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I was there . . .

Erik von Schmetterling

Philadelphia, 1989

Erik von Schmetterling reads his narrative.

Erik von Schmetterling

ADAPT COMES TO PHILLY

Philly meets ADAPT on May 1, of 1989 and I was there! ADAPT came to Philadelphia to support attorney Tim Cook in the very important case regarding our right to ride public transportation ADAPT vs Burnley. This case was being reheard by the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. ADAPT wanted to remind everyone involved with this case that it was a civil rights case for disabled people to truly be free they had to be able to get from a to b.

Not everyone from ADAPT could make that Action since there was very little notice, but even with the short notice there was quite a good turn out. There was representation from California, Colorado, Washington, DC, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Disabled In Action gave a lot of support to this Action as did Cord who brought a lot of people from Massachusetts.

Friday the ADAPT protesters gathered at the Federal Court building, after only four protesters got inside the building the security officers blocked all the entrances. Thus, the negotiations began. ADAPT was told that Attorney General Thornburg was on a plane and could not be reached. Finally after sometime passed and they knew we meant business they came back and told us that they found Mr Thornburg and that he would be willing to speak directly to us. In that meeting people felt that he was visually moved with how important this was to the disabled community. Carol Marfisi was among the ADAPT people who participated in that meeting.

Saturday other Philly members joined ADAPT in attempting to board buses that did not have a lift. ADAPT members crawled on buses, others chanted, held signs and blocked buses after about one hour the police came by and asked us what would it take to get us off the street. By this time we had blocked three lanes of traffic. We agreed to leave if that could get us some media and they went off and tried to get the news to come out and see what we were doing.

Sunday the sun shined as we got ready for our March and Vigil. Many of us dressed in revolutionary garb, wigs, the three-corner hat, and long dresses. Lori Eastwood, Babs Johnson and Diane Coleman had made a flag just like old glory but the stars formed the international access sign.

We marched from Independence Hall as its bells rang at 4:00 pm on the eve of our historic case. We marched through cobbled streets chanting: “Access is a civil right,” and “We will ride.” We march for justice; we knew we could not lose. We formed a circle around the Liberty Bell. We listened to the history and when the building closed we shared are own stories about the struggle for transportation and Mark Johnson read the Declaration of Independent for Disabled People. We started to chant again and we planned to do our vigil at the liberty bell; but we where forcefully removed by the police.
Diane Coleman behind the Liberty Bell.
This did not stop ADAPT. We instead slept in front of the Federal Building, and in the wee hours of early morn, we could be found grilling some hotdogs and watching ourselves on TV. It got very chilly but as we listened to the story we realized that we wanted to be on every ADAPT Action from now on. ADAPT folks where cool and nothing would stop them from getting the word out about are rights. I knew “we would ride” with ADAPT on the case. All night long the media folks kept coming and our stories were all over the news.

That night Cassie, John and I slept out with ADAPT. We vowed to support ADAPT in all their future actions.

Tim Cook did a great Job in court and many more advocates from Philly joined to hear the case in the morning. This was an important case. The cap on spending was removed so it was possible to make public transportation accessible, an important step in getting access in public transportation.

Back then our dream was to get on the bus and now we do ride! Tim Cook was ADAPT first Lawyer, we all miss Tim. He worked here in Philadelphia and Steve Gold was a mentor. Often they worked on transportation cases together. We as disabled people look back at Tim Cook’s life and realize that much of his early adult life was spend working on our right to ride public transportation and he also worked on access cases. He had a National law practice committed to disability cases in Washington DC.

 


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