Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The hardest part: guilt and activism

Despite my often strident tone in my blog, I feel guilty for making appeals and requests for change, even for what's fair and legally required. I realized that this is part of the system, that the tone of some people's responses to me is rude in order to produce guilt for questioning what's unfair. As a friend says, as soon as a woman complains, that makes her a bitch, deemphasizing the problem that's pointed out and emphasizing the person bringing the complaint. Thus when I complain I can't get into a building or that certain policies or nonaccommodation can destroy my scooter or harm me, people get angry with me. They really get hostile. They claim they don't have to follow ADA.

Part of my discomfort with activism is that I haven't found my true center. I asked myself recently whether I am a follower of Malcolm X, who advocated change by any means necessary, or a follower of Martin Luther King, who advocated direct action. I realized that in my perceptions that others won't be supportive, my fears that I'd be arrested for holding up a real protest sign or protesting even where policies say it's allowed, my fears that no one would join me, I am not even a follower of King yet. At work, I am stuck at the negotiation and legalities stage. People refuse to negotiate or go back on what they said, in fact lying about what the policies have been for the past ten years and immediately changing them at whim to something even more unfair, I can only assume as retaliation. Pain and physical limitation, as well as humiliation, keep me from doing as much as I should. The problem is that I keep asking myself whether I should advocate. Or whether I should just take the unfairness or, alternatively, quit.

These days people aren't advocates or protesters. Am I willing to be arrested to protest a more major example of discrimination? Honestly, not really, especially without the help and support of others protesting with me. What about my children, what about future job chances? There is still a part of me that remains hopeful about improvement of my health. I think I would protest for other causes, but not for my own.

I stand corrected about my workplace in general being hostile; I have to temper that with recognition for those who do help. Yesterday when I went into a particular space it had been rearranged in a way that had to take substantial planning, effort, and physical labor for something that's a minor inconvenience. Though nothing was said about the reason for the change, I know why, and it's nice that others saw the difficulty without me mentioning it. And it will help others too. This isn't something I asked for, so besides gratitude I also felt embarrassment, worrying that others think I've asked for an additional change for something that is inconvenient daily but in the scheme of things small. This is what's also difficult for me: accepting that kind of gift without feeling guilty and embarrassed, especially if I don't stay.

And others are going to bat for me and other people with disabilities through pressing a policy change and publicizing the issue. A writer present at a committee meeting last night showed more interest in this situation than in the primary goals for the meeting and may contact me. I'm not sure about all the attention and feel uncomfortable with it, but whether or not I am able to continue to work over time or work where I do, I hope that a change is made for other employees with disabilities to make their lives easier.

My employer claims it follows the law in upholding a policy that unfairly impacts people with disabilities. Segregationists followed the law. Hitler followed the law, as Martin Luther King pointed out. This is the same pattern that's held through history, using the law and narrow readings of it to defend what's not defensible. But my employer follows only some of the disability laws; it ignores others. They know they're not in compliance. They know it. But they state that they are so they can feign ignorance. They believe that following some of the ADA regulations means that they don't have to meet requests for reasonable, and in this case, cost-free accommodation that harms no one, even as they ignore other ADA regulations, even for additions and reconstruction.

The past few days show me that there are invisible others who support me. I also heard someone asked,"What about people with disabilities?" at a meeting in regards to a new policy that will adversely affect us more than other groups. Though the response to her was hostile, it's nice that she and others are thinking and advocating.

Nevertheless, I noticed today that I don't even sing anymore. Even caged birds should sing. I tried today and noticed it didn't even feel like my voice. I hear others' voices resonate; you can tell who sings, who's a musician, even amateurly. I'm not sure how much of this is from physical pain--probably most of it--and how much from life circumstances, but something's got to change. I've been told by others always to take the more difficult path when there's a choice, that I should confront my fears. Again, I'm not so sure I should in the future or that I should have in the past. I feel like quitting. That feels like the least painful option. And remembering the pain versus the ease of heart and spirit that would follow, being able to sing again, might overcome regret.

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