Sunday, 3 June 2012

How An Activist is Born

On "Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind", a blog by my new friend Ravenswyrd, I read a post called "How is an Activist Born". She talked about how she'd been moved to activism by the release of the Spartacus Report in Britain, a response to the austerity cuts and proposed welfare benefit reform. Disheartened by her own experiences with the disability support system in Britain and concerned about the direction in which it was heading, she become involved with the Spartacus group herself, working alongside other campaigners to get accurate information out to the public and to protest what has become a very scary situation for people with disabilities in Britain.

It got me started thinking about when the activist in me was born.

Quiet, Non-Confrontational Girl Becomes Volunteer

I didn't get started in the field thinking that I wanted to be an activist. I was a high school student looking for volunteer work that would look good on my resume (I wanted to be a social worker when I grew up, that year). An opportunity with an agency that supported people with intellectual disabilities came up, and they seemed willing to have me, so I went with it.

And I enjoyed it. I liked the people that the agency supported. I liked the staff. I made some terrific friends among both groups. It was pretty fun, as far as volunteer work goes, though I wasn't so naive that I didn't know that working in developmental services wasn't a field fraught with difficult issues and difficult questions and sometimes things that were difficult to face.  I just didn't give them a whole lot of thought at the beginning.

Then, one day, I was walking in town with Beth, one of the women that the agency supported at the time. We walked toward a group of teens sitting on a bench, and I noticed by the way the she started twisting her fingers that she was anxious about something. As we passed the teens, one of them said, "Hi, Henry." The others jeered.

Good one, I thought, rolling my eyes. I didn't quite understand the joke, but presumed that they just thought it was funny to call her by the name of another client. Implying that all people with disabilities look the same, so it's okay to call them all by one name?

I shook my head. Far too sophisticated for that bunch, I thought.

In the meantime, Beth had started to cry. We went to a bench and sat down, and talked about what was wrong. The teens calling her the wrong name had really upset her, and apparently it wasn't the first time it had happened.

Volunteer Becomes Activist

I was angry. I didn't like that she had just been walking down the street and someone had upset her enough to make her cry, for no apparent reason. I didn't like that they'd taken pleasure in it. I didn't like that it had happened before. I was still pretty quiet and mousy at that point in my life, but anyone who's known a quiet, mousy person will tell you that we're the ones that you really don't want to get angry.

I told Beth that I'd be right back, and I walked back to the bench where the teens were.

"You called my friend by the wrong name and you made her cry," I said, interrupting their conversation.  They stared at me.

"The one sitting over there," I said, pointing. "Her name's not Henry. It's Beth. You call her Beth the next time you see her. Don't ever let me see you make her cry again." I turned and walked away.

For a kid who would rather have set herself on fire than directly confront someone, it was a pretty gutsy move.  I think it was really the spark of that "This isn't fair and I want to change it," fire in me.  It took a while for that spark to get going full-force, though.

I want to thank the people who nurtured it along. They know who they are.

Do you consider yourself an activist for any cause? What or who led you to become one?

"How An Activist is Born" - Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind:

Image credit: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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