Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Slaying dragons":charity, The art of giving and civil rights activism

A lot of my friends are passionate about many causes as they should. Some of them don't eat meat. Most adopt abandoned animals from the pound. They get involved in runs, walks and fundraisers. And they give plenty. Did I ever say I know some of the most amazing, caring people? And there's plenty of injustice in the world - and a lot of ways you can join and stand what you believe. It's hard not to be moved when you see informercials for St Jude's hospital, the pet rescue campaign for tortured animals or pictures of starving kids in Africa in the middle of the night. I think that people who get involved in something should always be applauded. I have a friend who only gives to Cat Society. Would probably give them an arm and a leg if they asked and that's his prerogative. I was contemplating this whole concept of the "Art of Giving" as my new creative Director asked me why I started a non profit. Why don't I just get a corporate  job and then write a check to something like a lot of honest working, good people do. And I tried to tell her, I wasn't looking for a cause to align myself with, it's the cause that found me. And then it followed me every minute, every day of my life, so I decided to do something about. With some of the campaigns people see on TV- they are moved by them, it inspires them to act, but then they are able to separate themselves from it. It's not always on your mind, it doesn't define everything you do, there's a life that you have that may have nothing to do with it. It's not that you forget- because you do get invested- and then you move on. From the moment I wake up in the morning I think about what kind of experience I will have as I board the wheelchair bus. What type of a boarding mechanism will it have. Who will be the driver, will he be nice or rude, will he know how to get the bus aligned and how to work the mechanism. If I go somewhere I worry about the ramps, the doors, the steps and the accessible bathrooms. The cause I started is about all the things I worry about having a disability and being in a wheelchair, so I can't turn it off,  I can't move on from it and focus on other things. Because until the world is fixed it's something that will always affect me and even when it doesn't, it's something that I will always see. As I was discussing the issue of ADA enforcement in one of the Linked In groups aI was pointing out that being in a small city like Gainesville I often feel like I'm "the only wheelchair user in the village" so to speak. If I get businesses in trouble for not being compliant - the focus will be on me. I will be the one who is not welcome, who gets a reputation for stirring trouble and with a town of this size there's not many places for me to go. I said- I wish it wasn't so personal, that it wouldn't be always about me. Part of the reason I chose to build a non profit was to soften the blow. If I educate people rather than scare them, the more likely they are to come around on their own. But even if you say, hey you shouldn't really be doing X and you should get Y in the nicest way possible people still get upset. I was reminded that ADA flows directly from the civil rights movement and the 1964 Act, although it arrived decades later. And that in terms of personal sacrifice,  the risks, the urgency, the resentment it's not that different. Some people said their friends received death threats trying to to promote the cause. It comes at a cost and with the territory, they said, the tears and the blood. Some of the provisions of disability legislation are almost identical to those of the Civil Rights act. At some point, something I'd never imagine, from a person who wants to do something and had a skill that admittedly can move a cause forward I became an activist when I wasn't looking. That's what makes this a bit different from just running a non profit. Some of the things we'll do would always be an eyesore to some who don't want to see it or hear it. There are times I could just turn it off and walk streets anonymously for a day. But there's a line that somebody wrote in response to mine that I like as it it hits the spot: "I imagine Thurgood Marshall may have felt similarly when he was in the field slaying dragons". 

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