The Saga of Action for Disability AssistanceBY MAX OBUSZEWSKI
While incarcerated in January 1995, I read about newly-elected Governor Parris Glendening's Prince George's County cronies. They were using golden parachutes, courtesy of the taxpayers, to join his Annapolis staff. Because this was exposed, the Governor was forced to retreat. However, another scandal—Glendening's elimination of the Disability Assistance Loan Program (DALP) -- got scant coverage. Only after my release did I find out about the elimination of DALP, as professors and students at the University of Maryland at Baltimore were calling for a response. So Action for Disability Assistance (ADA) was formed to agitate for the restoration of DALP, which had loaned 22,000 adults with disabilities $157 a month and provided them with health care coverage.
ADA organized demonstrations in Baltimore and outside the Governor's home near College Park. And on March 9, 1995, a delegation went to the State House. Under pressure, Glendening agreed to meet with the delegation and urged ADA to work with him. He refused to restore DALP, however, citing federal cutbacks. So four of us refused to leave, and several hours later we were arrested. Two months later, the state asked to have the case placed on the inactive docket. We accepted the offer, once the state agreed with our request to make a statement in court.
Despite the Governor's offer to work together, his office rebuffed all ADA attempts to meet on the matter of disability assistance. ADA continued its protests.
In early November, at a Camden Yards press conference, the Governor announced he was bringing the National Football League Browns to Baltimore. The state, unwilling to fund DALP, is prepared to give Art Modell, the Browns' owner, the mother of all sweetheart deals. And Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of Washington's NFL franchise, agreed to move his team to Maryland when he was able to jump on board the state's gravy train. ADA banners and leaflets would now focus on the issue of corporate welfare.
On November 9, 1995, ADA activists went to the Governor's office in Baltimore and met with Terence Curtis, director of constituent services. He assured us a response would be forthcoming to an ADA letter requesting budget data about disability assistance.
After failing to receive a response, ADA members went back on November 27. This delegation was confronted, though, and denied access to Mr. Curtis. Shawn Brennan, Steven Soifer and I were soon arrested and charged with refusing to leave a public building upon request [not more than a $1,000 fine or six months of incarceration] and disorderly conduct [$500 and/or 60 days].
On December 7, the Governor announced a partial restoration of cash assistance of $100 to some former DALP recipients. This did not mollify ADA which wants a significant increase in the cash assistance and other improvements to the program On April 17, 1996, the date set for the ADA trial, a support demonstration was held outside the Governor's office building on St. Paul Street. The defendants and supporters then went to District Court on North Avenue for the afternoon trial. One pre-trial matter for Judge Theodore Oshrine to resolve was the government's motion to quash the defendants' subpoena for all budget material relating to disability assistance.
However, the case did not go to trial. The government offered to place the charges on the inactive docket as long as the three activists would perform 25 hours of community service.
The defendants objected, reminding the court they had not been convicted. The prosecutor backed off on community service, and we accepted the agreement, but urged those in court to work on the restoration of DALP. Judge Oshrine promised to read the ADA literature.
The question remains: Why were ADA activists, intent on participating in the process of allocating funds for people with disabilities, arrested and prevented from obtaining budgetary information?
Nevertheless, ADA activists continue to shadow the Governor. On April 16, ADA held a demonstration outside radio station WJHU when the Governor appeared on a talk show. Approaching the demonstrators afterwards, Glendening suggested working together. But he gave no indication that he recognizes there is a disability crisis.
When the Governor appeared at Martin's West on April 26 to address a state committee for people with disabilities, more than a dozen ADA activists were there carrying a "Restore DALP, Have a Heart" banner. This same banner was carried in the Preakness Parade and then used at several of the Preakness Week events.
The Preakness Ball at the Renaissance Hotel was a $250 affair, but ADA member Lin Romano managed to charm her way into the festivities. Once inside, she found the Governor and reminded him of the plight of people with disabilities. And later, she used an open microphone to express her concern to all of the attendees. As the police took her away, many of the hotel employees applauded her courageous stance. No charges were filed.
Sister Helen Prejean admits in her book Dead Man Walking her initial reluctance "to stand on the side of the poor." Her enlightenment came in June 1980 when another nun pointed out that to claim a neutral position in the face of glaring societal injustices was a very political position to take, on the side of the oppressors. Unenlightened politicians, though, still blame the poor, causing ADA member Sharon Holloway to write this in a letter to The Sun: "State and federal leaders should be striving to gain bipartisan support for a family-sustaining wage and end poverty as we know it--not welfare."
ADA has other activities planned, including a June 22 party designed to raise the consciousness of all party-goers. The Governor is to be invited. If you care to stand on the side of the poor or to attend the party, ADA can be reached at 467-3263.