This morning as I was walking through the Occupy Cal people on Sproul Plaza, I was moved to do my first blog post in a long time. There were definitely a lot of people gathered around for eight o’clock in the morning. People seemed to be lounging here and there and having conversations. It’s not what I would expect if I were moving through a typical protest on campus. In the past six years, I have often walked through strike lines, speeches, and different types of actions. This was the creepiest one yet. I know what they were protesting therefore I understand the motivation, but I just couldn’t feel connected to them. As strange as it sounds, strikers and speech givers at least have one thing right when it comes to a blind participant in their activities, their messages are loud, obnoxious, and repeated over and over again.
I think I’ve been feeling this type of disconnection a lot more lately. People are concerned, worried, and always feeling a little stressed. But they seem to me to be behaving absolutely normally. I’m not catching those visual cues that everybody else is. Maybe people’s clothes are a little bit more worn or faded. Maybe people’s heads hang a little lower. But most of all, I’m missing the signs of worry and stress in their eyes and body language. Walking through the protesters this morning I couldn’t help but feel angry and frustrated. Why were none of them communicating to me? Why was I left out of their message? What is it about a woman with a dog that means you shouldn’t try and convert me to your message and that you should ignore that I even exist? At one point in time, a clump of them sat talking right in my path and Pecan just walked her way around them. Not one of them thought to move or even say join us. I understand that in some ways I’m the kind of person that they might be protesting against. I have a job, I have a husband, and I have a home. But in other ways I’m just like them. I don’t really know if I will have this job next year, next month, or even tomorrow. In other ways, I’m very much at risk. It’s widely said that 70% of people with disabilities are unemployed, so the chances are I’m more like them than they think. They have no way to know that I’m not one of the people that the government has left behind.
As I talked about making this blog post to one of my colleagues and how I felt about moving through the movement, I realized that very few people do understand. She thought I was scared for my safety in the crowds. The past few days she’s been constantly reminding me to be safe and try to not go through or by the protesters. Her heart is in the right place, she cares for my safety. But sometimes people who care just make me want to scream. Maybe I want to be one of the protesters. Maybe I want to hold the sign. Maybe I want to be one of those people standing on the steps calling out my beliefs and asking people to join. It’s been a long time since I felt disenfranchised as much as I did this morning. I could not connect and I couldn’t understand how I got to this point.
So, as these problems grow and more and more people become angry, remember this: as much as these things affect you and as much as things are hard, there is so much more out there. The next time a person with a disability walks by, don’t let them feel disconnected. If you have a message that you’re sharing, realize that they may want the choice to get that message too. This blog post goes out to those people who are soliciting every person, except the disabled, who walks by. Don’t forget that people with disabilities are probably worse off than the situation you’re protesting to begin with. If one day you hear that I’ve lost it out on the street because one more person didn’t ask me if I cared about the environment, or if I was registered to vote, or if I wanted to sign a petition, don’t be surprised. Why wouldn’t I care that you won’t be able to breathe the air in 100 years, or who is the next president, or even make sure that my municipality doesn’t go bankrupt? If you’re sitting out there holding up a sign, don’t forget to read it to me as I walked by.