Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Anita Baldwin

Audio transcript: On the chaotic atmosphere at the Center for Independent Living, Berkeley, in the early 80s
Date: March 21, 2000
Interviewer: Sharon Bonney

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

You used two words: CIL was "chaotic" and "broke" [laughter].

Which I'm certain you've heard before in your discussions with people [laughter].

Tell me why it was chaotic. What were the reasons for that?

I can presume the reasons. I think that in the seventies there was a lot of money available—well, more money available than there had been earlier—to disability organizations. CIL was mecca. It seemed magical. CIL would write a grant and the grant would get funded. So when I came in '80 there were just all these services being provided by CIL. But there was no general ledger, for example [laughs]. So there were thirty-three funding sources but the way that they were accounted for was, you know, receipts in shoe boxes, almost. CIL grew faster than its infrastructure could account for it. We were all working hard at trying to do what we thought needed to be done, but there was no central spine of the organization to pull it all back together. The agency sort of outgrew its accountability.

At the same time, you're in Berkeley where there's a lot of focus on civil rights. In my way of looking at it there was a clash between the civil rights/disability rights and the labor movement in Berkeley. Nobody quite knew how to make all that work. You had some services at CIL—van modification, wheelchair repair, transportation—that were predominantly staffed by nondisabled people and who were very much part of a civil rights movement, kind of an antiwar group, kind of growing out of all that. Then you had another group of people that were the disability rights people—the Judy Heumanns, the Michael Winters, the Phil Drapers—who had not ever been necessarily part of that sort of people's rights, but were part of it because of the disability rights focus.

So it was two or three groups that came together in CIL and were there together but didn't necessarily have the same belief system as to what the most important thing was. Part of us felt like disability rights was the most important thing. Another part felt like people's rights in general were the most important. The managers at CIL working on disability rights were not attuned to what the worker needed. It all came together in a clash that ended up in a labor strike. I had been at CIL for seven or eight months when there was a labor strike and a picket line in front of the door. I was amazed that this group of people felt that the management at CIL was not addressing their concerns. It was one of those shocking things to me that these folks felt that their issues needed to be addressed and that CIL was not addressing them as an employer.

End of transcript

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