A month after they set up a tent encampment on a median on Adeline, the Arnieville protesters are closing up camp – but they are not abandoning their cause.
While there will no longer be a cluster of tents along one of Berkeley’s busiest streets, those protesting proposed state budget cuts to in-house aides will take their fight to Sacramento’s streets and halls of government, according to Jean Stewart, one of Arnieville’s organizers.
“It’s been one month,” said Stewart, who became disabled after doctors removed a tumor in her hip, making it difficult for her to walk. “That makes us the longest-running disability protest in the United States. That makes us feel pretty good.”
A lot of the people who have been sleeping in tents for the past month are “really, really exhausted,” said Stewart, who returned to her Berkeley home a few times during the encampment to take a shower and regroup. The group has met its 30-day goal, she said.
The group of about 17 protesters will hold one final 2 pm site meeting on Thursday July 22 and then start to dismantle the tents and kitchen set up in the grassy median.
The focus will then shift towards educating the media about the shortsightedness of cutting In-House Support Services, said Stewart. The group is thinking about doing a “feed-in,” where people who need attendants to help them eat will gather at a restaurant. Then the press will be invited to watch them have a meal.
The group, which officially calls itself Communities United in Defense of Olmstead, or CUIDO, also plans to work with other disability activists to march on the Capitol and encourage the Legislature to hold hearings on the impact of cutting in-house attendants to the disabled.
California currently funds attendants to about 400,000 people. Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing to slash those services. Critics of his plan say that will force many disabled people into nursing homes, which will actually cost the state more than in-house aides.
“What the state is doing is wholly and completely unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated,” said Sheela Gunn-Cushman, who is blind and has mild cerebral palsy.
“Schwarzenegger is targeting a whole history of programs that people with disabilities, the poor, and the elderly depend on,” said Stewart. “Why would he do it? Because he can get away with it.”
Protesters first set up a tent city on the Adeline median on May 22. It stood for five days. Then the protesters set up another camp on June 22. There are currently 13 tents set up in a circle, some outfitted with armchairs and rugs. There is a kitchen tent, a Porta-Potty, a portable sink, and a collective meeting area. The camp takes about $800 a week to run, and the funds are all donated, said Gunn-Cushman.
On Wednesday afternoon, Paula Landers of Oakland dropped off a vat of spaghetti sauce and some pasta. She had brought her students from The English Center, an Oakland school that teaches English as a Second Language, to meet the Arnieville protesters last week, and the dinner was a thank you. She is concerned the governor’s proposed cuts will further decimate the state’s safetly net.
“It’s the continuation of what Reagan started in the ’80s, of cutting the safety net that had been built up in the ’60s.”