Category Archives: UTLA Human Rights Committee

A tale of two inquiries (this is how we do it!)

As if there really were a god, the following invitation ran on my fb feed, just as i was addressing the issue of access at another event.  (see the previous post!)  I asked Yesi if I could publish our dialogue and use her name.  She agreed.  Please note, how, in comparison to the previous post’s example, i made the same inquiry,  in  much the same way, with incredibly different results. Unfortunately the previous post’s example is more often the norm.

When approached by anyone from a marginalized group, who asserts that your actions might be discriminatory,  especially if you have little experience with that area of  marginalization, Yesi demonstrates how to assertively and humbly respond to  such an accusation.

This is textbook, and in my opinion and experience, applies to race, gender issues, colonization, etc.  etc.  etc.

In exile,


Yesi King save the date!

Fundraiser and Website Launch Party!

Location:Self Help Graphics

Time:7:00PM Saturday, July 3rd

Emma Rosenthal it is my understanding that this is not a wheelchair accessible event.

Yesi King oh no emma, it definitely is! self-help graphics is wheelchair accessible! please come, i’d love to meet you in person 🙂

Yesi King i’ve actually updated the event page with that info. my apologies :/

Emma Rosenthal as i recall, the bathroom is not, and unless they installed an elevator, the entire upper floor is not, either. when i brought this up to a board member, i was addressed with hostile indifference, called necia and taken off of her fb list. so if it is physically accessible, it still isn’t dis-ability affirmative. — a very important consideration for pwds because hostility, ridicule and humiliation are more the norm in social environments than not.

Yesi King hmm, i actually haven’t checked out the place in a while, but i will ask. if it isn’t i will be very, very disappointed actually :/ …and i agree with you.

Emma Rosenthal better not say it’s accessible until you confirm. the humiliation and incredible inconvenience of attending an event that isn’t is devastating.

Yesi King good point :/

Emma Rosenthal yesi,  i very much appreciate the openness you have expressed on this issue. usually i am attacked brutally for the mere suggestion. i need a few days to sort things through, but call me and let me know how i can help you make this a fully inclusive event. 818 404 5784

Yesi King hi emma, i definitely will 🙂

Yesi King

Hi Emma.

You said to give you a couple of days to sort this through so I didn’t want to intrude by calling you too soon. So, I opted to send you a message instead. I hope I’m not bothering you.

I’ve read your blog posts (cool blog name btw 🙂 and I’ve really been thinking about the points you have made…and I feel HORRIBLE. You have every right to be upset, you make excellent points, and unfortunately, in order to create change, people have to be put on the spot and be made uncomfortable. I’m very honored to have crossed paths with you.

I’ve asked the people on the team in charge of securing the location about SHG. I haven’t been there in a long time and apparently some things have changed. So, unlike their website and other internet sites about them post, they are NOT wheelchair accessible. The place isn’t two stories; it’s only one story, the upstairs. The bottom spaces apparently don’t belong to SHG. The main part of our event will take place outside but the art gallery will be upstairs :/ According to my friend, SHG just simply has never had enough funds to take on that sort of project and they apparently don’t own the building anymore. They had to sell it a while back. It really SUCKS that the place isn’t accessible for dis-abilities.

Now, this is the context in which the event is being organized: we are not an official org (we are not a non-profit), we do not have an abundance of options for spaces for what we’re trying to pull off, and we do not have funds. We were actually lucky to get the space for free. We just want to raise funds for this website project…because we’re all broke and can’t afford it on our own.

Like I said, I feel horrible…and stupid…and ignorant. The items above are not an excuse. If it was any other situation, this would not be acceptable. What can we do? Please help…we want to make this as inclusive as possible. Forgive my ignorant question, but what exactly do we need to make this inclusive and accessible? I would like to begin making a list asap.

I can’t claim to understand where you are coming from, but I can surely empathize. I really admire you for standing up for this. I think about my son, whom I love more than anything. I wonder how I would feel if he was in a wheel chair, and let me tell you, I’d be PISSED AS HELL if places weren’t accessible to him.

I’m sorry for this. I know what I have to do. I have to ask my friends with whom I am planning this event, to either change the location or find a damn way to raise the funds to accommodate. If they refuse, then I will refuse to be a part of this event. Discrimination is discrimination period.

Thank you Emma,


PS. Not sure which book signing event I will be able to make it to, but I will definitely make it to at least one 🙂

Emma Rosenthal

first of all, be easy on yourself. You’re addressing an issue that is new to you, in a very responsible way. (don’t muck it up with guilt- which is always destructive and rarely serves justice.) for me, your timing is perfect. your interest in very affirming. The reaction you observed in my most recent post, is more typical than we would like. (though this is the first time I’ve actually been accused of being racist and exercising privilege in the context of dis-ability access.) we need to address this, not individually, but as a community.

I tried to think of comparable situations—venues that might be inaccessible to other marginalized groups:

Homes in neighborhoods hostile to certain ethnic groups, or sexual orientations,

a strip club–i can hear the rationale now–“oh lighten up, it’s just fun and for a good cause (baby!)” ,

a venue near a police station or ins station,

certain religious venues.

But disability inclusion presents very unique (physical as well as social) obstacles. it’s why andy and i put out a call to the left to begin the dialogue to set up a protocol and find collective ways to address these issues, with short and long range planning.

Even well funded organizations can’t resolve these questions overnight. Right now we’re struggling with what to do if someone requests sign language interpretation. We haven’t found an affordable answer yet. Hopefully we will before the situation presents itself.

The last time I was at SHG they did have use of the first floor. Some possible “solutions” are to see if that space can be made available for the event. Since your event is outside, see if (this is a long shot) there is a way to make the artwork accessible, there. One (not so optimal solution, could be a video feed of the gallery. –-not okay as a long term solution, but certainly an improvement. If the bathroom is not accessible, an accessible porta potty costs a little more than $100 to rent. And our newest strategy is to see if a neighboring business has an accessible restroom that can be used. That’s what we’re doing at Imix in Eagle Rock. Their restroom is not accessible, but a coffeehouse nearby is. In establishing this, we instigated a dialogue that may change Imix’ approach to this issue in the future, and may have also fostered relationships between the two businesses.

I want to draw up a list of accessible venues, look into ways groups can collaborate, pool resources, share equipment. (We have a portable ramp, btw.) Imagine, again the community and working relationships this would foster – the benefit beyond addressing the initial issue.

if you can’t make the event accessible, and you can’t find an alternative venue, you can weigh the decision to have or not have the event, or to put it off until you can find a space that can meet your needs.

If you do decide to have the event, while it is never acceptable to discriminate, a statement that clearly delineates the access, the options for pwds, is essential in not wasting the time of pwds, who know that if it is not stated, not only is the event probably inaccessible physically, but it is probably not socially accessible either.—in other words, even if the space is structurally accessible, once it is full of people and materials, the likelihood that it will be a positive and safe space for pwds, is less likely. On the other hand, if the access is spelled out, it gives pwds a choice, and it also indicates that the issue is one of which the host is aware. (though I am starting to observe that this is being used more as a copout than a real solution. The two events this weekend that included such statements were not events where i would have felt welcomed and they involved organizations that had promised such misunderstandings and oversights would not happen in the future. Instead, what seems to be their position, is that it is okay to discriminate some of the time, as long as an advisory is stated.) it reminds me of the signs from the 1950s- “no dogs, no jews no coloreds.” –Good to know, but not exactly a revolutionary politic.

I hope this helps. It’s not a complete solution. But it’s a start.

