Shawn's History

[NOTE: We will expand the digital archive as we digitize Shawn’s archives.]


Shawn Casey O’Brien hitchhiked from Detroit, Michigan to Santa Monica, California in the summer of 1975 to work on Tom Hayden’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. After overcoming their initial concerns that Shawn could be an agent provocateur, he was taken under the wing of the great anti-war activist and journalist Fred Branfman, who uncovered the secret bombing of Laos. With Fred as his mentor, Shawn worked in the Hayden campaign’s research department and help the campaign draft their position on disability, as well as did lots of Get Out The Vote work in Tom’s home district.

It was Tom’s chief fundraiser who got Shawn his first apartment on Venice Beach where he became involved in local politics and cultural affairs.


THE CRIPPLES, et al – 1978 – 1989

It was in that Venice apartment, frequented by musicians and artists galore, that Shawn and his bandmates came up with the concept for the seminal punk band, The Cripples and their brand of “social satire you can dance to.” With a simple message of “Stop being afraid and get proud of how you were made,” The Cripples recorded “I’m Your Cripple!” and, upon hearing it, the owners of a small Valley studio offered The Cripples a contract to record a full length demo.

Shawn’s songwriting abilities were unleashed as he wrote songs for all the political, spiritual, and economic cripples of the world, as well as the merely physical cripples.

Shortly after finishing the demo, Shawn was hitchhiking home one day and was picked up by none other then Bob Dylan, who, after learning that Shawn was the lead singer and songwriter of The Cripples, had Shawn sing a couple of songs right there in the front seat. Shortly after that The Cripples were signed, sight unseen, by the world’s largest management company upon Bob Dylan’s recommendation, and they were offered to write and record a couple of songs for the most controversial movie of the 1980’s, Cruising, staring Al Pacino. Shawn had the honor and pleasure of working with Director William Friedkin and the great Jack Nitzsche who produced the soundtrack.

The album/soundtrack itself is considered the standard by which the whole genre is judged. But because Cruising was ahead of its time in both music and substance it did not initially do well and the management company wanted Shawn to forego the positive concept that the The Cripples championed and “become John Denver on sticks.”

The management company and The Cripples shortly thereafter had a parting of the ways and The Cripples worked the LA nightclub scene for years. Shawn created, wrote and sang for two other bands: Spare Parts and Sweat Equity.

Shawn would love to give you all the intrigue, love, and high times that those years entailed, but you will have to wait till Shawn writes his memoir on the rock & roll years. In the meantime, here is where you can get a taste of the songs of Shawn Casey O’Brien:

Shawn does want to take this opportunity to thank the scores of great and wonderful musicians he got to work with over the years. Without their music and talent Shawn would have just been another poet on Venice Beach, spouting poetry.



When merchants began chaining off handicapped parking spots at Venice Beach, Shawn and his disabled cohorts began to fight back, and not just through the courts, but also the ballot box. They began to organize the votes of the largest minority group in California and the country — the disabled. Over the next decade they registered and got out the votes of over 100,000 voters with disabilities and their families. They also learned a lot about the unknown history of Western democracy.

Not much more needs to be said here about UP as its ups and downs and its defeats and triumphs are at the heart of the story that is told in Shawn Casey O’Brien’s memoir: For The Love Of Long Shots, which we wholeheartedly encourage you to buy: (LINK TO AMAZON COMING)



In 2002, Shawn was encouraged to run for California Secretary of State in order to give millions of disabled adults a reason to register and vote. Knowing that it was a long shot, Shawn campaigned with abandon all across the state. Many of California’s political elites wrote Shawn off, stating he’d be lucky to get 10,000 votes. Not only did he beat their expectations, receiving over 86,000 votes — making his campaign the most cost effective statewide campaign ever at 10 cents a vote, but in 2003 he was appointed to the California Secretary of State’s Task Force on Touch Screen Voting and was instrumental in crafting the legislation that mandated that every electronic voting machine in California be equipped with an Accessible Voter Verified Paper Ballot to assure the voters that their ballots were counted as they were cast. It was the first such legislation of its kind in the U.S.



KPFK’s Access Unlimited was Pacifica’s disability awareness show “for people born in the know, or those who arrived there accidentally” and, of course, Shawn covered all things political when it came to people with disabilities.

He used his small soapbox to do on-air organizing, in order to inform our community on issues of their direct interest and give them reasons to get out and vote.

You can visit KPFK’s archive if you’d like to hear Shawn:

Shawn also served two years on the Pacifica National Board and got passed a Whistle Blower’s Policy that strengthened workers’ rights, and he pushed through a Zero Tolerance For Violence policy that, over the years, has had a calming influence at both National and Local Board meetings. He also led the effort to stop Internet voting when it came to Pacifica’s elections and he amended a Board motion on aiding traveling PNB members with disabilities to include “personal assistances.”