Lockdown at the DOT
About 200 Americans with Disabilities for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT) activists, took direct action for social change in Washington DC, 1987. Our demand was for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to lose their local option rule and make all future bus purchases lift equipped because separate is not equal. We put our voices together on our way to the target, chanting “We Will Ride… We Will Ride…”
Shell Trap says: “Penetrate and Hold.”
Some of us got into the DOT and some were locked out by security guards hired to keep the peace and protect the property of the state. We shut them down, chaining ourselves to the doors with kryptonite locks and lobbied the public with flyers. We kept up the chant, “We Will Ride.”
I will always remember Ken Hurd doing spontaneous theatre to dramatize the issue. From outside, he faced gawking employees blocked inside and humped the sky howling like a CP Kachina spirit dancer singing in harmony with his fate on homes row. “We Are Here! We Are Here! WE ARE ALWAYS HERE!”
Jim Parker asked me if I could spell him on lockdown while he relieved himself. I was just four years blind, with a new dog guide Frazier; I said: “Hell Yes.” It was my time in seat of power, it was a huge rush.
The Secretary of Housing wouldn’t talk. We decided to hold our positions as long as we could. Our people inside were denied access to restrooms and runners were not allowed to deliver hamburgers. While outside we feasted on McDonalds, relieving ourselves wherever we could and settling down for a long cold night. Wade Blank told me that it is very important to keep separate our intentions and our expectations.
It got quiet and colder. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the record breaking thirteen-degree spring night in DC. People from the Homeless Coalition, Justin and Yoshiko Dart responded to Wade’s pay phone calls for help with hot soup, coffee and blankets. Runners heaped the blankets over Doris Ray, Jim and I huddled at one of the entrances. Some hardcore members sat up all night. An older woman named Edith slept under a cardboard box in the flowerbed. She was a double amputee and needed to keep off her peach size bed sores.
Frazier had a box and a rug too. It was cold… cold…
When morning came we had to move. Wade said: “We need to raise people with disabilities’ expectations.” I remember rousing from semi-consciousness, disoriented and wondering if this is how paralysis feels. I was forcing my numb, frozen joints to move; unable to feel the ground beneath me on my way to block buses in the street. Since that lockdown at the DOT, I feel only respect for the endurance and determination that our brothers and sisters with disabilities demonstrate every day.