1995 – Washington/Baltimore – Johnny Crescendo

Manor Care and Newt Gingrich

It wasn’t the action I jumped into a hot tub naked at 4 in the morning and met my future wife; it was before that.

It wasn’t my first action in San Francisco where Bob refused the democrats cookies; it was after that.

It was right after the DAN (The UK version of ADAPT) action in Cardiff, Wales which is featured in the BBC documentary Desperate DAN. I’d just released a new album Pride and it was selling like hot cakes.

I’d first come to ADAPT to observe how you yanks do things. This was my third action and now I was coming because of the friends I made.

I remember the hotel being a train ride to the capital and the swimming pool was always closed. Maybe they thought we would drown and closed the pool to look after us. How kind of them!

I remember hounding the then speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. I have to confess that as an English guy the thought of someone being called Newt rising to the top in politics was extraordinary, or maybe just American. In proper English a newt is a slimy insignificant toad like reptile that dwells with pond life, so maybe it was a good description.

Anyway, one of my memories from that action was when we ended up outside Newt’s fancy Washington apartment, when I say we I mean fucking hundreds of us. Newt had hospitably left his name on the apartment doorbell so we were ringing it like mad and leaving messages on his answer phone which soon filled up.

Mike Auberger asked me to sing the new song “Tear Down the Walls” and the “Ballad of Josie Evans,” but I hadn’t got my guitar. “Sing through the megaphone,” he said. I can tell you dear reader I was skeptical. After all, I was a musician and the sound system wasn’t any good, and I hadn’t had the sound checked, and where was my stage outfit? “Just do it!” said Mike and started chanting: “We want Johnny, we want Johnny!”

Reluctantly I closed my eyes and for the first time ever sang these songs unaccompanied. When I open my eyes after the songs the cops blocking the door were in tears as were many ADAPTers. I don’t think I have performed either song better since. This action was part of the stepping stone to getting Gingrich to introduce MiCASSA a couple of years later.

My other lasting memory of this action is all about my hat.

Another target was a big nursing home operator called Manor Care. On the last day we hit their headquarters, a huge building with grounds etc. The first strategy was to get in with a fall back of blocking the highway at the two entrances: One at the top of a long hill and one at the bottom. We did get a few people in but it ended up with us planning to block the highway at the top and bottom of the hill. Cell phones were not yet invented and we had no walkie-talkies. Instead, we had runners who went from one group to the other to communicate.

I was at the top of the hill next to Mike Auberger wearing the spectacular rainbow cap that was very much associated with me. Mike asked me to go down the hill and tell the other group to get ready and sort out who was prepared to get arrested. I flew down the hill flapping my arms in an attempt to be the first wheelchair user to fly! Unbeknown to me Mike had an afterthought that we needed a signal to coordinate when both groups took the highway so he sent another runner down with the signal which would start the action. The signal would be when Johnny takes off his hat!

We must have crossed as I strained to push back up the hill to rejoin my group. It was wet but I was sweating with the exertion. Half way back I stopped, took off my conspicuous hat to mop my worthy brow.

The group at the bottom moved into the road and by the time I got to the top they had also blocked the road. Mike was laughing (a rarity in itself) your fucking hat just started the fucking action! 125 people were arrested that day because I took off my hat!

Hats off and Happy Birthday ADAPT