Remembering Paul Stewart, a champion of disability rights

Remembering Paul Stewart, a champion of disability rights

Anyone who knew Paul Stewart understood why his friends described him as a “joyful curmudgeon.”

He could be bossy and stern, never smiled for pictures, didn’t trust bureaucrats, and held everyone accountable to do the right thing. But he doted on his companion animals and friends, loved astronomy, made beautiful handcrafted furniture, read voraciously, loved opera music and telling jokes, and believed, as he’d always say, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

Stewart took me under his wing when I was a brand new housing rights advocate with The Legal Center for People with Disabilities in the mid-90’s. We worked hard together for the cause of fair and accessible housing and remained friends for 20 years, even after I went to work for the State Health Department and became a bureaucrat myself. He told me he expected me to make positive changes from within.

Stewart used a wheelchair because he was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot, at age 30, when he walked in on a convenience store robbery. According to his wife Pamela Carter, he lived in constant pain the last 40 years of his life, although he didn’t let that slow him down.

Stewart motored in his power wheelchair through the streets of Capitol Hill. Wearing a red beret, with his dalmatian Pepper at his side in a matching red harness and leash, they were a dashing duo. You may have seen them.

Stewart’s passion was to fight for fair and accessible housing and transportation. He lived in public housing for 18 years, and used public transportation. Imagine having a kitchen you can’t reach, a shower you can’t roll into, having no control over who entered your building and committed crimes against your neighbors, waiting for the bus in the rain and snow only to have it arrive without a working lift or wheelchair-accessible space. Stewart experienced all those things. He refused to accept it and took action.

He worked with advocacy organizations to take on the federal government, transportation authority, durable medical equipment manufacturers, and housing providers. And he kept on fighting until he got results:

Stewart would often remind me as we worked together, “My apartment is still inaccessible. I’m not just doing this for me. I’m doing this for everyone who has to live in these conditions.”

He fought and won reasonable accommodations like wheelchair-accessible kitchens and bathrooms that included lowered counter tops, stoves, ovens and cabinets; roll-in showers; flooring for wheelchairs to more easily roll across; and air conditioning when medically necessary. He helped tenants keep their service animals in their homes. He started a tenants’ council that demanded and got security in public housing facilities.

-Stewart was a plaintiff in the recent case against the Regional Transportation District (RTD), resulting in enforcement of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-required accessible transportation in the Denver metro area. He has helped train hundreds of RTD drivers.

He made life better for himself and others who use wheelchairs and have disabilities, according to his wife Pamela Carter and best friend Julie Rieskin, both of whom use wheelchairs and are disability rights activists themselves. Rieskin is executive director of Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) whose mantra is, “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Rieskin and Stewart are two of the original founders of the organization.

Carter met Stewart after Carter’s wheelchair locked up on her, leaving her stranded, while she was trying to cross Colfax Avenue. Rieskin told her she needed to meet Stewart, who had discovered a defect in the wheelchair model Carter used. Stewart fixed Carter’s chair and forced the manufacturer to repair the defect in the entire wheelchair series. Stewart also scavenged parts to build and repair wheelchairs for people who could not afford it.

Stewart died on Nov. 7 of complications from pancreatic cancer, 20 days before his 70th birthday. Visit for more on Stewart and the work he supported. His death has come as a blow to a community and a poignant reminder of the need for humor, tenacity and fighting the good fight.

Op-Ed: Unique’s fight for justice and a place to call home

Trans people are being killed at alarming rates. In detention. In the streets. In their homes. And we aren’t paying enough attention.

Too often profiled and brutalized by police, trans women, particularly trans women of color, cannot walk down the street safely and are disproportionately funneled into the criminal punishment system. In a recent study, 21 percent of transgender women, and 47 percent of black transgender women, had experienced incarceration at some point in their lives.

Once incarcerated, our trans siblings are fighting for their basic survival needs every day – locked in isolation for “protection”, begging for basic health care, filing grievance after grievance, hoping someone will hear them, but then nothing. Just the ongoing horrors of more concrete and more violence.

Unique Taylor, a trans woman and survivor of sexual violence, has spent the last eighteen years in prison navigating these horrors. You can read her story here.

Unfortunately, Unique’s story is all too common.

Like Unique, Chelsea Manning, Ophelia De’lonta, Michelle Kosilek and countless other trans women have fought for years just to get the medical treatment they urgently need while in prison.

Like Unique, Patti Shaw, Passion Star, Dee Farmer and countless others have been abused and assaulted by other prisoners and staff while incarcerated.

Like Unique, most trans women are held in solitary confinement for months, years and even decades.

After almost twenty years, Unique is finally preparing to leave prison. She has fought to survive, fought to be Unique, fought to maintain hope that her life can be more than the 8 by 12 foot box where she has spent the last year and a half. Her Boulder-based attorneys have sent her information about local transgender organizations in Colorado and the support networks that are available there. Unique wants to be released to Colorado where she can build a life with people who will understand and affirm who she is and how hard she has worked just to survive.

