Disability Rights: What today’s protest teaches us

We always say we are only as strong as our weakest link, if I were to apply that to American society and disabilities “weakest” would simply mean most physically vulnerable. It would certainly not mean lacking in strength or force or influence, because if there is anything I have learned from persons with disabilities it is how to fight. In fact, they’re literally the ones who taught me how to fight. Like most, I didn’t realize the issues surrounding special needs and disabilities until it became my own reality with the diagnosis of my oldest child with autism. That was what truly spurred my activist heart into motion. And my training came from online forums where I was introduced to real life warriors.

One thing that certainly didn’t shock me by this protest was the fierceness of the protestors. Make no mistake, their bodies may seem fragile, but their spirits and voices soar. While many watching may have been caught off guard that such a physically vulnerable group would put themselves at risk, I was not. This is the way it works in activism. Those privileged enough to not have to fight frequently don’t, leaving the vulnerable exposed as they fight for their very lives. And, with a sense of pride, I cheered them on as they were dragged from their chairs and continued to shout. “SHOW THEM HOW STRONG YOU REALLY ARE!” I hope and pray that their fight did not go in vain as too many fights do.


(This certainly was not the first time there have been protests and arrests of persons with disabilities. This story is from March.)

Today, as I watched footage of protestors with disabilities being removed from Mitch McConnell’s office my heart broke. Not because I felt any more emotion for persons of disabilities than I do for other protestors, but because the way they were handled showed a complete and utter lack of respect for personhood and a complete lack, yet again, of respect for protest. A few points may have been lost and may seem like sympathy for “weaker” persons. Make no mistake this is not what this is. Just because a person has a wheelchair or an oxygen mask makes them no less able to utilize their rights of free speech and protest. This is not about sympathy, this is about the overarching treatment of all protestors.

This is about the fact that a wheelchair (or a cane or any other type of medical equipment) is an extension of a person. Remember the story of this school that tried to take away the cane of a blind student as punishment? They, essentially, removed his eyes. His cane was not just an accessory, it was how he was able to see. Equally, the officers removing persons from wheelchairs and carrying them off is akin to cutting off the legs of an able-bodied protestor so they will be easier to handle. It is unacceptable. Yes, even able-bodied protestors are carried out, and that is a dehumanizing enough act, but what did they do with these persons once they were removed into police custody and were robbed of their ability to sit or stand?


Were these protestors simply lined up on the ground with no caregivers and no ability to move themselves? Were their vitals monitored? Did they receive proper services like interpreters for the deaf or hard of hearing? Were they immediately given access to lawyers (knowing many may have had mental disabilities) or were they questioned and left to legally hang themselves? We know that the most vulnerable among us is rarely cared for properly, we know that even able-bodied protestors are frequently treated worst of all (being locked in dog cages, being denied feminine hygiene products, etc.) so none of these questions fall beyond the scope of reason. Were they handled properly by the police?

But the most disturbing thing of all was that they were treated in such a way over speaking out about healthcare. How is it that when they were there to have their voices heard over being treated fairly in regards to their health, to remain protected and safe, that they were removed in such a manner? Is there something so threatening about a group of people in a hallway holding signs and chanting? This was an order that the Senate Majority Leader made in response to his constituents. Is there a way for us to really have our voices heard or will we consistently be dragged (literally) for trying? It truly makes no sense that those obviously in need of healthcare and most impacted would be shut down by those making the decision.


I mean, call me an idealist, but wouldn’t they be invited in to the table of those supposedly representing them?

But so far we haven’t been able to address education (in Louisiana, Cassidy specifically ignored letters, petitions, phone calls, and those gathering in his office) and people were even villainized for using their voices at townhalls after being ignored for so long. So far, gatherings about the Bayou Bridge pipeline (including our crawfishing industry, homeowners, scientists, and flood victims) have been ignored in all decisions regarding the project. And we all know that there has yet to be a true space devoted to the community speaking out about Alton Sterling or desires for police reform. When do we say enough is enough and community participation MUST be protected? Are we going to let them arrest everyone?

It’s easy to look at a group of protestors with disabilities and feel a lot of shock and sympathy and rage and fear over their treatment. But let’s not forget that this is how protestors (and citizens simply using their rights to assembly and free speech) are treated in America. This is how Native Americans are treated when their lands are targeted for unwanted pipelines. This is how African Americans are treated when they stand up for justice for the dead men and women in their community. This is how the LGBTQ community is treated when they stand up and speak for marriage and bathroom rights. This is how the Muslim community is treated when they want to travel. It is always the vulnerable among us treated in such a way.

