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Civil Rights
Midtown Sweep Picks up Pace, Josie Byzek, September 30, 1999
How one town beat the Klan silently, Elaine Witt, February 26, 1999
Library Benefits From Klan, Connie Langland, August 13, 1998


 
 


"Hey, Midtown, Let Us In!"
Josie Byzek, July 30, 1999 -- The Americans with Disabilities Act, the sweeping civil rights law designed to end discrimination against people with disabilities, turned nine years old on July 26, 1999. On that day, our disability rights group, Accessible Communities Today (ACT) unveiled our Midtown Sweep, a campaign to be allowed in the shops in the Midtown Region. We released the names of the first three businesses sued as part of the Sweep for denying access to the disability community.  We did this at a press conference that turned into an ADA civil rights rally.
    Here's an update and outline of how ACT, of which I am a proud member and organizer, planned and carried out this event.     We'd been setting up this particular campaign for over six months; with the intent of drawing attention to the ADA, and to our rights to access businesses, and to get more businesses to become accessible.
    The first thing we did was pick a target. We picked the entire Harrisburg Midtown Neighborhood. It's one of those neighborhoods with tons of cute shops, coffee houses and cool restaurants. It's up-and-coming, and a very cool place to live and hang out. It's also my neighborhood, and the neighborhood of many members of the local disability rights group.
    The second thing we did was walk through the neighborhood and write down the names of all the businesses that had no accessible entrance. My eight year old daughter helped with this part -- she thinks she's Harriet the Spy.
   The third thing we did was send a letter to all twenty-some of those businesses, saying who we were, that we wanted to give them our business, that they were breaking the law, and that they had ten days to respond before we did further enforcement actions. We even sent them information on how to get tax breaks for becoming accessible. Then we waited.
   Only two businesses responded positively. One was the local Historic Resource Center, the other was a restaurant called the Brick Oven. The Brick Oven was also getting heat from our SILC's (Statewide Independent Living Council) office, which is here in town, so they were ready to cooperate.
   Then, on July 19, we sent out our first press release that stated the ADA was about to be 9 years old, that the businesses in our city, especially in the Midtown, where so many of us live, were ignoring it, and that we would unveil our plan for dealing with the offenders at a press conference on July 26, 1999 -- the 9th anniversary. We re-sent the press release, with an update that Tom Earle from the Disability Law Project would represent us on whatever it is we chose to do, on Friday, July 23. We then called all of the media outlets on the morning of July 26 to remind them to come. We did not unveil our plan -- we were suing the offenders -- until the press conference.
   We had 25 group members attend the conference, with colorful "Access is a Civil Right" and, "Hey, Midtown, Let Us In," signs as a backdrop. Considering it was a 95 degree hot, sunny day, that turn out was great. At the conference, we announced that we filed three lawsuits just that day, (our lawyer came up, handed them to Linda Riegel, our spokesperson, who then dramatically waved them for the cameras) and would file three more per month until all the businesses were "cleaned up." We called the event "Midtown Sweep". Every T.V. Station was there, except one, and the one that wasn't there yesterday came out today to tape us at the offending businesses. We're even going to be on our cable's public access channel -- in three states. We got a good article in the local paper, and the paper wants me to do an op-ed on ADA, and my neighborhood. The media is also calling it the "Midtown Sweep."
    Some inaccessible businesses that we're not even targeting are calling saying they want to be accessible, and our hometown heard -- loud and clear -- that access IS a civil right, and that we take our civil rights seriously.
   So, so far, our objectives are being met.  Although it's not always possible, when we can, we will continue to plan out our media/advocacy campaigns this meticulously. Two of the businesses, when confronted with T.V. cameras, stated that we will get our ramps. One had the nerve to say we shouldn't have gone to the extreme of filing a civil rights lawsuit -- he'd have gotten around to it eventually, just didn't have the time in the past nine years. The third business has refused to be interviewed by the press.
   Next month, we'll do three more, until all the businesses in our backyard stop discriminating against wheelchair users. Also, we'll be spreading the word to the other 29 disability rights groups in the state on how we did this, and offer support to other groups tired of all the excuses shops with steps come up with to deny our people the civil right of public accommodation.
   
