Friday, September 13, 2013

At The Intersection of Disability and Injustice

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread, unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas 1914, during World War I. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into "no man's land", where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.[1]
- Wikipedia

I met James Gallini, Esquire, at the intersection of disability and injustice, during a moment of truce in the Autism Wars. The truce occurred without fanfare, appropriately in December, just as the holiday hustle and rush began. James was standing across the virtual crossroad, firmly and passionately fighting for justice for his client, Emily Holcomb. He stood and fought, as his wife very aptly put it, like Gandalf staring down the Balrog  on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and shouting “You Shall Not Pass!” at the horrible injustice brandishing evil at his nonspeaking autistic client.  I have written about Emily’s nightmare indirectly through a discussion of her mother Jenny Holcomb here.  James finds discussions on his career accomplishments boring and dismissive of his clients. But he is not aware that the desperate crisis of Emily Holcomb was the instigating factor in the Christmas truce of the Autism Wars. It began a series of episodic ceasefires during which our entire community put aside differences and came down on injustice by the hundreds in anger and shock, campaigning united against autistic people being harmed at school and denied care in hospitals.  As a result, I met a valued colleague and accepted him, as he was, never asking whether he espoused the medical or social justice model of disability, simply accepting that in that moment, we sought the same thing, to keep autistic people safe from deadly harm and wrongful imprisonment.

Very much like those men in the trenches, I crossed the invisible line to no man’s land and began discussing matters of people I advocated for and asking James for referrals when these families needed legal help and were in other States. Each time, he did his best to help me find resources, when others were just too self-important to bother. Therefore, I was able to see him as a colleague and friend.

James Gallini’s passion for special education law comes from his love of his family. I am fortunate enough to see that in a slew of photographs, the look of love and pride on his face as he stands with his family for a holiday photo, hugging his sons before they leave for church in their Sunday best, or a quick photo of James endeavoring to teach his beautiful autistic daughter the finer points of bowling.  He didn’t have to tell me he loves his family. Each photo made that apparent.  One day I read that James and Jenifer decided to compromise on their daughter’s wish for Christmas in July. They compromised, and made Christmas happen in her bedroom complete with blow up Santa and that did it for me. She was happy, they were happy. I was happy.  I knew in my heart that these parents loved and more importantly listened to their autistic daughter. They acknowledged her input. They loved her. In a world where the sleepless depressed parents fan the flames of their discontent by gathering in groups to drown in misery and blame it on autism, the refreshing nature of this family warmed my heart almost as much as Jenny Holcomb did doing the requisite redecorating of her daughter’s room to make it as grown up as Emily is becoming. Just as any mother would do for a teenaged daughter. No infantilizing.

And so, I have come to realize that I must navigate the no mans land more often and look at people for who they are and what they do rather than accept my preconceived opinion of what they may stand for ideologically. Just see how they actually behave and speak about their autistic loved ones. Love can’t be hidden. Passion for justice is apparent. And James Gallini has both. If only more special education attorneys were more concerned about their clients and less concerned with establishing a relationship with the school district, the educational life of our children would be perfect.

Please welcome the very brave James Gallini, Esq., his lovely wife Jenifer, and their four wonderful children, into our autism advocacy community. There were always here. If you hear a cease-fire moment in the Autism Wars, walk to the middle of the intersection of disability and injustice. They will be standing on the side of justice, and you will all see them as I do.

Much love

This is the third segment in a series on people who need to be recognized for the work they continue to do for the betterment of the autism community.

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