It was around 8:45am, and outside of the Capitol things were quiet. I wasn’t sure if I should wait for the people that I had invited to meet us there or go inside. Reuben and I decided to go inside and see what things were like in the Senate hearing room. The actual hearing wasn’t scheduled until 9:30am, but the room was already filling up very quickly. In the floor above is the gallery which has theater seating and is far less cramped. We decided to go up there to view the hearings.
Soon after Mateo arrived with Shawnta (our friend/Teo’s part-time Nanny). We weren’t sure if we would get to protest before the hearing, but I thought Mateo being there may show people who was being effected by these cuts. Sometimes words are not enough.
So in the gallery we all sat. Each seat was taken, and people sat on the stairs listening to the DDS (Department of Disability Services) telling the packed rooms that this is a “daunting task” and that these “across the board cuts” are very difficult to make. Yet through the trailer bill language she was trying to explain there were no details. Just an “across the board cut”. Taking away 750 million dollars in State funding from the disabled, but no specifics on what services they were losing.
Mateo was the youngest in the Senate hearing room. He proudly held his Thomas the Tank Engine back-pack and sifted through his snacks. A couple of times he would break into song or vocalizations either out of discomfort in the over filled room or out of boredom. But he wasn’t the only one. The room was filled with individuals with disabilities, their caregivers, parents, advocates, grandparents and supportive members of the community fighting for their rights.
Mateo’s boredom finally set in, I don’t think he was alone in this, not to mention he had Occupational Therapy. So Shawnta took him home to try to get some therapy time in. We better take advantage of it while we can!
Senator Mark DeSaulnier Chair of the sub-committee let us know that he had scheduled 5 hours for the meeting and wanted to hear everyone’s testimonies. I don’t think the Senator had any idea of the turn-out. I don’t think he realized as he spoke to a packed room below, that the gallery was also full (standing room only), and that a very long line wrapped through the halls of the Capitol. Even the cafeteria was filled with people listening and waiting for the opportunity to speak against the cuts. Well over 1,000 people came to tell their story or to show support against the cuts. 5 hours wasn’t enough, 10 hours wasn’t enough. If he wanted to hear the testimony of everyone effected by these cuts he would need a week of hearings.
Reuben and I didn’t realize this either until we decided to leave the gallery and get into line to speak. We made our way down the line, elbow to elbow at least 5 people wide and stretching the entire length of the Capitol, people stood. Some people wearing buttons and stickers with sayings like, “I am here to Speak for my rights”, “Don’t cut our services” and simply “Hope”. Hope! Hope that the Governor, Senate and Legislators can see that a cut of this magnitude is more than just tightening California’s belt. It’s taking away independence, safety, skills, and happiness away from thousands of people. Hope that the legislators can see past a number of savings and see all of the people they are hurting. There was still hope in that room, but there was also a lot of frustration, anger and resentment.
Another sticker read “I am NOT Worthless!” And when the testimonials began over an hour later, that tone was reflected over and over again. People on crutches, in wheel chairs, and of all ages stood in a packed line for hours for their chance to tell their story. Many people who’s disabilities make standing in a packed room practically unbearable both mentally and physically, I believe would have stood there all day and night for the chance to tell their story and what these services mean to them. I was eager to tell my story too, I could see the anxiousness in the hallway. Were we all going to get a chance?
The line was very slow moving, the line would move ahead as people would give up. It was after 12pm and many had been in that line since 9:30. They needed lunch, and a seat. I wanted to stay, I wanted to do it for Teo. I wanted to be his voice and the voice of all other parent’s with Autistic kids who had to be at work, or home for therapy and didn’t have the opportunity to be there.
We were finally moved into a room where we could actually sit down and hear the testimonies. The line was still out front, we filled another hearing room, and the cafeteria was still filled as well. It was almost 1pm, they were stopping at 2pm. A woman with Down Syndrome spoke. She was angry. She needed her services to get to work, she needed her services as transportation to take her shopping. What was her alternative? She yelled into the microphone, “I am not an animal!” The room we sat in cheered, all of the people with disabilities felt the same. They were being treated as second class citizens, like animals, worthless! My heart broke- tears welled in my eyes and streamed my cheeks. Our society, our government does not embrace people born with disabilities, we make them feel completely worthless.
A mom of a son with Autism approached the microphone. Her son is an adult, she said she is a long-time advocate and has been fighting for his rights for years. She said everything that I would have wanted to say and more. “Where is the line in the sand? You keep cutting and cutting and I don’t see an end.” She said, “Where is your moral line? When is enough, enough?”
A man in a wheelchair with a great sense of humor approached. He said, “The 250 people that spoke before me think this is a bad idea. I think this is a bad idea. And I am pretty sure the 250 people outside waiting to speak are going to say it’s a bad idea too! When are you going to listen?”
Yes, why are they asking for these testimonials? Are they listening?
Mateo was only diagnosed two years ago, this is my first big fight for his rights and I anticipate years and years of hearings, letters and fighting to come. But when will they stop cutting and start taking care of people. When will California be rich enough? California has plenty of money for the prison system. California has plenty of money for special interest groups with good lobbyists. The legislators can get promotions and pay raises. And California is telling people with Special Needs they are not worthy of the funds.
These are passionate, fun, interesting, intelligent members of our society that deserve to live happy and independent lives. I wish that all of you could have been there to hear these touching stories. To hear a woman who was afraid every day because she thought she would be sent back to group home where she was beat. The children that are in college today, thanks to years of therapy because they didn’t talk until they were 6 years old. The parents that have fought every year so their children could have the services they deserve. A man made an excellent point that Neuro-typical children don’t pay for school they are guaranteed an education, why should our children pay to be taught?
We left at 2pm, the Senators didn’t get to hear everyone speak, there were at least 200 people left that had their stories ready and never got to share them, including us. People with signs outside marched outside the Capitol, I wished that I would have joined them. I was so happy for the incredible showing. I still have some hope, a little faith that the Governor will hear us. And if he doesn’t we will just have to keep talking, keep sending letters, writing articles, keep filling up Social Media, keep marching, and keep blogging until he does.