absent of reason. They could not be reasoned with. Some audience members tried to get ADAPT to quiet down--an effort that only "worsened the disturbance". Apparently this caused James, the "wheelchair-bound" woman to shout louder because "the stakes are a little high". James is described as "pumping her fists into the air, she chanted "Hey, hey, ho, ho nursing homes have got to go!". The conference organizer, Robert Borosage, "shaking his head and licking his lips, tried to shoo the wheelchairs away from the podium". Clearly, ADPAT was an unwanted presence.

Missing from Milbank's article, aside from any semblance of political balance, is a basic understanding of ADAPT or why they are protesting. Pelosi, like Obama (I think), supports the Community Choice Act. Readers know this act will increase access to community services for people with disabilities designed to allow them to live at home thereby ending the institutional bias toward nursing home care. The CCA is legislation that is "long-languishing". Are some members of ADAPT angry? You bet they are. And I would quickly add they have every right to be angry. Obama and Pelosi support the CCA in name only. Hell will freeze over before they forcefully push this much needed legislation forward. This bothers me but what bothers me is more is the stereotype Milbank seemed to rely on. Here I refer to the notion that all people with a disability are angry. In the olden days this was referred to as a "cripple's disposition". What is over looked is why people with a disability are mad. The popular misconception is that we crippled people are mad because we have a disability, some sort of horrible physical deficit. This could not be farther from the truth. The reality is anger, crippled anger, stems from just one thing--social injustice. Social injustice takes many forms foremost among them blatant discrimination. Ad in a dose of stigma, economic deprivation, a stunningly high unemployment rate, and barriers to education and I maintain crippled people have every right to be angry. However, this is not discussed much less acknowledged. 20 years after the passage of the ADA American society has continued to categorically refuse to negotiate or accommodate our difference. This refusal is worthy of detailed discussion. As James pointed out the stakes are high and lives are at stake. Many have already died and countless others have suffered. Am I being melodramatic? In a word, no. If you doubt me go for a drive this summer. The odds are good that at some point you will pass a shuttered institution that dots the American landscape. Once upon a time thousands of people with disabilities were ware-housed in such places, led a compromised life, barred from society. We no longer institutionalize people with a disability but that does not mean we are equal. If that were the case we would not lead civil rights legislation like the ADA. More personally if people with a disability were equal I would not feel estranged from society. In part this is why I am angry, an anger that is well placed and misunderstood.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. I had a discussion not too long ago in a class (a social work class!) where I shared my disappointment in my province shutting down the last provincial institution for those with disabilities only recently, in 2009. My classmates responded that they were disappointed it was closed, because it was for the "good of them", meaning the cripples. I think that what they mean is, it was for the good of "us", being the able bodied people, who therefore wouldn't have to see and deal with disabled individuals on a regular basis.

Claire said...

strangecripple...though it is true that your classmates are ignorant in the truest sense of the term, there are some among us who are not as excited about the closing of Ontario's institutions as you are. As the parent of a child with severe multiple cognitive and physical challenges, the sweeping, overly speedy (it was done mostly within a final push of 18 months) and poorly managed closures of these institutions left a huge gap in services for children/adults like mine. The highly specialized dentistry, medical, OT PT, footwear, clothing,mobility etc, etc,etc. services required by our most severely disabled have been lost. Cases of death among the severely disabled in group home environments are far higher than those with fewer, less complex challenges. Furthermore, those with the most severe behavioural disorders are quickly shipped off to psychiatric wards...the only places where they can be safe, as most are denied access to group home environments since the poorly trained and paid staff cannot manage them. We are also faced with a severe shortage of housing for the disabled of every sort...there are some 90 year old parents in Toronto today that are still waiting to get their "children" into a home environment. Somewhere between hiding and warehousing individuals with severe challenges, and putting them in unsafe, ill-prepared group home environments, there is a happy medium. Smaller residential settings with easier access to specialized services and specialized environments, not generally available to higher functionning, group home individuals.

Josh said...

Great post on many levels. But conservative reporter Dana Milbank is not a "she": see the photo here.

william Peace said...

Josh. You are 100% correct about Milbank. HE is male and controversial to boot. I suspect he is one of thos political commentators that writes to get a rise out of people.