Confronting the D.C. Power

by Michael Williams

Reprinted from The Independent, Summer 1977

The struggle for strong 504 regulations could not have been successful without sending a contingent from the San Francisco Federal Building to Washington D.C. The powers that be of Region Nine were willing to let the occupants of the fourth floor sit there forever while Secretary Califano gutted and signed the Regs.

We weren’t about to let that happen. We had struggled too hard, for too long, to let some bureaucratic clique sell thirty million Americans down the river.

A selection committee from the building picked the group to go to Washington. It included all disability and minority groups represented among the building people.

We got to the airport and rolled to the appointed flight gate preceded by a gaggle of camera lenses, flash bulbs and microphones. We had become a hot news item.

We landed at Dulles International Airport at 11:00 that night. Dulles is a glass bubble out in the middle of nowhere. It was deserted except for what appeared to be a few tired businessmen (or lower echelon government flunkies) in rumpled suits and ties.

And us. We were getting settled in our wheelchairs, our batteries were being hooked up; all the while we were being watched by the prying eyes of several TV cameras.

Then we went out to meet our transportation: a moving van. It was provided by members of the International Association of Machinists, one of our staunchest supporters.

To say we saw little of the city during our ten days there would be an understatement. We spent most of our time riding around in our windowless moving van, which had the suspension of a broken down covered wagon, traveling through the bowels of House and Senate office buildings, and above all, keeping up the pressure on Carter and Califano.

This was the key to everything. We never let Carter and Califano forget we were there. We stayed at Luther Place Church in downtown Washington. No sooner had we gotten settled in our quarters than we were off for Califano’s home for a candlelight vigil. He went to work that morning via the back door.

This game of hide-and-go-seek went on the entire time. On Sunday we demonstrated across the street from Carter’s church. All the while we were watched by security men on the roof of the building next door. Carter avoided facing us by entering the church by a side door and exiting by a rear door. It was at that moment I knew we were going to win the fight. We had spent all week lining up congressional and senatorial support, a group of us had met with Carter’s chief domestic advisor, Stuart Eisenstadt, and now we had made the President of the United States take it on the lam. That’s power.

But we wouldn’t have had that power without the hard work and dedication of the people that held the fourth floor of the Federal Building in San Francisco. Together we faced the might of the Federal Government and won a victory that will have far-reaching effects for disabled people for years to come.

Last updated April 11, 1997 by Dorothy Dillon & Jean Nandi

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