Chief Sealth and the Independent Living Movement — (American Chronicle)

Original article no longer available

American Chronicle

Karen Cole 

I have some thirty years of experience writing and editing works for people. I have a combined degree in journalism, creative writing and the fine arts, and have been creating and editing books, documents and papers for people since well before 1980. I have worked on some 137 books over my lifetime of experience, ghost writing, copy editing, rewriting and proof reading for authors. I usually only take credit as the “editor” when I ghost write or copy edit for an author, and my fees are lower than industry standard rates.

You can visit my main website at Rainbow Writing, Inc. for more information about Rainbow Writing, Inc., which has been on the Internet since 2003. We are professional freelance book authors, ghost writers, copy editors, proof readers, rewriters, coauthors and website developers for quite cheap.

I have won awards for my journalism, poetry, short stories and articles. I am multiply published and have had my own novels, novellas, short stories and scripts published. I am currently working on The Rainbow Horizon, a humorous fiction novel set in a small town in Washington State, and it should be out sometime late this year or early next year. I have contributed to national and international magazines and newspapers, as well as several internet publications. I am always looking for new projects and clients.

OUR Center Park of the City of Seattle, named after local Native American leader Chief Sealth, was founded by “Our Lady” Ida May Daly. This wheelchair using soul had a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, or MS. While dying of this devastating illness, she procured enough public and private donations to buy a large square city block of land. It was located in an undervalued black and Catholic neighborhood five miles south of downtown metropolitan Seattle.

She then had a huge seven story brick and concrete apartment building, including a generous parking garage, erected onsite, which at the time was incredibly cheap land. She carefully built it to be completely wheelchair accessible, so that disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs, would have a place to actually thrive and live, instead of one in which to slowly die. She didn’t like what institutionalized living does to people, and how most institutions preach about an afterlife, mainly involving how you have to die to achieve it. She wanted disabled people to live longer lives.

I used to be quite sad at how the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to keep up a “preachy” attitude of going somewhere else when he died, probably meaning the grave, perhaps only to get rid of the fallacy of Hell for complex “sinners” – such as his politically active self. He would speak of “The Promised Land,” which most of the disabled I’ve met seem to think is somewhere up in Canada. I wouldn’t know myself, though.

Center Park, while not “The Promised Land,” is a dual winged red brick and white mortar concrete building containing some two hundred separate one and two bedroom apartment units. Made mostly of cinderblocks, it’s well insulated, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The residents have few complaints, except for those about Christians with overly religious attitudes who think they can get wheelchair people to “get up and walk.”

Via a strange coincidence of circumstances, Center Park is located in what in the eighties was still an African-American neighborhood that used to be white and mostly Catholic. There still are some people from those times who live there, as I have attended their major church once or twice, but the racial frictions are probably mostly gone by now. In the eighties I lived and worked there, and wondered deeply about life, the universe and everything. I was a trained professional writer and artist working a day job helping physically challenged people do their personal care and transfers.

Some of these people and their attendants were white and also partly descendants of local Native Americans, such as John Tyler, the man I started out working for, and his aide Virginia Jarvis. I happen to be part Cherokee Indian, of the “Trail of Tears” tribes. Chief Sealth was the Native American dignitary our Emerald City was named after, and he resides currently in a grave near an aboriginal people’s reservation. He was the leader of a tribe hereabouts, possibly the Duwamish. He gave a wonderful “final” speech where he handed over his tribal lands, the Duwamish were involved, and he asserted in a noble and peaceful way that “we” white people might be able to handle the wonderful privileges of living here.

But who is the true Chief of Seattle; is it the Mayor, or someone else? Many communities exist in our lovely area, led by many an interested tribe, party or person. But what makes a person such a being of involvement? Is it his or her heart, or brains, or beaucoup bucks, or the fact there must be someone important – for greatness to be thrust upon him or her?

Everyone needs to be a Somebody, like Jesse Jackson put it, saying that you really should become that somebody. To my memory that will always be John Tyler, who presided over one floor of Center Park as a disabled radical, fighting for the rights and freedoms of able-disabled Americans. He was a major force for getting the wheelchair lifts put on the city buses.

He was ably assisted by a Jewish Republican-cum-Democrat named Ronald Gary Schwarz, who “did a 180 degree left turn” politically when he entered a wheelchair, going from a ruthless Republican background into a bleeding heart liberal one. When he became disabled from MS, he finally found his life’s purpose, helping those who needed it by also being one of the people responsible for getting the lifts put on the buses. He lived down the hall on the same floor as John, and I worked live-in for both of them.

Life, however, has changed surely from what I saw at Center Park. It was the first apartment building built in the entire country for disabled people in wheelchairs. It got flooded by every other type of handicapped people who could find a way into it. The “laundry list” – meaning the applications, made out of paper in those times – was one thousand or more names long to get in. It looped ten times around the block, which mind you was more like a downtown office city block than a neighborhood one.

The office was run by ABs, in other words able-bodieds, and it was thought that if you did anything wrong when you reported problems to the office “lesbians” who ruled the building, you would be kicked out or sent to a mental ward. These women were overworked, overweight and underpaid, with no sense of humor, but who nonetheless smiled abysmally evil grimaces all the livelong day – and looked for excuses to kick you out or send you to another form of “The Poor House,” as they used to put it in the Dickensian days of author Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol.” Whichever place least suited; there you would most surely be stuck, if you didn’t mind your p’s and q’s.

As power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, those ladies ruled Center Park with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Mark Twain, alias Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had warned readers like me about the existence of such seeming Christian and God fearing ladies. He went on at great length about how merciless they were, when it comes to putting you in “your place;” I was finally forced to believe him. The office at Center Park of the Doldrums was sufficiently depressing in and of itself, as I said, back in the Precambrian Times.

