Stop and Stand, Listen and Speak

 

 

Where to start? The last twenty-four hours has seen something that many thought could never happen. We are witnessing the ultimate reality show, we are all living it. Cameras are everywhere capturing our reactions, and yet, I think we still have options. They are difficult, they will take a lot of work, and they will take persistence and awareness past the time the Tweeter trends end.

 

There is so much running through my mind, but I keep coming back to the two things that I think were essential in getting us to this point; fear and apathy. The primary word that’s being said today is fear. People are afraid; we are afraid for ourselves, we are afraid for our friends and families, we are afraid for future generations and we are afraid for the planet. And I think it’s wise to be afraid, but it’s what we do with that fear that will determine our future. It was fear that brought us to this place. It was the fear of different, the fear of change, and the fear that Americans were being taken advantage of by stranger. It was fear for jobs, for being able to put food on the table. It is fear and ignorance which plant the seed for racism and sexism; it is fear and ignorance which makes it possible for minds to be left vulnerable to accept any reason whatsoever to understand their adversities. And now the fear has shifted, and there is a real threat to our liberties to what we believe in as Americans.

 

But there is something else that has led to this; that’s apathy. Let’s put aside the appalling percentage of Americans who do not vote. There is a reason why Republicans constantly have control of Congress, and that is the apathy of Americans and our laziness. We don’t take action. So many people rant and rave, and yet, do you know what measures are being passed by your state legislation? How often do you check in on local initiatives? Have you ever voted for a judge? That’s right, you as a voter actually have some say on your local judiciary system which can make a big difference. Have you written letters, emails or even tweeted your senators and congressmen on bills you don’t agree with? I know people keep saying that votes don’t count, but as Hilary Clinton said today and I paraphrase, our constitutional rights are not exercised once every four years, and they should be exercised every day.

 

And so as one of the greatest challenges this generation has faced stands before us, we must do something different. First, we must respect each other. Regardless of parties, we must respect each other. Today I was upset to see how Milania Trump was being attacked on social media, people are calling her a hoe, trash, etc. etc. There is no way we will ever come close to stamping out institutional and social sexism if we do not respect ALL WOMEN. What do you know about Milania Trump? Did she run for President? Is it really her who you should be mocking for saying that she will take on bullying as first lady? For all we know, she’s the best hope we have fore mitigating some of the messaging that her husband has propagated. Respect is essential. Women must stand together; we cannot be sexist toward each other. There are smart women and dumb women, there are women we love and women we despise, but we must treat each other with some semblance of civility and dignity. You cannot claim to be progressive, open-minded, insist that women must have control over their own bodies and castigate your future first lady for being a model and dabbling in the sex industry. You can’t. It is her body, it is her decision, and it should not color her as evil simply because of those things. Again, she isn’t president. It pissed me off when people kept bringing up Bill Clinton when referring to Hilary’s platform, you do the same if you paint Mrs. Trump with the same brush as her husband.

 

Second, we need to listen. Trump supporters, you need to listen to us, you need to hear why people are scared, you need to take responsibility for the fact that your candidate won on a platform firmly planted in hate. Everyone else, you must listen to Trump supporters. Lord knows that is hard to do, because some of them really are just racists, sexists, KKK members, etc. etc. But there is something there, a disenchantment, a fear, a need that we must hear. We may disagree, but we must hear it. So please listen to each other, it sucks to listen with an open-mind, but there are times when we must. Trump supporters not everything we say is made up, we are reasonable people with actual facts. You may not like the facts, but they are real. We all need to start living in the real world, with real facts, and we must all stop listening to only the truth that aligns with our ideology.

 

Third, we must speak. We all have been silent for too long, the tradition of peaceably assembly and voice our grievances is vastly underutilized. We speak about what will happen to women and minorities. Well, if we as women keep taking it for granted that we will be sexually harassed and assaulted at some point in our life we won’t make progress. It is the most difficult thing to come out and say that you’ve been sexually victimized, no one who has not experienced it will ever understand. But we have allies out there who will stand with us and we need to start speaking out. I believe that part of why men are so vile toward women is that we have kept silent for too long, and often times we turn our backs on each other and judge. It is not our responsibility to fix men’s behavior, but we do have control over how we react to that behavior. We can create change.  Speak out.

