Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Phil Chavez

Audio transcript: On lobbying in Sacramento and utilizing the media
Date: March 24, 1997
Interviewer: Graham Johnson

Note: Transcripts have been lightly edited; therefore there may be slight discrepancies with audio clips.

Are you talking about the battle, specifically in Sacramento, that you have mentioned with regard to IHSS?

IHSS was a key. It seemed like every year was a battle. Yes, it was like every year they'd either cut it out completely, or cut it, or not give us our cost-of-living increase, so it seemed like every year that was a battle. Really, in the late seventies, I don't remember a year when we didn't go to Sacramento, and usually it was numerous times. It wasn't always just IHSS. Often it was the bare bones. One time they were completely trying to cut out SSI, Supplemental Security Income. Another time it was SSI and SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance. I mean, it seemed like a never-ending caravan up to Sacramento.

There was always a core group of us that would just get on the phone and call everybody we knew that had vans with lifts on them. It was also amazing to me the number of wheelchairs that we used to get into a single van. I mean, a regular standard sized Ford van, we would pack six wheelchairs into it. There'd be like two or three ambulatory people squeezed in between the wheelchairs. We would be like a big sardine can on the road up to Sacramento, you know? [laughs]

We made a lot of fun out of it, too. It wasn't just, you know, this sweaty work thing. But I can remember days when it was a lot of work, too, just in terms of dealing with the elements. Because it was so hot up there a lot of times, that you know, they were passing out. A lot of quads—a lot of people with disabilities—have problems with heat, so we would be like having water fights [laughs] and whatnot, just to stay cool.

It was always kind of an interesting thing in terms of, you know, which van you'd go up in because there would be the vans that were like full of marijuana smoke, you know, and then there would be the other vans. We always tended to make it fun enough to attract a lot of different people, you know. People would bring a portable ice chest with beer, and so we would turn our demonstrations into somewhat of a party environment, as well. But when it got right down to it, we were really a strong force to be reckoned with.

The other thing that we were very good at was utilizing the media. We made sure that the media knew we would be there.

I don't know if this country has just gotten so used to sensational things happening, violent things happening, but it doesn't seem like it's much news anymore if a few disabled people get together. It has to be a lot of disabled people and it has to be a real critical issue that can really touch people. But back then, I think it was novel enough that the media was always interested. We could always get them interested and we had a lot of allies in the media. Like I said, we utilized them well.

We knew that there was a lot of power behind a TV camera, so that was a big part of it. We would parade up to Sacramento and raise a lot of hell, and then do our individual actual lobbying where we would go around to different assemblymen and assemblywomen and senators and talk to them individually about what our plight was, whatever it was, IHSS or SSI.

Then I can always remember how we would try to get home in time to see the news. [laughs] You know, rush back. This was like when VCRs were just starting, kind of thing, too, so it wasn't like you'd just preset your VCR before you set off to Sacramento so you could watch yourself on tape later. [laughs] There was this funny kind of thing to like try to get back in time to catch the six o'clock news. That was funny, so sometimes we would make a big deal of doing that and other times we would stay in touch with whoever we knew who wasn't going to Sacramento. So we would call them and say, "Okay, did Channel 4 pick this up, or did Channel 5 pick this up?" so we knew if they didn't that we would get hold of them next time to make sure that they did. [laughs] So like I said, we were really good at utilizing the media.

That's something we've kind of lost touch with is that, you know, you really need to know how to have the media as your ally. That was a crucial part of almost all our demonstrations in Sacramento.

End of transcript

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