dreams of Home


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

A first person account of The Struggle on the streets of San Francisco for the civil rights of disabled people everywhere

by Zen Garcia

October 22nd, 2001

When en route to San Francisco to join the rest of ADAPT in protesting for
the civil rights of persons with disabilities, I felt an awkward sense of
almost-guilt for challenging the authority of our government in such
sensitive times as these. But too know that somewhere every 3 minutes
someone dies somewhere in an institution against their will and that we are
discriminated against so thoroughly here in the States and the world that I
find full justification for me to continue with the work I'm currently doing.
Also I know there's no reason why it's not me in a nursing home now other
than that I have strong family support and a blessed sense of luck that
always seems to provide me with what I need in the time of my life that I
need it.

I feel duty to the 2.2 million people incarcerated in nursing homes across
the nation. I want hope to be shared with those that are being lulled into
physician assisted suicide by those who think life can't be grand for those
who live it different. This is the best time, in my opinion, to protest
because now people are thinking about what it is to be an American and to
have justice, liberty, and freedom guaranteed by birth here in this great
country. Our nation and its people are focused on those who would
challenge our freedom and way of life. With that awareness they will
understand our cause and the similarities of why we are determined in what we
do.

So no, I'm not ashamed of my disability, ADAPT, the purpose of our protest,
or the time in which we have chosen to speak out for our own. I'm proud to
be here today with other individuals from all across the country who find it
important enough to take time out of their own lives to try to do something
which will benefit every preceding generation of individuals from here on out.

America is freedom for all unless you become disabled or
housed in a nursing home. Life then becomes a question of policy and
currently policy dictates that 85% of the American population will die in a
nursing home room, many alone. More than anything I think they are trying to
keep us from public view. For thousands of years it has been routine to
separate anything or anyone from accepted culture because of unsightliness or
need to quarantine.

People with disabilities have been taken to the darkest, deepest recesses of some of the shadiest, most nightmare places known to human history in the
name of prescription and treatment. Medicinal abuse was deemed necessary to
subdue our peculiarities. They want to keep the freaks out of the
neighborhoods, keep the deformed out of mainstream, we the disabled according
to their rules are only for the circus and boarding houses. They want to
cure us, or kill us trying. We are not part of the "we the people" mentioned
in the Constitution. They don't want us out in the open even if it costs less
for us to be included. They will pay more just to lock us away out of reach
of all those that might be 'offended.' Even if it makes sense, they are
afraid to help, understand, take notice, that yes; we are human as well. We
are the Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends, so intimately
involved in social living. How can we not want to same things as we've
always known before.

Day 1- Laguna Honda - The Nation's Largest Nursing Home

Yesterday as we single file strolled up and around the perimeter of the
Laguna Honda grounds. One could not escape how artfully crafted the doors,
building, and lawns were from street viewing. Like 'The Shining' the scene
played eerily into the mood, of low-lying clouds, light drizzle, and harsh
wind forcing our endurance. More like a huge beautified warehouse mansion,
one did not see the true ugliness of the situation until one went around the
side and saw the huge buildings row after row with bars on windows, armed
guards at the doors, and chain link fence stretching the whole length of the
backside keeping people in. Certain windows had bars taken off as they tried
to dress the hospitals appearance for those who would be leaving people here.
One could tell this place is old with many ghosts haunting its halls and
walls.

Straight out of 'World's Most Creepiest Places,' we could not believe how
many buildings stood behind the well-managed tiered manicured front lawns of
the front building. Totally giving off the appearance that this is a
respectable place to leave grandma or grandpa, mom or dad, this is no place
anyone would want to spend any amount of life. It's suitable enough for the
state though, and with the cost of living in California, the State pays
155,000 to 120,000 dollars per person, housing 30 people at a time in a
one-room ward. Averaging 400 dollars a day, one could stay in an expensive
hotel and order room service everyday and still not exceed the expense the
state incurs keeping these people hid. My friend Jeff from Austin, Texas,
told me he saw a group of 30 kids ages 8-11 being marched by one of the upper
level windows on the backside of the facility. I'm not sure how young
they're putting them in here at, but we do know there is not one person
housed here over the age of 60. That alone makes it a travesty.

