1989 – Atlanta – Beto Barrera

I started to get involved in the disability rights movement (DRM) back in January of 1989.

Before joining the DRM, I was involved in the Labor movement. I spent three years as a full time volunteer with Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers Movement (UFW). Being with the UFW opened my eyes to the many social injustices that poor people face. I was able to witness the oppression, classism and racism that people suffer just because they are poor and have different skin colors. I spent 14 years working at a General Motors stamping plant in Chicago and was very active with the United Auto Workers. Within the autoworkers I witness racism and discrimination against women and other minorities. It was a painful struggle to have to fight not only General Motors (a giant U. S. Corporation) but also the UAW union that was supposed to be there to protect me instead of persecuting me.

Jim Charlton, a quad friend of mine that I met during my labor movement days, recruited me into the DRM. Soon after I joined the DRM in Chicago I met Rene David Luna, Mike Ervin, Larry Biondi, Ana Stonum, Paulette Patterson and Chicago ADAPT. I immediately fell in love with Chicago ADAPT. This was an ACTION group like no other! Before going to Atlanta in 1989 for my first national action, I was involved in several local actions with Chicago ADAPT; we took over several federal and local transportation offices including Greyhound, the most popular over the road bus line.

I was very excited when we first got to Atlanta; it blew my mind when I first saw hundreds of disabled folks gather at one common place to fight for one common cause: The choice and freedom to ride the bus.

I don’t remember where all of us met before the action, but what I clearly remember is people yelling and chanting when their cities or states were mentioned during roll call. I thought the roof was going to tear off its walls when ALL of us chanted in unison after the roll call. My heart beat so rapidly that I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. And with all our strength and loudest voice Rene and I led everyone in chanting: “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!” I remember a young woman joining our chant with all her passion and mighty voice, she was Anita Cameron.

I remember meeting some local leaders that I continue to respect and admire very much, Eleanor Smith, Mark Johnson, Bernard Baker, Pat Puckett…I also met Wade Blank for the first time. We spent the whole day educating ourselves on the issue, which was “Accessible transportation for all! Pass the ADA now!

Our action at the Federal Building has been one of my most memorable events. I remember it was a cloudy and rainy day, security had blocked all doors but a few of us managed to get in and we immediately spread our selves out and about the building, we went around trying to open doors from the inside so that others would get inside the building, in less than an hour later more then 200 of us were inside the federal building chanting and blocking the doors with chains and chairs, trapping federal workers inside. Security tried in vain to keep the doors open by placing little wooden doorstoppers to keep the doors open. However that was a joke (we brought them home as souvenirs). When the doorstopper didn’t work, they tried to stop chair users by nailing 2x4s on front of doors that was another joke. I remember Bernard from Atlanta flying over the 2x4s in his chair.

When the wood stoppers and the 2×4 didn’t work, I remember security folks placing huge concrete planters to block us from going to other floors and hallways but our scooter and motorized chair users easily cleared them out of our way.

I remember one very angry civilian telling Rene Luna that he should be gassed, and another civilian told a policeman that he wanted to make a citizen’s arrest, and wanted Mike Ervin arrested.

Security immediately shut down elevators and shut off any access to all the upper floors trapping some of our people on different floors. Thanks to security cameras we were able to spot some of our people and got them out from other floors. The last person we found was Rene Luna, he was hiding from security on the 7th floor unaware that the feds had surrendered the building to us.

After hours of the take over, we heard that the White House (Bush Senior) had sent word not to arrest us and to let us stay the night. Federal police brought green army blankets to more then 200 of us that chose to stay the night.

Early the next day we heard the blades and the motor of a helicopter that landed near “our” building. Some suits came out to negotiate with our leaders.

Word got back to us from our leaders that the president was committed to support passage of the ADA. On July 26, 1990, now a historical date President, old man Bush signed The Americans with Disabilities Act and Title II of the ADA covers accessible transportation.