 

We must speak to our elected officials and let them know what we think. It is true that Washington is representing a minority, but that’s because the majority does not make itself be heard. Rich people may fund a campaign, but guys, money cannot actually buy votes to the extent needed to win. The reason why Washington is disconnected is because they represent the minority that consistently goes out and vote. Use your voices, Tweet the shit out of your congressmen and senators, send emails every day, it can be the same one. And get all your friends to do it. Pay attention. Pay attention past the end of a trend, because when we sleep is when injustices are committed. Speak out in every way you can. And for all that is holy to you, vote.
Even anti-voting laws can be struck down if enough people vote. The people who write those laws are elected officials.

 

Last, we must stand together and protect each other. We love America because we are so individualist, we pride ourselves on our independence. But that has resulted in a lack of community. The country is fractured right now, but that did not happen over time. It starts with the small things. How many of your neighbors do you know, how many do you talk to? Do you help homeless people in your communities? Have you ever attended a town hall meeting in your township, have you ever attended a school board meeting and voted on local educational measures? I will be the first to admit, I haven’t done many of those things, but you bet your sweet ass I will from now on. I’ve taken so many of the privileges that comes from living in this country for granted, and I’m ashamed of it. We must start to look out for each other, even beyond our communities. All of us who are minorities we know what it’s like to stand together, we know what it’s like to fight and to be knocked down and to get up to fight another day. We have the skills, let’s use them in as many aspects of our lives as we can.

 

Many people thought this could never happen, and it did. Many people think a wall cannot be built, but it can. Many people think we will be ok, and we may not be. If nothing else, let’s stop thinking that others will do the work for us. Let’s stop taking our rights for granted. We must work hard, each and every single one of us. If every single person who has sent out a Tweet expressing their disappointment, has protested in the streets starts to speak out all the time, change will come. And it will be for the better. Above all things, you must vote every chance you get. We must start holding our elected officials accountable, we, the voters, are the last check and balance in this country.

You Don’t Know Me The #HowISeeItCampaign

Have you ever felt that you are being misunderstood? That no matter what you say or do, someone or a group of people simply do not understand you, or your experiences or why you choose to live your life in the manner that you’ve chosen? If you have, welcome to my world, and to the world of many blind people, and in general disabled people. We constantly struggle with making the world see beyond our disability, and understand that first and foremost we are people. That we laugh, that we cry, that we love that we hate, that some of us are good people and some of us are bad, that we are men and women with our respective challenges, that we live and we die just like every other human being. This is a struggle we all face every single day.

I am a twenty-six year old woman. I am a Latina living in America. I have been fortunate in being the first person in my family to graduate from college in the U.S. I have studied abroad, held two interesting and challenging jobs, traveled the U.S. extensively, and am working to traveling my way around the world. I speak three languages, I’m a classically trained singer, and I love shopping. In other words, I’m your glamorous Latina friend, or your brother’s girlfriend, or your neighbor. But the thing is that I’m blind, and that makes me different.

Recently, the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization who funds research to find the cure to blindness, specifically related to retinal disease, started a campaign called #HowISeeIt. The first phase of this campaign was to have millions of sighted people put on blind folds and try to do every day tasks. According to the Foundation Fighting Blindness this campaign sought to “increase participants’ appreciation for two things: the gift of sight and the skills and strengths of their family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors who live their lives productively with low or no vision.” This makes no sense. It is like saying that our appreciation for bus drivers will be increased if everyone who has never driven a car, is given the keys to an eighteen-wheeler and told to get on the highway. Of course they will fail, they have no training! Or perhaps, they just were not born with the gift of being innately good drivers. But in my everyday life, people appreciating my adaptability seldom causes me joy.