Yesi, with your permission, I would like to publish our dialogue on the blog, with or without (preferably with) your real name. I think it is an excellent example of how to begin to address this issue and the appropriate way to address any dialogue on privilege, inclusion and bigotry.

in solidarity and struggle, for a world with no borders or barriers,


Yesi King

thanks emma…but i tend to live on extremes, it’s something i’m working on 😉

also, i’m sorry but i can’t ignore something when it’s wrong. especially when it’s so blatantly wrong and unjust. i can’t ignore it…and you’re right we do need to address this as a community 🙂

my friend neil actually suggested that we rent a portal potty. so that, we can definitely do…thank you for offering the ramp. i will ask them if it is needed. also, regarding the art gallery, i’m workin on that and waiting for a response. oooh and i have a student who knows sign language so i hope she can help out 🙂

also, of course you can publish this dialogue. it IS an excellent example of how to address this issue, creating change, connections, and showing that it can be done 🙂


Emma Rosenthal

i appreciate what you are saying. i’m the same way when it comes to oppression and marginalization, though i try to temper my expectations in a less rigid praxis, understanding the contradictions and constraints we live with under capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy. i do know, with dis-ability, the social barriers are more significant than the physical ones. neither of the two events this last week, had obstacles to my participation. i can climb a few steps. but i know better to go into such a situation when it is full of people who have no understanding, experience, and awareness of dis-ability rights and solidarity. the hostility, indifference, resentment, the use of space, the way people move around, would have been very difficult and perhaps dangerous for a pwd. the problem with accommodationism, is it just doesn’t work. it never serves the one who is accommodating the marginalization– not in race, gender, colonization nor with dis-ability. it always ends up serving the marginalizer. it always obscures the marginalization. it always demands more of the person who faces exclusion when the real onus is on the entity that is the perpetrator of the marginalization.


keywords: anatomy of a blacklisting

UPDATED BLOG ENTRIES: Anatomy of a Blacklist

This blog was forced to move when the previous hosting site shut down.  The process has been tedious. Each post and each image has been reinstalled one by one. A direct import was not available.

For more information on this process:

The following pages have recently been revised or reinstalled, providing new information to the threads; UTLA Human Rights Committee, and Anatomy of a Blacklist:

To follow the complete thread; Anatomy of a Blacklist, go to:

Anatomy of a Blacklist- a thread on two blogs

For the last three years I have been documenting a series of events within United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), around disability rights, Palestinian rights, union democracy and blacklisting, which started as a strange power play within the Human Rights Committee apparently around disability rights, but in my estimation, may have merely been the utilization of (my) disability as the socially acceptable way of attacking when no legitimate means was available. 

Just as that controversy seemed to be resolving itself,  the Jewish Zionist Establishment (the ADL, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish National Congress, Stand With Us, the Progressive Jewish Alliance–them too!, as well as others) launched a campaign against the Union, the Human Rights Committee, the AFSC, Café Intifada, and….. me, focusing particularly on an upcoming meeting to discuss boycotts, sanctions and divestiture (BDS) from Israel.  Thisresulted in an unholy alliance between the Zionist lobby, the “progressive” UTLA leadership, bent on protecting themselves and their positions, and the members of the Committee who now had a (pro-imperialist) arsenal of accusations to use against me, resulting in my removal from any position of leadership within the Committee and the destruction of the Committee infrastructure I had played a  large role in creating. 

Due to the (ongoing)  blacklisting, death threats, personal attacks, humiliations and the limitations of my health,  as well as, more recently a “tip” to a hot line,  an early morning service of a search warrant  of our home, complete with 14 armed police officers, a news camera, the seizure of our property, which included a thorough three month investigation  of every computer,  hard drive, zip drive, digital camera, thumb drive, back up disc and memory card, the result of which determined NO EVIDENCE OF CRIMINALITY  (no arrests, no charges, case closed!.  All of this, leaving us with  legal bills and other expenses,  PTSD (!) and (for all teachers under police investigation) the removal of my partner from the classroom.    (More on the police action later. )

Over the course of this time,  I retreated into a period of deep self reflection, depression, study and creativity. I sold my house, moved in with my partner and fellow activist, went back to school to learn new skills and  with him, bought and restored  an old house that promises to be a vehicle for our vision of local and global struggles for social justice.   The pressure on our marriage has been considerable as we have both needed to take time to work on our most basic support system: each other.  Only now am I  attempting to emerge, increasing my personal security, finding out who my real allies are, breaking the silence, speaking out,  healing deep wounds, initiating new dialogue with some of those who committed betrayals of silence, and enjoying the emergence of new, younger movements for social justice within Los Angeles. 

In the interest of disclosure:  During this same span of time the original home of my blogs shut down, so I had to repost each blog entry piece by piece, photo by photo to the new server. Emotionally, there were periods where I couldn’t look at this any more.  It just hurt too much.  And life had its own demands.  Our  larger adversaries are paid to bring us down.  We must work for justice in our spare time.  Emergencies come up, work gets put to the side. So, I have contributed to this thread on and off,  and while material is provided in chronological order, some of the entries have recently been updated or contextualized, drafts written at the time may have been recently completed and posted.  

And I doubt we have seen the end of this.  I invite my detractors to feel free to post comments as they see fit.  If their positions have the validity they claim, there should be no reason for their ongoing anonymity and stealth.  As long as they don’t obscure their identity, I will approve their posts. And it is quite possible that some events have been misrepresented.  I am open to critique and will be issuing corrections in that event. 

Finally, a word about my union ( UTLA), and the progressive slate, whose members include activists with whom I have worked for decades.  I submit this documentation, in the spirit of critical support.  I believe that dissent is essential for the life of this organization that I first joined over 25 years ago.  I was involved in the early recruiting campaign that brought UTLA membership from  30% of teachers and support staff,  to greater than 90% going into the 89 strike. I was active in the fight for bi-lingual education and against the English only movement. I was a cluster leader during the 1989 strike, rising at 4 am and not getting home until after 9:30, all the time carrying my 2 month old son.  (nicknamed “el huelgito)! I have helped plan several conferences, served on the House of Representatives, participated in the School Community Relations Committee, the Human Rights Committee and the Chicano Latino Education Committee.  I have been a delegate to the NEA RA, served as a Chapter Chair (shop steward) before I had permanent status, and filed and won over 30 grievances.   I chose at several junctures not to file harassment or discrimination lawsuits against the union, though I would have been in very good standing, especially when targeted by a member of the Board of Directors and Vice Presidents.  I also chose at the time of the entire controversy regarding BDS, not to present the matter as a an attack on my person, or use the matter to promote my own agenda within the larger community. While the L.A. Times originally accused us of planning for a rally inside (!?)  of UTLA , we very well could have, without union permission, held a protest outside the hall on the day of and at the time the canceled meeting was to be held.  We did not.  We attempted to address these matters internally, except for a call for letters to the broader community when President Duffy made a similar request to only members of the Jewish community.  It is only with considered reflection and after years of continued marginalization, harassment, innuendo and humiliation  along with increase attacks on other activists by these same forces,  that I have decided to fully address myself to this compilation and  broadcast these events more publicly.   

 To follow the complete dialogue on the issue,  please start by reading the statement: Enough is Enough- Who’s Who and Why it Matters, where  I provide a summary of events and  list the real names of the people (formerly given pseudonyms)  who have carried out this campaign against me within the Union.  As I make changes, adjustments or additions, I will post updates and links.  For those who chose to follow this closely, you may subscribe to the blog and will be alerted to newer posts.

The beginning of the thread, regarding disability discrimination is chronicled on my blog:  In Bed With Frida Kahlo- daily indignities, small insurrections and honest musings for a life of infirmity and rebellion 

The documentation pertaining to the Zionist lobby continues on my other blog: Cafe Intifada which is the web page of the organization of the same name.  

1. Go to: Enough is Enough: Who’s Who and Why it Matters:’s-who-and-why-it-matters/  (If that doesn’t work, try cutting and pasting.  I don’t understand it, all the other links i post, seem to work!)

2. Then start the thread at the beginning at:    and read the posts in reverse chronological order, starting with the link at the bottom of each page.  

3. From there, within the thread,  you should be directed to the sister blog; Cafe Intifada, but should that link fail, return here, and follow this link to the continued thread:   and read the posts in reverse chronological order, starting with the link at the bottom of each page.)