Midtown Sweep Continues
Josie Byzek, August 31, 1999- On behalf of the disability rights group, Accessible Communities Today, the Disability Law Project filed three new civil rights lawsuits to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for Harrisburg Midtowners with disabilities. These three new lawsuits are filed against Santo's Pizza Shop, Java House and Good Taste Chinese -- all located on Third Street in the Midtown section of Harrisburg.
    "All we want is to be able to get into the same places as our neighbors," says Joanna Raver, a wheelchair user who resides in the Midtown region. "The law is the law, and the law says we should be allowed to go where everybody else goes, and to spend our money and our time in our own neighborhood."
    "On July 26, the ninth anniversary of the ADA, we filed the first three lawsuits of the Midtown Sweep, and made it clear that we would be filing three every month," says Linda Riegel, Civil Rights Advocate for the Center for Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania, "Well, we're back. The lawsuits against Santo's, Java House and Good Taste Chinese Food are the three for August. Hopefully, after the Midtown Sweep, other businesses will take our civil rights seriously, act proactively by complying with the law, and make their establishments accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities."
    The three lawsuits from July against Pasquale's, Midtown Tavern and Goldstar Video are all in the settlement phase.


Midtown Sweep Picks up Pace Against Inaccessible Midtown Businesses
Josie Byzek, September 30, 1999, Harrisburg PA - Today, in federal court, the Disabilities Law Project filed three new civil rights lawsuits on behalf of Accessible Communities Today (ACT), a Harrisburg area Disability rights group. These three new lawsuits are filed against Neato Burrito, Okechi Beauty Salon and C&M Variety Store , all located on Third Street in the Midtown section of Harrisburg. This raises the number of ADA lawsuits against Midtown businesses by the ACT group to nine. There will be three additional lawsuits each month, until residents of the Midtown   with disabilities can patronize the same businesses as their neighbors without disabilities.    
    Pasquale's Pizza Shop (lawsuit filed in July) and Good Taste Chinese Food (lawsuit filed in August) have both settled the lawsuits, and have already made their restaurant entrances  accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Midtown Tavern (lawsuit filed in July) has also settled, but has not yet built a ramp. Additional businesses are in the process of settling their lawsuits.    
    To celebrate the victories to date, people who use wheelchairs plan to have lunch at Pasquale's tomorrow, October 1, 1999 at 1:00 p.m. Pasquale's is located at 24 S. Third Street, Harrisburg.  According to Linda Riegel, Civil Rights Specialist, "The owners of Pasquale's settled their lawsuit quickly, and amicably. The ramp was built almost immediately, after we pushed the issue with the lawsuit. We are going there for lunch  to say thank you for respecting our civil rights."    
    There is an added incentive for businesses to add ramps in the next two weeks; over 600 people with disabilities, and their supporters, are coming to Harrisburg for the bi-annual Power Through Knowledge Independent Living Conference, held at the Hilton Hotel from October 16 to October 19.  Currently, very few restaurants will be able to draw business from these conference attendees, due to lack of wheelchair access. 

Josie Byzek, Civil Rights Specialist for the PA Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, is a  resident of the Midtown Area. She is also a member of Accessible Communities Today, and a writer for such disability rights magazines as the Ragged Edge, and Mouth Magazine.


 
 

