citybeat (2005-33)

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What Disability?

Two area playgrounds allow all children to play together

Mountain Madness

“Cross-ridge” mining protesters injured

A couple miles off the Harriman I-40 exit, a silver-haired, bespectacled man named David Webb strides through David Webb Riverfront Park. The park, hemmed in by the Emory River, hums with insect sounds and the creaking of a swing propelled by a plump little boy.

Webb points out a tremendous gazebo, some start-up gardens planted by the Roane County 4-H group, and the park’s newest addition—an expanded playground, assembled atop a stretch of rubber flooring. Four swings dangle from a traditional swing-set frame, outfitted with straps and locks that can easily secure wheelchairs, or disabled children, into place. At the park’s ribbon-cutting, there wasn’t a dry eye among the onlookers who saw the excitement in the eyes of a youngster getting a first-ever swing ride.

There are sandboxes, designed so wheelchair-bound children with upper arm strength can hoist themselves into them. Hardee’s has donated a length of plastic tunneling, of the sort that normally twists skyward in its fast-food courtyards, connecting with other segments. This piece, though, lies flat on the ground, so handicapped children can better utilize it.

The playground space will be appreciated especially by kids who attend the Michael Dunn Center in Kingston, a private school for the mentally retarded, says its executive director Anita Richmond.

“We’ve spent so much time and labor on [the playground],” Webb says proudly. “We’ve had a lot of real good volunteers and donations.”

In the past six weeks, both Roane and Knox counties snipped ribbons on their respective “universally accessible” playgrounds, opening them to both able-bodied and disabled children. Both counties raised much of their labor and supplies funding via donation, supplemented by city funds, and both were inspired by two of its disabled children—Ashley Nicole Manes of Knox County, and Taylor Wayne Davis of Roane County.

Ten-year-old Manes, paralyzed from the neck down in a 1999 car accident, and Davis, who died this past May, were both unable to play on conventional playgrounds, much less access them across their wood-chip or grassy terrain. “I remember one case where a child could get to the edge of the playground and sit in his wheelchair and watch the other kids play. He couldn’t even get onto the surface. That’s very exclusive,” says Lillian Burch, executive director of Knoxville’s Disability Resources, which partnered with the city and a community committee to brainstorm and build the Ashley Nicole Dream Playground in Caswell Park.

Burch points out that traditional playgrounds also deter disabled parents or grandparents from playing with their children, but mostly, they alienate handicapped children from their able-bodied peers.

“At a young age, this [new playground] changes attitudes of children playing together, which will lead to children working together when they go to school together,” says Burch. “It breaks down the attitudes that prevent people from working together or living together in the community.”

Most any child would delight to spend an afternoon at the Ashley Nicole Dream Playground. A fantastic feast for the eyes, the padded flooring is swirled with the colors of the rainbow. Greeting each visitor is a gigantic, green dragon craning his head from the foam flooring. Behind him, there’s a noble ship, a fort and a playhouse.

Burch says she’s seen Ashley Nicole play on her playground. “I saw Ashley on the boat-like structure that rocks,” she says. “Ashley had the biggest smile, and Ashley was laughing.”

In the twilight hours this past Tuesday, volunteers formed a human barricade at the gates of the Zeb Mountain mining site in Campbell County. This is not the first time Mountain Justice Summer and other environmental groups like Katuah Earth First have protested at the site, but it was the most chaotic.

“Two volunteers were cemented into locks of cars, and one was

By Moquee’s account, local police stood by and watched as one National Coal employee “started driving aggressively toward the barricade.” Then, Moquee says, officers and a few other NCC employees began pulling at one of the poles from the tripod where the volunteer at the top, who goes by the name Mere, was warning that they risked killing him or ripping off his arms, as he was locked into chains that were literally cemented to the tripod. “One of the employees said, ‘I’ve never seen someone’s arms get ripped off. I’d like to see that,’” says Moquee, “and the police just laughed.”

The employees eventually succeeded in toppling the tripod, sending Mere on a 25-foot trip to the ground. He suffered only a minor knee injury. When NCC employees dragged the cars out of the way and broke away the protesters cemented to them, says Moquee, both protestors, Sarah Shapero and Nable Wallin, received “bruises up and down their arms.”

In the end, nine protestors were arrested on charges of criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, altering vehicle identification numbers and police evasion. Bail was initially set at $10,000 each. But because of the inaction of the police officers at the scene, says Moquee, “The sheriff, whom we’ve had a good relationship with in the past, was ashamed. He fought to have the bail reduced to $1,000 each, which was accomplished.” Over that night, through fundraising efforts on MSJ’s website, the money was raised, and all of the protestors were bailed out.

Still, the protestors aren’t happy that the police didn’t come to their aid when they witnessed the aggression of the NCC employees. “It was basically the police cooperating with the employees to get us out of the way,” says Moquee. A National Coal Corp. representative declined to comment on the events.

Other events of Mountain Justice Summer have included “listening projects,” in which volunteers ask Zeb Mountain community members how they feel about the mining, as well as street theater and puppet protests. National Coal escorted puppeteering volunteers off their office lawn at a recent protest. “This is a company that claims to want public participation, but we know how unfriendly they are when it comes to that,” says Womac. “We were just exercising our First Amendment rights.” It is illegal for protestors to be on private land, but volunteers insist that they merely want to communicate their opinions peacefully to National Coal.

Despite arrests and unmet demands, Mountain Justice Summer volunteers remain determined. “We’ve handed out thousands of newspapers, held listening projects, and had great media coverage. People are really interested when we do street theater and have rallies,” says Moquee. “This is only the beginning, but it’s a good step. I believe that Tennessee can set a good example for the rest of Appalachia as far as stopping mountain top removal.”

A press conference and rally will be held Thursday, Aug. 18, 12 p.m. at Market Square. On Saturday, Aug. 27, at 12 p.m., Mountain Justice Summer will host an end-of-summer concert called “Music for the Mountains,” with music from Band of Humans, David Rovics, Jen Osha, Army and Navy, and Black Sunshine Poetry.

SEVEN DAYS IN AUGUST

 

Wednesday, Aug. 10

Thursday, Aug. 11

Friday, Aug. 12

Saturday, Aug. 13

Sunday, Aug. 14

Monday, Aug. 15

Tuesday, Aug. 16

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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