In fact, we spent our honeymoon not too far from Opryland in separate-but-equal cells in the Nashville prison with 100 of our ADAPT brothers and sisters.
We honeymooned in Nashville because the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the nursing home lobby, was holding its annual conference at Opryland, and ADAPT was hot on AHCA’s trail.
We were married on September 10, 1993 in Michigan, asking our friends and families to forego presents and instead donate money to our ADAPT Nashville honeymoon fund. Little did we know what an exciting and exhilarating honeymoon it would be!
On Day One of the action, 300 of us marched down Music Valley Drive to the Opryland Hotel, crossing over a busy four-lane highway to reach the entrance. We were met by hotel security that informed us they had graciously cordoned off an “official protest area” in the north 40 of their huge parking lot, and if we chose not to use that area and come onto Opryland property, we would be arrested.
Underscoring that threat were the sounds of the police helicopter continuously circling overhead like something out of the “MASH” TV series. It turned out that the Nashville police had spent thousands of dollars researching how to deal with ADAPT, and how to arrest us “sensitively.” Their advanced “surveillance tactics” included observing us by air, hoping they could get a heads up on our next move and thwart it, and assigning several plain clothes cops to mingle with us to gather intelligence.
We decided against immediately entering the Opryland grounds and facing arrest before we had a chance to deliver our message to create a national personal assistance program that would Free Our People! from being warehoused in nursing homes where corporate owners (AHCA) profited greatly by keeping them there. The security personnel and police thought their threats and air surveillance had intimidated us into retreat.
As usual, law enforcement had greatly underestimated the power and ingenuity of ADAPT!
We quickly regrouped, filled all four crosswalks, and began to cross all the streets at the Opryland Hotel entrance, effectively cutting off all traffic in every direction, including traffic trying to exit the four-lane highway. We weren’t breaking any laws, so we couldn’t be arrested. Moreover, we had created a real traffic problem for the police, so they now “had a dog in our fight” and so they pushed AHCA to come out and negotiate with us! Within two hours AHCA agreed to a meeting two days later, thinking that they had now bought Nashville two days of respite from our activism.
How wrong they were! On Day Two we decided to pay a visit to the Tennessee Capitol to confront the Governor. The Governor and legislature had persistently chosen to ignore the civil rights and personal assistance needs of Tennessee citizens with disabilities, forcing many Tennesseans to leave the state and move elsewhere so they could live in the community with personal assistance instead of lying unattended for hours in their own waste in a nursing home.
Using the two tiny elevators accessed from the Capitol basement, we ferried people up to the Governor’s office, which we found blocked by state security personnel. Again regrouping, we kept ferrying people up the elevators until we filled the halls outside the Governor’s office, trapping the Governor’s staff and security, and creating our own version of a nursing home where no one got in or out without our permission. Our chants of “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” in both English and Spanish echoed through the Capitol.
We demanded that the staff call the Governor, who was in Germany, and arrange a meeting. When staff informed us that the Governor was in the midst of dinner and couldn’t talk, we decided we might as well eat, too, and promptly ordered pizza for 300. As we enjoyed lunch, Capitol staff members were climbing in and out of windows to come and go, and the police had blocked off the streets around the Capitol, again creating enough of a problem that the Governor finally committed to a meeting when he got back to the states. We quickly held a press conference announcing that the Governor had agreed to a meeting and marched back to our hotel in time for a late dinner and a celebration of two days of action with our demands met.
Day Three began with AHCA making excuse after excuse about the meeting they had agreed to on Day One. Not accepting these lame excuses, ADAPT went to the agreed upon meeting place, a Ramada Inn across from the Opryland Hotel, only to find out that AHCA hadn’t even tried to get a meeting room. They also didn’t tell us that Opryland had offered a 250-person meeting room. It was obvious that they had lied to us and the media, and had no intention of meeting with us.
In true ADAPT fashion, we decided that if they wouldn’t honor their commitment to meet, we’d take the meeting to them. With the police helicopter flying overhead, two lines started to move quickly down the two entry drives, opening the way for a third wave to fly through the flimsy barriers that Opryland security had constructed, thinking that a simple saw horse could keep ADAPT from its objective. They had even parked a school bus so it blocked the entrance lanes to the hotel, leaving the exit lanes open, and not realizing that ADAPT had no qualms about going in the “out lanes!”
Before the hotel security had time to lock the doors to keep us out, a small handful of ADAPT activists led by Bob, got into the meeting room and started chanting and handing out flyers.
While Bob and the others were now locked in, another hundred of us had made it to the front doors, and were eventually arrested by the police and kept in a roped off area until a fleet of yellow school buses arrived to transport us to jail. Since the local jail was not accessible, we were all carted off to the local prison behind a chain-link fence topped with three rows of concertina wire. Once inside, we were separated with Bob put in the male holding room and Marsha put in the female holding room. The prison Social Worker stayed and fed us sandwiches, and allowed us to watch all the coverage of our action on TV.
A magistrate came from town and spent the night processing and booking all of us, and we were served with a restraining order that said we could not go back on Opryland property.
Dawn of Day Four found us marching back to our hotel, where the Opryland lawyer met us with a very unusual offer. Fearing we might protest at the Country Music Awards that night, they offered us a press conference with several country music stars, and never ones to avoid the bizarre….we accepted! At 5 p.m., surrounded by a ton of media, the TV cameras rolled as Bob, and Paulette Patterson, Jennifer McPhail and Mark Johnson articulated ADAPT’s demand for a national attendant services program while flanked by Porter Wagoner, Bill Anderson and William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys. After our presentation, the country stars spoke in support of freedom and independence for people with disabilities, and wore ADAPT t-shirts when they performed later that night.
We left Tennessee the next morning, exhausted and exhilarated with honeymoon memories we will never forget, and with AHCA on notice that we would see them again in 1994 at their convention in Las Vegas!