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Vulnerability and Community in the Time of BLM

Oh gosh, how to even start this?

I am a disabled, chronically ill, queer person. My health conditions are long-standing, progressive, and mostly hereditary. I use a cane full time, and a wheelchair part time to be able to engage with the world in a more normal way. Because of my medical conditions, my immune system doesn’t function as well as it should. Even the regular flu can land me in the hospital, or have me laid up at home for weeks and weeks on end, struggling to breathe. Unsurprisingly, I am considered “high risk” for covid-19. I spent the first many weeks, months of Covid in isolation. I closed down my office, losing most of my business in the process. I wasn’t willing to risk my life and health, or those of the folks that worked with me, or my clients, for money. It was a hard and sad choice, but the right one.

Then George Floyd was murdered. And people across the country took to the streets to protest police brutality, to remind the world that black lives do indeed matter! And Southeastern Connecticut, the city of New London included, was no different. Our communities came out in force to take a stand for the value of black lives and against the unchecked violence perpetrated by those in uniform. And I had to make yet another hard choice. As a member of a very vulnerable population, in the midst of a global viral pandemic, do I take to the streets with the masses, or do I continue to make the safe choice and quarantine? I thought about it a lot, meditated on it, talked to my partner about it, and confidently made a choice that I felt, and still feel, extremely good about.

I put on my mask, filled the pocket of my wheelchair with hand sanitizer and bottled water, kept as much of a distance from others as I could, and set off to stand (well, sit) and march with my community members, to speak out for another vulnerable population. It was a tough choice in some ways, but in another it was the easiest choice I have ever made. Yes, my life is important, and not risking it unnecessarily is a no-brainer. But it is a great privilege to get to choose not to risk my life. To get to choose to avoid/reduce harm by wearing my mask or quarantining. But my fellow black and other POC human beings have not been given that privilege. The abuses perpetrated against them on a massive, systemic scale is beyond what any of the rest of us can imagine. As a disabled and queer person I have some small level of empathy. I have experienced discrimination, bigotry, hatred, isolation and othering. But I do not have to worry that I will be shot in the back for walking or wheeling to my car just because of how my skin looks. I don’t have to worry that, while participating in a harmless hobby like birdwatching, or while happily walking back from the bakery, the police may be called on me, I may be killed. I don’t have to worry that my children, should I have them, will be gunned down while playing because they were considered “threatening.”

Hearing conservatives rant about how hypocritical it is of us “libs” to encourage social distancing, masks, and quarantining but then to come together in protest of the massive loss of black lives was disheartening, albeit not surprising. And I thought about it, and why I made the choices I made. While we now know, looking back, that even the CDC and NIH say that our protests were not causes of extensive spread of the disease, thanks to our protective measures, we did not know that at the time. I, like everyone else, did my best to be as safe as possible, but I believed that there was a decent chance I could contract a virus that could very well be deadly to me (and it is still true that there was always that risk) . But I chose to go anyhow because my life, from where I sat, was not more important than those being lost. And much like how I expect my abled allies to take a stand against ableism and inaccessibility, or my straight allies to push back against homophobia and for LGBTQ+ rights, it takes us all coming together against evil, against bigotry, against discrimination, to affect change. I was the ally in this situation, and I gladly answered the call, because no life is more valuable than others, regardless of gender, ability, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, religion, or anything else. We must all come and join together, to demand equality for all, time and time and time again, until the need no longer exists. Even when it is inconvenient. Even when it’s unpleasant. And yes, even when it is dangerous.

Photo taken by Noah Kaeser, who helped make my attendance at this and all other events possible.

Submitted by Farrah Garland on Oct 11, 2020

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