Arriving at OccupyLA–cops and dogs, have more of a place than people with dis-abilities!

Dogs occupy the lawn during OccupyLA

Dogs occupy the lawn during OccupyLA ©2011 emmarosenthal photography


This article was solicited for publication and is included in the Dreaming In Public, anthology

I made it down to OccupyLA yesterday, after a week of attempting on line to assure that such an effort  would not be a major  misuse of my time and energy and wouldn’t be dangerous or humiliating. (it’s not easy for many people with dis-abilities (PWDs) to get ourselves out of the house. it takes real planning.) I had been tweeting, facebooking and blogging and getting first hand reports from friends and family who had made the trek to the event.

I had spent hours on the phone and in person with some of the organizers.  I was brutally harassed and insulted on both FB and Twitter for even suggesting that outreach to this significant 20% of the 99% be a consideration, and that our participation be more than passive, that our inclusion must have agency and that we must be able to inform this movement.

After a series of attempts at contributing to this event hit a cruel brick wall, I used harsh words, strong words and militant words. That’s what activists DO! That’s what marginalized people must DO, to be heard. We are not asking for handouts (food, medicine, tent space is all free and EASILY AVAILABLE at OccupyLA, for everyone BUT people with dis-abilities.) We are demanding that our skills, voices, opinions, ideas, power be present as equal contributors in the movement.

In previous blog posts, I documented my efforts to offer resources for dis-ability inclusion, and attempts to help the committee that was working on this, (if there is one). I was finally contacted by Cassie from “finance” who had informed me that she had bought 6 accessible porta potties and they would be there the next day (IT –1-  porta potty, didn’t arrive for several days, forcing PWDs to leave the event in search of a bathroom more than a block away. ) We talked for hours on the phone.  Cassie told me she also worked in the welcome tent and to come see her when I finally made it to OccupyLA.  She gave me the contact information for Cheryl,  the person who was “in charge of dis-ability access”, who a google search revealed was a medical marijuana access activist, but whose twitter account ended after the last election cycle.  I sent her a tweet, decided to call her later when I was feeling less burnt out, or figured I would attempt to find her when I got to the event, I was just so disappointed in my efforts so far, and the incredible energy it took just to get porta potties. At no time did she ever attempt to reach me.

From the beginning of my attempts to work with OccupyLA, the excuses I got were rote, almost like talking to cult members. “We are a leaderless group, We are a few people trying to do so much. We are a nascent movement.” So, over the course of the week, and at the event itself, I offered. I offered to work on logistics, on dis-ability access, on social media and on finance.  I suggested they needed a page on their web page with a list of committees, contact persons, and meeting times.  I also told them they needed a page on their web page on logistics, with special outreach to PWDs– information that included parking, bathrooms, what to bring,  perhaps a map of the occupation village, etc. I told them they needed sign language interpreters and outreach, outreach, outreach.  I told them that when people asked questions to social media that that information needed prompt connection to the appropriate person who responds in a timely manner and that people offering suggestions not be subjected to a barrage of hate and abuse. Again, the mantra: . “We are a leaderless group, We are a few people trying to do so much. ”  One thing Cassie and others had told me, was to come down and see for myself. That what was on the twitter feed bore little resemblance to what was happening on the ground.

So, I headed out on Saturday, which was the first day I could get assistance and would be prepared for whatever obstacles I might encounter.  I hoped, that perhaps I was being too hard on this effort, that it was probably not as bad as I imagined.

The entire park  around city hall, with one narrow exception, has a curb that prevents wheelchairs and scooters from entering any portion of the park except the walkways!!!!  The welcome tent, the food tent, the media tent, workshops, committee meetings,  the library (we had brought books to contribute, but not being able to get to the library, I declined contributing), the first aid tent– so the people who might be most in need of medical attention, can’t get it!, the stage, and even the wheelchair accessible porta potty, were situated so PWDs in wheelchairs would not have access. PWDs  are limited in our participation to sitting in the walkway, watching everyone else interact, We are to need nothing, or hope for charitable assistance, and hope we’re not in the way. (We get accused of that, a lot!)

