On Our Backs, We Will Carry Them

Photo of lit candles

Reflections on the 2015 Disability Day of Mourning

From ASAN President Ari Ne’eman

Memory is an important part of how we define our communities. When we think about the history of the disability rights movement, there are so many moments at which we stop and think to ourselves, “But for the actions of those who came before me, I might not be here with the chances and opportunities I have today.” From the heroes of the 504 Sit-In to the modern day struggles to free our people from institutions and nursing homes, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We are bound together by the memory of those who fought on our behalf.

But the memories that tie us together as a community aren’t just the happy moments, the victories where our cause takes a great step forward. We bond over our sorrows as well. Today, we are gathered together to remember members of our community who had their very lives taken from them, for no other reason than because they were one of us. Because they were disabled.

For George Hodgins, for Melissa Stoddard, for Daniel Corby, for Nancy Fitzmaurice, for London McCabe, for Katie McCarron and Tracy Latimer and Alex Spourdalakis and countless, countless others, there will be no opportunity to share in our community’s moments of celebration. There will be no chance to experience the sweet sense of belonging that we’ve each come to together after long years of fear in our time apart. There will be no chance even for the everyday joys of existence itself.

Had they lived, they might have found us someday, and perhaps stood with us as we gathered to remember some other, mercifully shorter list of names. They might have become a part of the precious sweet moments that bond us together in joy and not in sorrow. They might have been a part of our conversations, our arguments and our debates. Or they might have sat silently, but still have been welcome and known they belonged.

And had our lives been different, had we been born to or placed under the power of those who saw us as life unworthy of life, we might not be here today, except as another name on that list. It could have been us, there instead of here. Taken before our time with our deaths more celebrated than our lives ever were. It could have been us.

The names on that list were robbed of us, and we were robbed of them as well. Taken by those they should have had cause to trust most, their lives and their names were reduced to burdens, living tragedies happening to those who would take their lives. To the media and those many voices which sympathized with their killers, they were robbed of their very personhood.

We are gathered here today to take back the personhood of all those names who we read today, and all those countless others taken from us by a society with gross disregard for the value of disabled life. We are gathered here today to work for a world in which that list grows no longer. In which disabled life is no longer viewed as cheap by the powers that be. And in which each and every one of us has no reason to doubt that we have a place in this world.

Until we reach that day, we are bonded together in shared memory and sorrow. We will remember the names and the lives of those taken from us. On our backs, we will carry them so that the memory of their personhood will not perish from this world. So that the next generation of disabled people will join our ranks and have a chance to be a part of our community in life, not death.

Together, we take on this obligation, now and for all time. To each of the names on this list and to the countless others so taken from us: You are not forgotten.

On Sunday, March 1st, 2015, the disability community will be gathering together in cities across the globe to remember disabled people murdered by their family members and caregivers. Please consider joining us at a vigil near you.