Flood Relief Photo Gallery

Remembering June 12 One Year Later

Today, we remember. We remember the 49 people who lost their lives for simply existing. We remember those who entered into the one place they were allowed to be themselves – with their dress, with their partners, with their bathroom choice – and were betrayed. We remember those whose lives and deaths will continue to be stigmatized.

Today, we take a moment to look at their faces:

Today, we take a moment to say their names:

Today, we recognize that this was one giant incident of hate, but that it is not an isolated one. And today, we acknowledge the things we have done as a society to contribute to the marginalization and oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. Today, we join together to prevent such a massacre in our own cities, to protect our communities, to move towards equality.

We recognize that the last two years have been the deadliest on record for transgender persons. We remember the 4 murders we have had in our own state in the last year – Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen, Jaquarrius Holland, and Devin Diamond.

We recognize the anti-LGBTQ legislation that continues to oppress people in our communities. (see the full 2016 report and projections of 2017 here)

We recognize that gay men are prohibited from donating blood – regardless of their status, regardless of testing that makes this requirement obsolete, and regardless of the fact that HIV/AIDS is not limited to gay persons.

We recognize that homophobia is real, that religious oppression of homosexuality exists, and that justice has not been achieved.

We remember the level of stigma that still exists for the body of one of the victims of the Pulse Massacre to go unclaimed by his own father.

Today, we stand together.

Join the community on Saturday, June 17, 2017, for the 11th annual Pride Festival at the Raising Canes River Center from 1pm – 8pm. Share the love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things you thought you knew, but were probably wrong

A friend’s FB post really kicked my brain into gear first thing this morning. He was watching “Wild Countdown” when they said zebras were black with white stripes. He always believed that zebras were white with black stripes (as was once the general consensus about zebras’ coloring). Now, some may roll their eyes and say, “It’s the same thing, so what really is the revelation here?” “They have white and black stripes, so what does it matter if the actual base color of the stripe is black or white?” “How does one even know and why would someone spend so much time thinking about zebras’ stripes?”

Well, it actually does matter. It matters because there is a true statement. It matters because one of these makes more sense scientifically (how the coloring of stripes form defines which part of the zebra is the base coloring and which is not). It matters because even when it is “just” the coloring of zebras people are going to argue about which one they believe is right and which one they believe is wrong regardless of evidence. Zebras’ stripes pretty much define America in 2017. But beyond that, what these things say to me, personally, is that there are so many things that I once believed to be true, that actually were not. I was wrong.

So, without further ado, here are five of my personal favorite revelations:

There are colors in the world that I didn’t even know existed because my eyes can’t see them.

No, I am not color-blind, and this isn’t about my vision personally. This is because of the way my eyes as a human are formed. In fact, as humans, we see more colors than some animals do, but we also see way less than others as well (and I can’t help but wonder how many colors the animals with even the best color vision can’t see that still exist in the world…) Here is an interesting article about what we would see if we had the vision of an eagle.

We have more than 5 senses. In fact, we have closer to TWENTY.

As a homeschool mom who has used alternative education options to teach my children, I’m constantly floored by the things my children learn that I didn’t. In fact, I’m constantly realizing things that I was taught as fact were, at the very least, major simplifications, and, at worst, flat out lies. Take our senses for example: touch, taste, sight, sound, smell. That was what I was taught composed human senses. But there is so much more to that. I guess this one example can fall under “major simplification”, after all touch does encompass the examples of pain, itch, temperature, and pressure, but what about the sense of balance or hunger/thirst and even the sense of needing to pee? If you’re curious to find out more about this topic, this is a great article.

Many religions share the same stories.

Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, I was led to believe that the Bible was the truth and the only one of its kind. Yet, when I began religious studies classes in college, I saw a different side to that narrative. From the creation story, to the flood, to the virgin birth to the death and resurrection, there are many overlapping stories in all religions both ancient and modern. Each culture seems to have their own “version” of an almost identical story-line, yet each religion is seemingly rejected by the next. Here are 10 gods that share stories with JesusHere are 15 stories of the flood that share the story of Noah. Even the two religions that in today’s society we see as “most against each other” share the same story-lines – Christianity and Islam – and here is just the example of the similarities they have with Jesus.

The Republican Party and The Democratic Party have switched sides.

When we hear about the original “parties” of the United States, we always seem to frame it with the beliefs of the parties in existence today (even historians if FB comment sections are any indicator), but the parties have been very fluid throughout history for many reasons. In fact, over time the parties have actually switched sides on the issues. How relevant that actually is to your views of your party is up to you, the facts are simply the facts.

Slavery is not dead, and it never took racism with it.