But the Bureau of Prisons plans to send Unique to Tennessee, where she was first arrested almost two decades ago. They want to send her to a state known for systemic violence and discrimination towards trans people.

During her most recent BOP transfer from a facility in Tucson to ADX Florence, the supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, where she is currently held in solitary confinement, Unique reflected on the world around her:

“It was dark out and [Oklahoma City] was so beautiful to me. It was a flickering Martian city that night. I could’ve been on Mars for all my sensory deprived mind could discern. I looked at some of the streets and imagined what it was like to just drive around, drive home. Then I started thinking about my home and realized I didn’t have one, (and) that I hadn’t been home since I was 16.

“But sometimes home isn’t really home, you know?”

Unique deserves a home. We all do. All she is asking for is a chance to live. In Colorado, after all these years, she might just be able to have that.

Join us and demand that BOP release Unique to Colorado!

Use the hashtag #StandwithUnique to tell her story on Twitter, Facebook and social media.

Share her story with friends, family, and on list-servs.

Call or email the Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels at (202) 307-3198, and ADX’s Warden J. Oliver at (719) 784-9464, FLM/

Voice a concern on the Bureau of Prisons website at, by entering the name under which Unique is incarcerated, Richard McBee, and her inmate number 05628-017.

Sample message: I’m calling/writing to express my concern over the treatment of Unique Taylor, incarcerated under the name, Richard McBee, #05628-017.  As a transgender woman Unique is particularly vulnerable to violence both in and out of prison. In order to ensure that she is able to safely leave prison and to have the opportunity for a successful reentry, please take the necessary steps to release her to Colorado. For more information about the violence and discrimination that transgender people experience, read this report:

And if you are in Colorado and would like to offer Unique support upon her release, please e-mail Kathryn Stevenson at

How did your calls go? Tweet #standwithunique on Twitter and let us know.

Some sample tweets:

Enough is enough! Help bring Unique to Colorado. #standwithunique.

We all deserve a home. Send Unique to Colorado. #standwithunique.

Green is the new blue, Colorado

Five things Centennial State Democrats can do to win back environmentalists and to win future elections

Green is the new blue, Colorado

Where the hell is the Democratic Party? You got to stand for something if you want to win. — Howard Dean, October 9, 2014

Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the country with hundreds of thousands of people who love living here and who will do whatever they can to protect our quality of life and environment. But last week’s election not only saw major loses by the Democratic Party, it also probably saw the most depressed election engagement from environmental activists in over a decade.

It is true that money flowed in from an eco-billionaire and major environmental groups to try and win the election, but that money did not even remotely make up for the lack of enthusiasm and disengagement from the Democratic Party felt by the vast majority of Colorado environmental activists. If Colorado Democrats want to turn Colorado blue again, they’ll have to turn it greener too.

groundswell Here are five things the Colorado Democrats must do to win back environmentalists and to win future elections.

1. Colorado Democrats need to get the oil and gas out of the Party. Climate change is real, burning oil and natural gas make it worse, and fracking is ruining our air, water, property values, climate and democracy. Colorado Democrats can’t be taken seriously unless they confront the fossil fuel industry and address the single biggest issue facing our state, nation, and planet. The fossil fuel industry currently controls the inside and outside of the Colorado Democratic Party. In the build-up to the 2016 election, the Colorado Democrats need to fight the fossil fuel industry and climate change.

2. Colorado Democrats must confront Hickenlooper on fracking. For four years, the “we have to protect Hickenlooper’s re-election” mantra has completely taken over the Democratic Party. The election is over. Hickenlooper can no longer be allowed to institutionalize anti-environmentalism inside the Democratic Party. He doesn’t listen, and he ridicules and belittles the environmental community nearly every time he talks about fracking. We need leaders within the Democratic Party who will confront and challenge Hickenlooper to restore respect for Colorado’s environment and environmental community.

3. Colorado Democrats need to start telling a Colorado environmental story. The vast majority of people live in this state because it is beautiful – soaring peaks, vast forests, raging rivers, great snow in the mountains, and endless days of sunshine. Probably the sickest thing that happened during the 2014 election was watching Cory Gardner tell this story better than Mark Udall – Gardner ran TV ads with Colorado’s mountains in the background and touting renewable energy; Udall ran one “energy ad” that mostly highlighted his support for natural gas. The Colorado story is an environmental story. Stand up and tell it. 

4. The Colorado Democrats need to be a party of the people. In November of 2013, a few hundred passionate, mostly volunteer, progressive activists pulled off five amazing victories to ban or place a long-term moratorium on fracking deep in the purple suburban heart of Colorado in an off-cycle election in cities with over 400,000 citizens. The Colorado Democrats provided almost no support, allowed Hickenlooper to ridicule the activists and voters as “misinformed” and “uneducated,” and called activists the “Tea Party of the Left.” A Tea Party of the Left is exactly what Colorado Democrats need.

5. Colorado Democrats have to take a formal public stand to get the money out of politics and oppose Citizens United. A few days after the election, former Colorado U.S. Senator Gary Hart wrote, “Our founders repeatedly said that the greatest danger to the survival of the Republic they created was corruption, corruption being favoring special or narrow interests over the common good. We are there now and we are increasing the speed with which we become a totally special interest political system. And, even if my Party had prevailed in this election, I’d be issuing the same warning. Where the feared corruption is concerned, both Parties are equally guilty.”  