Peace with Justice, 

Emma Rosenthal

Enough is Enough: Who’s Who, and Why it Matters

In covering blacklisting  within the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and specifically within the Human Rights Committee, which has been documented within this blog and then later in the blog of Café Intifada, I initially chose to use pseudonyms in quoting or discussing the actions of those with whom I did not agree.  (In the Café Intifada blog,  I used initials.)  I can’t do that anymore, and listed at the foot of this post, are the real names of the public figures who had important roles in these events. 

At the time I felt that while it was important to document what was happening  in the Union, with teachers, activists on the issue of human rights, disability rights; that the names of individuals was more sensitive.  I was still under the illusion that dialogue could, in this situation allow for transformation and that differences could be ironed out with further discussion.  But many of my opponents have influential positions and public images that they have continued to use to wage a campaign of defamation and character assassination against me, well beyond the confines of the Committee, or even the Union hall, with no consequence to their own reputation, and because of their prestige, they have credibility.  As long as the words and actions,  are not attributed to them, they can hide behind their own justifications and misrepresentations, which they have continued to do.  

Their renown, without any evidence to the contrary, gives credence to their campaign, which has been ruthless and relentless.  While I don’t doubt that many of their supporters share their hostile indifference to disability  or Palestinian rights, I hope that others will be horrified to know the depravity of their attacks and the history of dishonesty and abuse.  I continue to endure humiliating and marginalizing responses to even the most passive appearances within the Union hall or at progressive events, having discontinued activity within the Committee since October of 2006. Often phone calls and emails go unanswered, old allies, also close to these detractors,  took themselves off of the Café Intifada listserve without context.  I am constantly barraged with strange accusations.  (For example: that I had falsely sent out Don White’s notice regarding the situation at UTLA in the BDS uproar, or I had fooled both he and Andy into positions that they would not have taken without my guile and manipulations.—as if these two men couldn’t think for themselves on such a vital issue!)

I was finally blacklisted within the Union, as a result of an unholy alliance among  members of the HRC, who are also some of L.A.’s most respected activists,  the “progressive” leadership of UTLA and the very powerful Zionist establishment.

What became clear to both Andy and myself, was that disability had been only the pretext for an attempt to wrestle power within the committee and that the fallout, including capitulation to the Jewish Zionist establishment over the BDS controversy, necessitated these prominent activists continue their lies and accusations beyond the Union hall into the larger progressive community, labor community and the left.   Additionally, the hatred and bitter disregard for disability rights, that would allow these activists to use that bigotry as a means to an end, also provided motivation for what has continued to be a campaign to limit my expression and participation in the larger movement.

It’s not about policy, politics or program. Otherwise we could simply live and let live.  Our paths don’t cross that often, and even when they do, they could extend to me the same courtesy they have had the gaul to demand of me.  (Nod, smile, move on.)   I do think it’s about power, initially within the Committee structure,  in some case, ego; in others, that I dared to write about what happened to me, even not naming names.

These bullies are so  effective, one wonders what other lives have been damaged.  How dare I speak up!

At one point, Greg Sotir brought copies of my writings to the HRC and demanded that the Committee shut down my blog!!!!  I think, in the case of what happened in Berlin, it’s about power.  It’s the school girl thrill of being able to manipulate and instigate hostility and ostracism while taking no action of one’s own.   Rosemary Lee has behind the scenes, been campaigning against me for years, insisting that I don’t have a disability, that I only use it as a pretext to get attention, inspiring others to openly ostracize me, forcing or attempting to force divisions between me and anyone close to me.  The problem with gossip is that it never bears scrutiny of the light of day.  Those who go along, take the heat for their public expression of the silent provocation, or,  with the power of numbers– the mob mentality of the bullies have the justification of majority.   (We tell the target of bullies, to ignore, when in reality it is not possible to ignore those who seek one out– it is the bully that should be given that directive.)  The others, who might even disagree with the perpetrator, do so in one on one conversation, not understanding that beyond that “private” conversation, is a very public  and essentially political campaign.  There are people who reportedly stood up to Rosemary, but only in the intimate context of the accusation. 

We say “the personal is political”  but this entire mess is a failure to really understand how personal the political really is. Illness is very personal. An attack on one’s disability is an attack on her body, on its statement, presence and place in the world.  Gossip, though apparently private; the ancient preserve of ladylike  discourse; the subtle current under the apparently calm sea, has always been political.  It speaks volumes to the role or women. Beyond that, it provides obscurity for a very public agenda. Repeated over and over again,  privacy is only an illusion; the shear volume, over time, distance and the number of people involved.  Whatever the reason for this campaign: hatred of disability, hatred of me, power within the Union around conference planning, resentment of attention being offered to assist access, we’ll never know.  We’ll never know.  That so many went along with it is astounding.  That picking on “the cripple” is still acceptable (among teachers!!!) speaks  to a larger depravity.  Whatever the reason, there is no excuse for the use of bigotry to forward that agenda. 

And something must be said about the controversy around Palestine and how it played out in the Union hall.  The progressive slate, consisting of activists of several leftist tendencies, including Solidarity, ISO, etc, all anti-Zionist;  as well as more “moderate” members of the slate, totally capitulated to Zionist pressure, both from the membership of the union, and from the  larger, Jewish Zionist establishment who launched the campaign to shut down a small, open meeting to discuss (discuss!!!) boycott, sanctions and divestiture of Israeli apartheid.  Gossip became extremely essential in explaining this capitulation, especially from the clique within the HRC, who used this nexus of disdain, the two step children of human rights activism: Palestinian and Disability Human Rights,  to further their own personal political agenda.  To cover their duplicity, they told their friends within the L.A. left they had been mislead either by me and Andy (Griggs)  or by the SDS/MDS, or they didn’t understand the issue, or the HRC never really took a position on the matter, and a few people, acting on their own, plummeted the entire Committee and Union into this controversy.  To their more moderate friends, mostly those within the Union,  they could parrot the point of view asserted by the Jewish Zionist establishment; that any support of Palestinian human rights –even non-violent actions, such as boycotts, sanctions and divestiture was the work of a few extremists who had steered the committee away from a real human rights agenda, supporting terrorism and violence, had failed to back up the leadership of the Union (!) had a one issue agenda, were divisive during contract negotiations (Unions are always involved in contract negotiations.)  

What followed over a period of several years, were a series of hate mail, anonymous phone calls,  death threats and an extensive police investigation based on a “tip” to a hotline, resulting in the serving of a search warrant at gun point, the presence of a news crew, the seizure of our property and an extensive 3 month investigation that found no NO NO NO NO evidence of criminality.  Despite these very real dangers, these individuals continued their personal campaign,  making it clear that the simplest appearance by me, at the funeral of a close friend or simply as Andy’s partner at a Union breakfast,  would subject me to continued harassment, marginalization and humiliation.   They have even taken to sending (traceable) anonymous emails to me, knowing that I have been subjected to hate mail and death threats.  (That was the final straw!) 

I don’t know what will come of finally exposing these names to the light of day, of holding these prestigious activists accountable for their actions.  It may bring on more wrath, though I doubt the situation could get much worse for me, in terms of what has already been dished out, in terms of the damage that has already been done. Their skill and lack of remorse assures that there are other bodies (so to speak) and I hope that by speaking out we can begin a dialogue on solidarity, revolutionary discipline, human rights and group process. 

I do hope that this will illuminate for people that they need to speak  against this stealthy, relentless campaign.  It hasn’t been just one statement or a few small opinions. It has been an ugly operation, conducted over the course of over 4 years, utilizing commonly held hostilities towards people with disabilities, which regardless of anything I may or may not have done, or may or may not be, is cause alone, for public outcry and denunciation. 


The fact is, there has been no negative social consequence for their behavior. 

