The evening of the inauguration, my family went out to dinner at a popular Mexican food restaurant, looking for a little comfort food on a day when we really needed it. The details aren’t that important, but suffice to say that one of the workers was rude to Schuyler as she tried to order using her iPad and speech software. And I mean incredibly rude, so much so that I ended up speaking to the manager, who was mortified and comped our meal. Schuyler was demoralized, and as we sat eating our food, she turned to me, said one thing, and then she was done talking about it.
“This is why we’re marching tomorrow,” she said.
Schuyler had been discussing protest long before last Saturday’s Women’s March was announced. Her anger goes all the way back to the first time she saw the video of Donald Trump mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski. She knew what he was doing without having to be told. She instinctively got it, like we all got it, even those who pretended otherwise. She knew she needed to say something, anything. Schuyler wanted to protest, to make a sign and stand out in the world somewhere and let herself be seen saying no, this isn’t right. She didn’t know what that protest should look like, but she knew it was needed.
Her sign for the march in Dallas was bold. (An earlier version was even more so, but we walked it back a little when she had some misgivings after getting some pushback from a teacher she showed.) Large letters, easy to read. “I am a strong disabled woman who won’t be bullied.” After she looked at our design for a few minutes, she added a sentence. “I can change the world.”
It was a positive message, with only a passing reference to the man to whom she most wanted her message to reach. Like all people with good hearts, Schuyler hates a bully. And like most of her disabled peers, she knows one when she sees one. Referencing a bully was an important part of her message, maybe the most important in her eyes. That loathing of bullies, and the accompanying fear, was what drove her to her protest.
Of the march itself, I could write a million words. But the simplest report I can give is that Schuyler enjoyed herself in a way I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. When she expressed some nervousness at the beginning, I pointed out to her that everyone who was there was marching because they agreed with her. I told her that she was in the safest crowd she was ever likely to be in. As we talked, people came up to her and complimented her sign, wanted to take photos of her, wanted photos WITH her. Toward the end of the march, another young woman with a sign referencing disability rights sought Schuyler out to give her a high five.
Schuyler was surrounded and engulfed and protected by a sea of women, and she understood, I think maybe for the first time, just how large her tribe could be. As she grows older, Schuyler’s people becomes a more inclusive group, more intersectional. She took a big step at the march. Her disability advocacy took on more feminism that she’d felt or shown before. Her world grew bigger, and with it her protest and her advocacy.
The particular issues facing women with disabilities didn’t figure into that many of the varied protest messages we saw, either in Dallas or in the many photos posted from other marches, and that’s a problem. It’s especially a problem because women with disabilities are the most vulnerable and preyed upon population in this country. In my view, they deserve much stronger advocacy and many more allies. It’s something I hope will be addressed as the movement becomes more inclusive.
But on this day, in this place, disabled women had a champion.
After the march, as we rode the train back to Plano, Schuyler checked out her sign, which was still in excellent condition. “I’d like to do that again,” she said.
I think she’ll get her chance.
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