A couple days later, renowned Colorado political pundit Eric Sonderman said, “the takeover of both parties by huge money is cancerous.” Much of that cancerous money and corruption is coming from the fossil fuel industry and the Chambers of Commerce which are hell-bent on rolling back environmental regulations and protections.

The Democratic Party blaming and name-calling is all over the media.  Howard Dean’s comment above was one of the lighter criticisms. Comedian John Stewart took it farther and called it, “Obama and Pussycrats.” Bill Maher said point-blank, “The Democrats suck.”
You get the picture.

The 2016 presidential election is just around the corner. The voters have spoken. Colorado Democrats need to change direction, toward Colorado’s mountain peaks, forests, vast open spaces, and raging rivers. We need to tell Colorado’s story.  
Green is the new blue.

Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist, registered Democrat, and former Democratic Party campaign manager in Colorado. Contact at:

[ Top image: Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall tours a Siemens Test Wind Turbine at the National Wind Technology Center in Louisville via NARAL.]

High Country Election Reflection: Time for dialogue

High Country Election Reflection: Time for dialogue

Mark Udall will be missed by many in Colorado’s high country towns, where people have developed a culture and lifestyle based on values that mostly transcend political and ideological divides. We don’t squabble so much about gun rights or abortion — mountain culture is global, rooted to natural resources and imbued, for the most part, with an appreciation of a clean and healthy environment.

Udall has hiked, skied and camped across the Colorado mountains and really involved himself in issues that matter to high country dwellers: Forest fires, outdoor recreation, water and wilderness preservation among the most important. He was probably the closest thing we had in Congress to a champion for the mountains, which isn’t surprising, given his family’s legacy, so there was a real sense of sadness in some of the social media comments on his loss to Cory Gardner.

More worrisome was the immediate nasty and partisan edge to some of the comments about Cory Gardner, who will represent Summit County, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Grand County … ALL of Colorado for the next six years.

Instead of setting the stage for more years of bickering and ideological grandstanding, this may be the time to make a genuine effort to reach out across party lines to try and find some common ground, even before the new Congress begins.

That goes for the media, too. Before highlighting conflicts, accusations and allegations, it would be good to take a deep breath and figure out a way to report constructively on Colorado’s new political landscape. That doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t be watchdogs or that they shouldn’t hold politicians accountable — they should, now more than ever.

But it does mean trying to point the way toward solutions that are in the best interest of all Coloradans instead of ratcheting up expectations for the next horse race. Leave the election rehash and campaign post-mortems to the pundits and focus on what comes next.

The best course is to figure out how to make the best of today’s political reality, as presented by the map. We’re part of an island of blue mountains surrounded by a sea of red, and we need to find ways to encourage Gardner to advocate for what’s important to us here in the high country.

Let’s start by inviting Gardner and his family to visit Summit County to ski and hike the mountains and to enjoy whitewater rafting on a free-flowing stream. After a day outdoors, the Summit Chamber of Commerce, the High Country Conservation Center and the local ski areas can host an economic and environmental roundtable. Gardner would probably hear the same thing from many of the other communities in that blue mountain belt running north-south for the length of the state.

We can explain very clearly that we are concerned about clean water, clean air and climate change, that we’re pretty sure that global warming is caused by greenhouse gas emissions and that we think the government has an obligation to address those issues at the policy level. We can show him how we partner with federal land management agencies to protect the environment and nurture a thriving recreation industry at the same time, and how that’s much more productive win-win path than trying to score ideological points by heeding calls to sell off public lands or to roll back renewal energy production.

At the same time, we need to listen to what Gardner has to say about public lands, energy and the environment. Nobody claims that the current system is perfect, so it’s worth at least having an open mind and considering all options that might be on the table.

My guess is that, if we listen closely, and he listens to us, we will find some goals we agree on. At the same time, we can acknowledge that there’s genuine room for disagreement and debate about how to get there, but that we’ll try.

As for Mark Udall? We’d like to see him spend more time in Colorado, and we suspect he’s looking forward to the same. After some well-deserved time off, he might start thinking about a run for the governor’s chair in four years, because the Democrats, and the state’s majestic Rocky Mountains, need a good candidate.

Mike Keefe’s animal magnetism

Mike Keefe’s animal magnetism

The Colorado Independent and Beacon Reader have joined forces to help bring Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Mike Keefe’s work back to Colorado readers on a weekly basis with an innovative crowd-funding project that depends for success on reader-viewers like you. Check it out here.

Mike’s graphic commentary on local, statewide and national news at The Denver Post set the bar in the state for provocative and entertaining commentary. (His talking heads series — Palin, Biden, Hills, Prez-Elect Obama — is a personal favorite.) Now, just in time for the election, our readers can help us publish a year of new Keefe cartoons. If you’ve missed Mike like we’ve missed Mike, please donate.     –JT