We who fight for social justice are up against a brutal and ruthless machine. There are those among us who are agents of that machine, though with the complexity of the human animal, determining motives can be quite difficult.  When we let our petty differences, egos, status and pride rule our priorities, people will get very hurt.  As one Iranian friend of mine stated; “In a time of extreme repression, this is the behavior that gets people killed.” These actions lack collective vision and revolutionary discipline.  

 I do not reveal the identity of these  individuals casually, but with the  measured reflection of several years.  We have a huge battle in front of us, and I want, I need to be a part of it.  This gossip has gone on for so long, that my silence lends to my own marginalization and limits my own contribution, as well as the contributions of others whose voices have been similarly stifled.  

I’m not asking that these individuals be ostracized or treated as they have treated me.  They too have important work to do (though don’t expect me to serve on a committee with them any time soon!)  But I do insist that a serious left will be less tolerant of this behavior and will work to draw our circle as wide as is possible, so that we can all bring our skills, our heart, our love and our strengths to the battle, this enormous battle that looms ahead of us. 

Peace with Justice,

Emma  Rosenthal

Within the Human Rights Committee

Gilroy:  Greg Sotir, Multimedia Director, Coalition Against Militarism in the Schools (CAMS)  also known as Coalition for Alternatives to Militarism in the Schools, Teacher, LAUSD, UTLA House of Representatives

Ethel or “W” :  Arlene Innouye  General Coordinator, (CAMS)  also known as Coalition for Alternatives to Militarism in the Schools, Speech and Language Therapist, Special Education, Roosevelt High School (speech and language.) LAUSD, UTLA House of Representatives

Mildred: Roselva Ungar, Retired teacher LAUSD, Past Board member, and Vice President Unitarian Univeralists L. A. UTLA House of Representatives.

Camile: Rosemary Lee  Chair, Trinational Conference, Retired teacher- LAUSD,  UTLA House of Representatives

Clarence:  Howard Bransky   Director, UTLA Board of Directors  2005-2008, UTLA House of Representatives, Teacher LAUSD

Tammy: Theresa Sams, UTLA House of Representatives

Other key players:

A.J. Duffy, President UTLA

Joel Jordan, Director of Special Projects, UTLA

Josh Pechtalt, UTLA Vice President AFT,

Dan Barnhart, Director, UTLA Board of Directors, UTLA North Area Chair

Steve Seal, UTLA Human Rights Committee Chair. UTLA House of Representatives and later, UTLA Board of Directors

Julie Washington, UTLA Elementary Education Vice President

To follow the entire thread, go to:

My Union Sister in Vertigo

” Did they ever worry, when they “reacted to Emma” that if they were they wrong, their behavior was cruel and oppressive?” ****


One of my union sisters* has for years, spent much time and energy attacking me and my disability; using my impairment for her own amusement and ambition.  Recently just days after I posted a comment regarding the marginalization of disability within education, and referenced my own case within the union, (without mentioning names),  to the thread on the facebook wall of a mutual friend of ours,  I received two hateful “anonymous” comments  to the opening message of my blog* * (I have, in response set up a criteria for posting of comments, and have offered other insights in a previous post)***

The header,  IP address, as well as other indications are that the sender, and one of the authors of these latest hate rants is no other than the daughter of my union sister, writing from Portugal where she is a PhD student. 

The depravity of sending anonymous messages to someone whose receipt of death threats and hate mail is well known, is a small example of the cruelty that has gone into this multi-year campaign.

The first statement appears, based on writing styles and content, to have been a collaborative effort, mimicking the accusations of my union sister and members of her clique.  The second post with what appears to be this young woman’s own statement, revealed something very new. 

While my detractors, using my disability to attack me, through gossip and innuendo, instead of  addressing real differences, or finding legitimate avenues of disagreement,  have refused to even recognize or respond to the issue of disability as a human right,  this latest communication states:

“Your blog effectually mocks the causes of people who are in the situation you imagine yourself to be in.”

So!  We, people with disabilities,  do exist, even if I am not one of us!?

Hm! Why the change in discourse?

It has come to my attention that my union sister recently, has been complaining of vertigo, and at times has taken up the use of a cane. Vertigo is but one of the many symptoms of fibromyalgia, and in my experience, one of the most devastating.  It is extreme dizziness and imbalance. When hit with it (it comes and goes,)  I can barely walk across the room to the bathroom.  I am limited to bed rest for the duration.

Is it possible, that after years of using disability discrimination to advance her own aggrandizement, my union sister is now stricken?  That those close to her, like the “anonymous” commentator,  are witnessing the howling limitations imposed by this condition, even though when in public, she doesn’t appear to be ill.  Are they,  and she, experiencing the frustration of good and bad days;  having to miss meetings, forced into the isolation of bed rest when one lives alone, or not alone, when the rest of the world goes off to work, or activities or life in general?

Does she suffer the bitterness of people who don’t believe her because she doesn’t look sick or because when they do see her, when she can get out and about, she seems quite capable?  Do they, as she has done, question her intermittent use of ambulatory devices, claiming that her disuse one day indicates a dishonestly on the days that she claims to be in greater need?

Is she struggling with the decision to use ambulatory devices, considering deeply the stigma, and the limitations they impose as well?

And what of the shame and humiliation she herself contributed to, so aggressively?  Will people now accuse her of lying, of trying to get attention? Can she be believed after lying about my condition for her own benefit, for so long? 

Regardless of whether or not she is truly sick, she will probably find that there is nothing to be gained from “faking” disability.  Beyond parking placards, it carries very little privilege.  Will her previous lies now blow up in her face, both because of the stigma she perpetuated, and because her duplicity will now be laid out for all to see?  “But you accused Emma of faking her illness when you yourself embody all of the evidence of this “deceit”.”

Perhaps she will be a more convincing victim, that is, play the victim much better than I could.  She is by far more delicate and more feminine in presentation than I.  And femininity by definition and historically has always been linked to weakness and infirmity.  Her stealthy wiles used to attack me, never publicly, and her ability to use others to wage her wars, may make her claims more convincing, than my direct insistence at participation, my own assertive testimony of my daily struggles and my assertion that my personal experience be linked to the greater body politic demanding solidarity and justice, not pity or charity. 

When this union sister in vertigo, approaches you with her sad new situation, please respond with compassion.  Regardless of her dishonesty, she probably is really sick. Admitting it, all the more difficult because of the corner she has painted herself into.

But by all means, learn from the errors of her ways.  The corner you paint, when you dis-dis-ability, may be your own, for it is the one marginalized group, if you live long enough, I promise you, you will join.

And gently (gently) remind her , of her own cruel words;  that you were listening closely, perhaps even believed her, even were complicit with her. How deep they must have stung, how lonely indeed it is to experience what those around one negate and ridicule.  How wrong she was, how wrong, either in silence or in deed were those who supported her in her campaign against another union sister, a sister in struggle, illness and determination, a would be ally had she only allowed for the possibility in the first place.


*She is the UTLA member with the pseudonym, “Camile” under the thread UTLA Human Rights Committee

** A Message to the World both Big and Small


***Policy on Comments

Why The Hostility Toward  Victims


Why the hostility toward victims? By Alyson M. Cole

Emma’s Commentary:

(Statements in italics are direct quotes from two messages sent to me this week in response to my blog; In Bed With Frida Kahlo. For more information about these comments, go to:

One of the most astounding experiences with disability, has been the aggressive manner in which (among others) human rights activists, 1. find that attacking my disability is more effective than engaging in real discourse, that it is strategically better to pick on the “cripple” then argue merit, and 2.  assert that I do not really have a disability, that I am faking it, “begging for attention”, mocking people “who are in the situation you imagine yourself to be in”, offering no proof of this assertion, assuming (with surprising accuracy) that others will join in their mockery, on the face value of the accusation itself.

These are strange accusations from activists, who one would assume had spent a lifetime fighting this very set of assumptions, more aligned with right wing conservative posits than any radical challenge to the status quo.  

