Dear activists: make your protests accessible!

I tried to attend the local “Swamp Cabinet” protest at my senators’ office today. The key word here is tried.

First of all, the day did not start out well. Mr. Anarchist was out of town for work. I’m getting over a cold. Monkey was up much of the night and insisted on getting up for good at 4:15 AM. A series of accidents followed, some involving bodily functions and others involving objects being broken.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that it takes over an hour to get Monkey dressed and ready and his diaper bag packed, and despite the fact that I disrupted his routine, which can cause some major issues, and despite the drive being half an hour – by some small miracle I managed to get us to the offices on time, even a bit early. And we were prepared. We had signs and snacks and extra layers ’cause it was freaking cold.

But then.

First, there was no parking. Or rather there was, but it was all blocked off for some mysterious reason. I had to park on a nearby street and walk. This meant that I had to use the stroller, because Monkey WILL NOT walk long distances and I cannot carry him long distances as he weighs 40 lbs.

OK, so I have my enormous, medically involved, developmentally delayed two year old in a stroller. We walk through snow and some surprisingly deep puddles to the building. We’re still on time.

Oh look, stairs. Lots of stairs.

I looked for signs that might indicate a different, accessible route. There weren’t any. I started asking people who were walking by where I could push a stroller up. They didn’t know. I walked around one side of the building and up a promising looking ramp, only to find that it dead-ended at a gate with a sign saying WARNING: HIGH VOLTAGE. Then I went around the other side of the building. Finally, I saw a sign that said “Handicap access” with an arrow. I followed the sign, which led me to – I KID YOU NOT – a ramp ending in another flight of stairs.

At this point I was so desperate and pissed off that I actually hauled my 40 lb son in his stroller up multiple stairs. I don’t even know how I physically managed that; pure rage? I found the place I was supposed to meet the other protesters … there was no one there.

Later, having contacted the leader of the event about what happened, I learned that they had gone in to the office just minutes before I got there. But at the time, as I asked around, nobody could tell me about any protest going on. So I gave up and left. At which point I discovered the cleverly hidden, non-stair-infested wheelchair ramp with absolutely no signage to indicate its existence.

OK, the poor design and lack of signs is the fault of the state government, not the activist group. On the other hand, the fact is that if I hadn’t had a child with me or been encumbered with wheeled transportation for that child, I would have been on time to the protest and would have participated.

Instead – for all my political ideals – I felt completely lost and foolish and out of place, wandering around an enormous government building alone, a low-income woman with a special needs toddler, with government workers in business suits going by.

If this group wants to involve people who are disabled, or even just parents with young children in strollers, who may not be seasoned activists familiar with the layout of large government buildings, then they need to address the accessibility issue. That might mean, for example, mentioning it in their materials for the event and providing a simple map showing where the ramp is. It might mean having someone hang around for a while near the street to guide newcomers who are having trouble accessing the building.

A social and political movement that is only accessible to able-bodied, childless adults with flexible work schedules has a major problem. Period. You need the women. You need the parents. You need the working class. You need the folks with disabilities. When there are so many obstacles to overcome just in order to be there, only to find the place inaccessible, people tend to give up and stay home and resign themselves to the reality that they are just not meant to be politically involved.

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