1995 – Lansing – Bob Liston

ADAPT took on one of the ‘up-n-comer’ Republican governors, the bitter cold of an unusual October day in Michigan, the betrayal of a disability rights organization and incredible “multi-hit” targets in October of 1995.

To be quite honest, I was panicked that ADAPT was coming to Lansing, MI, my home state at the time, for fear that those of us active in ADAPT in Michigan would somehow let down the group or there wouldn’t be the “action” for a great national action we had all come to expect. In reality, it was one of the best actions I have ever been on (with some slight possible bias).

As part of the local leadership team, I was in the advance group driving around trying to figure out just what we were going to do and how—what were the targets to hit, and how would that be accomplished.

In advance of ADAPT coming to town, Verna and I had had several conversations with various folks within the disability community who were not part of, or particularly supportive of, ADAPT. Our hope was to get as much local support as possible; as well as get any “inside information” we might be able to. In doing this, we found out from a “leader of a state disability coalition,” who happened to live in the same “hood” as the governor, where the Governor’s Mansion was. We were able to get the address and we scoped out the location.

After our usual trainings and updates on Sunday, on Monday ADAPT set out to tackle one of the first “double-hits” that I have been involved in. We split the group in two, about 200 people each, and went to the two largest shopping malls in the Lansing area. The target? Waldenbooks, which was promoting Gingrich’s latest book, “To Renew America.” Folks were shuttled in the many vans that we had, gathering in the parking lots before the malls even opened. Then very shortly Waldenbooks opened, we all lined up and marched single file into the malls and flooded the two bookstores.

The only ones moving faster than ADAPT members were the “senior mall-walkers” and the store managers. These managers were quick to contact their headquarters, which in turn faxed our demand to Gingrich that he introduce CASA. This was an additional learning experience for folks, as many people picked up copies of small books on the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence and read aloud from them to the rest of the group. We imbedded our rights within ourselves through these actions. The Waldenbooks hit went so well and so quickly that we decided we had time for another hit.

Back to the vans, shuttling everyone to a church in the middle of town, just next to the State Republican Headquarters. Sounds like fun to me. Once all members got to the location, we swarmed into the Republican Headquarters and COMPLETELY filled the building—actually quite small, but ADAPT has a way of packing many wheelchairs into the smallest of areas. The demands—fax Gingrich to introduce CASA, call Governor Engler and set up a meeting with ADAPT.

The messages were sent, but one of the scariest times for me was when, due to how crowded we were, one “over-testeroned” young police officer, obviously terrified at being surrounded by a tightly-packed crowd of crips, tried to force his way through the building and was pushing people unnecessarily and viciously out of his way. This caused one young woman from Michigan who worked as a personal assistant to one of the members to try to protect and defend folks who were pushed to the ground. Unfortunately, this led to her arrest for allegedly “assaulting an officer.” Luckily the officer’s supervisor found out about his roughness from our members as well as his fellow officers and things de-escalated.

Three hits in one day…quite a feat!

Tuesday was our big test. We decided to go to Engler’s house because he had refused to meet with us, including not responding to our letter requesting a meeting that had been sent well in advance of ADAPT coming to Lansing. We were acting on the “under-cover” information we had been able to gather, and I admit I was scared to death that it might be the wrong address, which is always a concern for ADAPT when going to personal residences. As it turned out, my fear was misdirected. The address was correct, but as I found out later, the person who gave me the info had a change of heart and ended up calling the Governor’s office and telling him we were going to be there. But in true ADAPT style, the “long-term care gods” were watching over us.

We had gathered our hundreds of troops in a park out of sight of the governor’s house, freezing in the unusual frigid cold spell that had come in overnight. We headed out in true ADAPT stealth mode at just the right time. I happened to be up front and as we were getting closer, I turned to Stephanie on one side and Linda on the other, asking for suggestions about getting through the closed gate that came into view as we approached. In true ADAPT karmic fashion, just as we got to the closed gate, as though on cue, a carload of staffers headed away from the house, opening the slow moving gate – this was our chance! Everyone dashed for the gate before it closed, some stopping to hold the gate for others. We got well over 100 people inside the house grounds before the gate finally closed and the state police arrived.

I happened to be right at the front door, which seemed to be six-inches thick and solid mahogany or some other VERY hard wood. We knocked on the door, bruising our knuckles and chanting continuously about getting a meeting with the Governor until some of his staffers came to the house. They said the governor would not meet with us, but they offered up other department heads instead.

As hard as that administration tried, their message to the media about us being “terrorists of the Governor’s triplets” went unheeded by the press because they were seen being taken out the back door earlier in the day.

By late afternoon, it was obvious that we were not going to get our demands met, so we lined up and marched off of the Governor’s grounds, right through a gauntlet of media that had congregated throughout the day. I was the last person out and have never been so proud in my life. We had pulled it off in Michigan.

On the last day, when the weather turned back to a wonderfully warm fall day, we marched the two blocks to the state capitol, and after a quick press conference, ADAPT moved in every direction possible and completely shut down the building. Folks could not get in or out, except the foolishly determined ones who were “escaping” through ground floor windows.

This was a very proud day for me as a young friend of mine, who has a cognitive disability, but strongly believed in what we do, along with his mother for support, helped take over one of the side doors of the Michigan Capitol and he held it all day long. I was so proud of his diligence and commitment. At the same time, toward the end of the day, I experienced the opposite feelings as the state police forced one door open so the senators could get in and get on the floor. I watched many legislative friends and usual supporters decide it was more important to take their seat in the Senate rather than support us and not cross our line.

One of my less than fond memories of this action is remembering Bob K. and myself both continually getting out of our chairs and crawling past the police, only to have them carry us back each time to where we started. It seemed that every time we got carried back, the lower our pants went (mine at least), which my wife continues to refer to as the “two bare bobs.”

This particular action was a turning point in my life. It completely changed me from committing part time to ADAPT and part time to wheelchair tennis to committing wholly to ADAPT. It also proved to me the old adage—“Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.” I was so outraged with those members of the disability community in Michigan who either betrayed our confidence about hitting the Governor’s house, or who suddenly distanced themselves from our activism in the media that it took more than a year to get over. The power that ADAPT Michigan gained as a result of the action, and our overall ADAPT successes over the years since have left them in the dust, and more than validated every action we took. It truly set the tone in Michigan for “Nothing About Us Without Us!”