Don’t Touch My Scooter

I’m going to tell you a story about a protest I went to two days ago in favour of accessible transit. I’m going to tell you a story of someone who tried to steer my moving scooter while I was driving it during the demo because I was blocking a police car. I’m going to tell you why I was doing this, and the reasons why it is not ok to touch someone’s mobility device. I’m going to tell you why I think it is important to take up public space and assert our right to protest, and i’m going to tell you why i believe in diversity; of tactics, of bodies, of realities and the wisdoms that come from different experiences; why I believe diversity in a movement strengthens it.

But first…

Don’t touch my scooter.
ok. bottom line, don’t touch my scooter
not when its moving, not when its still, not when i’m in it, or not when I’m far away. Don’t touch my scooter.
All body politics aside, all body politics that say that a scooter or any other mobility device is an extension of my body, all those politics aside, don’t touch my scooter.

Not when I’m rolling along as part of a demonstration. Never touch my scooter.
All discussions of political tactics aside, the type of discussions that make you feel that its ok for your particular tactics to trump mine because they happen to fall in line with the law, all those discussions aside, do not touch my scooter.

Not when I am the only one on the left side of the street, the side farthest away from the majority of people demonstrating, and being intimidated and approached by police on two sides. Not then, not ever. Never touch my scooter.

I know the police are coming, I can see their flashing lights in my rear view mirror, I can see the cop coming towards me on his feet, and this is a personal and political choice that I am going to be true to.

I have thought long and hard for many years through many experiences, through many interviews with a multitude of people with diverse tactics, I have thought through some experiences in which I too, attempted to quell someone’s political voice and lived years to regret it. But have taken the opportunity to learn from that experience and grow as a political person. I have taken years and I have researched and I have written about diversity of tactics in social movements. And I have come to the conclusion that I choose to block cop cars when I am part of a demo.

The first time I heard the term lateral violence, I didn’t know what it meant, and it was being hurled at me from the lips of a very angry woman.
I was standing on the steps of one of those iconic Montreal statues trying to wrap up the speech a young woman was giving at a demonstration I helped organize. She was putting forward an idea that people in the group did not agree with and there were mumblings of ‘what should we do’, and ‘people are getting uncomfortable’ and ‘someone should go up there’. So I went. I felt if no one else is going to, I will. I tried to silence her because I and the group and seemingly, the majority of the crowd were not comfortable with what she stood for. I felt i had some authority over what was said because i was part of the organizing group.

I thought in my impulsive decision to go up there that it would just seem like I was facilitating the speakers and that it was time for the next speaker.
It didn’t seem like that.

It seemed like a young white woman of English and Afrikaans heritage was telling a young Navaho woman to step off the speaking pedestal. It seemed like an outsider, someone from the colonial group was telling someone whose people have been told how to act, what to say, what language to say it in, what ceremonies are illegal, where they can stand, live and build, it looked like that she was being told where to stand and what to say.
It looked like that because it was like that.
An act that I thought was relatively benign was violent to the person on the receiving end.
I was ignorant and unaware of the power dynamics and history of appropriation that I was a part of.
I was young.
I was not given any benefit of any doubt.

Let me tell you what I learned from this uncomfortable night:

All people in a movement, supporters, people directly affected by the oppression they’re resisting, we all have a place in fighting injustice. Movements are for everyone who wants to fight injustice. However, the voices that should be amplified above others are those of the people directly affected. We need to hear from the people being squeezed. Out of their territories, out of their ways of being, out of public spaces, blocked from transit, kept in poverty, institutionalized. These are the people who have the experiences that we need to build our movements on, they are the visceral knowledge holders.

I also learned that no one should belittle anyone else. Belittlement, dehumanization, these are the things we’re trying to resist; lets build an alternative to power structures that privileges some voices and perspectives over others.

Most importantly, I learnt the value of believing that no one knows what’s better for another person. We are responsible for ourselves, we are autonomous, agency is critical. I find this equally important in the anti-colonial movement as the anti-ableism movement, as many of us have been controlled our whole lives, physically, emotionally, medically.

Agency looks different for different people, maybe it looks like having the space to ask to be fed, maybe it sounds like ‘can you carry my purse, its too heavy’, maybe its taking a rest when everyone else keeps going. Maybe it feels like being guided at the right pace, being supported financially, has the motion of a flurry of words spelled into the air by diligent fingers. Maybe it smells like no one’s wearing perfume so neurodivergent people’s senses don’t feel sick. Maybe it looks like a bright shiny red scooter going at the pace and in the direction that its driver feels is right. Maybe it resembles these things and seven million other things. However agency manifests, it always looks like people making decisions for themselves or having final say in what happens in their lives, where they go, how they get there, and with whom they go. Agency looks and feels like choice.

I felt an overstepping onto my agency when someone attempted to redirect my scooter.
I felt my agency being pushed, belittled, edged over to the sidewalk, by the police cars that wanted to pass to open up a lane of traffic or make the demo take up less public space or whatever the reason they wanted me to move over.

So why didn’t I just move over for the cop car?

