I arrived just after it had started. It was near 30 years ago and out and out protests with and for the disability community were new to me. I'd marched in other marches, but never one like this. We were in front of the Ontario Legislature and we were really, really loud. We were there protesting the limited hours of WheelTrans, but, as always, other issues, more personal issues, kept entering into our discussions with each other. I was there with disabled students from the school where I worked as a support staff. I had been called into the principles office and warned about my 'rabble rousing,' that's actually what she said, with the students. They complained about the limited service, I suggested they attend the rally. "We'd have to skip school!!" "Yeah," I said. these students were all in grades 11 and 12. What kids of that age haven't skipped a day or two of school?
Several of the students showed and they were flying! They were unused, even as teenagers, breaking a rule or two. So they grabbed signs, joined in the chants and went to it. I marched behind them, prouder than hell that they were there and having this experience. I did wonder if I'd have a job the coming day, but, for the moment, I just joined in with the protest and the sense of real community there.
He came on a power wheelchair carrying something in his lap. It wasn't till he was closer that I saw he was carrying the charger for his chair. A small cheer rose from a small group when they saw him. He grinned in response. He rolled right in to the protest and eventually ended up beside me. We didn't talk, we were busy yelling and making noise. Eventually, though, when we took a break I heard him tell his friends that the staff at his 'home,' I put home in quote marks because his staff had called the night before and cancelled his ride to the protest. They didn't want him to go.
He got up in the morning, got into his wheelchair, all in the usual ways, then he grabbed his charger and headed out the door and down the road. He said he had to stop twice and ask people to plug him in to get enough charge to keep going. "It's surprising how easy that was to do," he laughed. Once charged up he continued on. He said that he thought his staff were frightened about any kind of change, "Anything that makes me freer, somehow seems to make them feel diminished," he said. "I think they fear our freedom," he said, "I think they fear loss of control."
The students from my school and I were sitting nearby and listening. They asked me if what he said was true. They didn't know about me, or my sexuality, or my time spent marching in parades.
"I hadn't thought of it that way," I said, "but I think he's right."
I still do.
That stranger with wisdom in his words rocked my way of seeing the world.