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Field Report: ADAPT Nashville Action

By Larry Biondi

ADAPT launched its "Real Voices-Real People, No More Stolen Lives" demonstrations March 18-23 in Nashville, drawing attention to the inequity of the state's services for people with disabilities. For every $1 the state spends to provide a home in the community, it spends $160 to provide a "bed" in a nursing home.

No wonder the Volunteer State ranks 49th in the country in home and community-based services! "It's an immoral policy," national ADAPT organizer Bob Kafka told the estimated 400 ADAPTers on the group's first day in Nashville. "Let the walls of institutionalizing our brothers and sisters come crumbling down!"

All day, members of the group had the opportunity to tell their personal stories of living in institution to a six-member committee that represented the federal government, including the National Council on Disability.

Lifelong ADAPT member Larry Luis, using his communication device, told the committee how he lived in nursing home, and how he worked with late ADAPT founder Wade Blank to make his nursing home environment more palatable to him and his fellow residents. Luis detailed for the federal officials the work Blank did to make life decent for others until he was fired from the institution. That story was also told in an HBO television movie, "When you Remember Me."

A former nursing home administrator told the emotional story of how she moved from being "in charge of her kingdom" -- an Alton, Illinois facility -- to being a victim in the same place when she was admitted as a "patient." She used her bra as a makeshift lock in the bathroom to established privacy, she told the group -- none of the bathrooms had locks! Roaring applause erupted after she was done.

"Buddy" from Philadelphia scolded the committee after officials told the packed ballroom to be more patient. "People are dying every day in nursing homes," he said. "How much more waiting do we need to do?"

The next day ADAPT marched to Nashville's War Veteran Plaza, where they held a brief rally to support the state's Community Choices Act, a bill introduced in the state legislature in the wake of the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead decision, which requires states to offer services to disabled people in the "least restrictive environment."

After the rally, protesters took to the streets, blocking intersections near the Capitol for seven hours. Chanting "Just like a nursing home you can't get out," the group braved the cold and mist to request a meeting with Governor Phil Bredesen.

They had four demands for the Governor: They wanted him to:

1. Support and sign the Community Choices Act;

2. Work on policies that will make it more easy for Tennesseans to move back into he community;

3. Urge the National Governors Association to support the the "Money Follows the Person" concept;

4. That work with national ADAPT on these matters.

ADAPT members were unfazed at the fact that last summer activists had held a 77-day sit-in at the Governor's office in Memphis and Bredesen didn't budge. They wanted to expose the fact.

They barricaded four intersections and blocked a Capitol garage in the cold and mist, making rush hour in downtown Nashville a living hell.

And the media was right there to capture ADAPT's activities. Cameras were rolling when drivers confronted protesters at an intersection late in the protest. Nashville police ordered the protesters off the streets and gave them citations. State workers resorted to leaving the Capitol on foot rather than to deal with the traffic havoc. Workers who said they were sympathetic with ADAPT's cause still questioned our tactics. Some referred to ADAPT as "professional protesters."

Through a spokesperson, Bredesen said wouldn't meet with ADAPT -- that he was "not going to be a part of a political spectacle."

But ADAPT persisted, marching the next day to the Capitol to again demand a meeting with Bredesen. Patrol cars greeted demonstrators as they barricaded the main entrance to the building. Bredesen's office didn't respond to ADAPT'S request, so after an hour of waiting the protesters blocked a nearby intersection. Metro police acted differently this day, swiftly arresting 67 protesters at the scene and taking them to jail in local paratransit vehicles. They were processed and later released.

But a hundred times that many -- 6,700 Tennesseans -- are locked up in nursing homes. Because part of the reason for that is the state's inadequate personal assistance services and lack of accessible, affordable housing, ADAPT focused on the housing issue on its last day. First the group visited TennCare, the state Medicaid agency that made the cuts that forced so many people into nursing homes. "Sixty seven hundred people are trapped in nursing homes!" they shouted in the parking lot.

The group then took on the local Housing and Urban Development office, demanding a meeting with local HUD official William Dirl, whom they wanted to fax a letter to HUD Secretary Alphonzo Jackson, asking Jackson to free up more Section 8 vouchers so that people with disabilities could live in more affordable and accessible housing.

ADAPT member Cassie James explained that even with the increased availability of services and support in the community, people with disabilities were being prevented from moving back into the community because they couldn't get accessible housing. "This affects the elderly and the disabled who continue to wait to get out of nursing homes," James said.