This “precious pretty palace” for the handicapped back then – in spite of good intentions and its excellent reputation – was thought of as the hospital – or Death’s Door – by many. God’s verdant Land of Oz, an ode to our Emerald City, was however fully accessible outside, in a marvelous garden that led around half the perimeter of Center Park. It had a wide flat pathway twined around it, and it was as lush as the Garden of Eden, the temporary home of Adam and Eve. At the thought of sex, unavoidable by all of the disabled, you couldn’t go here to “get some.” But you could check into a nearby motel, which many disabled people there often did. They told me of their misadventures, which usually involved trying to talk someone able bodied of the opposite sex into a motel tryst, and then being left flat on one’s back on a motel room bed, unable to get up.

So what exactly is the place of each person, so physically challenged, you might wonder, given the fact disabled life before the Internet involved mostly only television zombie status – or wandering around for a stroll in your wheelchair outside, waiting for a life you could lead? Perhaps if you weren’t too disabled, you could find a small “job of work.” In those days, before Section 504 of the Washington State Code was put through, it was spectacularly hard for a disabled person to get work. Once that law was put through, it made it easier for a soul in a wheelchair or with any other disability or handicap to find work, given they were to be judged on the same basis as an able-bodied person.

It was kind of an affirmative action program, the sort of thing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dreaming of in the sixties. But John Tyler, the radical I spoke of before, most seemed to know about his place in the scheme of things being similar to Dr. King’s, albeit he didn’t always get along with black people. He also had a succinctly short death sentence of polio and sleep apnea hanging over his head while he did his level best to get rights for the disabled going. It was what he thought of as his place, along with a handful of other disabled, both men and women, who knew it was.

Do you think if you knew your life was short, you would bother to help others? At the most, your place would not be here – ere long. The place known as Center Park had a laundry room, was made out of heat retentive cinder blocks, which kept it warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and was fairly easygoing to live in, if you could avoid the office “mavens.” But during the eighties, before the days of the Internet, there was virtually nothing to do there but watch television and overeat. A lot of disabled people at Center Park gave up to smoking, drinking and drug doing, which was readily supplied by downtown Seattle denizens.

That’s one of the reasons people there were suicidal, but most were unable to complete the act. They had a few places to dally, such as a common room, partial to elderly lady gossips and no one else, and an arts and crafts center, much the same as at your basic under funded mental institution, but when the excrement hit the fan, there was nothing much doing but watching TV and shooting the breeze downstairs with your friends. I would hope for your understanding about the mental institution reference; there was usually a long line downstairs, called “the medications line,” and many of the disabled people at Center Park were on mental health medications.

Seattle and its neighboring town of Bremerton have been called the most livable cities in the world, but to some extent, there have been disabled people forced to only die there, pretty much out of sickness combined with utter boredom. Before Section 504 was put through, there wasn’t much in the way of jobs available to pass the time, so people got pretty bored, as their SSI (Social Security Income) didn’t afford much money for a good time out on the town. There was a small chess club going when I was there, but not much else, except for minor sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

While it was unknown whether he’d truly existed, the Legend of Center Park was the unknown savant in a manual wheelchair who managed to hump up one of the stairwells the entire seven stories, pick the roof’s lock by using a bobby pin, and push himself over the edge to his death on the street below. He purportedly did this solely out of sheer unadulterated boredom. Now Center Park has a nice monthly newsletter, run by “the Bushman,” Jim Bush, a friend of John Tyler’s – and the Internet. It may keep people in there out of nursing homes – for awhile at least.

Nobody in Center Park wants to live in “a rest home,’ because they kill people in there. Actually, they do, because they put them on psychiatric medications, and those eventually kill you. They’re horrible, and they even can make you high, which can make them hideously attractive. I see the pill line in my mind; there it is at Center Park when you give up trying. Pills are not a good thing to try to keep alive on. I would avoid them if I were you.

There’s still the most beautiful Adam and Eve garden you ever saw outside on the grounds of Center Park, which was really there. But they probably won’t let you smoke except for outside. Smoking was “not allowed” there back in the eighties. But the wondrous fairytale garden, a minor paradise of sorts, was looped around the building, and it but now lurks in my mind’s eye – it’s where two attendants of the disabled trysted, namely, me and my husband, Reggie Peralta. He and I were both personal care attendants, me in the home, and he in the hospital system. He and I dumped Center Park to get married and have children. We successfully had one daughter.

Anyway, the way of the world is that even disabled people must suffer from losing one attendant at a time, and have to retrain the new ones. There is a job involving Movement politics, the Independent Living Movement at least, awaiting you – if you care for caring for other people. In short, many of the disabled and handicapped people need attendants, and this article is yet another attempt to advertise for this job. You can find it in newspapers and on the Internet under “home health care aide” – and other such titles.

You don’t have to think of it as politics so much anymore because of the Internet. Also, it’s a nursing oriented job that can lead to wonderful factionalism among the compadres who gather and create new things that make this entire “Brave New World” (a spurious reference to a famous book by Aldus Huxley) into a wonderful place. Meanwhile, I know this is true, because I am now disabled physically where I wasn’t before. It’s due to some nasty medication for depression, which I do not ever recommend, and it was going to happen anyway. Nonetheless, I am still a professional book author, ghost writer, copy editor, proof reader, manuscript rewriter, coauthor, graphics and CAD artist, publishing helper, and website developer, with my own international services corporation.

You too can do terrific things with your life, such as writing for pay; all you need to do is apply with our company. We have years of experience and the entire world and much of the known universe at our disposal, thanks to the Internet and the World Wide Web. Who needs to be a suicidal “legend” – when you can live your life fully instead – in spite of major or minor physical and/or mental challenges? There’s writing to be done.

Isn’t life great?