Universe of happiness in the future – Freedom Drive
Mosaic of my memories from Strasbourg: Mira Čas Story
Life is like a book with many chapters. And that of 2011 was a special start for me. I turned a new leaf of life, which has not been filled with empty promises and stories. For me, this year was active, rich, and fertile and has set a new landmark for me. I surpassed myself and have, for the first time, seriously embarked on a path of Independent Living. Then came September the month of expectations, I was looking forward to Freedom Drive. The joy was further stirred when I have learned that I am among those who will attend the event. I felt that I should go on a journey, a pilgrimage for freedom.
On September 11th, we have gathered in Ljubljana and get on the road to Strasbourg, where we gathered together with persons with disabilities and with their assistants from all over Europe. A lot of focus was connected to cutting down of our rights and personal assistance services. We heard the presentation of the participating countries. Many interesting things were said on the topic of Independent Living. I could probably write a book about it, but in this text I will focus on the memorie of pilgrimage for freedom.
After a whole days driving suddenly we saw a lit bridge over the Rhine, which connects the two countries. As soon as we entered the city we saw illuminated F-1hotel, this is a sign of our hotel. Inside the hotel there was a small common room with table, chairs, vending machines and that’s all. As soon as we were in front of our room we asked ourselves how you can say such a room is accessible, because some of us were not able to enter the room with the wheelchair and there was only one accessible bathroom on the corridor of the hotel. But nevertheless I am grateful, because I was able to get inside the room with the wheelchair.
The first morning was fresh and very nice it will be an interesting day. Breakfast at the hotel with standard coffee made me feel even better. Around nine a clock in the morning we are ready to go. We are designated to the Cultural Centre Marcel Marceau, where a conference on the topic: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People was to take place. Full of energy, we went towards new adventures. At the collection point, we were one of the first. Before entering the hall, we got an identification label. I was all ears. The theme of the conference is one of the reasons why we came to Freedom Drive. The implementation of the Convention still seems problematic in many countries. We are still fighting for the realization of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, which Slovenia is not respecting at all. We just demand a right for the users to be able to make decisions by themselves and consequently, the right to personal assistance. We want what others have been given without any pain and without a fight – for the same civil rights. Therefore, laws simply can’t be created without us.
The next morning we were to protest through the streets of Strasbourg to the European Parliament. This day will be written in the annals of history, 14 September, Freedom Drive – Pilgrimage for Freedom. Meeting place is at the Place de la Republique. Again we are among the first to arrive the number of peoples gathering for the march is growing rapidly everybody is equipped with banners, whistles and rattles. There are so many wheelchair users in one place that we are almost hitting with one another. Suddenly, the crowd moves. Disabled people rose from their anonymity, they have become actors and creators of their own future.
There are photographers all over the place filming and taking pictures of us, you can really feel that something historic is happening. The number of marchers is so long that the front ones can’t hear what they are shouting at the back. On the streets we are loud and clear in expressing our demands on the same human rights as other EU citizens have, equal opportunities in all spheres of social life, the right to independent living and personal assistance and to ban segregation in special institutions. In such an atmosphere we arrive in front of the parliament at about twelve o’clock. The march took about an hour. The feelings are different. Things will never be the same again. What was only a dream yesterday became a reality today. “We do not Want Institutions for solution”. The slogan suit’s me perfectly since I am in favour of the abolition of all institutions for disabled people one way or another. I feel like an ambassador of the world, building a bridge of equality, NOT privileges!
European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) has organized the fifth Freedom Drive, which was held in Strasbourg on 14 September 2011. The first Freedom Drive was held in 2003 and it takes place every two years and offers the opportunity to members of the Movement for independent living of disabled and MEPs to meet and work together to seek to promote the independent living movement. Through the years, the Strasbourg Freedom Drive developed and now represents a solidarity event, which lasts for three days. There were 20 participating countries, app. 220 participants together with their personal assistants, although there were fewer participants than in 2009. Activists spoke of their experiences. In Strasbourg, I had the opportunity to learn, to experience and feel how it is to be truly independent and decide by myself on what to do and when to do it. No philosophy or position of power can give such satisfaction as the feeling that your life is meaningful.
And then the last day arrived. Around nine o’clock in the morning it was organised to go to the centre of European decision making – the European Parliament, where a meeting with members of the Disability Intergroup was scheduled. The building itself is impressive. After we went in we were soon joined by the members of European Parliament. Also by a few of our national MEP’s. One of them Mr. Peterle, he first greeted us and pointed out the fact that this year there is even more of us and that he is glad that we are back here.
Freya Haraldsondottir from Iceland told a story on how she got the right to live independently and by that obtained the ability to become an equal daughter and sister. Her story has touched many people, I noticed teary eyes, the story also touched me and I was even more touched by Violeta’s story. Feelings were boiling inside of me with questions that I wanted to ask.
For twenty years, we are fighting the battle for personal assistance. Although we have the UN CRPD convention, which enables our rights, they have not been acknowledged just as jet.
Therefore our demands for the future are: full implementation of the UNCRPD in all EU countries, deinstitutionalization, inclusion, mainstreaming, PA for all in need, freedom of movement…
Everything I learned and gained during the Freedom Drive week will be included in every area of my life, because I believe in what I do. I will work with everyone from my heart and I will require the best and more from others as well. We have to keep in our conscience a clear and decisive knowledge of what our rights are and we have to take each step at the time to get there. The Freedom Drive will remain in my thoughts as a lasting memory for all my life.