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Words by Erynn Porter
Image by Christine Stoddard
There has been such a surge of hate towards anything or anyone that is different this past year. The pure vile that people contain shocked me as I watched millions vote for an unqualified man. A man that seemed to hate everything that did not mirror him. A man that promised change, change that so many Americans were desperate for, they were willing to trample on people who were weaker than them, different from them.
I remember cold encasing my body as I sat in my living room with my family watching the results of that fateful election. I remember my dad cheering for him, excited that things would be different. I stared at him, wondering if any of this was real. It was like I floated above my body as I looked around. My mom who has a mental illness; my friend who is queer; my dad, a straight, white, cis, abled-body man; and then me, with so many illnesses that it is hard to function. I crashed into myself as heat filled my face. I stood up, towering over my father for once. “I hope you know that you are the only one who is safe in this house now,” I said as I left the room. I could hear him brushing me off, telling me “it wouldn’t be that bad.”
But it was.
From travel bans to Nazi marches, to an increase in police brutality against African-Americans to deportation cries, it was like watching America self-destruct. What was probably most painful of all though, was the treatment of those whose bodies are considered “not normal.” From slashes to programs that disabled people depend on, to an education secretary who doesn’t know a damn thing about the rights disabled students have, everything for people who already live precariously was basically thrown out the window.
Being chronically ill causes you to look at everything differently. In a way you are forced to become more aware of people and their intentions. Is this person really my friend? Will they stick by me when I have a flare up, when I can’t be fun or happy for a while? Will they be grossed out if my stomach sours and I’m forced to throw up in public, like in a subway station trash can? Or will they mock me, like our current president did to a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his work in journalism. Will they abandon me when it becomes too difficult to be my friend.
I have been left behind. I have been mocked. I have been forced into the corner of marginalization many times. I have been discriminated against. I have lost jobs, time, and hope several times. I became angry, I turned my back on people, on myself. I grew depressed and lonely until someone was kind enough to reach their hand out for me to grasp. I keep going, though god know why. I have tried to run away from the label of being sick or disabled. To have that label is to be vulnerable to others, and nothing like this past year has proved it more.
I have watched as peers fear for their literal lives this past year. They depend on Medicaid to survive, to point that willing to risk their safety to protest. I watched in disgust as protesters were removed from wheelchairs, carried in the arms of officers, while being arrested for peaceful protesting. Their hands in one officer’s hands and their legs in other officer’s hands. They swung like a kid playing the hammock game. The protestors are frozen in images; their mouths open in a war cry or in pain. They didn’t have to take the protestors out of their wheelchairs, it was a way to degrade them, a weakness to exploit.
On social media, people called out for help. They couldn’t afford their medications; their insurance companies weren’t helping them. Some of the medication is literally lifesaving. They lament on how people seem bolder now to mock their disabilities. To push them aside to make room for themselves, sometimes quite literally moving wheelchairs aside. I’ve been nervous to call myself disabled, not only because I’m not sure that I count but because it would be hard to prove. There are people who already hunt to disprove disabilities. You know the people that yell at you if you don’t the fit the general description what disability is and means. They leave notes on cars. I watch on public transportation as people laugh about the “stupid” reserved seating for people with disabilities. I watch as my legs hurt and I start to feel faint from standing too long, chronic problem I have. I listen to people use mental illness to explain terrorist attacks, to use that propaganda to cause fear.
But not all is lost. People are disabled are generally seen as weak, but this year has proven this wrong. Protestors gathered at multiple gatherings, they risked their bodies as chanted. While it was hard to watch them get arrested, they never gave up even while getting carried off. Signs were waving and people would cry out for one another. The chanting they cried in the Senate, growing louder than the gavels, walls, and the senators themselves. “No cuts to Medicaid!” People came out in droves on social media, through showing support, through showing their disdain. People put themselves out there in op-eds and personal essays. Even I wrote about a piece about Betsy DeVos and how she is dangerous to students who have disabilities. That I wouldn’t have graduated without the protections like the 504 program that forces schools to work with students who have disabilities. I have seen people refuse to give up the space they made for themselves to make others feel better. This year has gotten me to more research into what disability means and how it interacts with politics. This year allowed me to find a community because they were loud and proud. People were reaching out left and right, showing love, support in any way they can. It could be in the form of validation or maybe donating to their fundraising pages. Some asked questions that others answered.
This past year has proven to me that my voice matters and so does my story. That maybe I can be that hand reaching out for someone else. What I’m talking about is not inspiration porn, it’s fucking resilience.
Suck on that, you bully.
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