Ableism in the Human Rights Committee – Part II


<>Why I left the Retreat  -Andy Griggs


<>Emma’s notes:
Steve Seal: Chair Human Rights Committee_Andy Griggs: Former Chair, Human Rights Committee, UTLA Board of Directors_“Clarence”- Host of the retreat, UTLA Board of Directors_“Ethel”- Committee Member. _Emma Rosenthal- This blogger, member of the Human Rights Commttee, Chair- Conference Sub-committee 2004-2006
Every year the HRC has a retreat to set the agenda for the upcoming year.  For the past three years it has been held at the home of now Board of Directors, “Clarence.”  The retreat takes place on the patio, which is up a flight of stairs and, for the most part, in the direct sun.  __This is Andy’s original email to the other members of the Human Rights Committee (HRC) with minor changes made for the purpose of clarity and to obscure the identity of those who have not given permission to have their role in this discussion, revealed.  Names in parenthesis are fictitious and bear no resemblance to the real name of the person they refer to.  Names not in quotes are those activists who I ask and who gave me permission to be include in this blog.

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] Why I left the HRC retreat_Date:     Thu, 10 Aug 2006 19:19:27 EDT_From:     AndyCA6@aol.com_Reply-To:,AndyCA6@aol.com_To:
Why I left the Human Rights Committee retreat
First of all, I am sorry that I have not posted earlier, but I was getting ready for the AFT Convention in Boston, and felt what happened that day needed a well thought-out response.
I will first recount the sequence of events from my perspective, and then explain why I felt it necessary to leave.
“Clarence”, from the moment we arrived at the meeting, was rude, insulting, and insensitive to Emma. His first words to us on our arrival were “I hope you will be careful and not break anything this year, Emma. I fixed the broken bench.” This was referring to an incident last year when she was sitting on one of his benches and another activist sat next to her. It broke.
We both thought he was making a bad joke and shrugged that one off. A bit later she asked about whether there was any ice to use for drinks that people weren’t putting their hands in separate from the ice used to keep bottled drinks cold and he made a comment about “I don’t have any cooties! You can use this ice.” He could easily have just said–“no, but we have more ice coming, and we can set some aside.”
When the new ice arrived, I was engaged in conversation with Steve about budget issues. Emma again asked if some ice could be set aside, explaining that some people have weak immune systems. “Clarence” said no, none of us have dirty hands. Emma asked for support, (once again raising the issue of health needs of people with weak immune systems), and “Clarence” made his snide joke about “Let’s have a motion.” By this time, Emma was visibly getting upset, and walked in the house so she could cool off. “Ethel” told “Clarence” to set asides some ice and he did, but he did not tell Emma that it was set aside at that time.
I went inside to talk to Emma, and then went back out to continue talking with Steve and “Ethel”. A bit later Emma told me that “Clarence” came in after I left and said to her in private that “…the retreat is outside on the deck, not in the house…” where she had gone to avoid losing her temper and to cool off from the heat. I went out to confront “Clarence” about this, which I did-I told him that in the three years the retreat had been at his house, he had never restricted the event to the patio. I also explained to him about her illness, and he said to me that he did not believe she had any disability! At that point she came out and he said very condescendingly “There’s the ice, you can go run your hands through it” and she lost it–yes she was angry, yes she said fuck quite a bit–and he said he was trying to calm her–while at the same time saying that “people’s hands are not dirty” and wiggling his fingers in her face. At that point, we decided to leave.
I left the retreat because the woman I love was not treated with the respect she deserved as an integral member of the committee and as a person with certain needs (clean ice)! I left because she was angry and “Clarence” was mocking her still. I left because I did not think it possible at that point to resolve the very deep issues this confrontation brought up with could be dealt with there. Perhaps it would have been better to stay and discuss the issues then, but that would have also affected the rest of the retreat.
I want to say that although the above has mostly to due with the interaction between “Clarence” and Emma (because they were the two main participants), it obviously affects all of us as individuals and as a committee. We have to look carefully at our policies and how we handle issues like this in the future. I include myself in this as well. I did not speak up when we decided to have the retreat at “Clarence”’s house this year, forgetting about the accessibility issue._Emma and I have been together for two years now, and I have become aware of her illness, and its effects. Her health from day to day, often hour to hour, can change markedly. One moment she can feel very good and have incredible energy, and the next, she needs assistance moving to a chair. A cane, a walker, and now a scooter all have to be used from time to time in order to assist her mobility. She is very susceptible to colds, flu and other common illnesses due to her weakened immune system.
I have also become more aware, through her and other disabled activists, at the daily indignities that disabled activists have to face. It is something we mostly do not deal with until we are confronted with it ourselves or see someone else confronted with it. Whether it is a store with inaccessible aisles, or people purposely blocking the way (yes, incredibly, I have seen this!), or telling a person in a wheel chair that someone can carry them up or down stairs, the issue is thrown into the faces of folks all the time.
So what do we do from here?
I do believe that for the committee to function better in the future we must address the issue of disability. These are human rights issues! We need to look at the law, we need to look at UTLA policy, and we need to look at our own policies. And if there are problems that exist within our committee, within our union, and within the district, we should be leading the struggle to rectify them.
One thing we need to do is to agree to not have official meetings of any kind that are inaccessible. “Clarence” has said that he is committed to having the retreat at his house and would make his home accessible. The costs to do that are prohibitive, and carrying someone upstairs is not accessibility._Any meeting where business is to be done must be accessible and held in a non-threatening or abusive environment (for example, we would not hold a meeting in a Hooters or a Minuteman owned building). Actually, I think if we don’t – or any other group of UTLA doesn’t – take into account accessibility, we might be opening ourselves up to legal action.
I hope that this letter, along with Steve’s earlier post, and the actual events of the retreat will serve to serve as a start for our discussions on how we can continue to be a leading advocate for human rights in our union, our district and the community at large.
Yours in struggle,’_Andy

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