1989 – Sparks, Nevada – Stephanie Thomas

Sparks Nevada – Next to Reno, Sparks was the site of the Western Regional APTA convention. In those days we mostly traveled by vans and the Texas vans would meet up with the Denver vans and we’d collect a few more as we went along. Sometimes we had as many as 14 or 18 vans in a row. A few folks couldn’t stand it and would go on ahead, but most of it was like a long wagon train. Every stop (gas, bathroom, whatever), Wade would let whoever wanted to, get out of their vans. It took forever! It was like the clown car at the circus. We Texans had the opposite theory and just passed urinals around.

Going to Sparks, we stopped in Salt Lake City. Rosemary Rendon had set up a meeting, but we could never find the location despite hours of searching.

Once in Reno we stayed at a casino at the edge of downtown. A beautiful mountain was our backdrop. Mike, whose foot had been badly injured in the LA County jail several years earlier but had never really healed, had it propped up sticking straight out in front of him but he was ready for bear, as were we all. We were here to confront those who stood directly in opposition to our goal of access to mainline buses, and integration into society.

First we marched from our hotel to the APTA convention casino. The police tried to intimidate us by arresting the folks at the front of the march from the start but it didn’t work.

Ed Roberts had come, he drove in a van behind the march.

We tried to enter or block their hotel but the police were blocking us. They would pull us away, but we would simply wait till they left and then return to the building. Jerry Eubanks and Tim Baker, Julie Farrar, Barb Toomer, ET, Lillibeth Navarro, Diane Coleman, Tom Olin and many more were there. It was like an act of sacrificing ourselves for the freedom and liberty of those who would come behind. We would just try again and again.

Arthur Campbell, as usual, wound up on the ground among the legs of the police. Everyone was chanting at full volume. Eventually some police bigwig showed up with a bullhorn and an interpreter in tow (that was first for us, interpreting the arrest announcements). The usual announcements were made: “if you do not disburse… you will be arrested…”

We were taken away in – accessible school buses. We always found it ironic, they could make these school buses accessible, but not mainline buses? Get real!

We were arraigned that night. The police tried all kinds of psychological tactics to break our spirits, even accusing us of faking our disabilities. We were broken into groups to go into court. I was in the second group; waiting just outside the courtroom while the first group was arraigned.

Suddenly the courtroom erupted in what sounded literally like a zoo brawl. With baboon whoops, clattering, clacking monkey sounds, howling, braying water buffalos, and indescribable howls. Everyone in our group looked at one another mystified.

It turned out later that the Judge had given ET (an African American with a very street demeanor) a much harsher sentence than the few others who had gone before him. In an effort to make sure he would not be alone, a desperate strategy of disrespect was adopted and folks like Mike Auberger and Bob Kafka were using terms like “your Honor, and I use the term loosely…” It worked as we all wound up sentenced to between 27 to 29 days in jail!

We responded with a hunger strike but we didn’t know what we were doing.

Divided up, we were put in with the general population in cell pods, where the cells on two floors, ringed a 2 story central area where everyone ate, hung out, and watched TV or whatever. We didn’t have money and smokers were jonesing for cigarettes.

They talked about taking away our wheelchairs, but luckily never did. Anita was not given her seizure meds until she had several seizures. We tried to advocate for her with limited success. We were forced to take showers and forced to be assisted by the trustees, which wound up having something of an assault quality to it. We hung in there by sticking together; it was quite beautiful though trying.

We heard Diane Coleman (not in our group) had gotten sick from not eating and was sent to the hospital. Barb Toomer urged folks (very sensibly) to drink fruit juice and plenty of water. Soon others began to feel sick too. Anita’s seizures weren’t helped by the fast either. We had a meeting with our lawyer and I suddenly threw up all over him – most embarrassing. They took me back to my cell and I threw up all over it as well – to the disgust of the trustees who then had to clean that up.

The powers that be were beginning to freak with our illness. I was ejected from the jail “to go to the hospital” but really I was just dumped outside the jail. Luckily Babs had learned about this and came to meet me.

Tim Baker, a quad with quite significant CP, had been taken directly to the hospital where they were trying to cure his spasticity with a device that closely resembled a floor wax buffer. He found it humorous, fortunately, and we were able to spring him too since their cure was not working.

By the end of perhaps the 2nd day the jail was fed up to the gills with us and sprang everyone. We learned there that there are 3 separate bureaucracies involved: the cops, the courts and the jailers – and the 3 don’t get along all that well.

There was one more day of the conference and we didn’t want to let that day go to waste, so we headed back to the APTA convention. The police had erected cement barricades around the Casino (John Asquaga’s the Nugget) so there was not enough room for wheelchairs to fit through. We realized if we got out of our chairs and crawled we could get in. It was a big deal controversy in our group because of course everyone could not crawl. But since it seemed the only way, we did it. It freaked the police out to no end.