1999 – Washington – Nadina LaSpina

As the hallways of the Crystal City Hilton filled with ADAPT activists arriving from all over the country, the excitement was palpable. There was something special about this action. It would culminate on May 12th in the “Don’t Tread on the ADA Rally.”

The rally was in support of the ADA’s “most integrated setting mandate” and of Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson – LC and EW in the “Olmstead vs. LC & EW” case. The two women had been fighting the state of Georgia for the right to live in their own homes rather than being locked up in institutions. On April 21 the Supreme Court had heard the case. We had held an all-night vigil at the steps.

I got to the action already exhausted. The last few weeks had been hectic. Not only had I been working incessantly correcting finals and handing in grades, but my life partner, Danny Robert, and I had been frantically organizing our NYC people, and negotiating with Amtrak to get the seats removed in two cars in order to accommodate 60 wheelchair users, all going to the rally.

At the big meeting, on Sunday, I was re-energized. When Stephanie announced that all but 7 of the 26 states that had supported Georgia had withdrawn their support, the house roared.

I was a red color leader. So, after the meeting, I tore pieces of red tape off a big roll and stuck them on the armrests of people’s wheelchairs, on canes and crutches or, in the absence of mobility aids, on hats and shirtsleeves.

On Monday morning we headed for the metro. The DC area metro, compared to the nightmarish NYC subway, is a wheelchair rider’s delight. Still, when there are hundreds of wheelchair riders, the delight can turn into a nightmare. Color leaders had the hard job of getting everyone on and off.

We were split into two groups. One group went to hit the Council of Mayors. My group’s target was the National Governors Association. At the Hall of States my team took the parking garage. We chained our wheelchairs together, forming a tight blockade, chanting, while the cops stood watching. The garage was quiet until around 4:30. Then people started appearing behind us. One lady politely asked: “Would you please move so I can get my car out?” A tough guy grabbed the back of my chair and shook it. “We’re ADAPT! You’re trapped! Get used to it!” we chanted. But I admit I got nervous when I heard engines starting.

We were arrested and taken to a big, ugly, stuffy room. There have been so many big, ugly, stuffy rooms where we’ve been held and processed through the years that in my mind they all blend into one big, ugly, stuffy blur. We didn’t get back to the hotel until 2 AM.

Fortunately, Tuesday turned out to be an easy day. We didn’t get moving till after lunch. Our target: HUD. We were lined up at the doors for about 2 hours while inside our leaders were negotiating. Then Barb Toomer read us a letter guaranteeing a meeting with director Andrew Cuomo within a month.

Back at the hotel, I called Danny. He said everything was under control. The NYC group would arrive at Union Station at 10:15. “I’ll be there to meet you,” I told him.

On Wednesday, the big day, I sat on the platform waiting anxiously for the train. And then there they were, rolling off the bridge plates, all with big smiles on their faces. Danny too was smiling but looked tired.

As we single filed out of the station, the sun was shining bright and the notes of a familiar song filled the air. A man with a trumpet, one of the musicians hanging around the station, seeing our “ADAPT New York” banner, had started playing “New York, New York.”

At Upper Senate Park, we were greeted by more music. Our own Johnny Crescendo singing “Proud, Angry and Strong.” We were already at least two thousand strong and more and more people were arriving from every direction. The Capitol Police would later estimate the crowd at 4000.

There were many speakers. I remember Senator Harkin getting us to chant “My control, not state control!” Steve Gold declaring: “We will win Olmstead!” Stephanie looking out at the crowd and exclaiming:” We are a beautiful and powerful force!” When Justin Dart proclaimed: “I’d rather die than live in a nursing home,” Danny yelled “me too!” We looked at each other. We both had tears in our eyes.

After the rally, we all marched to the Supreme Court.

On June 22, the Court would rule: Undue institutionalization is discrimination.