One wonders, who else “plays victim” in their book: welfare “queens”, members of the labor aristocracy who demand higher wages?  teachers who complain about class size?  women who accuse their dates, husbands, fathers of rape?  the growing number of people incarcerated who claim their innocence? 

Who are these arbiters of merit?  On what credentials do they base their assertions?

What are the dangers to movements for social change if activists perpetuate these stereotypes, these images of people who speak out, who dare to define our own experience, who dare to demand an equal place in the world?

-Emma Rosenthal


Why the hostility toward victims?

Monday, November 27, 2006

IN HIS election-night tribute to the defeated senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, Republican pundit William Bennett waxed eloquent about the senator’s concern for victims — of AIDS, autism, partial-birth abortion, and those in Darfur.

“The poor, the dispossessed, the helpless, the unborn, whether it be here in the United States or abroad,” he proclaimed, “have lost a champion in losing Rick Santorum.”

This assemblage of the weak and vulnerable is rather remarkable in and of itself, but the real irony is that William Bennett delivered this encomium. For more than a decade, Bennett has been at the forefront of the campaign against the “victims’ revolution.” He even blamed “the victimology mongers” for rendering the United States susceptible to evil-doers on 9/11. Indeed, Bennett, among others, is responsible for the doublespeak that warped how Americans have come to think about suffering and sufferers.

Without precedent or much public notice, “victim” has become a term of derision, deployed to dismiss, ridicule and condemn. This sentiment congealed in the early 1990s, when politicians and analysts — like Bennett — instigated an alarmist crusade alerting Americans that an excess of grievances imperiled the nation. Anti-victimists cast those who allege to be victims as shamefully passive or as cynically manipulative. As a result, seeking recognition of one’s injury indicates a deficient character, or even symptoms of a pathology (the dreaded “victim mentality”). Individuals now must use other designations to avoid stigma. The brutalized Central Park jogger accordingly emerged from seclusion to insist that she is not a “victim” but a “survivor.” Similarly, those who died on Sept. 11, 2001 are not “victims” in our collective vocabulary as much as “heroes,” posthumously conscripted as soldiers in the “war for freedom.”

The language of victimization has not so much disappeared from public discourse as recirculated, for it is now routinely invoked to drive attacks on affirmative action, welfare, and even terrorism. Welfare programs, for example, supposedly present a punishing burden on national resources and constrict American freedoms. In this way, victimism injures, indeed victimizes, American society. Though this rhetoric was forged during debates over domestic policies, President Bush applies it to characterize America’s enemies abroad. He postulates that a “culture of victimization” in the Muslim world causes terrorism. Others have gone further, comparing Islamist radicals in Europe to the American “welfare queens.”

Even though conservatives attack racial politics, feminism, and similar movements as “victim politics,” the anti-victim sentiment is not unique to the Right. The Democratic Leadership Council devoted an entire issue of “The New Democrat” to the theme of “Getting Beyond Victimization” in 1993. More recently, in the summer 2006, Bruce Gordon used his inaugural address as the new head of the NAACP to denounce “victim-like thinking” among African Americans.

Paradoxically, critics of the “culture of complaint” also exalt ideal types of absolute innocence and sacrificial suffering — a veritable cult of true victimhood. Like those connected to Santorum’s revered causes, true victims may include the terminally ill, individuals harmed by violent crimes or atrocities enacted by other nations, and, especially, fetuses. The criteria for inclusion have less to do with the veracity of claims or the facts of injury, than with the sufferer’s personal qualities, her character and purity.

The ultimate purpose of the cult of true victimhood is to suppress most victim claims. It implies that the good victim is one who refuses to be a victim. So when in the wake of the midterm elections Republicans resurrect “compassionate conservatism,” it is important to understand how an anti-victim rhetoric scripts public deliberations about suffering, injury, and injustice, and in doing so, preempts these debates altogether.

Alyson M. Cole is a professor of political science at Queens College of the City University of New York. She is author of “The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror.”

Man with service dog arrested after refusing to leave courthouse

-Good idea to follow the link, watch the video, and read the horridly bigoted comments. Experiences like this are common place for pwds. I have to limit the number of errands I do in a day to what i can handle without losing my temper. I have to assume that there will be at least one indignity per location. More, if it’s some new age, think positive type of place, like Whole Foods or the Silverlake (dogs, not cripples allowed access!) dog park, or if it’s a human rights event or gathering, like the no bathroom for gimps, Country Federation of Labor (do they hire pwds?) or the UTLA Human Rights Committee (up the stairs) retreat, or the NEA Human Rights Awards Dinner, or an anti-war  demonstration . -Emma


Man says he was kicked out of courthouse because of his service dog 08:16 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009 James Muñoz, KENS 5 Video Visually impaired Richard Pena filed a lawsuit after being denied access to the Bexar County Courthouse in 2007. Richard Pena went to the Bexar County Courthouse in July 2007 to do some research on his adoption. As always, he had Prissy, his service dog with him. He says he was denied access at the metal detector, but soon a supervisor arrived and cleared the way for him to proceed to the third floor. Pena says he even had documents from the Social Security Administration with him detailing his disability and need for a service dog. Pena survived a brain tumor in 1998, but suffered a stroke during surgery. He’s visually impaired and uses Prissy for balance, mobility and direction. To Pena’s surprise, a deputy approached him again and told him to leave the courthouse because of the dog. Pena refused and says he was physically removed, arrested and charged with resisting arrest, criminal trespassing and cruelty to animals. A lawsuit says six deputies were involved in the incident. They’re listed as John Doe 1 thorough 7. Attorney Vincent Lazaro says Bexar County has yet to provide the names of the officers involved. The lawsuit claims the incident caused Pena to suffer acute mental anguish, including extreme emotional distress and mental pain, low self-esteem, humiliation, belittlement and shame. Pena says Prissy is not the same either. He says she is reluctant to go out and somewhat fearful of strangers. Bexar County declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Suddenly Last Summer- Part 4 Barbara’s Death Bed and Camile

Meanwhile:   Barbara’s Death Bed  and “Camile”


The Old Paradigm
  1. She must hate the ex.
  2. If she doesn’t hate the ex, she must hate the new partner.
  3. If she doesn’t hate the ex or the new partner, then maybe she wants to get back with the ex.


Over the course of the summer we had also visited the spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, returning home for a few weeks before flying out to Colorado to visit family.  While we jettisoned around the country and the world,  our close friend, and Andy’s former partner, Barbara Franklin lay on her death bed.  Andy was Barbara’s power of attorney  for health related matters.  We visited her between trips and stayed in touch with her while we were away.  During this time Barbara was placed in a very difficult position by  “Camile”, who  having completed her marginalization of me,  began a campaign against Andy to try to limit his participation in the planning of an upcoming conference.  She was not having the same results in this pursuit as she had had against me.  Her protestations that “Andy was trying to take away” her “power”, was getting a tepid response and unlike her rumors that I wasn’t really disabled, was diminishing her prestige and credibility.  We had heard snippets of this campaign from other UTLA members, but Barbara’s reports provided us with real insight to the lengths and depravity of her efforts.  Barbara, as I stated in my eulogy to her, was both a Christian and a feminist.  She felt very conflicted by “Camille’s” intervention.

While many people in the union had made it quite clear that they wanted Andy to be with Barbara and not with me, Barbara had always been extremely supportive and respectful of our relationship.  She and I had forged a deep bond, amplified by our common experience with illness as well as our common connection to Andy.  It was a difficult decision for her, to tell us what “Camile” was saying to her, not wanting to gossip, but feeling truly loyal to both of us, and not wanting to be implicated in anything that would be hurtful to us.  She first approached me,  and told me that she was concerned for Andy because of what people were saying;  and then she proceeded to repeat to me, without mentioning names,  the gossip that we had heard “Camile” had been spreading around the Union Hall.  “Oh that’s just “Camile””  I told her, which she quickly confirmed.

