On Dislando

Against the Current, No. 55, March/April 1995

J. Quinn Brisben

THE OTHERWISE EXCELLENT article by Michael Hoover and Lisa Stokes on “The Disneyfication of Orlando” (ATC 54) failed to mention that the sort of sanitized middle-class playground described there can only be maintained by considerable amounts of police terror.

Any lower-class person wandering into Dislando because the climate suits her or his clothes is likely to be rousted by the police. Most public spaces have become privately owned, which prevents informational picketing and most other types of constitutional protest. Pensioners in older high-rises near the center of the city have been deprived of any shopping center which can be reached by them on foot.

The physically disabled have been subject to massive arrests and terrorism because they do not fit in with the local convention bureau’s dream of paradise.

Disney World is as accessible to the disabled as current law requires, and the Disney organization has long since retired Peg Leg Pete, the villainous disabled cat who used to plague Mickey Mouse in the 1930s and 1940s, but the movement for disabled rights found it was not welcome in Orlando in October of 1991.

When hundreds of members of ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today) tried to present their demands for a share of the medicaid money now monopolized by private nursing homes receiving public money, they were met by a police riot at the entrance to the Peabody Hotel, where a group of nursing home administrators and lobbyists called AHCA (American Health Care Association) was gathering.

Several ADAPT members were injured and over seventy-five were arrested. Police and private security guards arrested “leaders” identified from tapes of ADAPT demonstrations in other cities and also as many able-bodied support persons as they could. I was arrested even though I had not entered the grounds of the hotel, and my hands were cuffed so tightly that I had bruises for weeks.

We were held for three days in cells kept at a calming fifty degrees, and, despite extra nurses hired for the occasion, our numerous and complex medical needs were not met; the women among us were subject to special harassments and psychological terrorism.

Our arrests made spectacular television footage, which was shown locally but not nationally; nor were the incidents extensively reported in the press outside Orlando. We were tried on closed-circuit television by a judge who levied $100 costs on each of us but could not smell how we had been medically neglected.

This did not stop the demonstrations against AHCA when Elizabeth Dole was speaking to the group, nor did it prevent our supporters from maintaining picket lines at the jail. After we were released, a second court order confined us to our hotel, where our meeting rooms had been bugged.

That is how dissent is treated in Dislando and, to be fair, in the rest of this country’s privatized playgrounds as well. I have since been arrested with other ADAPT demonstrators trying to get the message to ACHA and the public in San Francisco, at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and in Las Vegas.

All of these demonstrations have been subject to near total national media blackout, as have ADAPT’s demonstrations against government indifference in Washington DC and elsewhere. The techniques that created mass movements in the 1960s are no longer considered newsworthy by media in the service of the corporate reshapers of our public space described in the article.

Nevertheless, ADAPT and other organizations that cannot afford to wait out the current aggressions against the people will keep trying. Those interested in joining the next ADAPT demonstration against government neglect in Baltimore in May or our next confrontation with AHCA in Honolulu in October should write or call ADAPT, 201 S. Cherokee, Denver CO 80223, 303-733-9324, fax 303-733-6211.

ATC 55, March-April 1995