Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why We Need to Go to Alton

As announced some days ago, FRIDA plans to travel to Alton, Illinois on May 30 and do a community memorial for Dorothy Dixon on May 31, likely at 11 am. Forgive us our imprecision---we are working with Alton people to nail down a good community gathering place and that process has taken us a little longer than expected. For various reasons, this weekend ended up being the best one for a number of our people. We expect to haul about 8-10 of our FRIDA butts out there---never underestimate the trickiness of doing trips out of town with a bunch of crips, right? Some of us are going by car and some by Amtrak---and we're about ready to skewer Amtrak for various reasons.

So we are getting it done, slowly but surely, in a most grassroots fashion with different people having the responsibility for different parts of the project. For some, the work is new, so bear with us as we all learn together. Oh, we could use donations for gas...if you are interested in donating, please contact me at Ambity (at)

But, question: why do we need to go to Alton? Why can't Chicago FRIDA members sit at home and stay cushy in the city and run a few web campaigns and have done with things? None of us knew Dorothy or her tormentors. A lot of us have never even been to Alton. Why do we feel the need to haul ass out across the state to memorialize someone we never knew?

In my view, the answer has a lot to do with community outrage and organizing, but it also has to do with how we address systemic and attitudinal problems.

Every single person who hears Dorothy's story is shocked and outraged. If you haven't read the story yet, see The usual reaction is a dropping open of the mouth and the question, "Why did they do that?" The fact that over 20 items for torturing Dorothy were found in the house is sickening. The fact that she was pregnant with a second child and her abusers were also starving her first child is sickening. The fact that she died wet and cold and with only a sweater on is sickening. The fact that she was abused by at least one other person with a developmental disability, and at least three minors, is sickening. The fact that there is an alleged ringleader of the abuse is sickening.

And that sickened feeling is a call to action. If you've ever wondered when you might be challenged to change society, here is the call in plain terms. Listen to your stomach. For me it's like my tummy goes from a couch potato pillow to a six-pack of action.

It's not even like what happened to Dorothy was unusual. There are FRIDA people who have stories of having been locked away or abused. We need to make sure people know that.

So then there is the impetus that will have me driving a ten hour round trip drive at the minimum to Alton. Others will force themselves to ride in uncomfortable care seats that don't fit them. It's a gut thing, but it is also wrong that we do nothing but talk about Dorothy. And there is nothing that gets the community going like a good crip journey. By publicizing it, we hope to get people thinking about solutions for people with disabilities who are abused, as well as for the social service workers who are trying to figure out how to help. Both kinds of folks need a lot more backup than they're currently getting. The answer is NOT institutionalization. It is safe communities.

The people who killed Dorothy are in jail and going through the criminal and juvenile justice systems. What then is there for us to do? I think quite a lot. I think this story needs to be made accessible to average people with disabilities who aren't lawyers or cops or social service workers. Our trip can help do that. Ever notice how places mean a lot to people? Thinking about the house you grew up in doesn't pack the same emotional punch as visiting the actual house. Our journey to Alton and passing by the house will, I think, give us enormous fear and strength. Dorothy's death is a cross, but a cross that we all can help to bear---and eventually we can focus our strength on systemic solutions.

At rock bottom, Dorothy is another one of the women whose terrible stories have struck a chord in our FRIDA hearts. Just as we were shocked and our community emotionally damaged from the stories of Terri Schiavo, Ashley X, KEJ or Ruben Navarro's mother Rosa, so we are in pain with Dorothy's story. It seems to us that Dorothy was likely killed because...well, the usual reasons! at the bottom of it all she was disabled, female, poor and a person of color. And the perpetrators thought that nobody would care, not in Alton, not in Illinois, not in this world.

Why go to Alton? It seems we learn a great deal while in motion. Remember the 60s marches? We must go. A Navajo activist, Annie Dodge Wauneka, always recommitted to her work by saying, "I'll go and do more." So we will go.