ADAPT circled the grounds once echoing songs of freedom to the people inside as police officers and workers looked on wondering what we were doing and why we were protesting against them. Some thought we wanted to make the nursing home more accessible so that we could get in easier until we lined up in
front of the entryway holding crosses for the countless people dying right
now unnecessarily in nursing homes wishing things could be different,
wondering how it was that fate laid them to such awkward situation.

For full effect we spread ourselves widely letting those inside know there is
an army of people on the outside trying and willing to do something on their
behalf. Maybe seeing us will spark hope into their lives. For those who
could not stand up or get out of bed themselves, we chanted loudly freedom,
freedom, freedom, so that they to could experience our rally and obligation
to their release. People peered down from windowed heights like hollow
ghosts lifeless behind bars. This is the only life they are allowed to know
so we would go where difference can be made.

Day 2- City Hall

It's a beautifully warm and blessed day compared to what we endured at Laguna
Honda. Adapt is here to ask what the hell is Laguna Honda doing in the same
state and the same area as the birthplace of the independent living movement.
Not 50 miles from Berkley, currently a 1200 bed facility, they want to tear
down and rebuild it to be a 1600 bed facility by 2012.

I'm on the East side of City Hall, in my manual chair, right in the middle of
the intersection between Polk and McAllister, where ADAPT has collectively
blocked off the four intersections surrounding City Hall. We are allowing
only ambulances and emergency vehicles through discluding police. California
State Patrol and San Fran Police Department units are all around us wondering
what to do and why we are here. Very few officers are upset or showing out
in their mood, most are inquisitive and even supportive. It is early yet
tempers usually flare about 4 o'clock as the need to leave becomes greater.

Mayor Willie Brown just arrived in his six-car limo motorcade. He stepped
out, took a look around, saw us gathered at every corner, then got back in
his car, turned around, and left. He did not deem it important enough to
heed our presence here. A few hours later word came that the Mayor decided
to concede and a meeting was publicly announced for Wednesday at 9 a.m. with
10 representatives of the ADAPT leadership posse.

Day 3 The California State Building

We are just one block down from City Hall this time blocking off the 4
intersections surrounding the California State Building where the Governor
Gray Davies' office is. Similar to yesterday's events we have all four
corners blocked off, allowing only emergency vehicles through. The police
have redirected the flow of traffic keeping all public transportation two
blocks out from City Hall and the State Building. I am at the corner of
McAllister and Larkin. The weather is pleasant breeze light spring warm.
Cops are not strong in numbers having got used to us, knowing we are
non-violent, like us they are chilling waiting for the conclusion.

Our demands or are:

1. Allow Laguna Honda residents to use Medicaid funds for community
alternatives, so they can live and receive support services in the most
integrated settings. In other words let money follow individual.

2. Refuse to use state dollars to manage Medicaid funding for any individual
in or in danger of going into Laguna Honda. Also refuse to allow any state
dollars to be used for the rebuilding of the facility.

3. Develop fund and implement by February 2002, a comprehensive affective
working plan with goals of reducing the number of people in Laguna Honda by a
certain time frame. (A viable plan that gets and keeps people out of nursing
homes and other institutions.)

4. Write a letter to the National Governors Association requesting a meeting
between their executive committee and ADAPT representatives regarding the
implementation of Olmstead.

5. Meet with ADAPT to seek alternatives other than institutional care.

2:45 a lady in new blue VW bug just tried to charge through the perimeter of
our barricade. Immediately, ADAPT members jumped on the car to bar her
momentum. One of our members was partially ran over, as out of frustration
she pressed the gas trying to forcefully penetrate our number. The San
Francisco police department came in to force her retreat. We got word that
things had gone sour between our group and the Governor's counsel. The word
was that they were going to all corners and giving ADAPT members 15 minutes
to clear out before the arrests begin.

The leadership posse spread word as the day leaders scattered to share the
news. Those who did not want to go to jail gathered their things and
departed leaving just 4 on my corner. Since I knew I was going to be
arrested I had Adell and Heather lift me out of my chair and lay me on the
asphault in the middle of road between Polk and Larkin, directly in front of
the California State Building. Having not slept great the night before I was
already sore from tossing and turning all night so that I knew another long
day on my backside would not be good for the pain that I was already feeling.
Some time out of my chair would be necessary to endure the whole legal
process of getting arrested.

