March 12 is the 26th anniversary of the Capitol Crawl, one of the most significant events in disability history. Michael Winter, former director of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, had this to say about the crowd of disabled people crawling up the steps of the United States Capitol.
“The night before they asked for volunteers to. . . crawl up the steps, and I thought it was a great idea. Some people thought it would be really demeaning to see a bunch of disabled people . . . but my feeling on it was that it was really demeaning the way the county was treating disabled people anyway.”
They crawled, using their upper bodies, pulling themselves up the steps, and lying with their backs on the steps and using their legs and feet to push themselves up. Some senators objected because they said that the people in the action were obstructing.
When I look at photos and videos of the Capitol Crawl, I am deeply moved by the commitment to action of people who experienced those Capitol steps as a rejection of their bodies and lived experiences. They met that barrier with their own obstruction and offered their physical effort and existence to the cause.
Those disabled bodies stretched out across the steps remind me of a line from the Christian Scripture, “This is my body, which is for you. . .” (1 Corinthians 11:24, NIV).
The metaphor of communion and wholeness is not about cannibalism, of course, but rather about connection and about surrender in service.I understand the ways that offering my body to my community in service is something that I do often, sometimes in tiny ways. I am the person who people can stare at, can exclude from participation, can judge as less intelligent before I have even said a word. And I don’t bring these instances up to say that they are without their own redemption. Rather, as the body of Jesus is represented by bread, my body represents nurture in my community, of people who are relearning the story of what disabled bodies mean (Spoiler: they mean life! And I add my own meaning, experience, and joy as I continue to learn and grow.) As people encounter my body as different, they can begin to gain skills about what it means to act with love and integrity with each other in community.
Offering my body in service to my community also represents solidarity with people like me, who deal with physical disabilities, or mental health challenges, or issues of chronic pain and illness.
My body is for you—
as you learn to calmly look at it.
as you learn to include it in your language.
as you learn to find space for it in your buildings and programs.
as you remember that it is my home and learn to appreciate it.
as it provides you reminders and opportunities for growth.
as you are in pain, excluded, frustrated.
My body will not heal you of your human condition, but it may affirm your own human condition for you. My body is for you.