There is no better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with the personal remembrances or our own Melba Gandy of the great humanitarian and effective activist Marian Wright Edelman.
“”I wasn’t very close with Marian so don’t have any really personal stories, but she was the driving force behind a coalition of groups that got together to lobby for amendments to the old “mental retardation” laws of the 1960s. As the Deputy Director of the Epilepsy Foundation of America at the time, I represented them in the coalition. Other members included the March of Dimes, National Association for Autistic Children, Easter Seals Society, Gallaudet (a school for deaf and blind people), and several others.
Marian’s goal (and ours) was to end the horrors of the old asylums that basically drugged and held the mentally challenged in captivity. Marian had an almost mystical insight into the challenges, desires, and needs of people having neurological disorders. Her great vision was to replace the awful institutions with government-funded facilities such as supervised group homes, sheltered workshops where people could be employed in a safe environment, and self-contained villages such as Hogeway in Holland or Towsley Village Memory Care in Michigan for those with dementia. She knew it would be a long and difficult haul, but she motivated us with my favorite quote,”
“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”
“We were successful in eliminating much of the abuse of those with neurological disorders, but the many promises made to us by the Congress about providing funds for the alternatives were never forthcoming.
Our work, under Marian’s leadership, culminated with the drafting of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance Act in the mid-1970s. Marian was so knowledgeable about the political milieu in Washington that she could tell us exactly which members of Congress would support us, which would oppose us, and which we could possibly bring around. She paved the way for the staff of then-Senator Ted Kennedy to give us enormous help in reviewing our drafts and checking them with the Congressional Research Service to identify any possible conflicting legislation and to be sure our bill was legally acceptable.
The bill was eventually introduced by Senator Kennedy and passed.
Marian’s influence continues, and was again in play in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act passed and added some protections for people with physical disabilities as well neurological ones. She is a giant of a woman”