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First Person: Arnieville Update

By Jean Stewart
Sunday July 04, 2010 - 02:36:00 PM

I came home last night for another brief R&R before returning to ArnieVille in an hour or so...What a difference hot water & shampoo make! 

Yesterday we threw a "media event" which still has me really jazzed. Well, we called it a media event, but since only one media representative (the Daily Cal newspaper) showed up, I'm re-dubbing it a community event, since the disability community turned out in droves. Here's the backstory: we've been building a sculpture at ArnieVille since Wednesday. It's the brainchild of my dear artist friend David Cook, who argued that since other towns & villages have a statue in their town square honoring their namesake, we should follow suit! So he constructed an armature of steel wire, and a team of enthusiastic sculptors-in-training, including four 10-year-olds as well as 83-year-old Bob, laid on papier mache as well as strips of cloth. Arnold is now ten feet tall; in one hand he grips a big fat stogie, and in the other--upraised & ready to slash--an axe. He's not done yet; we still need to put some finishing touches on him--like adding those vicious teeth, for instance--& paint him. 

Anyway, at yesterday's event, after the speakers had concluded their statements, our MC said to the crowd, "And now we want to pay our respects to the man for whom our village is named..." Various people drum-rolled on upturned fruit bowls and empty water jugs (using salad tongs & wooden spoons as drumsticks), and then six of us wheeled up to Arnold in our chairs and pied him. Well, five of us. The sixth person was Bob, who climbed up on a ladder to pie Arnold in his face. Poor Arnold. 

So I've finally washed the whipped cream out of my hair. 

But let me tell you about the speakers! All are members of our core group. Adrienne Lauby has severe asthma but doesn't "look disabled," whatever that means. Sheela Gunn-Cushman is blind and an out Republican. Vanessa Castro rides a power wheelchair, has CP, and uses an electronic communicator to speak. And our MC, Ramona Galindez, is black & deaf. What a mix, wheee! Ramona did her introductions through the brilliant services of ASL interpreter Sherry Hicks; Vanessa prepared her speech in advance & programmed her device so that all she had to do was hit a button, & her fabulous words unfurled. Sheela, who compared our struggle for independence (tomorrow is the 4th of July) to the historic fight for independence from England, used her Braille device to prompt her memory. The marvelous Abril Tamayo interpreted the proceedings into Spanish. I was weeping with joy & huge pride... 

In case you're wondering why so few media turned out for the event, I think that some of them probably felt they'd already covered us a week ago when they came to our previous press conference. I'm guessing that as our numbers grow--I think we're now up to about 17 campers in about 13 tents--the media will find us more & more newsworthy. We do seem to be very much on the media radar, despite yesterday's low press turnout. We're ALL OVER cyberspace; media stories about us sprout on the Internet like weeds! If you visit our website &/or Facebook page, you'll see what I mean. (BTW, you don't have to be a member of Facebook--I'm not--to view the page.) Our website is finally finished. 

So far, the city and the cops still support us. Knock on wood. We're being extremely careful: a policy of zero tolerance for alcohol & drugs, clean site, etc. 

We REALLY need you Californians to get involved in the city council letter campaign. Use our Berkeley city council letter (attached) as a boilerplate, take it to your own city councilmember or superviser, and persuade her/him to urge the council/board of supes to send it to the governor. It's a really effective way to spread the message throughout CA, so that it doesn't simply remain "a Berkeley thing." The letter strongly opposes the budget cuts & the unannounced visits to IHSS recipients' (that would be ME, folks) homes. 

I can't spend much longer at the computer, but I want to thank those of you who responded to my previous email with your kind words and financial contributions--you're an amazing lot. To those of you who haven't yet managed to stop by ArnieVille, come on down & lend us your physical presence. Help us stop these dreadful budget cuts. We're on the grassy median strip on Adeline St. at Russell in Berkeley, opposite the original Berkeley Bowl. And to those of you who plan to send a donation but haven't yet got round to it, we really do need cold hard cash to cover our big-ticket items like the porta-potty & sink rental, and the cost of sign language interpreters. You can visit the DREDF (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund) website and make a contribution using the Pay Pal button. We're a (informal) project of DREDF, so your contribution is tax-deductible. You might want to send a separate email indicating that your donation is for ArnieVille. Or you can send a check by trusty snail, payable to DREDF; write ArnieVille on the memo line and mail it to 2212 Sixth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. 

Our most pressing need, in terms of goods & services: donated ASL interpreter services (we now have 3 deaf folks in our group). Please, please, please consider volunteering an hour or 2. Call DREDF to schedule your time: 644-2555. 

One last note. The reporter from the Daily Cal who came to our media event yesterday? She got so pumped, she's planning to join us & camp out at ArnieVille, as soon as she files her story. Ditto the reporter from the SF Public Press. Ditto the KPFA producer who interviewed us yesterday. ArnieVille is contagious, I tell you. Come on down & catch the spirit!