By Marion Stillson:
I love distributing literature to the public, using a wheelchair as I have done full time since I was twenty-three. And I am good at it: good at catching the mood of an oncoming pedestrian, good at just the right amount of deference or assertiveness, good at matching my position–delicately–so they cannot swerve to avoid me.
So every year I distribute Democratic literature at back-to-school nights. But there is one location I will not return to.
A few years ago, I was one of a team of five at Langston Hughes Middle School. We were busy, but I noticed a woman in a red tee-shirt studying me. She was joined by others with Republican literature.
We all, from both parties, fanned out to greet the arriving parents without blocking anyone. After a while, I turned from smiling remarks with a mother who had brought her children with her, and found myself confronted by a face, contorted with anger, thrust right into my face.
It was the woman who had been studying me before her friends arrived. She was so furious with me, I was taken aback. She hissed, “How DARE you! You are ‘using’ your disability!”
I couldn’t speak. She probably had more hate to spew, but my colleagues rushed to my aid and shouldered her away. I think her colleagues came and pulled her away, too, but I was too shaken to be sure.
I can’t leaflet (or anything else!) without my wheelchair. Did she think I shouldn’t leaflet because I use a wheelchair? That I should hide at home instead of doing something useful that I enjoy? Pretend that I wasn’t good at this? Hide at home permanently?
The reverberating insults sting, to this day. The utterly unprovoked attack unnerves me whenever I think of it.
I continue to distribute literature to the public, and continue to love it. When you have a talent for something useful, you should use it! But, unfortunately, there is one location with a painful memory where I will not go.
Marion Stillson, a 25-year member of Hunter Mill District Committee, is an activist for Democratic and progressive causes and worked in DC as a public interest attorney.
1 thought on “First Person: A hateful encounter just increased my determination”
Like you, I am not sure what mysterious agenda that person thought you could be “using” your wheelchair to achieve — other than, you know, getting around. What upsets me as much as the hateful behavior toward you is the way her anger tried to reduce you to a mere concept — there as a token in some crafty Democratic ploy — rather than a person with your own motivations, such as enjoying your work, and being dedicated to your cause.
Clearly you are good at what you do. This short essay reveals that you are an insightful and articulate person
— exactly the sort of person I want to be out there representing the Democratic Party. Thank you for your dedication and your activism. I am sorry this happened to you, but grateful you shared your story.
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