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Slap that man
by Lucy Gwin
Lucy Gwin is editor of Mouth magazine..I got my reputation as a helluva soldier for ADAPT's front lines during my first action in Maryland I forget how many years ago. An ADAPT leader was telling everyone who would listen, "Everywhere I looked, if we needed to be there, that's where Lucy was."
It pains me to admit that I was out in front because I followed Arthur Campbell, Jr.
Arthur had a sign taped to the back of his chair: "If I Can't Do It, It Ain't Worth Doing." I followed that sign charging up a hill to the headquarters of a nursing home company where Arthur and a dozen more of us, following, bearded the Manor Care CEO in his den. Later, we blocked the exits so employees couldn't escape.
Just like a nursing home
You can't get OUT!
Often, I didn't know what was up. I'd follow Arthur's sign. Later I made his sign idea into wheelchair bumper stickers and sold them in the back of my magazine.
So here came this video about Arthur, "If I Can't Do It." I snuggled down cozy with a bottle of Bailey's to watch it by myself just so I could glow in all the right places. My leader! In prime time!
Right up to the middle of the thing, where it should have ended, I got the glow I turned it on for. Unfortunately, I watched the thing to the end and now I want to slap the man's face. If Arthur lived next door to me, I'd have been over there half a dozen times to slap him some more because every once in a while I remember the video and I can't get past wanting to wake that boy up. Arthur, do you hear me? SLAP on you!
It's this whole life story thing, directed with sickeningly earnest conviction by Walter Brock, and it aired on PBS's summer documentary series documentaries, POV, in July. Dig this storyline: A cripple from some little Kentucky coal-mine town bursts forth from 39 years stuck in a back room at his mama's un-ramped house, moves to the big city, and changes the whole damn world.
Here's a man who can't even talk straight, but he starves himself nearly to death just so he can get out of that house. Then he gets himself a best fellow-cripple buddy who loves him and listens to what he has to say about human rights. Next thing you know he finds Disability Rag, gets connected to ADAPT, hosts an ADAPT action in his own state, then travels the country pushing for the ADA. The video ends--or it should--with Arthur up front at the famous White House Rose Garden ADA-signing ceremony, a guest of President George Bush.
Cut to the sunset happy-ending shot? But no. The camera keeps rolling as opportunity beckons. Arthur's caused such public furore over disability rights in his home state that the state itself offers him a job--not some silly advisory council deal but a real job--and our triumphant hero accepts his just reward. It even looks like he expects to work inside the system and change the world some more.
This ain't even the Movie of the Week, but I smell sucker bait. I forget if it was Wade Blank or Che Guevera who said you can't change the system from inside the system. Whichever one said it could have been right or wrong but he makes me wonder.
Dare we ask: what about that activist turned Clinton administration honcho, changing the system from her tell-my-secretary-to-put-it-in-my-blue-book perch? How about those movement crips at the U.S. Department of Justice? What are those activists doing for us over at the National Council on Disability? Or the crips from ILCS working at places like the Department of Transportation?
I'm not close enough to know about these particular inner-circle cases, but I wonder if they've transformed themselves from advocates into bureaucrats--or worse, accomplices.
Wouldn't you smell sucker bait if the state reached down to elevate you to the post for which you are so severely qualified? Would that happen the day before or the day after they sent the 12-page single-space form where just opening the envelope makes you feel guilty and by the time you hit page three you're copping to a plea of welfare treason?
Arthur, though, rose to the bait and brought his sister, Sue Davis, to the unspecified state agency as his personal assistant.
Sue Davis is one of my favorite ADAPT-familiar faces, a resolute runner at our actions, a woman whose commitment is clean--and yeah, she appears to be non-disabled. Disabled or not, I wish she were the lead in this video. She figures out that the state has hired her for furniture, to assist Arthur at meetings and keep her opinions to herself, please. She pops out of the system and on with her activism three weeks after she went in. Arthur stays on. By the time he's been folded, stapled and mutilated for a year, Arthur is duly de-cruited. He "hasn't lived up to the state's expectations."
The film closes with Arthur, once again a back-room hermit, on what appears to be a rare outing. The beautiful old Ohio River rolls by, reflecting a magnificent sunset, while Arthur stares inward and broods on how he got the shaft. Taking it personally, not politically.
Do me a favor and slap that man. Wake him up. Ask him, "What did you expect, nitwit? Since when does the state reward leadership?"
Just now, Arthur, the freedom of more than two million people is within our grasp. We'll be back in D.C. on Halloween. We need you on the front lines, leading us. Hear that Arthur? Wake up!
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