The next report we got was that “Camile”, unable to bond with Barbara in the campaign against Barbara’s  former partner,  had repeated to Barbara the lies about me that she had been spreading for years.  I assume she mistakenly decided that if Barbara didn’t hate her ex, in rivalry, she would hate her ex’s partner.

Now not only doesn’t a woman on her death bed need to be burdened with these matters, but what good could come from forging divisions between Barbara and the partner of the person responsible for her medical advocacy?  Fortunately instead of reacting to these reports, Barbara again chose to report them to us.  Had she or I fallen for these petty and ancient paradigms of female rivalry it would have put her medical care in grave danger.

Not able to forge splits between Barbara and Andy, or Barbara and me, “Camile” attempted a third approach:  try to get Barbara and Andy together.  “Camile” returned from Berlin, jubilant in her coup against me and reporting it to Barbara boasted that when Andy returned to the conference without me, everyone cheered for him, adding that Andy had broken with me in Berlin.  “Oh nonsense” Barbara reported saying, “They’re in Colorado together right now.” 

Every year UTLA has a retreat at a resort in the Palm Springs area.  UTLA Vice President, Julie Washington, who, after Berlin,  I suspect,  may have been involved in this campaign with more than silent complicity,  and feigned concern for Andy’s position within the union, invited Barbara to attend as her guest. Barbara reported to us that on one night after midnight, a drunken “Camile” came to Barbara’s hotel room to “check on her” and to ask questions about Andy and myself.

Barbara died only two months later, physically the shell of the six foot tall woman she had been.  We had shared our frustrations with the patronizing support given to her in her illness by the same people who had been so ruthless with me.  Regardless of whatever agenda or issue “Camile” had with me, what excuse is there for the pressures and intrusions placed on Barbara in her final days, hiding under the guise of friendship, to manipulate someone so frail for one’s own depravity?

Barbara had offered to confront “Camile” but we suggested that she refrain, concerned that perhaps the same vindictiveness directed at me, might be brought down upon Barbara.

Prior to this event, Barbara had been “honored” as woman of the year, by the Women’s Committee of UTLA.  Speaker after speaker referred to Barbara as sweet.  President Duffy stated “Barbara sweet Barbara.  What can I say about Barbara.”  And then proceeded to talk about himself and his leadership, referring briefly to his wife as president of their home.  It was like a time warp to the 1950’s!  When we left the event, I told Andy I hoped she hadn’t noticed the patronizing treatment, as each speaker struggled to find something to say to a dying woman, not able to really recognize her for her strengths and accomplishments.

Of course Barbara noticed the narrow, shallow honors bestowed upon her; their pity prize, for a woman who was indeed deserving of the prize in her own right.  “I’m not sweet.  What do they mean I’m sweet? ”  She said to me later.  Sweet or not, what man would ever be awarded the sweetness prize!?? 

But this is no doubt, the two edged sword of disability discrimination within the union; the syrupy, patronizing “love” and “adoration”  showered on Barbara, or the brutal attacks inflicted on me.  Each of us, set in our good gimp, bad gimp; real gimp, false gimp, paradigm:  limited, disempowered and regardless of the occupancy of the space around us; terribly alone. 

There is no justice in pity.  There is only justice in voice, in empowerment, in real solidarity based on a true understanding of our common humanity.

Suddenly Last Summer- Part 3 Education International

Education International

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice”– Martin Luther King Jr.

Q: When are indigenous rights not indigenous rights!?

A: When they are Palestinian indigenous rights.

Before the EI Convention,  there are several smaller pre-conferences, including one on indigenous rights. The conference was divided into indigenous and non indigenous people (isn’t everyone indigenous to somewhere!? – I hate these simplifications of dialogue and narrative.)  Andy and I went to the room for non-indigenous people.  The meeting was chaired by Judith Moorehouse, from the National Union of Teachers (GB). NUT has taken a more progressive position on Palestinian human rights than any U.S. union.  She posed the question: What impediments do you experience in your union in discussing indigenous rights?  I raised the issue of Palestinian human rights and how difficult it was to raise that issue.  She immediately shot me down, and quite rudely, by insisting (demonstrating?) that we only discuss indigenous populations within our own territories and we can’t solve that problem here.  (As if, in a one hour discussion, we could solve ANY of the worlds’ violations of indigenous rights!) Andy raised the issue of Iraq and Palestine and the U.S. roles in both occupations.  His contribution was more graciously received, which neither or us understands.  I added that given the breath of U.S. imperialism and neo-liberalism, it behooves us to speak up for indigenous rights of those either directly or indirectly under U.S. occupation.  At this point I was again dismissed “We don’t need a history lesson.”

Apparently “we” do.

Andy and I could not figure out the difference in response to us, though in both cases, politely or impolitely, Palestine was brushed under the rug, and in both cases, we raised our hands, were recognized and expressed a similar point of view on an essentially relevant topic.  Neither of us were insulting or off topic. There was no reason, no apparent reason for her response.  The only difference we could discern was gender and disability.  Another possibility is that behind the scenes my union sisters from Los Angeles had warned the chair ahead of time, that I might bring up that issue.

My paranoia never exceeds the schemes of my adversaries.  Andy and I had strategized how to avoid the two members, “Mildred” and “Camile”,  of the HRC who were in attendance.   But nothing prepared us for what was really in store.

After three days of trying to negotiate a conference in which I was one of a handful of wheelchairs users,  and the only one in the U.S. delegation, I suggested at a delegation breakfast meeting that two seats on the aisle be reserved for me and Andy, so that I could have access to my scooter and still sit with the delegation.  Reg Weaver, the NEA president, who walks with the assistance of a cane, made note of how much better I was walking that day from previous days.  This provoked many of the people at the table next to us, full of UTLA members, including two UTLA officers (Julie Washington, Lois Bradford) and “Camile”, to break out in laughter. 

“Is something funny about that?”  I asked. 

Now, there are three answers to this question, two of which provide perfect refuge for bigots. 

  1. “No, I’m sorry we were laughing at something else.”  (With either real or feigned sincerity.)
  1. “We weren’t laughing.” (With noticeable sarcasm.)

or the third answer, which is the answer with impunity, that was delivered, by UTLA House of Reps member, “Tammy”, a woman I have never worked with or even spoken to. 

“Yep, it’s funny!  Yep it’s funny!”  Loud and with arms crossed.

To add fuel to their fire, we had forgotten to charge my wheelchair the night before, so were charging it during breakfast, at the only available outlet, which was near very wide double door leading to the stairs, it was one of three exits from the large meeting room.   I had to negotiate the room without the scooter, which on good days, or short distances, is not a problem.  But for bigots like the women at the laughing table, who feel that if one can walk one day, one isn’t really disabled (why they care?) it just increases their justification for humiliation and ostracism.

Reg insisted that no one had laughed at me, and Andy rose and explained part of the history, and that there had in fact been quite a bit of laughter at the table next to us, and that there had been a problem with gossip about my disability. 

“Tammy” stood, approached the mic and announced that she didn’t understand what the problem was, that all I had to do was look around the hall, that there were plenty of chairs. 

She was right, there were plenty of chairs; in the back; not with the delegation.

Now, what level of depravity or desire for belonging, or bitterness, or bigotry or self-hatred, would behoove “Tammy”,  an African-American woman to tell anyone that their place should be silently and happily in the back of the room!??

