A letter came quietly through the mail August 7th which ended the appointment of one of the Commission on Disabilities' hardest working members, Karen Craig.
The letter, from District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio, implied that her representative had caused or aggravated discord within the disabled community.
The irony, from anyone's perspective, is that the letter came shortly after a meeting in which organizers and advisors for the Berkeley Folk Festival met publicly in an accessible location for the first time in the six year history of the festival, a meeting which the current director swore only months ago would never take place.
Karen Craig did not speak much at this July meeting. What she did was harder. She invited parties to a six year long conflict to meet under the umbrella of a Commission on Disabilities subcommittee so that participants could meet in a neutral atmosphere. She helped craft an agenda that accommodated all parties, she chaired the meeting and kept the tenor of the comments gentle, full of jokes, and on schedule.
And she got fired. The buzz out of City Hall is that even associating with those who raise critical concerns about disability issues rocks the boat that some city council members would prefer to float quietly through community waters. Staff who support this quieter course talk about “incremental” changes over time, time which six years has yet to dent in the case of the folk festival.
The meeting did not resolve anything. Nobody made demands, nobody made promises. People listened, or did a good job of seeming to listen. People who ordinarily argue for the “intimacy” of small venues had a good chance to hear the impact of “intimacy” on people, disabled and otherwise, who need space to maneuver, tune instruments, jam, or chat with friends without disrupting the show. People who favor relocation had a chance to consider the wealth of relocation options available in the community and the wealth of decisions that go into making such a choice. Karen Craig made sure that all participants were treated respectfully, and unlike in past years, no one was singled out as a “troublemaker” or made a scapegoat.
And she got fired.
Karen Craig can point to many years of difficult work on behalf of the disabled community, all the more difficult in a world where sometimes one literally can't get through the door. Years of proposals, motions, letters, wording and rewording policy to try to include all community concerns are the best testimony to the legacy of her commitment. This work will not end with the termination of her appointment to the Commission, it will just be a little bit harder to do.
The Commission on Disabilities and the Berkeley community will certainly get the message that Karen Craig’s “activism” cost her the position. But the real factor may not have been her “activism” but rather her willingness to set that activism aside and let real dialogue happen, thus making real change possible. To those in the City of Berkeley who wish only quiet, election-friendly, ineffective waters, people with a commitment to change and an ability to bring together others in discord are potentially dangerous, for their approach is revolutionary.