Readers: I have not yet written a post about the parade for the blog. I did, however, write an all staff email for Vita, I'm going to share that with you here today. This will give me some time to think about what I want to write about the parade and our day and a bit in Chicago.
Just as we were leaving Daley Square in Chicago, I was handed the Vita banner to shepherd back to the hotel. It had been rolled up loosely and I had to gather it in my hands in order to tuck it behind me in my wheelchair. Suddenly, I felt the weight of the thing. Not the weight of the fabric, but the weight of its history. I felt like I had been entrusted to care for an object of importance.
At first, as I thought about it riding back to the hotel on the blue line, I thought about where the banner had been, how it had come into creation, and the people involved in deciding what the banner would say. Vita had been asked, by some of our members, to participate in the LGBT parade three years back. We had never 'marched' as an agency and we needed something to stand behind that would represent who we were and what we believed. We created a "Disability Pride" symbol, we developed the slogan "Living in 3D: Diversity, Difference and Disability," we put our logo on the top corners. We were ready.
The banner made its way down Yonge Street, Vita becoming the first agency serving adults with intellectual disabilities to participate in the Toronto Pride Parade. It seemed like such an important moment. And, in fact, it was. A few months later we were at it again, marching in Toronto's Saint Patrick's Day parade, our banner along with one from Down Syndrome Ireland, made it's way down the street. Again, we were the first agency serving people with intellectual disabilities to join the parade - to participate as a community joining a community. It was celebratory.
Since then it's been in the Pride Parade three time, the Saint Patrick's parade twice, a Remembrance day ceremony and has visited several Vita Events. Now, it's marched through Chicago, no one I talked to was sure, but most thought that we were the first group from Canada to participate in the parade. At one point I purposely shot ahead of the group so I could look back and see us, Vita, our staff and our members, marching in Chicago, taking a stand about the civil liberties of people with disabilities and our pride in our membership in a community that is ramping the world, one attitude at a time.
Back in the hotel, I lifted the banner from behind me and lay it on the back of the couch, prominently displayed, don't want to leave it behind. Then I realized that the banner, our banner, our little bit of history, mattered not because of where it had been, the firsts that it had seen. No, I had misunderstood, I think, the importance of the thing. It's important because it's bears the memories of all the hands that carried it. The members who took hold of it and boldly stepped into the Pride parade, declaring that no more would they be told that their sexuality would be denied them - that their disability didn't disempower their love or their voice - that others, who think they know better, will never again rule their minds, police their hearts or imprison their bodies. Those hands held that banner.
Hands. Hands took hold of the banner on a frosty and cold winter morning, to march down the street in the Saint Patrick's Day parade. People with disabilities wanting to say, clearly, WE ARE HERE. Invisibility is no longer an option. Hands took hold of the banner and hands handed out 'Words Hit' cards to all that would take them. Staff and members marched and waved and even danced down the street. Celebrating that on Saint Patrick's Day everyone was Irish and everyone was included.
Yesterday, we all talked about what it meant to be in Chicago and how proud we were to carry our banner in the Disability Pride parade. We talked about the purpose of the day and our purpose in being here. We knew that this meant something significant. That Vita was saying something important by making it possible that we eight be here. Four with and four without disabilities - we eight - would carry our banner and let everyone know that we are part of the world wide movement that proclaims an end to shame and an end to forced invisibility. We are here. And we are proud.
Difference without diffidence is a remarkable thing to see.
Our banner, the thing that it is, matters because of what it has done and the history it has all on it's own. But our banner matters even more, because it represents, in it's journey, our own.