After an hour, Dirl came down and greeted the group, agreeing to fax ADAPT's letter to Jackson.

Larry Biondi is a member of Chicago ADAPT.

An open letter to ADAPT:

It seems like we've all gone through a lot this past week. I was stuck in Alaska watching the battle unfold in Tennessee, my home state, and you all were on the front lines fighting for freedom through the always controversial style of ADAPT.

After reading that you all were blocking traffic in Nashville, my heart screamed, "No, that's not the way to influence people in Nashville." And I wrote a heavy-handed, critical blog that I assumed would be read by a few visitors to my website.

Instead, I woke up the next morning and saw my name on the front page of Ragged Edge. I said a few colorful words and felt like I had just committed disability cultural suicide.

Despite the surprise, I stood by my comments as the week unfolded, working out poor word choices with a couple of visitors/posters to my site. It was a good learning experience for me, a new blogger.

ADAPT, I believe in you, just like I believe in the CILs (which I'll challenge next week in my blog), and I believe you were doing what you thought was correct in Tennessee. And you'll ever have my gratitude for trying. God knows very few others in Nashville give a damn.

The "Real People-Real Voices" session was a wonderful idea. I would have loved to have been there to hear my friend Floyd Stewart speak.

But I must still respectfully disagree with you regarding blocking traffic. "They barricaded four intersections and blocked a Capitol garage in the cold and mist, making rush hour in downtown Nashville a living hell," Biondi wrote.

At least in Central Tennessee, where I lived for 28 years and my father was born, this was not a good tactic. There is not a more stubborn people on the planet than those in Central Tennessee, yours truly included, and I just don't see how it created positive change for our community in Nashville.

I do hope and believe we can agree to diagree on this issue, moving forward with all of our styles and beliefs to bring about positive change for the disability community.

And, despite what I said in that first blog, I truly thank you, brothers and sisters in disability, for enduring the cold and rain in Nashville last week to fight. May we all continue to grow and change and learn and trust - together.

Finally, and I write somewhat in jest, I hope you all enjoyed and appreciated all the accessible hotels and restaurants my 50 ADA lawsuits created back in 2002! I was actually impressed with my own work when I visited Nashville in February, seeing an automatic door on a restaurant and accessible bathrooms in other places.

Thank you, my friends, for making a difference with your lives and time. Whatever comes of it, we are in this thing together - and that will never change.

In (dis)ability,

I am glad you went back and wrote this. I was one of the protesters Monday and Tues in Nashville. I had hoped this ADAPT ACTION would help increase my spirt to continue fighting but since I read the Nashville People's comments I am SO SO SO ashamed I live in Tennessee, I am SCARED to death of what I see as possible HATE CRIMES worse than any other group could be committed by the people of Nashville. I keep asking how can these people call themself Christian.

In the 60's and 70's sit in protests were the norm in expressing dissent. At that time,these forms of protests were, if not accepted,at least were understood/tolerated.

Today folks may be more open to disability rights issues. However,they (the non gimps) don't want a disruption to their "nice cozy" lives. The "AB's" are too concerned about other issues. Like the Iraq war, ss problems, jobs, family, getting to work, etc

The "AB's" are not the enemy. Rather it's their perception of us. That is the bottom line issue. We,the gimp community, must have them on our side. Please,don't forget that we need the "AB's" We must confront and change their perceptions of us, gimps.

I urge ADAPT to use other tactics, consider other means in opposing the "AB's." Blocking roads ain't going to do it in today's world. In fact, I suggest a less aggressive approach, yet a more proactive method of social discord. Please read Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi's teachings.

Bottom line folks, we need them as much as they need us. We need to instruct the AB's, enlighten them. Show them that at any time, they could become one of us.

The south seems to have a problem understanding free speech. Like they did with Adapt who are trying to save lives they went after the Dixie Chics too today the latest cd from them is skyrocketing to no 1, their concerts not yet started are sold out.

So Tenn is a stubborn people Kevin well that makes it necessary to do things that reach around that closed minded group so that lives are saved not thrown away. When you are not bothered by disability you don't have much concern for those whp are disabled. You tend to think putting ppl away from public view in those snake pits as a solution.

Kevin, spending years in quiet, obsecure, back rooms being nice to redneck thinkers did not work for Dr. King and it surely won't help our cause

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