Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What If I Was Quiet?

When I was 14 years old and the Viet Nam war was raging my 2 older brothers were considering what they should do to avoid being drafted. One of them was 19, fresh out of high school. The eldest was 21, he’d quit college and was working on becoming an actor. My father who had been a sergeant in the army during WWII was opposed to the war, and had stepped away from an active political life he’d had during the Kennedy years. I heard about a protest that was to take place in the middle of the week at the college. Kids were going to walk out of the high school at a given time and march to the college for a rally. I joined them, chanting “Hell no, we won’t go!” and “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your fucking war!” I was the only freshman who walked out. I got suspended from school. The war ended 2 years later and neither of my brothers had to go.

When I was 22 I was off picking apples in Vermont in the autumn. Somehow I heard about a non violent protest that was to take place on Long Island at the Shoreham Nuclear facility. The reactor was about 50 miles between where my mother lived and New York City. If it had melted down, she would have been trapped on Eastern Long Island with no means to escape. I joined a few hundred people in the middle of the night hiding in the woods along a long stretch of road leading to the plant. When the workers began to arrive at day break, we went out one group at a time and laid down in the road until the police carried us to waiting vans for arrest. This went on for several hours, one group after the other, singing and chanting as we came from out of the woods and on to the road. Eventually a plant manager gave up, sending the workers home. It was amazing… all this cheering from inside locked vans. Within a year the Shoreham Nuclear Plant was closed for good and my mother ultimately died of natural causes.

I began working in social services here in Oregon when I was 28. I’ve never been accused of being too ambivalent on the job, and have butted heads with superiors and
Employers when I didn’t think things were fair or just regarding the people I’ve served. I know its cost me a good chunk of change and opportunity, but I’ve always figured it’s about the “people” not me.

My only sister died when I was 42. She left behind a 16 year old son who has autism. He moved here from California on 12/23/99. Working with Joe was initially a difficult task. Working with Portland Public Schools was even harder. Before he’d been enrolled in PPS for 2 full school years he’d attended 4 different high schools in our attempts to get him a real education instead of what “special” education was offering him. Finally we took the district to court in due process. Without a lawyer (they had 2) we litigated, shamed, and proved them negligent in providing him a free appropriate public education.. For the next 1 ½ years Joe attended Sylvan Learning Center on their dime. We’ve since had to battle on his behalf regarding questionable “supports”, diagnosis, housing choice, employment, and social opportunities. It’s ongoing, and I suspect that to continue, but he’s family and now lives a happy and productive adult life.

When I was 45 I went to work for a brokerage set up through a lawsuit settlement (see “State Rips Off 29 Million from Medicaid Eligible Adults with Developmental Disabilities Waiting for Services”) to provide long awaited supports for people who had been denied the help they needed for many years. After paying close attention to the “shell game” the state was playing I began to speak up. When I refused to stop telling the truth I was threatened with termination, and was compelled to resign from my job rather than being fired for doing the right thing on behalf of the people I love. That was truly a very painful part of my life, but 2 great things came from out of the pain. The Disability Activists Work group (DAWG) took off, and the state committed to stop its practice of shifting the savings from the brokerage system to elsewhere in the budget. No matter what you may hear or believe, DAWG was the catalyst which caused that commitment to be made.

What’s next? That remains to be seen, but it will be seen. Do I believe that I stopped the Viet Nam war, shut down a nuclear plant, defeated a school district, or altered the Oregon Legislature? Am I saying that I’m a saint and perpetually in the right? HELL NO! The mistakes I’ve made in my life are at least equal the good I’ve done. However; I do believe that one voice refusing to be quieted by the risk of "trouble" CAN make a difference in this world. Is that not why we’re here?

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