Anger and Shame

As you've no doubt noticed, I've been pretty angry lately. It happens when I'm very tuned into political issues. And it happens a lot when I'm tuned into political issues that relate to vulnerable populations (usually double levels of injustice). Lately, I've been blogging a lot about disability issues and well… This is one of those issues where the political is very personal. I was starting to consider focusing on unicorns and rainbows, but then Saturday happened and I got all energized again.

To the best of my knowledge, today is the day that Toronto City Council will debate eliminating the Hardship Fund. Somewhat ironically, this happens mere days after the International Day of People with Disabilities and just one day before Human Rights Day. Because nothing says we support human rights and services for people with disabilities like axing the fund that helps people with disabilities get the kind of equipment they need, but can't afford and which isn't covered elsewhere.

And I'm angry. Actually, I'm so mad I could spit. Part of this anger is fueled by the discussion I had with other attendees of the International Day of People with Disabilities – y’know, the one that wasn't recognized in any serious way by our fair City. The day proclaimed by the UN and celebrated around the world. Except in Toronto.

And I was especially angry after I found out that an estimate of the cost of celebrating this day the way it's been in the past lies around $10,000. I was also especially angry to find out that a lot of smaller grants to disability organizations have been cut - $5000 here, $10,000 there. Money that goes to programs for those in our society who don't have a lot of power or make it into the headlines. Money that begins to fill gaps in services, protect rights and make the invisible visible. I was angry because to me, this confirmed a feeling I've been having for a while. The feeling that there is an unspoken effort from the current City administration to erode those services and rights because we don't have a lot of power or make it into the headlines. And I'm not unaware that this kind of statement gets people thinking I'm a bit paranoid. Lately, I've been wondering if perhaps I was, if I’d gotten so far into the politics of it that I had lost sight of reason.

We did make it into a headline in the Toronto Star onSaturday in an article that confirmed to me that I hadn’t. In this article, it is mentioned that our esteemed Mayor had attempted to shut down the City’s accessibility advisory committee, but backed off when it was pointed out to him that having one such committee was required by law. This article also mentioned that Councillor Adam Vaughan, who is chair of this committee, had not been aware that the International Day had been canceled. Vaughan is quoted as saying "[t]here’s been a drift, if not a concerted effort, to move away from support of people in this city with disabilities.” I heard at the gathering on Saturday that other Councillors also were not aware that the Day was canceled, but when their constituents told them, they went on the warpath.

So I'm back to being angry. Because to me, this bit by bit erosion of grants, services and support for a particular population is discrimination. Deliberate? I'm not going to make any statements about that, but I don't think it matters. The end result is discriminatory. And this is the point where people start getting uncomfortable, because  the D-word feels somehow wrong to many when applied to disability. Sometimes, there’s downright pooh-poohing, a dismissal that such a thing happens. Which I still find odd - very few people dispute the fact that discrimination happens against racial minorities or women, but it somehow inconceivable in the context of disability. What if grants to women's organizations or agencies for racial minorities were systematically cut? What if Black History Month was canceled?

I would posit that this kind puzzled reaction to the issue of discrimination comes from the same place that expects people with disabilities to be nice and quiet. On Saturday, Dave told the story of speaking to the City’s diversity department staff about the problems in not recognizing the International Day of People with Disabilities. The good news is that this staff did step up, did take action and do the right thing and it's a very big victory. However, my point relates more to the way they seem to be surprised that he was angry. Because being angry is very definitely not part of the role of disabled person. We are supposed to be nice, unassuming and ever grateful for the smallest crumb thrown our way and if you don't believe me, you should try being on the receiving end of services for people with disabilities. 

On Saturday, we networked. We shared information that made it clear that misinformation had been the name of the game around the International Day. There were very different stories about statements made by the City and what had really happened. And my reaction to this is to not sit back down (metaphorically) and be quiet while someone pats me on the head. My reaction is to get angry and a lot more in the community are getting angry, as well.

It's about time.

The Boy said something brilliant about anger: anger unites and shame provokes change. We need to unite our community, each small group linking with the others until we become a force to be reckoned with and that effort is fueled through anger. Creating change often takes an effort to shame the institutions and administrations that try to silence us, to render us invisible and to erode the rights we've fought so hard to establish. Think back on any successful movement to create social change and some aspects of that process will include shame. I would like to believe that it's not necessary, that as reasonable people, we can talk about such things and come to a reasonable conclusion. However, recent events prove that this is not the case. Because whether it is in our City or on a national basis, people with disabilities are not a priority.

And we won't be until we make a lot more noise. Noise that gets us into headlines. Noise that gets every reasonable able-bodied person out there to sit up and take notice and join us. Together we will make change happen.

So get angry. Meet you on the barricades. They'll be accessible.