Here’s Aaron, age 13, holding our sign at the Women’s March in Vancouver yesterday. He is no stranger to protests – his dad took him to an anti-pipeline protest a couple of months ago. We pretty much bring him with us wherever we go.
How do you explain to someone with Down syndrome about what a protest is? We’ve been talking about injustices in the world with him for a very long time. We show him articles in the paper. He helps us collect petitions for campaigns. We watched the US Presidential debates. We sit on our bed and giggle at Saturday Night Live’s monologues. In November, we had to explain our neighbour’s election results to him. We talked politics with his older brother when he was in town last week from America. (His brother’s short summary: we are screwed).
Don’t think that Aaron doesn’t understand, or that we are confusing him. He totally understands. Last year during Canada’s election campaign, he turned to us and asked, “Why doesn’t Stephen Harper like brown people?” Then, at a youth workshop for people with disabilities, in response to a talk about consent, he put his hand up and said, “Donald Trump didn’t have consent!” No he didn’t my boy.
We had to explain the ‘F’ words on signs at yesterday’s march. Also, that pussy word, which strikes me as being taken back by its rightful owners – women – as it should be. I told him it was another word for ladies, but only ladies can use it.
At the march, which was more like a slow walk, we rounded the corner at West Georgia, and the crowd stopped in their tracks in front of the gleaming Trump Tower. I had only driven past it before, and had never seen it up close. There were security guards standing in the windows, laughing at us. A hush grew over the protesters. Then someone raised their hand in the silence and extended their middle finger. Then someone else did. Young people, grandmas, everybody…fingers shot up in the air.
Aaron stood there, his eyes huge. He knows what the middle finger means. I leaned down to him, “do you want to give the middle finger to Trump?” “CAN I?” he said, not believing his luck – to be given permission for something so forbidden. “Yes, but only for Trump – do you promise? Nothing else.” I said. He nodded and raised his short arm, his finger extended. The lesson here? There are times in life you have to say fuck you. But save that fuck you only for special occasions.
People were at the march for all their own reasons: to represent people who have been awfully and horribly marginalized, to protest climate change, to support love, to rev their feminist engines. There were a lot of white liberal people – ourselves included – who have been woken up. We were there for two reasons – to represent women who are caregivers who are invisible and uncounted. And for our boy – he who belongs to a community that is systematically marginalized, ignored and discriminated against by real-life people and our own federal and provincial bureaucrats. IN CANADA. Discrimination against people with differences is not just an American issue – let’s not be too smug about this in Canada. I will continue to not shut up about this.
For some of us, it is easy to show up at a protest (never forget that for other people it is not so easy). These people march and protest every day at their keyboards, at appointments, at kitchen tables. But a march only heightens awareness – it does not actually create change. That’s where the hard work comes in. Be vigilant. Speak up in the way that you can. Organize. Call out injustices. Dare to be visible. To paraphrase our sparkly protest sign which paraphrases Brene Brown, Aaron is enough and you are enough too.
You take your kid with Down syndrome to a protest for this reason – to show him that he has a voice and that it is his job to stand up and use it. Are we pushing him to be a self-advocate? Perhaps. But if Aaron ignores the evil in this world it will be at his own peril.