A Harmony of Paradox: Independent Living Awareness Day, April 20, 2011
Posted on April 22, 2011 by Shawn D'Abreu
When the people that you love are also people who gave themselves whole-heartedly to a just cause, it can be difficult to reconcile your personal feelings with their dedication to a movement. This may be especially true after that loved one dies. You might feel both pride in their accomplishments and resentment at how much those efforts cost them. You may be encouraged by how far they led on a path to progress but also tempted to discouragement because now you must go on without them. There may be thoughts of how to build upon their legacies and feelings of shame for wanting to exceed those legacies.
Sadness that they are not here to lead, gladness that they don’t have to see the latest threats to their dreams. These contradictions, and perhaps many others, can swirl the thoughts, stir the emotions and make the bitter somewhat sweet. Some make the mistake of trying to “move on” without confronting and reconciling these contradictions. This is especially true of movements, with their urgency to keep pressing forward. And sometimes that pressing can threaten to crush the very thing a movement is meant to free.
Soldiers honor their dead and, in doing so, honor the cause to which those soldiers gave their last, full measure. Commemoration ceremonies and posthumous recognitions can be valuable as processes to work through the paradoxes of grief and pride, joy and loneliness, longing and satisfaction. Independent Living Awareness Day (ILA), on April 20th, 2011 was intended to assist, in a small way, the IL movement in Missouri and its people in reconciling these contradictions, to honor fallen giants and to work toward protecting their dreams...and our dreams.
On this day the Missouri General Assembly, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, paused the great gears of government to offer Resolutions on behalf of the citizens of this state to acknowledge the substantial accomplishments and consequential lives of Max Starkloff, co-founder of Paraquad and Jim Tuscher, the Vice-President of Public Policy at Paraquad and long time legislative advocate in Jefferson City.
When Max started Paraquad, it was the first Center for Independent Living in Missouri and only one of a handful getting started in whole country. Now there are twenty two established Centers in Missouri alone and there was representation from nearly all of them at the Capitol for ILA day. Over 70 staff, executive directors, board members, participants and other advocates from Centers came to remember our fallen and to advocate to preserve Independent Living funding and to strengthen relationships with legislators.
Rather than organizing a rally, it was decided that a day dedicated to visiting legislators one-on-one and educating them specifically on the Independent Living movement and the value of the Centers for Independent Living in their districts would be more effective and timely this late in the session. The day began with tributes.
Penny Hubbard, the representative for the district Max and Jim lived in, presented resolutions on the floor of the House to the family, friends and co-workers of the two men. Colleen Starkloff, co-founder of Paraquad and Max’s wife accepted her husband’s resolution. Tim Azinger, executive director of LIFE Center for Independent Living and Guan Hollins, Chief Operating Officer for Paraquad accepted Jim’s resolution on behalf of the Tuscher Family and Paraquad.
Senator Robin Wright-Jones offered words of admiration about Max before giving Colleen the Senate’s resolution honoring him. Senator Jim Lembke gave a very moving and heartfelt tribute to Jim and presented a resolution signed by every member of the Senate. (Dorothy Caudle, Senator Lembke’s assistant worked very hard to get all 34 signatures.) Senator Ryan McKenna rose to offer a tribute to Jim as well, praising his dedication and skill.
After the ceremonies, there was time for fellowship, lunch and then legislative advocacy. Each Center was encouraged to bring materials explaining what they do in the community and how many people with disabilities are served. Supplemental packets explaining the impacts of proposed budget cuts on people with disabilities and information about MOCIL (the statewide association of Centers) were provide.
Nearly all of the 196 members of Missouri’s House and Senate or their staff were reached on this day by Centers in their district.
Max Starkloff and Jim Tuscher were great men. At the local, state and national levels each contributed greatly to the struggle of people with disabilities for civil rights and to remove structural and attitudinal barriers in our society.
Max established the first Center for Independent Living in Missouri and one of the first in the country. Jim worked tirelessly to establish a personal care attendant program (now called Consumer Directed Services or CDS) where people with disabilities would have the ability to self-direct their own personal care services.
As great as they were, Max and Jim could not have done all that they accomplished alone. Many people along the way struggled to pave a rocky path, so that future opportunities would be more accessible for everyone. They were the vanguard of an Independent Living Movement of, by and for people with disabilities. While Max and Jim are gone, and we miss them, the movement continues.
The Independent Living Awareness Day was an attempt grapple with the desire to stay and remember and need to move and advance. The coming together of our community and working in unity to promote the protection of the civil rights of people with disabilities and safeguard the future of Centers is a fitting tribute to all who have given so much to so many.
Hopefully we can continue to work through our paradoxes and contradictions, together. After all, Independent Living does not mean doing everything alone. It means having choices and control over your life with the necessary supports, from the society, from friends, from fellow advocates, from family. Perhaps interdependence is the best and most difficult paradox of them all.