I was told on line, more than once, “I have seen people in wheel chairs out here”.
One twitterer, who set up a sock puppet account just to harass me,  accused me of not standing (sic) by other PWDs who attended the event, as if my lack of presence, so unwelcome as it was, was a betrayal to those who were happy and brave and were part of this FARCE!!!! (I MEAN CAMPOUT!)

So, then I had to ask myself– is my passive presence simply bearing false “witness” of inclusion??? Would people say, “See, Emma Rosenthal was there, they even” (maybe if I was lucky) “allowed her to speak from the foot of the stairs. sad– so sad– pity–pity–pity– she couldn’t make it up the stairs to the stage.”  

And would I want to address a crowd where no sign language was available to sisters and brothers in the struggle, who are deaf?

I finally did meet up with Cheryl the person “in charge” of access, she was giving a tour of the (inaccessible) campout,  because a map, wouldn’t have sufficed?  I found out where most things were, and I couldn’t even access most of the territory of the park. She had a slew of excuses for the TOTAL lack of access,  I offered to go on the tour. She told me to wait some undesignated amount of time. She would give me my tour later.  She wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise, controlling me and the conversation the way a cop controls a crime scene or an interrogation. She was very, very good at THAT.  (and perhaps that’s why she was there, really– to keep anything significant from happening.) She also gave me the mantra “”We are a leaderless group, We are a few people trying to do so much. We are a nascent movement.”  Of course they’re not leaderless, there’s plenty of leadership, it’s just not accountable.

After my bad cop experience with Cheryl, Someone who identified herself as Jeannie, ran up to me, handed me her card, and gave me the good cop approach. She acted like she knew of me, but said she didn’t. She let me know she was in charge of social media, but hadn’t seen any of my tweets and facebook posts.  (How is that even remotely possible?)  And she was eager to get my help on any of the committees I wanted to work on.  She was very concerned, explained to me again “”We are a leaderless group, We are a few people trying to do so much. We are a nascent movement.” It was eerie, like they had all worked together to get their story straight, whenever anyone suggested any improvements. Jeannie was very encouraging, but full of excuses. “Cheryl was working very hard, and of course the mantra “We are a leaderless….”  She also told me that they were having things STOLEN BY HOMELESS PEOPLE, and that THE EVENT HAD BEEN INFILTRATED. well this is where the conversation went totally downhill. At first I thought she was talking about how the cops had infiltrated the event, but it turned out that she was referring to activists who had been pushing for a statement opposing police brutality. These were her infiltrators. She told me the police were an important part of the 99% (apparently more important that PWDs) and that the cops working on this event were our friends, and really good guys, she knew them personally.  (I bet she does!!) When I told her the cops weren’t part of the 99%, she yelled at me not to call her, and she ran away. (So much for democracy, justice, and leaderless action.)

All of the “leaderless leaders” I spoke to  at OccupyLA, were white 30-50 year olds. Neither my partner, activist, Andy Griggs nor I had ever seen any of them in any leadership capacity in any organization or event in Los Angeles.

While I was there, I did see and spoke with three other people with ambulatory dis-abilites: one person with a walker, aside from Andy, and two other people in wheelchairs. None of them was happy with our lack/level of inclusion.

AT one point I just fell apart, and was consoled by a stranger named Ryan, as well as by my partner, Andy and my friends Kathleen, Cindy, and  Tamara, who was serving at the First Aid station.  (She put a call out for plywood for ramps.)  I want to thank them for helping me metabolize my rage. I was approached by other strangers, who were also willing to help. But all were powerless to really address issues of equitable and empowered access.

