Activism and... Disability

IssueMay 2009

“I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2nd Corinthians, 12:10

As a devout Catholic and political activist, that quotation has always stuck out in my memory. There’s a great tradition in my faith of finding strength in times of struggle. And it’s no great secret that those of us in the activist community have a multitude of obstacles in front of us: police barricades, political manoeuvres that leave us nearly helpless and even the red tape of the legal system.

But I just have one more challenge than most of my fellow protestors: I am partially-sighted. I’ve never considered it a disability. Completely blind in my left eye, with poor sight in my right, means I require a bit of assistance – my fellow protesters telling me what’s happening, I usually bring my white cane and magnifying glass along with me just in case – but it does not mean I can’t actively stand up for what I believe.

Certainly I have limitations, as does everyone, but I understand these boundaries. I know what I can and cannot do and never participate in any demonstration or action that I am not prepared to handle – physically, spiritually and psychologically.

I know I need one of my fellow activists to keep an eye out for me, but I’ve always said that if anyone is uncomfortable participating with me, I’m happy to stand aside. So far, nobody has ever said to me “don’t”. Instead, I’ve received more warmth and support than I ever could have imagined. Still, what will be will be. I believe that more than anything. Should someone ask me to offer support from the sidelines, I will. Should the police arrest me (and they have on several occasions both in Britain and in the United States), I will go with them.

I’ve never been afraid. Even though I can’t see what’s going on, I simply have to trust God. And some people may say: “Oh, that’s foolish”, but I do. I’m here because I believe I should be here and whatever happens, I’ll accept that.

I feel very passionate about nonviolent resolution. History has showed us that violence has devastating consequences and never solves any conflict, at least not in the long-term. I hope that my efforts with the Catholic Worker movement, particularly against the war in Iraq and nuclear weapons, are noticed and make a difference.

Even though I got involved with this type of work late in life – I’m 62 years old with an artificial hip and proud of it – I do not let it diminish the strength of my convictions.

Even though I cannot see everything everyone else sees, I do not let my visual impairment hinder my role as an activist. Why should it hinder my voice and my views? Why should my opinions and actions count any less than anyone else’s?

It is that which reinforces my faith in what I believe is right. It is that which gives me strength to stand up for those beliefs. It is this that which motivates me to simply soldier on. After all, it is with the heart that we see.

Women, Oxford

Topics: Activism
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