Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Judith Heumann

Audio transcript: On demonstrating in New York against Nixon vetoing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Date: February 15, 1999
Interviewer: Susan Brown

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

We decided that we would have this demonstration outside of the federal building in Manhattan. We never, I think, sent anybody up there to actually scout out where the federal building was. We decided that we would get a coffin, and we would dress and act as though we were having a funeral. We had fliers, thousands of fliers, that were actually [shaped like a] tombstone, and talked about Nixon killing the Rehab Act and writing on the tombstone what the specific provisions were that were not going to be enacted. So we get up to the federal building, and it turns out that the federal building is the only building in all of New York City which is on a little island, where no traffic ever comes. It was totally bizarre. I don't remember where it was, but it was totally bizarre. We had this demonstration outside, on the sidewalk. Nobody really cared, you know. They sent somebody outside. We talked to the people.

There weren't any cars going by.

Well, we were on the sidewalk. There were cars, but very few cars. I don't know if we were asking to go inside. Whatever, we had a little bit of press, but it was kind of a nonevent. I thought we worked so hard on this, we cannot have this be a nonevent, so we went in the street. The cops came. The cops had been there. What happened? Well, they didn't want us to be there, even though it was on the sidewalk, at first. Someone came out and asked who was in charge, and people said I was, and they came over, and "You're in charge. You have to move." I said, "We're not going to move." They said, "Okay." They left.


There we were. We looked great, sounded great, had all the right stuff, and nobody cared that we were there. So then we went into the street. Nobody really cared much more that we were there, because I think people could either go to another street or whatever, but it was having zero effect on anything. So we're sitting around. "My God, what are we going to do now?" The police were there, and they helped us. They said, "You should leave." We're, like, "can't leave."

So then we asked one of the cops, "Where is Nixon headquarters?" So they called in and asked. I think they were told, "Get 'em out of my precinct!" So, "Where's Nixon headquarters?" They come back and tell us. So we all got in whatever we had gotten to get there, and we decide we're going to go up to Nixon headquarters, and there we are, and decide, okay, we'll take over the street. It was totally unorganized. But we still had our fliers. We had more fliers printed. We had thousands of fliers. This is it [showing document].

Actually, we were also working with the Willowbrook people. Of course, there were now real communists in the group, and they had a lot more experience than we did. But I think everybody was blown away. I'm, like, "Let's go in the street." So we actually took over Madison Avenue, and the two other streets, so we actually had shut down three streets. But some of the trucks were not happy having three streets shut down on them, so we decided we'd go back to one street because we thought it could be pretty bloody, so we just went across Madison Avenue. We stayed there. It was, like 4:45 in the afternoon by the time we got there, 4:30. Yes, Madison and 45th Street.

No one knew we were coming, so no one knew why we were there. Someone came out and said, "What do you want?" We said, "We want to talk to somebody from Nixon headquarters." So they sent somebody out from Nixon headquarters. "What do you want?" "We want a public debate with the president on why he vetoed the Rehabilitation Act on MacNeil Lehrer" [News Hour on PBS] or something like that. They're, like, "You're crazy." I said, "That's what we want. That's why we're here."

End of transcript

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