Last week, my boyfriend and I flew to Montreal to attend an Adele concert, on the following day we boarded a cruise which took us around Canada before returning to the United States. At the end of the cruise I was so overjoyed, because despite some apprehension the crew on the ship did not treat us like wayward children. We were allowed to wander around the ship without being grabbed, followed or prevented from participating in the activities we chose. In short, we were treated like other passengers. This is such a rare experience in our lives however, that it truly became a highlight of my vacation. We chose to do a hike to see some gorgeous waterfalls in Charlottetown. This is an activity we were perfectly aware we were physically capable of doing; considering I was one of the youngest adults on the ship, and considering I have done rock climbing in the past I had no doubts about my abilities. The tour guide expressed some real surprise that we were taking part in this excursion. However, he did not try to stop us, which does happen, a lot. But decided to roll with it. He told me on our way up that we were the first blind people to have ever done this hike. Something I find hard to believe, but ok. And he continually expressed his admiration for us, and so on and so forth.

It is sweet for people to say how impressed and inspired they are by “someone like me” going around living her life, and doing what she wants to do. It is also so saddening. When I hear those words what I’m hearing is, I never thought someone blind was like me, I never knew someone blind had the capability to walk independently, to travel the world independently, to make decisions about their lives, to be successful. I never knew someone blind could live in this world without sitting around crying for days. But no one that tells you that you are inspiring thinks that they are saying that. The reason is that the world’s expectations for what I can do is so appallingly low. To most people, the blind and disabled are like children, we are precious, special, and they have a responsibility to look out for us. Let me add that I enjoyed our tour greatly, and our tour guide was wonderful. Sometimes it takes time for people to adjust to a reality that doesn’t reflect their previously held views. And after a while our guide realized that this really wasn’t that strange, that as long as people want to do his hike, they can, even if he doesn’t quite know how they will accomplish this task.

This brings me back to our friends at the foundation Fighting Blindness. It is admirable for any group of people to want to eradicate a health issue that affects millions. However, one must be careful on how one perceives those they are theoretically trying to help, and in turn how they portrays the people being helped to the world. In this instance, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has used pity and fear to raise funds, and they’ve succeeded. If I was to cover my ears right now, and try to cross the street, I wouldn’t know how to do it, I’m blind already. Thankfully, I have the privilege of knowing an extremely accomplished deafblind woman who has traveled the world, so I know it can be done. But, let’s pretend that I didn’t, I’d be terrified. I’d wonder how anyone could live that way. I’d hit donate, because I’m a person who cares about others, and I’d think I would be rescuing children from having to grow up with this terrible disability. In essence, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has chosen to make people do something without offering training, without talking about alternative techniques, without pointing out that most blind people in this country have received some kind of training from learning to read, to using assistive technology, to learning how to navigate the world. This is a misleading campaign, and a highly disrespectful one. Yet the Foundation claims, “Most people who participated in the challenge reported gaining new insight into the strengths and adaptability of people who have lost their sight.” Have they gained insight, or have their worst fears about blindness been confirmed? I doubt that they are more likely to hire me, instead they are probably more likely to invade my personal space, grab me without my permission, and drag me across the street when I am traveling because they’ll recall just how hard it was to pay for a purchase blindfolded let alone cross the street.

 

If you want to help the blind and disabled, I ask you to do this for us. I ask you to look up examples of successful blind people. I invite you to read publications like The Braille Monitor and Future Reflections. I ask you to see beyond our canes when educating us, when looking at our job applications, when having us travel with you. I ask you to tell your children that our canes are there as a tool that gives us information about our surroundings when we travel, instead of shushing them and whisking them away when they ask you what the “stick is for”. I ask you to stop assuming that you know what I can and cannot do. I ask you to stop thinking that just because you can’t imagine being able to do something as a blind person it can’t possibly be done. I ask you to see us as human beings. I do not want your pity, I don’t want your sympathy, and if I want your admirations is for real accomplishments, not because I can walk outside. I want to inspire you because I’m an immigrant girl who has achieved the American Dream, and not because I’m a blind girl who has the audacity to show up to a hike. I want you to find my friends astounding because they can power lift and not because they have the “courage” to use a treadmill. In short, I want you to raise your expectations about what I can do. Contrary to popular believe, it is your low expectations and not our vision which slows us down as we aspire to fulfill our dreams.