Thing you may not have known about me: I volunteer for a local civic action group. I'm one of the coordinators.
And, as you might expect, it's been a learning experience. In other words, we done fucked up. I done fucked up.
There was a rally held in support of veterans' rights which a friend of ours organized. To support this event, a fellow coordinator from my group wanted to hold a sign-making and mission-clarifying logistics event. We normally book events at a local library, but they were holding a book sale in the rooms we use all the days we wanted to hold it. So, my fellow coordinator proposed the meeting be held upstairs on the second floor of a local restaurant instead.
I wasn't super thrilled about this. I wanted to assert that, especially since the event was focused on veterans -- and many veterans live with disability -- that it would be better not to hold the event at all than to hold it at an inaccessible location.
I did point out the inaccessibility of the venue and suggest another one. The other venue, my fellow coordinator pointed out, was smaller and didn't have very good lighting. They said we'd just livestream it.
I was still not OK with this, as it would have barred disabled veterans and disabled people in general from attending and participating in a meaningful way. A livestream lets people watch along at home, but doesn't let them give input in real time. On a topic which was discussing their -- our -- lives. It felt like a case of "abled people to the rescue" doing stuff on behalf of disabled folks, yet without their (our) attendance and input.
But, I also didn't want to overstep or alienate or come across as angry. They had veterans in the family, it was clearly important to them, and I was feeling the pressure of having to organize this thing SOON because deadlines were approaching. I was working through a cloud of brain fog due to pain and exhaustion and wasn't sure whether this was the hill I wanted to die on. Wasn't sure if I had the spoons -- or even the right -- to stand up for myself and people like me.
So, I let it slide. I took the easy way out. I fucked up.
I could have had a difficult conversation with my friend. I could have put my foot down. Instead, I wrote a public apology for the event, said it would not happen again, and requested input from people on the page as to how we could not fuck up like this in the future.
The event happened. I've been feeling gross about it ever since. And today, someone publicly responded to my request for feedback.
My first reaction was to wince. Then, as I read on, feeling their anger, their anger started to feel validating. It validated my own feelings of frustration and anger. It made me really examine my guilt over asking for equal access and my fear of expressing it -- this internalized idea that I was seeking "special treatment." Or raining on the activism parade with my pesky concerns about accessibility. I knew this couldn't be OK with everyone, that I was surely not the only one with a problem like this, and it was great to see that critique expressed.
Expressed by a person who clearly seemed so much more courageous than me.
My second reaction was shame. Didn't I get involved specifically to prevent situations like this? Didn't I get angry because the Women's March refused to offer a wheelchair-accessible route? Didn't I insist that the other coordinators include ability in our mission statement after they left it out in the early days? Aren't I tired of disability always being the last thing activism thinks about?
Yes, obviously, I am. But when push came to shove, I let it slide. I done fucked up. Why, I'm wondering, did I do that?
I could blame it on the brain fog or on the rushed nature of the thing but the truth is, it was because I felt uncomfortable. Because I didn't want to stand out, to lose friends, to alienate people or to suggest that I was ungrateful to the restaurant owner who'd offered the venue. I didn't want to say, "I'm here, I'm disabled, and I and people like me have needs. We should be allowed to exist in public spaces. We want to participate fully in events which can determine the course of our futures."
I wrote earlier in this post that "It felt like a case of 'abled people to the rescue' doing stuff on behalf of disabled folks, yet without their (our) attendance and input." The truth is, abled organizers DID have "our" input. They had me. I WAS in a position to advocate, to take the hard line. I pointed out the problems -- but I let it slide when I should have gone farther.
This thing is bigger than me. Bigger than my personal discomfort. I need to learn to trust my instincts, listen to my gut when something feels squicky and point it out. To be unapologetic in stating problems or calling out, to push allies, and to stop excusing myself when I fuck up.
I done fucked up. Apologies don't mean much when a thing has already been said and done, but I CAN promise to do better. To be angrier. To stop feeling guilty about pushing for accessibility, and to really work to overcome my internalized ableism.
This is all relatively new to me, and as such, I'm going to fuck up. I've fucked up in the past on many occasions. I'm sure this won't be the last time I fuck up. But I can make every effort not to fuck up again on this issue. Because this thing is bigger than me, and personal discomfort can't be allowed to get in the way.
I fucked up. I'm sorry. And I'm going to commit to doing better -- being better -- in the future.