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Black Lives Matter Protest in Portsmouth for Disabled Community

Courtesy of Juliana Good

Activists are planning a Black Lives Matter protest in Portsmouth on Friday that will be accessible to disabled people. 

Deborah Opramolla and Juliana Good are the two organizers of the event. Deborah Opramolla is co-chair of the New Hampshire chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign and Juliana Good is a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. They joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Peter Biello to discuss the protest, scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. outside the North Church.

(Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.)

Juliana, how did you come up with this idea?

JULIANA GOOD: Well, I had noticed that both in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, those had protests that were specifically designed to be very accessible to the disabled community. And then I went to three protests around here and none of them were accessible, so I said, “Hey, we should fix that.”

What does it mean to have a protest be “accessible”?

GOOD: There’s the obvious things to consider, such as wheelchair accessibility, making sure that you’re gathering area doesn’t have stairs going up and down to it, or that your march route isn’t super hilly, or on crumbly pavement that a wheelchair can’t get over, having ASL interpreters. Those are the two standard things. But then also giving people the option of remote participation because a lot of folks in the disabled community are also immunocompromised, and during this scary pandemic time, having the option to participate from home is really important to offer. And then just making sure that there’s reserved space in front of the stage for wheelchair users and people who need to lip read, service dogs only, everyone’s expected to wear a mask, just try to keep it as safe and inclusive as possible.

Deborah Opramolla, how are the struggles of disabled people connected to police brutality?

DEBORAH OPRAMOLLA: Oh that’s such a great question. What has happened is that in society, the disabled community is not even recognized as humans, we’re recognized as children. And in doing some research, I have found that 30 to 40 percent of police brutality happens on people who experience a disability. And so if our population, our community is having that issue, we need to fuse together with Black Lives Matter, with the Poor People’s Campaign, which is raising that issue. We’re so used to in the disability community of being siloed that when we have opportunities come out of that silo and support different organizations, we have to bring an educational piece.

This is a very important issue for me and my community, but I can’t come because the route you chose, I can’t join into. 

How does your partnership work? Juliana, how do you organize a Black Lives Matter protest as a white woman?

GOOD: I’ll start from the beginning of how this partnership occurred. I reached out to a bunch of organizations and put a public call on all my social media to be like “please find me one black disabled person who I can work with on this, or else I’m not going to do it because it’s not right for a white person to just co-opt this whole thing. Even if this is about helping the disability community, this is still at its core a Black Lives Matter protest. Luckily, I was put in touch with Deborah. I feel like my role is just helping with the logistics of it, and Deborah has really led the way with the ideology, making sure that this is operating primarily in service to the Black Lives Matter movement and that everything we’re doing is serving that appropriately.

OPRAMOLLA: I have to admit that Juliana and I click, for the moment of the idea. The ability of us to talk things out and to figure things out together, and both use our talents together to make the event happen. We had a couple little bumps in the way but it didn’t stop us and it never stops our discussion. I feel that when a young person wants to take on a task, you know my position as an older organizer is to uplift them, to say “okay, let’s see how we’re going to do this.”

And it’s just magic when that happens.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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