It strays a little from the whole don’t touch my scooter angle, and I don’t feel like I need to justify my political choices. But in the spirit of dialogue, I’ll tell you the story of why I didn’t want to scoot the hell over.
I feel the police exist to maintain the status quo. I felt their presence at the march was to diminish the amount of space we took up, to restrict our actions. As someone who has spent her life having her actions altered, splinted, redirected, this affects me in a visceral way. And I find it important to resist bodily control by the state that is at once personal, emotional and highly political.
What brought me out in the pouring rain to be part of a demonstration was the desire to break out of the status quo. The status quo is the thing that keeps us out of buildings, that passes laws against making buildings accessible because it would cost them aesthetic continuity. The thing that keeps people with disabilities in poverty and often dependent on abusive systems for support. The status quo is what keeps us subjugated in Quebec society. I came out in the pouring rain to speak out against that status quo and its oppressive force on my body and life. And of those of the people whom I love and of those who I don’t know.
I came out in the pouring rain to express my political opinion. And to manifest my political ideas and personal desires for autonomy into physical action.

The police were there to control the demo, to keep the peace/ quiet.
The peace/ quiet, in my opinion, is what made onlookers check us out and think, ‘oh that’s cute, the people in wheelchairs are rolling around on the street’.
In this ableist and inflexible environment, in which having 7 elevators out of 68 in the metro system is seen by many as ‘they’re trying, give them a break’, I feel my role in this movement is to make noise, take up space, not to keep the peace. Because for me, peace and quiet sounds a lot like the silent isolation a snow bank muffling outside sounds after ploughs have carelessly barricaded the entrance of a supposedly accessible building; the silent snowy night outside the pool when a person has parked in a handicapped spot without a second thought, that person being a parking enforcement officer; the echoing silence of no one saying a word, no feet shuffling when someone who clearly needs a seat on the bus gets on, scans the seats and exhales and holds on tight, hoping there aren’t too many sharp turns.

The tactics and role I choose to take are to be big, with my comrades, take up space and be seen, on our terms.
Not to feel pushed, at risk, like I so often do in public spaces.
I did not come out in the pouring rain to feel pressured. Like I should shrink.
Not by the police, and especially not by someone who has built a name for herself as a member of the disability community, who’s work is based on the tenets of independence, autonomy, agency and choice, and who took the choice to try and alter my path.

The police were there to escort the demo. The organizers alerted them of the trajectory of the march. That was completely in the realm of their agency to do so. Everyone has different political tactics for different reasons based on their experiences. Its probable that the organizers wanted demonstrators to be safe from traffic, from getting ticketed if the demo had been declared illegal. I respect people’s political choices, even if I disagree with them. It is not my right to impose my way of demonstrating on anyone else. That is sometimes hard, especially when we are convinced that we are right. But this movement is based on diversity and respect of difference. To impose our will on others would go directly against that most basic foundation of the anti-ableism movement.

I ask for that respect to be returned back to me.

Respecting people’s diversity of tactics, the only hope that I have is that people have thought their chosen tactics through, thought critically about them and not just based them on the fact that certain things are legal and certain things are not legal; certain things are part of the status quo and certain things are not.

I hope everyone at the demo on Tuesday thought critically about the tactics they were employing and didn’t just follow the leadership of people holding a banner.
I hope that we can reinforce each other’s political desires and be in solidarity to build a movement even though its clear we disagree on our use of tactics.
I hope that we can be together at a number of demonstrations, expressing ourselves differently.
I hope that we can respect each other’s choices in the actions we take, the different paths we go down.
The more angles and approaches covered in a movement, the more chances of a wide-reaching success.

But most of all, I hope that you never, ever touch my scooter again.
It is a violation and shows a lack of respect for my bodily autonomy. Like you knew what was better for me than I did. Like you felt entitled or responsible to take charge over my body, my wheels, that symbol of freedom that carries me where I want to go, to so many places I have not been able to go the last few years: a park, a long walk, wandering up hills, around and around. That practical liberation that means that my actions are not dictated by pain.
I hope that you didn’t feel entitled to touch my scooter because you are friends with the organizers. I hope you didn’t feel entitled to do so because you were walking and I was not.
I wonder, would you have taken my cane out from under me? Steered my walker in another direction? Or was it something about the fact that I was seated and you were standing that made you feel more authority over my body?
But all these other questions aside, I wonder if you’re reflecting on what happened Tuesday in the streets between us, and whether you’re open to having a dialogue about it.
I wonder if you’re questioning your actions?

I wonder if this is the first time you’ve heard the term lateral violence?

I wonder these things as I also wonder at the power of a single act, a single gesture that carries with it the statement that you feel authority over Where. I. Go.
A single act that could have caused us both harm.
A physical act that read plainly as a book in my hands that you felt power over me and did not hesitate to try and exert it.
I wonder at the strength of a single gesture.
And I wonder if the police officers sitting behind me in their warm van perhaps would too, take note of the single act of me not following their demands.
I wonder if that could have had an effect on the onlookers driving by on Renee Levesque, or the people trying to cross the street and not being able to because I was holding up traffic. For one half hour on a tuesday afternoon, drivers, pedestrians who don’t normally face systemic barriers in their commutes other than potholes and road closures, face a seemingly benign barrier to getting where they need to go. For one half hour period, some people, who don’t have to consider it every time they leave their homes, were faced with an unexpected blockage of their daily routine, a phenomenon that people with disabilities, unfortunately have come to expect on a daily basis.
I wonder if that too would have had an effect in addition to the whistles being blown and the placards being held and the chants being chanted. I wonder if all of the actions that we take can accumulate to create some sort of change. To create a culture of resistance not a culture of compliance. With the end goal of gaining true autonomy and choice.
I wonder if we can work together enough to make that happen.

But more than that, more than anything else, I wonder if you’ll remember these words:
Never touch my scooter. Ever. Not when its moving, not when its still, not when I’m in it, or not when I’m far away.
Don’t touch my scooter. Ever.
Don’t touch. My scooter.
Never. Touch. My scooter.

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