Michigan Action Report: Michiganders with Disabilities Loud and Proud

By Eleanor Canter

On Thursday, September 17, 2015, a group of approximately twenty individuals with disabilities met at the crosswalk leading to the State Capitol Lawn, where a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities act was about to begin.

Three members of Peer Action Alliance of Muskegon were joined by the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan and several local ADAPT chapters. Excitement was in the air. As we shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other, we were approached by six state police officers who informed us that we would not be allowed into the event.

We asked if it was a public event and they said it was not.  We asked if Capitol grounds were open to the public and they replied that they were. We again asked if this was a public event and they replied that it was but that we would not be permitted to enter. We told them that we hadn’t broken any laws. They said that they knew that we intended to disrupt. We told them that was our first amendment right. They told us that they would physically stop us from entering the event. We asked what criteria were being used to keep people out of the event. They didn’t answer. We asked if the event organizers asked the state police to keep us out. They replied that they had. We asked who specifically gave the orders to keep us out and they stared straight ahead and refused to answer further questions.

Protesters blocked by police barricade signs say end subminimum wage and Capitol not ADA compliantWe kept asking questions, and after several hours they told us that we were determined to be a security threat. I told them that we intended to use our voices and that we are non-violent demonstrators. We asked how they determined that we were a security risk and they refused to answer.

For three hours we screamed “Let us in!” The police told me that if I turned my bullhorn on they would take it from me, so we screamed for hours. “SARA GRIVETTI – LET US IN!”

On the 25th anniversary of the ADA, Sara Grivetti, the “collective voice of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living,” literally erected a metal barricade enforced by six state police officers with guns and Tasers to protect her audience from dangerous words on poster board carried by 20 people with significant disabilities. We did not allow the irony of a literal barrier being erected in order to exclude people with disabilities on the 25th anniversary of the ADA to go unnoticed. As the speakers bloviated about the progress made by the ADA, disabled people were forcibly and physically excluded.

They heard us. Our voices thundered against the Capitol walls, even from our position outside the event. While we were often unable to hear the speakers on stage, they had no trouble hearing us.

The old chant “What do we want? ACCESS! When do we want it? Now!” took on new meaning.

More state police came, and the plain-clothed head of the Capitol police. Joe Harcz, a member of our group, tried to pass the barrier and was brought down by at least three police officers, handcuffed, and literally dragged up the center aisle of the ADA event, past a crowd of at least 300 people. In the three hours we spent asking to be let in to the event, never once did an event organizer approach us. No one, including several members of the audience who agreed with our position, received an answer as to why people with disabilities were being kept out of the event – a direct violation of our civil rights.

The police charged Joe Harcz, a 60 year old blind man and a member of our group, with resisting arrest and forced him to pay $250 to be released from jail after simply trying to walk onto public property and exercise his first amendment rights. They accused him of assaulting a police officer when his white cane hit one of them as he went down. Is this representative of America? Is this the Independent Living Movement? We know that it is not. We will be working together to help Joe defend himself in court and mount a defense. Sara Grivetti, acting as an agent of the State of Michigan, conspired to deprive Michiganders with disabilities of our civil rights. That cannot stand.

We came to the event to protest subminimum wages for people with disabilities.

Man holding up sign that reads Why isn't our State Capitol compliant with the ADA after 25 yearsWe had buttons, stickers, signs, and chants. We had ADA25 t-shirts and the Road to Freedom Bus Tour. We chanted “No more MARO, No more Peckham; Hey hey, ho ho – sheltered work has got to go; and Stop the lies – cut the ties”.  We did several interviews with the media. Our signs read “End segregated work now; End subminimum wages; We are not your cash cows; Fair wages; Goodwill – There’s no power at 50 cents an hour; and CILs and SILC – Do your job”.

We want our Statewide Independent Living Council, Disability Network/Michigan (Statewide Association of CILs) and our Centers for Independent Living to stop financially supporting subminimum wage lobbying by way of membership in the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations. MARO is an association of subminimum wage employers. Michigan citizens with disabilities feel that Independent Living dollars – which come directly from taxpayers – should not be used to support subminimum wage employment.

For too long, we have witnessed a gradual corruption of Michigan’s Independent Living Program. Over the past year, under Sara Grivetti’s leadership, Michigan CILs have been taken over by subminimum wage employers, who also have control over our State Rehabilitation Council, Michigan Protection & Advocacy (including our Client Assistance Program), and many other organizations and entities that are charged with protecting the rights of people disabilities.

This is a black eye on America’s proud beautiful Independent Living Movement. We must stand up as a community to say no more!

The people in charge of Michigan’s IL Program no longer understand that consumer control is not optional. We are people with disabilities and we will not be silenced and sidelined from our own Independent Living Program.

Please – wherever you are, send a message to Sara Grivetti, Chair of the Michigan SILC and Executive Director of Disability Network/Michigan (Association of CILs). Help us break the stranglehold subminimum wage employers have on our Movement!

Sara Grivetti can be reached at sara@dnmichigan.onmicrosoft.com.

A tremendous amount of gratitude is owed to every brave soul who stood behind the barricade with us yesterday, including several members of the audience who joined us. Special thanks to Joe Harcz for his bravery; Susan Fitzmaurice for her organizing skills; Tom Olin for the Road to Freedom Bus and lifelong dedication to supporting the work of consumers nationwide; other friends at the national level who have supported and encouraged our work; members of the Michigan Federation of the Blind for their professionalism and obvious dedication to ending subminimum wages; and our friends at ADAPT, who we simply couldn’t do this without. We are truly humbled and literally in disbelief to see Michigan consumers rising from the ashes to resurrect our beloved Independent Living Program. Thank YOU!

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5 thoughts on “Michigan Action Report: Michiganders with Disabilities Loud and Proud

  1. I want to send you a message – if you are looking for an enemy, Sara Grivetti is not it. She has devoted the last several years of her life working to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. I know her personally and have seen, over and over, that her heart is in the right place. You need to do some soul searching and examine your motivation. Your negative, devisive techniques are misguided … Those of us with disabilities and those of us who care for people with disabilities need to work together to achieve our goals. We are all on the same side.
    Sincerely,
    Patty Rombalski

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    • We have spent the last year advocating for MI CILs to follow the law, comply with their contracts and honor the founding principles of the Independent Living Movement. We asked the people who have the power and responsibility to lead changes in the system. We wish the issues had been acknowledged and plans made in collaboration with the disability community to restore the values-based mandates of the Rehab Act. In 2014, we didn’t know the degree to which our grassroots movement had been compromised and degraded; we underestimated the power of opposition, and frankly, expected more integrity in government offices. We can’t in good conscience abandon the right of people with disabilities to design and deliver IL supports and services using community-based and consumer-controlled models.

      I don’t know what will be required to assure Michigan has a qualified IL Network that meets, exceeds, national standards. If you have any ideas about how to move forward, we welcome all offers to facilitate meaningful change.

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  2. Pingback: A Step Forward: Michigan SILC Agrees to End MARO Membership; Urge Our CILs to Follow Suit! | Peer Action Alliance

  3. Pingback: How the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Conspired with Disability Network to Violate First Amendment Rights of Michiganders with Disabilities on September 17 | Peer Action Alliance

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