This could be an entire post in and of itself. Slavery never died. In fact, more people are enslaved today than ever before through human trafficking and the prison system (both are significant problems in Louisiana which has been among the top in the country in cases of human trafficking as well as having the largest prison population in the entire world). Along with the fact that slavery is still alive and well in the United States of America, so is racism. In truth, the government itself systematically segregated the country and we still have the lasting results of that system today. Racial microaggressions exist on a daily basis in all of our interactions and they are very harmful, yet they are often unnoticed by the ones using them and, when pointed out, often defended. Louisiana has long been recognized nationally for not only its history of racism, but its current catering to it. A concept that has become more and more obvious as our current political season wears on.

I could spend all day listing things that over the last decade alone I have had to reexamine (something about moving from your 20’s to your 30’s makes you start to question everything), but I obviously have to draw the line somewhere. So, now it’s your turn.

What are some things that you once believed wholeheartedly to be true, that have turned out to be either major simplifications or flat out falsehoods?

 

 

 

Living as a writer in Baton Rouge 

Someone recently told me they have never lived in a place where they have met so many writers as they have here in Baton Rouge. As a writer, having lived here the last 17 years, perhaps that was something I never noticed. That was just my “circle”. I never realized there was a difference in the number of writers here versus anywhere else.

But, if that really is true, I can see why. I think it’s because there is something about this small (trying to be big) city that brings out the writer in people. We have an abundance of both amazing, powerful people and unashamedly horrible ones. We are a city/state that is always last in everything except for the things you want to be last in, and in those things we are first. We are a place built upon old money, corrupt politics, judgement, and tradition. There is no end to the story, ever, you can dig forever and probably never get to the bottom of the truth even if you change your opinions 50 times along the way. And what you would believe is a safe approach to take could be the most controversially received by the public eye.

In fact, it is exactly that aspect of the truth of this city that has kindled my passion for being actively involved in change, while simultaneously stepping out of the professional writing circuit. I sat at many tables with many leaders, hearing from their mouths and the mouths of supporters the wonderful progress, the true good, the advancement that their programs are bringing to our communities, only to then speak to those these programs are supposedly “helping”, to speak to the workers, to get an inside look, and realize that there is not as much positively happening behind the scenes as I was led to believe.

There is no doubt in my mind that being a writer in this city is what has brought me where I am today. Coupled with working in the non-profit sector, I have been granted a look into the inner workings of our city that goes beyond the media representations (even the media that I myself have contributed to). I have been plunged beneath the surface, and there are no misgivings about the good and the bad. And I, for one, am proud that there are so many willing to share the stories and to keep digging.

One thing that I will be sharing in upcoming posts are articles that I have written on certain topics (school choice, government and non-profit partnerships, non-profit activities, the violence reduction strategy, etc.) and give an opinion I was not allowed to share at the time those articles were published. The opinion that isn’t as trustful of these supposedly “life changing” programs in our city. Because there is never just one side, and it was seeing both sides that has led me where I am today.

I truly hope others can see those sides as well. I believe once we get to that place, we can move beyond the agenda and bias, get past the ignorant, hate-filled comment sections, and move forward together for the betterment of our community.

THE BEGINNING

After almost a decade serving in the non-profit sector here in Baton rouge, I had a strong desire to bring all of the work I was doing together in one place. Yet, for years I struggled with when to do so. The opportunity came immediately following the flood in August of 2016 when donations and resources for the community began pouring in to me personally instead of just to the organizations I had been involved with. I knew then that it was time.

In the last 10 years, I have worked with issues such as disability rights, human trafficking, mental health, and education. I have been an advocate for women and families regarding childbirth and breastfeeding, and have been active in providing support and resources for women living in and coming out of abusive situations. I stand with the marginalized people in our community to address the injustices in our system that oppress them so that we can have a better system for all. I believe in fighting to create equality, and that it is my responsibility to utilize the balance of powers afforded to me through the Constitution. I support the right to protest, the right to petition, the right to speak. I also desire to work within the system.

The decision to form an LLC instead of a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) stems from both the immediate need to form the corporation in light of the flood, and also from my experiences in the non-profit sector for so many years. While Compassion will work similarly in the fact that the dollars put into the company will go into the community, I am a firm believer that the process of operating within the non-profit sector inhibits instead of encourages growth. For more detailed information about that belief listen to Dan Pallotta’s TED talk “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”.

As Compassion enters into its first year of full service to the community, I am both excited and nervous to see the vision implemented in our communities. Many years of planning has gone into each step, now is the time to cross our fingers and dive right in. Thank you to those who have been here from the beginning and those who have supported me every step. For those just joining in on the journey, welcome! I can’t wait to see what we will build together!

Founder of Compassion Louisiana, Krista Bordelon, and her 3 children