How one town beat the Klan silently
Commentary by Elaine Witt, Birmingham Post-Herald, reprinted February 26, 1999 - Ten years ago, after every other strategy failed to stop the Ku Klux Klan from holding annual marches in their courthouse square, residents of Pulaski, Tenn., turned to their last resort.
    On an October Saturday when assorted racist groups were scheduled to march, the whole town closed down.
    The local McDonald's went dark. So did the beauty shops, the grocery stores and all but one gas station. Even the local Wal-Mart store locked its doors.  
    "These groups came to town and they couldn't find a place to get a hamburger or even go to the bathroom. Now that was a huge sacrifice, because we couldn't, either," Mayor Dan Speer recalled.
    "The shutdown was our silent protest, and it was heard very loudly."
    Pulaski, a hill country town of 8,000 about 20 miles north of Athens, Ala., had long lived with the ignominious distinction of being the Klan's birthplace.
    In the 1980s, with the advent of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Klan groups began staging annual "homecoming" events there.
    When the town went to court to fight the Klan's right to march, the Klan won.
    And when local residents turned out to dispute the Klan's hateful message phrase for phrase, the confrontations made national news.
    Whenever that happened, the racists would come back in even bigger numbers the next year.
    The shutdown came in 1989, when a violent white supremacist group called the Aryan Nation announced that it would march in Pulaski. "The community said we cannot survive and prosper and take this insult anymore, and we're going to have to do something," Speer said.
    The strategy, to a degree, worked.
    A Klan group from Arkansas still rallies annually in Pulaski, where the Klan was founded in 1866.
    But counterdemonstrations are rare.
    The media, in recent years, has virtually ignored the event.
    "Last year, no (news organizations) came. The year before that, the only TV that showed up was the comedy channel," Speer said.
    The story of Pulaski's effort to protect its image, and its dignity, is worth telling today in Birmingham.
    This afternoon, the Indiana-based American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will rally on the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse.
    Birmingham, like Pulaski, has a history that makes its streets irresistible to out-of-state hate groups.
    And folks in Birmingham, as in Pulaski, have faced difficult decisions about how these unwanted guests should be greeted.
    Religious and civil rights organizations, including the Nation of Islam, have encouraged their members to avoid the vicinity of the courthouse this afternoon. But at least one human rights organization is staging a counterdemonstration.
    City officials have sought to keep the event low-key. But the city's law enforcement agencies will have a large presence. They are obliged to protect these visitors, even as the visitors insult the citizens whose taxes pay for that protection.
    Likewise, print and broadcast journalists will turn out in case violence turns a gathering of misfits into news. The cameras, of course, will encourage extremists of every stripe to speak up, which might incite violence, which might be construed as news.
    And so on.
    The best that we can hope is that the police will have little to do today, as hate speech spills into a vacuum along 21st Street North.
    The best that we can hope is that the media will have nothing to report.
    And the best that we can do, it seems, is take the advice of Mayor Speer.
    "The Klan can come, but we can take away the one thing they want more than anything, and that's an audience," he said. "When they come and they don't have anyone to shout against and they are ignored, it takes away from everything they try to do."
    originally published January 17, 1999 by the Birmingham Post-Herald. Reprinted on PADNET with permission from the Birmingham Post-Herald.


 
 

Library Benefits From Klan
Connie Langland, August 13, 1998, Boyertown PA -- There have been times in the last year when children visiting the Boyertown Community Library have been ushered out the back door -- to spare them the sight of Klansmen demonstrating half a block away. And one Saturday a bride refused to emerge from a nearby church, fearful that a Klan demonstration in progress would be captured forever in her wedding album. As often as one Saturday a month for several years, hooded Klansmen have shown up at the main crossroads of this eastern Berks County community.
    But for the last year, the Klan's main local opponent, the Boyertown Area Unity Coalition, has found a way to make the demonstrations count toward the cause of tolerance. Facing a sour situation, the opponents created Project Lemonade and asked for donations based on the number of minutes the Klan showed its hoods in town. Yesterday, the local library benefited from the results.
    Two groups receiving funds -- the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center -- donated dozens of books, many of them written for children and young adults, to the library.
    The titles include The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, Daniel's Story, and 16 Extraordinary African Americans. Three other books profile successful Hispanics, Asian Americans and American women. Posters promoting "America: A Nation of Immigrants" and "Diversity Is Our Strength" also were contributed.
    Barry Morrison, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, gave credit both to the Unity Coalition for its efforts countering Klan activity and to the anonymous contributors.
    Some people pledged 50 cents a minute, others a dime. But the number of people contributing has swelled to more than 500 -- and the funds raised now exceed $10,000.
    The funds have been distributed to such groups as the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Unity Coalition -- all of them actively opposed to the Klan.
    Morrison praised the contributors, calling them "everyday citizens who are the unsung heroes here." "It does take a certain degree of courage to stand up to bigotry and bigots," Morrison said.
    Kathee Rhode, head librarian, accepted the gift of the books and other materials in a small reading room. She reminded the small gathering that the library "is a place where people can learn both sides of the story."
    Boyertown's success with raising funds caught the attention of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, residents, who last month gathered 2,300 pledges and raised more than $31,000 when the white-supremacist group Aryan Nations marched for 28 minutes.
For More Information, or to request a pledge form, write:
Boyertown Area Unity Coalition,
P.O. Box 358, New Berlinville, Pa. 19545
or visit BAUC's Project Lemonade Hompage



 


 


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