A Day in the Life of an Activist


It is 7:23 a.m. and the sun is rising over Syracuse; the temperature is zero. I always find zero a particularly dispiriting temperature, rather like a flat line on an EKG: everything has come to a halt; life is over. Underneath my window a front loader is shoveling snow into a dump truck for transport elsewhere. I live over the corner of a Syracuse University parking lot and they have been pushing the snow into the corner for weeks. Now they have to truck it out. But wait! S.U., if you want to save money, just let the snow sit there. The parking lot is rarely even half-full; there’s plenty of room for the snow so why waste the money and man-effort to truck it out?

With the thermometer in my apartment turned up full to 85 degrees, the temperature by my bed is 68. The temperature at the windowsill is too low to register. That hasn’t changed, nor will it in the foreseeable future. Yesterday, on the elevator, a tenant told me that he is heating his apartment by turning on his oven and this month’s bill from National Grid is $300. His apartment—all our apartments—are 540 square feet, about the size of a two-car garage. My heating bill this month is $179. Last night a man—a normal, healthy, working man who doesn’t live here—said that his apartment is 1200 square feet and his heating bill is only $119.

I told the man in the elevator to bring his National Grid bill and come to the Tenants Action Council meeting tonight. He has no way of knowing about the meeting because on Monday, per the manager, we posted notices on every floor about the meeting—and in less than 24 hours other tenants took down all the notices. We suspect that members of the Tenant Association are taking down the signs but we have no proof. It’s childish, and it’s the way things go here at McCarthy Manor.

At last week’s meeting with the state supervisor for Related Management, she said that was no problem, she could put a stop to the signs being removed, so yesterday I called her and told her the signs were down—what was she going to do about it? She said that she and the manager were creating a letter that would go to all tenants and tell them not to take down the signs. Really? A letter? I’m so not impressed.

The reason we can’t get another tenants group started in this building is because of Sharon Sherman, executive director and only employee of the Greater Syracuse Tenants Network. (See also https://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/one-woman-and-a-facade/.) She has a HUD grant, through the City of Syracuse, which used to be to work as an advisor to tenants in low-income housing. The grant was re-drawn to work with the homeless. Nevertheless, Sherman is coming into our home to the Tenant Association meetings, where she chooses the president, sets the agenda and runs the meeting.

I have called many people over the years to try to get Sherman out of our home, but have been unsuccessful. So, yesterday, after calling the Related Management supervisor, I called City Hall and talked to the guy who takes the HUD money and funnels it to Sherman. Four times, I asked him when Sherman’s grant comes up for renewal. After twenty minutes, he finally told me, but first he told me that if we wanted her out of our building then we should get the manager or the owner to ban her.

Fact: HUD’s rules are very clear and emphatic: Owners and Managers CANNOT in any way, shape or form do anything to constrain tenant organization or activity. Sherman presents as a tenant advocate and management won’t touch her. Sherman has fewer than two dozen supporters in this building and the Tenant Association president is an old, hard of hearing woman who is on oxygen and sits silently for forty minutes while Sherman runs the meeting. The president of the Tenant Association is also the treasurer on Sherman’s board.

So I move on to a phone call to the director of the HUD field office in Buffalo. I do not call the project manager because he is useless. If I file a complaint, all he does is forward it to their subcontractor CGI, which always decides in favor of management. If I request information, he says he will get it and call me back: he never does.

The director listens to me as I tell her that all our money is going to pay for heat that is going out the window. She asks some reasonable questions and then says she will get back to me later in the day. She doesn’t.

Then my aide and I get on Centro’s Call-a-Bus to go grocery shopping. The bus has four single seats on the right and four double seats on the left, which can be folded up to allow for wheelchair tie-downs. My aide sits on the right behind the only other passenger on board. The front two seats on the left are empty and I ask the driver to raise one of the seats so I can move forward and talk to my aide about the shopping trip. The driver refuses.

There are two reasons why some drivers do this: first, they want to flaunt their power and “put me in my place”; second, they are lazy and don’t want to have to bend over again. I have the right to sit in any vacant place on the bus. The last two drivers to pull this on me were both black men. I have said, “Don’t you remember Rosa Parks? She refused to sit in the back of the bus because she was black; I refuse to sit in the back because I’m in a wheelchair.”

It makes no difference; the driver ignores me. He is not a nice man and my aide and I have repeatedly had trouble with him. I pull out my cell phone, call Centro and file a complaint against the driver while he sits there and listens.

The state supervisor of Related Management, the City Hall commissioner, Sharon Sherman, the HUD director, and now this. Yet to come: a tenant who is mad at me, another go-round with the Related supervisor, and a third visit from the wheelchair repairmen because his company is demanding a serial number that doesn’t exist.

You tell me: where’s the joy? Where’s the happiness? Where’s the love? Where is there anything in all of this that makes life worth living?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
This entry was posted in activism, Call-a-Bus, Centro, disability rights, Government Services, Housing, HUD-subsidized housing, Poverty, Power, power wheelchairs, Powerlessness, Transportation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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