The class struggle is vast, and I would rather find a small stream and flow firmly with the currents, then get caught up in a stagnant eddy in some huge river that has no place for me, nor appreciation of even the most simplest aspects of my humanity. The amount of abuse and isolation is infuriating, and I don’t need environments that negate my existence while I’m fed platitudes to “think positive”. the level of rage I reached just isn’t good for anyone. So, unless there are huge changes in the entire movement, I won’t be back.

 Images from an Exclusive Movement:

Media tent-- off limits (see curb) to reporters and volunteers who use wheelchairs.

Media tent– off limits (see curb) to reporters and volunteers who use wheelchairs. ©2011emma rosenthal photography

Inaccessible Stage at OccupyLA, up a flight of steps.

Inaccessible Stage at OccupyLA, up a flight of steps. ©2011 emma rosenthal photography

A wheelchair accessible porta potty, up a step, inaccessible via wheelchair.

A wheelchair accessible porta potty, up a step, inaccessible via wheelchair.                    ©2011 emmarosenthal photography

Curbless sectment of the Park, just a few yards from where event organizers placed the inaccessible porta potty.

Curbless segment of the Park, just a few yards from where event organizers placed the inaccessible porta potty. They should have placed it here.  ©2011emmarosenthal photography

Inaccessible first aid tent at OccupyLA, up a step.

Inaccessible first aid tent at OccupyLA, up a step. ©2011 emmarosenthal photography

Close up of step to first aid tent at Occupy LA, with signage that says "step up step down"

Close up of step to first aid tent at Occupy LA, with signage that says “step up step down” on green tarp with red tape. (no, really,it is really red tape!) ©2011 emmarosenthal photography

Medic, Tamara, who is working really hard to fix issues of access at the first aid tent.

Medic, Tamara, who is working really hard to fix issues of access at the first aid tent. ©2011emmarosenthal photography

Tables for organizations at OccupyLA, up a curb, making staffing at such a table, difficult for a person in a wheelchair.

Tables for organizations at OccupyLA, up a curb, making staffing at such a table, difficult for a person in a wheelchair. ©2011 emmarosenthal photography

Food tent and welcome tent

Food tent and welcome tent and other tents all inaccessible at OccupyLA 2011 emmarosenthal photography

Next blog posts: Tweets on dis-ability access OccupyLA and an article on the clientization of dis-ability– the charity model, or “Be happy we got you a porta potty you can fit your chair into, how dare you be upset that it’s up a flight of stairs!”

8 responses to “Arriving at OccupyLA–cops and dogs, have more of a place than people with dis-abilities!

  1. I loved that you specifically called out the “positive thinkers”. People who encourage the oppressed to think positively are operating out of the assumption hat an individual’s thoughts or attitude inform or supply that which they need/want. Followed to its end, this line of logic suggests that poor/Black/Brown/Trans/Gay/Dis-abled/young/elderly etc people are marginalized and abused because they just couldn’t visualize positivity enough. Have you read the book “Bright Sided: How positive thinking is undermining America” by Barbera Erinbriech?

  2. I like Your Article about Arriving at OccupyLA–cops and dogs, have more of a place than people with dis-abilities! | In Bed With Frida Kahlo Perfect just what I was looking for! .

  3. emmarosenthal

    patrick are you familiar with the abuse i sustained at utla on this issue and how it was used to discredit and isolate me?

  4. emmarosenthal

    for more information on accessible event planning, here are some resources, which i shared with OLA, and anyone who will listen.