Near 5:00 o'clock now, the Sun low in the sky, the pace of people coming and
going gathered momentum, adding to the necessity of police working fast to
clear us for evening rush hour. While on the ground looking out at the
people flocking corners, I could see a kindness on the faces of people in the
crowd as they intermingled with our own learning the facts and trying to
understand. They were amazed at our intelligence, organization, and
willingness to take it this far.

3 of my friends are also on the ground looking out in their own way. It was
funny seeing my attendants flirting with the Police, having good time, when
three days ago they were so adamant about not being with me if I get
arrested. They too have been affected by the whole experience. Fred
Dodsworth of the San Francisco Examiner is looking on writing his story after
gathering facts from me thirty minutes ago. All I could yell was "I'd rather
go to jail than die in a nursing home.' This became the first words of his
article the next day.

So profound is our dedication that many here routinely get arrested for sake
of emphasizing our point. It is not a crime to be disabled in America.
We're not criminals. We are thinking feeling living breathing human beings
with the same if not more love of freedom as our able-bodied citizens. As
long as choice is not incorporated into long-term care in this country and
the world, we will continue to fight gather protest and get arrested.

October 24 - City Hall, Office of Civil Rights, Center for Medicaid Services

I am in front of City Hall rallying with the rest of ADAPT wiping back tears
as we listened to accounts of other members as they spoke of unforgettable
memories and nightmare accounts of being abused neglected in nursing homes,
of losing their kids and families simply because they were disabled. 'It's
just plain wrong,' echoes through the streets surrounding City Hall. Johnny
Crescendo sang his epic 'Tear Down The Walls Of A Nursing Home' united with
those of us who knew the song. Inside five of the leadership posse are
meeting with Willie Brown to discuss alternatives to the current long-term
care policies affecting the rebuilding and upgrade of Laguna Honda. The
Press is out in full force, cameras line the steps of City Hall, reporters
intermingle gathering their stories, documenting our battle and giving detail
to our plight.

San Francisco has been really kind to us as far as temperature, support from
the community, and police officers who are now a little more aware of the
delicate fabric of their own lives talking to some in our own ranks who once
also protected and served. A warm clear sunny 80 degrees, three generations
of ADAPT members here, we're more family than a loose gathering of friends.
There is a sense of camaraderie here that most don't get to experience in the
obligations of normal routine. Only when life is on the line and you have no
other recourse but to fight, and in fighting you find others also passionate
in their sense of duty to their own civil rights and the rights of others,
can one understand the passion that drives us. That passion is what creates
change. That passion is what you see at every ADAPT gathering, what our
members take into their lives and into the communities, and what inspires
others to do for themselves and want more for themselves. Because the mayor
refused to commit to any of our demands, we went to plan B.

Now we are in front of the Federal Office Building where the Office of Civil
Rights and Center of Medicaid Services is located, to follow up on a Title II
complaint that Bob Kafka filed against Laguna Honda in the name of the 1200
persons being housed there. For 15 years it's been illegal to warehouse
individuals in large dormitory sized rooms. We are also wondering why they
have proposed to use Medicaid funds on the brick and mortar part of financing
Laguna Honda.

They have set up a meeting with the director of Medicaid Services as well as
the person in charge of the Title II case against Laguna Honda. When ADAPT
has met with both directors of both agencies and when we feel things are in
place for the local chapters to continue on their own, we will leave but not
until then.

So we spent our final afternoon hanging out among new and old friends sharing
memories of past actions and stories of how we got here. It's just a matter
of time before we get MiCASSA (Medicaid Community Attendant Services and
Support Act) passed and all people in nursing homes or in danger of going
into nursing homes have the choice to decide life. This moment is just one
to lead up to the history of that moment. Olmstead, The Americans with
Disabilities Act, Most Integrated Setting, Unlock The Waiting List, are all
pushing to the very moment when legislation will finally 'Free Our People!'

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