After the program ended, Reg  Weaver came over to talk to me.  He  is generally a sympathetic man,  but like many, often respond to an injustice by attempting to find fault with the target and not the marksman.  It’s easier that way, to blame the victim.  The victim is only one, usually, alone and less powerful.  If it’s the vicitm’s fault, there’s no problem and then, there’s no conflict.  This is typical of how teachers handle teasing and bullying in the classroom.  It’s just easier that way.  The target leaves, the problem is gone; much easier than taking on a powerful and organized clique.  He suggested it wasn’t my disability that upset people but the way I handle myself. It’s a ridiculous assertion.  Did their dislike of me, regardless, ever justify their ridicule of my disability?  Perplexed at when he had seen me “handle myself,” as our contact had been very minimal, and certain that his point of view was fueled by gossip, I asked him what he  meant.  “Was there something wrong with my initial request for a seat?”  He assured me there was not.  He gave as an example, my behavior at the Indigenous Rights Conference in bringing up the issue of Palestine, which he had not attended.  That is, his point of view was only fueled by what he had been told.  Andy and I relayed to him what really had happened and I pointed out to him that the president of Education International is from COSATU, the South African Federation of Unions, which has declared Israeli apartheid to be worse than South African apartheid, that to limit discussion on that issue was totally out of line. But I was really hurt by this admonition  and the preceding humiliation, and made my points without the decorum that this assembly respects (the negative peace!) ; behind the scenes, indirect, with deference to power and prestige and only the most minimal recognition of real human rights or the challenges and confrontation that the fight for social justice always exacts. 

Which is really the rule I broke: the emphasis on manners and decorum, that strangely doesn’t apply to the laughing women or to Howard’s ridicule at the Human Rights Committee Retreat the year before.

At that point people converged on Andy and me, both sympatico and antipatico.

I felt all connection to my legs go, which often happens under extreme stress and I sent Andy to get my wheelchair.  UTLA Elementary Education Vice President,  Julie Washington, who was seated at the laughing table,  and had made no attempt to contradict the bigoted ridicule, or defend my right to basic access.  (all I asked for was a seat at the table!!) told me I wasn’t helping Andy.  That was her entire contribution.  She didn’t offer me support, solidarity or compassion nor had she admonish “Tammy”  or the others, for the ridicule; she had been at the HRC retreat, and the dock in Philadelphia.   I’m sure had heard  “Camile’s” gossip, and unlike Reg, was totally aware of the social dynamic “You need to speak up Julie.”  I told her. Neither she nor anyone else at that laughing table, full of UTLA members, admonished, disassociated themselves from or denounced the bigoted behavior of the laughing UTLA members.  It’s safe to say that at the very least, their silence was complicit.

While Andy was getting my chair, Julie left me and went over to him, and reportedly told him the same: that I wasn’t helping him any.  What did she want him to do?  In addition to the humiliation I had already endured, did she want him to demand obedience and passivity in the face of discrimination and humiliation? Can you imagine the private conflict in our hotel room, she was lobbying for!?  Michael Novick is right when he says the problem is one of a lack of sisterhood! The next time she saw me was at Barbara’s funeral, at which point she extended an unsolicited hug “Emma, we haven’t seen you since Berlin.”  Amazing!

Shirley Howard, The Chair of the NEA Physically Challenged, Caucus approached me and also, in the sea of people, made greater issue with my anger than with the indignity. She might have introduced herself to me, not after a problem erupted, to silence me, but perhaps on the first day of the conference to let me know how she might help me negotiate a difficult social rubric, where niceties are the mandate, and more is resolved behind the scenes than in open discussion, where gossip is deadly and recourse limited. I don’t know what her disability is, as it was not visibly apparent, and perhaps she doesn’t understand the nuances of maneuvering in a scooter.  Nonetheless, her inability to advocate for disability rights calls into question her ability to serve as national chair within NEA, advocating for PWDs.  Her role in this situation was clearly to enforce the status quo, to bring my protestations into line and to quell her own embarrassment.  Perhaps she was also offended that anyone would speak to the issue in ways beyond her own, that perhaps we had upstaged her, that this was her territory and in defending myself, I had stepped on her toes.

“Tammy” approached me and told me that she hadn’t laughed at me,  which of course, was not true.  Then she said something so amazingly outrageous.  She told me she didn’t have a problem with my disability (why should she?) but she did have a problem with my wheelchair, because it could be in the way during a fire when everyone else needed to run down the stairs!!!!

(For those who don’t get it; wheelchairs don’t go down stairs. What did she want me to do?  Burn quietly in the corner?)

Andy and I left,  making our way down a long hallway through the staffing area,  to the tiny elevator, provided for disability access,  and “Tammy” with two friends, apparently opting not to take the more proximitous stairs,  had the nerve to follow us into the elevator,  admonishing me on the ride down, to think positive!  That was my problem in the first place; I mistakenly thought that a simple and positive request to participate would receive a positive response. Positive thinking can have devastating consequences.  I often do better when I am prepared for the worst.   

These conflicts have been very trying.  What we learned in Philadelphia and Berlin is that I’m not welcome even as his partner, at a breakfast meeting or a social gathering related to his union work.  This is no longer about power within the HRC.  That’s been established.  I’ll never chair another conference, host the listserve or master the web page.  (Not that anyone has stepped in to really take on those tasks, but that wasn’t the point, was it?)  We’ve had difficult waters to navigate.  One would think, with all the power politics, and the people who claim to be loyal to Andy, that they would give him the respect of treating me with at least the most superficial courtesies.  Later that summer, and in Berlin as well, Andy has been approached by HRC members wishing reconciliation, but adding that that doesn’t include me.  Strange, there’s no position or action that I took, that Andy didn’t take as well, but for some reason, I’ve been the target.  He’s suffered as well, though the party line is his behavior is due to my bad influence.

We’ve struggled with the imbalance.  I remember in discussions on racism, on being confronted with the exclusivity of her church, one woman said she wouldn’t invite her Black friends because they wouldn’t be comfortable, to which the answer was “Why do you belong to that church?” 

Andy has national stature in an organization where it has been made clear to me, should I even show up for breakfast, I will be confronted with extreme levels of humiliation.

Back in the room, we tried to figure out what to do next.   Everyone who had just humiliated me was staying at this hotel.  They couldn’t be avoided, even if I didn’t participate in the conference.  It was like being back in grade school.  I couldn’t just ignore them.  Strange advice we give the targets of bullies, as if the target sought out the bully and not the other way around.  You can’ t ignore people if they go out of their way to interfere with and harass you.  This pithy advice puts the burder for solving  and absorbing the problem once more, on the victim. There was no internet access in the hotel room.  If I went to breakfast, at any of the restaurants in the hotel lobby, sat at a table to check my email, left the hotel to go somewhere, these people could not be avoided.  I was a goldfish in a fish bowl.  They had sought out, provoked and took visible pleasure in my pain, suffering and discomfort;  (in children, a sign of immaturity, in adults a clear indication of sociopathy!)  If they simply didn’t like me, they could have left me alone.  (What did they care if I sat on the aisle? Why walk all the way down the hallway to go into a tiny elevator when the stairs would do? ) If we stayed at the hotel,  I would feel uncomfortable and unsafe every time I left the hotel room.

At considerable expense, we decided to change hotels, and Andy would continue at the conference once we got settled.  In the midst of the physical task of packing, I fell in the hotel room.  My coordination had been compromised by the stress of the morning.  I hurt all over. This had been my biggest fear; them laughing at me if I fell.  I never anticipated them laughing because I was walking better. 

We found a hotel away from the conference in downtown Berlin.   It took us most of the next day to settle in.  Andy made his way back to the conference two days later, spoke to what had happened and gave the history for those not from Los Angeles.  “All she asked for was a seat at the table.”

Members of the delegation, not from Los Angeles, let him know that we had been missed and that they had saved seats for us.  Reg told Andy to tell me he was sorry. His offer of an apology was kind, appropriate, and appreciated, but a public offense deserves a public apology. Something I doubt I will ever get from any of the parties involved, either for their overt actions of exclusion or their silent duplicity.   And he also asked when I might apologize. For what?  Expressing appropriate outrage at humiliating and discriminating behavior?  This was nothing like my outburst at Howard’s house at the retreat, for which I did apologize. In Berlin I started my protest with an inquiry “Is something funny about that?”  to make sure that I hadn’t misunderstood.  My tormentors, apparently confident that there would be no stigma attached to their ridicule, confirmed my understanding of their intentions “ yes it’s funny!” followed by my  (and Andy’s) clear and appropriate protestation of the ridicule.  (Funny, why didn’t Andy owe an apology?) Otherwise, was I supposed to laugh along, take a joke, or a poke?  Who is responsible for assuring peace at these gatherings, real peace, not the negative peace.*  Why is the target of the ostracism the one, the ONLY one held responsible for the breach?