  5. emmarosenthal

    thank you for this challenge, i’ve been meeting it for years, hitting real obstacles, and outright hostility. OLA is very much a lead movement. i’m still reaching out. going to OLA has been humiliating and dangerous. even tweeting and posting on line has exposed me to very overt threats and abuse, and yet i keep going. it isn’t just a matter of saying it nicely enough. there was/is real hostility to this issue. you can follow it on this blog, how dis-ability was used to discredit me and isolate me. (and yet i still keep talking on it.) i will work with anyone who wishes to address this issue, and i’m finding a few isolated people and individuals, but please don’t assume that just because you are only hearing about this now, from the midwest, that i’ve only started to raise this issue. it really discounts what i’ve been up against and how very real not only lack of awareness is, but how very real the hostility is regarding dis-ability access.

    as for the unions in los angeles, it was in the unions where i was most attacked, by my union brothers and sisters. (folllow the thread, “anatomy of a blacklisting”). the county federation of labor doesn’t even have an accessible bathroom– that means that 1. members who come to the county fed, don’t have a restroom facility, and 2. the county fed doesn’t hire (or doesn’t provide restrooms) for people with dis-abilities. and yes, this has been brought to their attention REPEATEDLY. the following organizations have inaccessible venues/events– CAIR, the County Federation of Labor, ANSWER, most domestic violence shelters, some homeless shelters, many public schools, Union del Barrio, many churches, most unions, IJAN, The Arbeiter Ring, Los Angeles neighborhood councils, etc. most left events have at best a minimal physically accessible venue, with no consciousness and with overt hostility and disregard for pwds. i did put out a call to the left to discuss meeting to address these issues, find solutions and pool resources, but got almost no response, and certainly not a critical mass, enough to really address this issue.

    I offered my services to many organizations (and hope they will compensate my efforts– i need to eat and my labor has value, and i understand issues of reciprocity in lieu of money) but this information doesn’t fall on deaf ears (deaf ears might actually take the situation seriously and respond, right?)

    we also created an accessible space and have offered it to organizations for events, who continue to prefer inaccessible venues that are very similar to our own. i think there is a stigma associated with dis-ability– we’re not cool. we don’t add cache to the event. in hollywood, we don’t “look” good. it just isn’t hip to have too many of us around.

    so, it is a very real challenge, one that i have taken on, and on which i am beginning to find, a few allies, among the detractors and the abuse. but it isn’t due to lack of communication or outreach on my part, not at all. -emma (blogger for inbedwithfridakahlo)

  6. OH EMMA!

    As one living with disabilities – I want you to know how proud of you I am of your documentation of the lack of accessibility at OccupyLA. You did your part. You showed up and showed all the glaring disparities they were ill prepared for and ill equipped to understand how limiting and excluding these practices are.

    NOW – as a mom, living in the small fishbowl that is Minneapolis I wish to challenge YOU. You know what’s needed. You seem to be solution-driven & VERY capable of taking the lead.

    I want to challenge you. Please forgive me for not knowing your physical, social or economic limitations. But I see so much in you, so I’m going to assume you CAN do this:
    – put out a call of your own to various groups to provide their expertise on:
    -sign language interpretations
    -close captioning on U-stream feeds (e.g. student programers)
    -contractors who provide accessibility ramps (could be in private construction)

    The point is – people know people. If your involved in civic groups reach out to them, see if you connect with those who are involved in the O-LA movement or maybe, just maybe they’re in need of a person like you who has a need, an idea & just needed someone with your vision to put it together. Show that this could potentially be a ‘write-off’ for them. Are there Non-profits, Unions active locally there who might be inclined to step up. What about SEIU folks, they’re in the healthcare industry, they have declared NATIONALLY to be in support of #ows. Reach out to them! Exploit THEM – it IS a leaderless organization. And if you can’t force action in the de-centralized org. Then what’s to say you can’t saddle-up BESIDE them and SHOW them the way it should be done.

    I believe you & believe in you.
    All the Best!

  7. Dawn Schneider

    My experience in my area were the same, they put me up front in the march, not realizing I would have to leave the path to use the curb cut or elevator on the path. It is not something people who walk things do not think about.

  8. Patrick Arcadi

    The pictures that you posted were outrageous. I can’t believe that this is happening now in 2011. How can things be accessible when you have to go down a step, up a step, and up and down stairs. I agree with everything you said. I wrote a comment to the organizers and it was taken off. I wanted to go, but I think I’ll pass for now. Thank you Emma

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