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Disability Pride Parade speakers stress hope in unity theme

by Larry Biondi

The second annual national Disability Pride Parade of 2005 took place in Chicago's West Loop on Saturday, July 23rd with the theme "Unity Builds Community." What better way to celebrate our unity after this year's somber headlines -- from Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" to the to the national Terry Schiavo right-to- life debate.

Nearly 2,000 people participated in the one-mile -march that extended from the city's west neighborhood to Union Park.

Steven Brown, Assistant Professor and disability scholar on disability studies from the University of Hawaii, was the parade's grand marshal of ceremonies and led the parade. A post-parade program included performers with disabilities and organizational and vendor tents.

Speaking at the post-parade, Brown reflected on the last 15 years, and said that people with disabilities should take pride in themselves. "It's important for our self-esteem" to learn from our disability experience, he said. "We can teach others from this experience.

"It may take time and flexibility, but if the pursuit is undertaken, the rewards can be enormous, including pride in yourself as a person with a disability and demonstrating that pride to the world," said Brown.

Diane Coleman and Stephen Drake from Not Dead Yet were honored at this year's parade for the visible efforts of NDY in opposing court rulings on the Schiavo case and denouncing the message in Eastwood's movie Million Dollar Baby.

Both spoke about the advocacy battle against physician-assisted suicide and about how the mainstream media handles this and other disability issues. "Assisted suicide and euthanasia are about discrimination and, unfortunately, a profit-driven health system," Coleman said. "People could think of us as the canaries in the coal mine of a health care system that openly denies us necessary health care in order to save money. The growing assisted suicide and euthanasia movement is an extension of a familiar devaluation. But now people with disabilities are fighting back.

"Some say we're too late," Coleman added. "But we're not dead yet."

Stephen Drake, Research Analyst for NDY, spoke about disability as a human interest story for the mainstream media. "With few exceptions, the media favors framing all political controversy -- especially life-and-death issues -- as aspect of the culture wars," Drake told the crowd. "And since neither the right nor the left (wing) sees us as part of their cultures, we end up as collateral damage -- unnoticed and unmourned."

But Drake offered hope, saying there won't be one single breakthrough in the work of getting our voices heard -- that, rather, it'll be in the doing of our collective protests, both local and federal, that the media will see our issues as other than "human interest" stories.

Unity and hope was the theme of the parade. Fifthteen years after the birth of the ADA, we still have hope that the spirit of that law will shine to protect our civil rights. We must fight the courts' rulings that attempt to weaken our law. We must also fight President Bush's conservative nominations for justices to serve on these courts.

Pride leads us on!

Posted July 28, 2005.

Larry Biondi is a Chicago-area activist and freelance writer.

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