Black Disabled Lives Matter Protest

Best Practices

On June 15th, 2020 a coalition of organizations in Detroit held a Black Disabled Lives Matter protest and march. Due to concerns about the coronavirus – which has disproportionately impacted African American and disability communities – we understood that our planning needed to be intentional and explicit about sanitation and physically distancing. Because most large protests and marches are not accessible to people with disabilities, we knew we had to be intentional in our planning to ensure that anyone who wanted to participate could. Our goal was to ensure a safe and accessible event without distracting from the critical reason we gathered. Below are the actions we took, as well as some considerations we had after the fact or learned about from other organizers in other places. 

WHAT WE DID:

Values Alignment :

  • All featured speakers at the protest were Black & disabled. 

  • Our protest demands reflected the values and priorities of those most impacted by police violence. 

  • While we did not have much time to plan the protest and march, we were very intentional about planning ahead. Ample preparation and attention to detail allow for people’s accommodations needs to be met. 

  • We documented the protest and march through photos, videos, and our own media-making, knowing that so often our stories are not told by mainstream media. However, we were intentional about not capturing faces unless stated otherwise to protect individuals’ identities. 

  • We trained volunteers in advance. Oftentimes, people want to help but are not familiar with the most appropriate way to so. Our Volunteer Orientation covered disability etiquette and language, suggestions for how to offer help to disabled participants, day-of expectations, and safety protocols. 

  • ● We cleaned up after ourselves. We had volunteers walk around with garbage bags to take trash and recycling from participants and cleaned up the area we had been in after the protest and march.

Safety

  • We had masks, hand sanitizer*, water, and snacks on hand to distribute throughout the protest and march. Volunteers kept these supplies in backpacks and continuously offered them to people. Anyone not wearing a mask when they arrived was given a mask and asked to wear it. 

  • We secured clear masks for interpreters and speakers so that people who read lips could see what was being said. However, those masks had a tendency to fog up or be difficult to see at a distance, so we ensured people in need of accommodations had space at the front. Rubbing a bar of soap on the inside of the clear masks also helps prevent fogging. 

  • Before the protest started, we taped Xs every 6 feet on the ground to give people an idea of where to stand or sit. 

  • We livestreamed the protest speakers so those who couldn’t attend in person due to health concerns would be able to participate from home. 

  • We had medics present in case anyone was hurt or needed medical assistance. 

  • We had protest marshals** present to stop traffic and direct the march. 

  • We secured legal observers from the National Lawyers’ Guild to ensure our civil rights were being protected. 

*We send thanks to Detroit Bus Company for donating the hand sanitizer

 

**We are thankful to Michigan Liberation for marshalling during the march 

Accessibility 

  • We picked a meaningful location for the rally that was flat and paved. There was not a platform that speakers had to climb up on to speak. 

  • We chose a half mile route (roundtrip) for the march so that it wasn’t too far for people to walk/roll, and so that if some people needed to stay back, they wouldn’t be waiting for a long time for everyone else to return. 

  • We livestreamed the protest speakers so those who couldn’t attend in person would be able to participate from home. 

  • We brought chairs for people to sit on and placed them 6 feet apart at the front of the staging area. These were for people who needed to rest or who needed to be up front to see the ASL interpreters. 

  • We had 3 interpreters present to help cover the official program/speakers, as well as to help Deaf and hearing participants communicate with each other. We gave interpreters the speaker line- up in advance so they knew people’s names/titles. We made it a priority to secure Black interpreters. 

  • Hearing protesters were taught to sign “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Disabled Lives Matter,” “Black Women’s Lives Matter,” and “Black Trans Lives Matter.” 

  • Speakers/interpreters used megaphones and a sound system to ensure they were loud enough. 

  • We printed our list of demands in large font and distributed them on fliers and leaflets to protesters. 

  • People with disabilities led the march and set the pace. By having people with mobility disabilities at the front of a march, the likelihood of leaving behind slower-moving people is greatly reduced. 

  • Non-disabled volunteers were trained in advance (by disabled protest organizers) about how ableism and racism often show up at demonstrations. They were taught how to offer assistance to disabled participants (i.e. saying something like, “Please let me know if you’d like some help,” rather than attempting to help without permission or presuming that someone needs assistance), as well as how to safely guide blind marchers and push wheelchairs. We asked volunteers to wear long sleeves & gloves so that if they were touching people they assisted, they could protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by sanitizing themselves when switching between individuals or by removing a layer of clothing. 

ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS 

Fellow organizers in Washington, DC (shout out to Keri Gray & Justine "Justice" Shorter) recommended having an OG (On the Ground) team and a RS (Remote Support) team. In addition to many of the things our volunteers did, the OG team got emergency forms filled out by participants, used brooms to sweep aside glass and other debris along the march route to avoid slipping and flat tires, and had phone chargers on hand. They also organized white, non-disabled accomplices as a buffer between marchers and the police. Their RS Team managed a Zoom with a livestream & ASL interpretation so people could participate from home. They also pushed out predetermined messages on social media throughout the protest/march to contextualize the event, including sharing stories specifically about Black disabled people killed by police. These names and stories were also represented on signs at the in-person protest. 

 

Other ideas to improve safety & accessibility include: 

 

  • Livestream the march, in addition to the protest. Have social media roles for people who cannot attend in person but want to show up in support. We recommend using hashtags #BlackDisabledLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter to have this layer up into the greater conversation happening on social media. 

  • Fund and distribute information about bail support if/when people get arrested. 

  • Provide de-escalators to assist with internal (within march) and external (outside of march) de-escalation. Disarm (verbally), distract (while marching), and delegate are key components to such efforts. 

  • Provide the 1-800 # for the National Lawyers Guild at the protest/march and prepare participants on what to say and do if/when they get arrested. 

  • Make sure participants leave the event in pairs and set up a phone tree to call and make sure everyone arrived home OK. 

  • Have ASL interpreters not only at the front of the march, but also along the sides and at the back. 

  • Provide identified blockers for intersections, e.g. pedestrians or cyclists, to ensure traffic is managed safely 

  • Provide a vehicle with medics, and needed materials, to accompany the march, perhaps moving slowly behind marchers in the back. 

  • Prep ASL interpreters prior to the event, so they know key concepts and terms. 

  • Highlight safety & accessibility in media pitches so disabled people feel more comfortable attending and so that others learn the importance of planning ahead for greater inclusion. 

Thank you, The Steering Committee for the Black Disabled Lives Matter Protest in Detroit 

The Collective for Disability Justice, Detroit Disability Power, National Alliance of Black Interpreters, Inc. – Detroit, Michigan Deaf Association, Warriors on Wheels of Metropolitan Detroit

 

#BlackLivesMatter #BlackDisabledLivesMatter

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