Friday, August 26, 2016

People Power

ADAPT teaches direct action to youth leaders

By Allison Donald
Alison Donald
Sunday April 19, 2015 changed my perspective on the power that I possessed being a person with a disability.  I was marching in line with people from all over the United States and we had come together as a collective force to declare access is a civil right in the streets of Washington DC.  I was nervous and fraught with anticipation, because I had never been a part of anything like this in my life.  

I don’t know if it was the stories that Sher Stewart would share with me about her and Deborah Cunningham’s numerous arrests or Michael Heinrich sitting with me in the capital and explaining to me why this movement is so urgent and necessary, or maybe it was the sense of freedom and belonging I felt, because for once this square peg fit into a round hole.  I was hooked and I knew where I had found a home with ADAPT.  I wanted to learn as much as I could which led me to Rochester, New York to attend the ADAPT Youth Conference August 5th-9th.

I had attended three ADAPT actions, but I was always one of the troops following orders.  I knew this time would be different, because I was going to be forced out of my comfort zone by our teachers Josue Rodriguez, German Parodi, and Nicki.  My specific purpose for being there was to learn the strategies and develop into a community organizer that could lead effectively and efficiently as a representative of the Memphis Center for Independent Living and Mid- South ADAPT.  

The first half of day during the workshop were led by Josue Rodriguez.  The activities he planned for the group were designed to make us challenge ourselves and ask ourselves how we upset the balance of power in such a way that those in power had no choice, but to offer us a seat at the negotiating table.  The highlight for me during those exercises were the mock action we put on in the halls off the center in Rochester.  It was intense and I think Josue was slightly injured, but it was needed to test each individual’s limits.  

After lunch, the focus shifted to the issues that affect so many in our community.  German Parodi and Nicki usually led those spirited discussions.   These conversations offered a welcomed break to the work that was ahead.  One conversation in particular drew the ire of everyone in the room.  German asked “If you could be cured of your disability would you take the chance?” This is not a new debate, but to hear the comments of post ADA babies was invigorating and is proof that this debate will be never ending.

Allison Donald at the ADAPT Youth Leadership training
Each exercise and conversation helped us foster a sense of trust and open the channels of communication among the group of trainees both of which is needed in abundance to strategize, plan and execute a successful action.  As a final test we were given the task of planning an action against an inaccessible restaurant just down the street from where the workshop was being taught.  

We had about twelve hours to identify the target, come up with a viable strategy, and execute so that those individuals in mobility devices would be assured equal access to the establishment.  I was assigned to the negation team, but could enter the building due to the scooter I was riding.  Now that I think about it kind of ironic that why we were there.  

As with every action everything didn’t go as planned, but it followed its own divine design and we ultimately gained the access we came demanding.  At the end of the workshop I was exhausted, but the sleepless nights and ink stained hands were worth it for the sense of accomplishment we felt as community and most importantly the bond we built as a family, because we are the children of the gang of nineteen.