Suddenly Last Summer- Part 2 No Good Germans

No Good Germans

First of all, a bit of terminology.  “good germans”, in the Jewish neighborhood I grew up in,  referred to the Germans who under Nazi rule, didn’t participate in the genocide, but rather, simply did nothing. 

So, here I was, in Germany; Jewish, socialist, in a wheelchair (my scooter), and at a labor conference; four capital offenses under that former regime.  But what I experienced was truly amazing!!!!

Our first clue that things would be different, occurred in Munich.  We arrived and, unlike U.S. accommodations, PWDs don’t have the option of having our wheelchairs delivered to the plane.  We have to pick them up at another locations, transported by the wheelchairs provided by the airline, pushed by airline personnel. 


The man assigned to push me was really rude, not listening to me, going ahead of my carry on bags, leaving Andy behind to carry everything.  Basically treating me like luggage.  Some of this may have been due to lack of a common language, but the dissatisfaction in my voice was very clear.  I told him to stop and he kept pushing me.  Finally I stood up, so he couldn’t push me, and he pushed the wheelchair into me.  Fueled by this shot of adrenaline, I made my way back to the plane, sat down in the seat, and clearly upset, explained to the flight attendant what had happened. 

What she didn’t say was; “I can’t help you if you don’t calm down.”


 I hear that a lot and its (hm, no better word available here)  BULLSHIT!!!! Of course we can help people when they’re upset, in fact that’s usually when people need help.  What’s the point of helping people when they’re totally content?  Really now!!!

What she did say, in English was,  “He DID that!?  I’m going to tell him off!” 

And guess what happened?

I calmed down!!!!


Problem solved. 

We got to the gate of our connecting flight from Munich to Berlin.  In the U.S. lifting people in wheelchairs up stairs,  is not considered an accommodation, but rather a dangerous and patronizing response to lack of access.  After the Human Rights Committee retreat*  I really understood the importance of access,  the ability to come and go without assistance or permission, when I had to obtain help from those ridiculing me, to get my walker down the stairs.  At the gate we were told that I would be preboarded and would be carried up the stairs.  Now, I can get up stairs with some effort, but would have difficulty carrying my bags.  Andy has arthritis, so stairs and portage are also problems for him.  With my scooter, I can drag one bag with wheels, and carry at least one more in my baskets.  All of this  “assistance” leaves Andy with most of the responsibility for all the carry on luggage, which for us, including medical equipment, is considerable.

I realized I didn’t have a grasp of the laws governing access and that I was a tourist in this country, so there was little I could do.  My displeasure was noted, though muted.  The next announcement we heard was that the flight would be delayed 20 minutes.  Then, as boarding began, the attendant approached us and told us we would be post boarded, but that boarding for this flight would now be via jet-way.

It would appear that the entire flight was delayed and the plane moved from the tarmac and stairs to the jet-way, motivated simply by a subtle grimace.  A far cry from the dehumanizing, humiliating experience stateside PWDs  routinely experience when traveling by air. 

Dorothy, you’re not in Hollywood anymore!

We checked into the hotel, and the next day found ourselves negotiating the streets and public transportation of Berlin.  There were PWDs  EVERYWHERE!  –in the subway, the market, the museums, the restaurants, the shops, with families, in beer gartens.  It wasn’t that the physical obstacles didn’t exist.  At the Pergemon Museum,  home of (expropriated) Nefertiti’s bust and the Gate of Ishtar; listed on line as partially accessible, there was a lift to get up the stairs to the ticket counter, and a maze of passageways, elevators, locked doors etc. to get to the main exhibits, requiring the extremely gracious accompaniment of a museum staff member.  At one point I got to a landing in the museum only to find two steps into the hall blocking my access.  Before Andy, only seconds behind me, could catch up, strangers ran to the docent to let him know I needed assistance.  The subway, for the most part is accessible, but there are subway cars that extend a difference of as much as 5 inches above the platform, making direct access impossible.  Again, without provocation, volunteers magically appeared to help lift my beast onto and off the subway.  On elevators, people moved to make room for me.  No elevator was ever too crowded.  Huge difference from amerikan elevators, where people rush in front of me, filling the elevator, so that,  unable to maneuver as quickly, I have to wait for the next one or the next one or the next one, or risk social stigma by speaking up;   “excuse me, but I was here first!”  And my scooter, an ambulatory anomaly in Europe, where both the semi-ambulatory and the para and quadriplegic all use standard wheelchairs, was somehow never in the way, never incurred the wrath of the people around us.  At restaurants I prefer to sit at the table or booth, next to my scooter; I find it more comfortable and more convenient.  In one establishment we asked for a space that would not be in the way, so accustomed we were to trying not to take up too much space.  They showed us to a table, where my scooter would be clearly in the line of traffic the wait staff used to get from the restaurant to the kitchen.  We thought at first they would want me to park the chair out of the way, as is the custom too often in Amerikan establishments, forcing me to sit some distance from my ambulatory device.  NO, they insisted I park the scooter next to the table, and graciously and effortlessly changed their own path to and from table and kitchen.  Later that day we went to the Berkinstock store, a tiny establishment in Alexanderplatz.  There was no where to put the scooter, as I tried on shoes,  that didn’t block display racks.  We were uncomfortable with the space it took up, but neither the staff nor the patrons were at all bothered by the presence of the Beast, nor did they understand our preoccupation with the space it took up.  At another restaurant, one step barred access.  We opted to park the scooter right outside, in sight of our table. The diminutive wait staff person would think nothing of it, weighing no more than 100 pounds  (or should I say 45 kg?)  she lifted the scooter into the restaurant herself!

Despite all my protestations stateside, it became apparent how extremely we had internalized the (both spoken and unspoken) mandate that the accommodation to disability be the individual responsibility of the “cripple” and not the greater society.   What became clear to me in Germany of all places, is the difference between physical barriers and social barriers.  The physical barriers still existed in many places.  What had changed were social perceptions; the collective understanding of the essential value of full inclusion and the collective responsibility for this inclusion.

Germany is a remarkable destination for Amerikan travelers.  Many people speak fluent English, and being a Saxon language, we arrive already knowing tens of thousands of words, we just don’t know which ones!  Additionally, having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, where many people had names that are also German words (Selbst, Klein, Stein, Rosen, Thal), along with a minimal exposure to Yiddish (an non-standard dialect of German, spoken by Ashkenazi Jews),  I had arrived having been exposed to many German words, albeit out of context, but the sounds themselves were familiar. Within a week (due to both primary language support, previous knowledge and contextual clues) I had acquired a minimal ability to use German to actually negotiate meaning.  I think, within a summer, without instruction I would be able to pick up much of the language.

After one day on the streets of Berlin, I said to Andy “If I have to go out alone, strangers will help me.”

Aside from the one initial experience with the porter at the airport in Munich, I was spared the daily humiliation I have come to expect in the states.  If it weren’t for the brutal winters, I might even consider living here. 

Germany has a growing Jewish community, is actually the preferred destination of emigrating Jews.  (So much so, that the Israeli government petitioned Germany to limit Jewish immigration, so that refugee Jews from the former Soviet Union would be forced to migrate to Israel.)  Now, for those unfamiliar with my face, I am not one of the more European looking Jews.  I don’t pass.  (Though back home,  Arabs and Armenians often confuse me for one of their own.) 

What explains this change in social attitudes?  A Jew, a “cripple” a socialist, a labor activist—4 death penalties little more than half a century ago, winding freely down the streets of a new Berlin, on a strange device, feeling freer than I have felt in years, wondering how far back Germany’s right of return policy might extent.  This is the question any human rights activist might ask.  What accounts for this very real change in values? This very different understanding of space, of place, of community, of membership?