I am here to initiate change for the city I love, the City of Halifax. I am here as part of a wider group of people, such as Gerry Post and Gus Reed, to help shape the tone and form our beloved city takes in the future.
This winter I became “The Asshole With A Shovel,” which the Coast called "The hero Halifax we deserved this winter.” Admittedly selfish in nature—I just wanted to pay my phone bill and buy a falafel in person across the street—as I started that first six-hour session of ice breaking, snow shovelling and drain liberation, people began to talk to me and tell me what I was doing was making things safer for them and their loved ones, with disabilities or not. I saw this might be about citizens being able to live safely, and that we were being let down.
I began to see that what I was doing, by refusing to get angry and personalize my complaints to the Mayor or the workers, was influencing tone across the city. As an advocate, I believe that presenting grievances angrily drives people away—both opponents and potential allies. And as someone who has "done rage" plenty in my adult life, I was honestly tired of working pissed-off. I have lost work and have a failed marriage to show for it. I made the conscious decision to change, and to react to my frustrations by coming up with and implementing a solution. The solution was to take pride and ownership over the parts of my neighbourhood that kept me from living my life for a few months every year, and do the work I've been begging 311 to do for the six years I have lived in my neighbourhood.
The media was very interested in my story, and the positivity made many allies and (in a very generous act) led to me having a new wheelchair crowdfunded, for which I will be perpetually grateful and humbled.
Thank you, Halifax. I got your love letter, and I love you too. 😊
So winter is over. Where do we go from here?
All winter I said "the time for pointing fingers will come, for now, we shovel.” Winter is over, the time for finding solutions is now.
To this end, the city hired two consultants from Grant Thornton to come talk to city workers and a small selection of citizens, of which I was a part of. When I and my compatriot in ice-busting from Dartmouth, Amy Spurway, presented our observations and recommendations about what went wrong with the snow- and ice-clearing job done on our behalf by the city (I will include contractors in this) the consultants appeared to take many notes.
I say appeared, because when the report was released, NOT ONE observation or recommendation made by Amy, myself or even by Gerry Post and the Accessibility Committee made the cut. The consultants even recommended that the "accessibility segment" of the report be put off until the middle of winter.
My concern before the report was released was that our concerns would be marginalized as a special interest, and talked away. My second concern was that the public works guys would try to talk away everyone's concerns by claiming the horrible part of the winter that came later was the reason the streets, sidewalks and curbcuts/corners/crosswalks were impassable for the elderly/disabled and unsafe for the able-bodied. In the report released in very early August I was not surprised to read how the horrible winter made life hell for all of us, and I chuckled when winter operations manager Darrin Natolino's made his first comment about how we were doomed because the weather was so horrible.
This past winter I have seen the optimistic face of Halifax. I watched as people on snowed-in streets answered my Big Dig-Out call later in the winter to check in with their elderly and disabled neighbours, to come together as a neighbourhood, and take ownership and pride in their block, and shovel out one more time. I saw this done with a smile.
It is LITERALLY not our job to do this work, yet we somehow understood it wasn't going to improve this winter, so we did this work with a smile on our faces.
Those many hours of shovelling and ice breaking, and talking to other citizens has lead me to think about our freedoms and our rights as citizens. The city has a moral and ethical responsibility—even a LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY through our contract by taking our tax dollars—to help facilitate citizens' reasonable expectations of service, to make it possible to work, play and live our lives.
Expecting the disabled and elderly to "be patient,” while missing work and their social lives, while everyone else gets to get back to their lives is unfair, and doesn't show these citizens are being welcomed as full members of the city body. I missed over two months of work this winter and thousands of dollars. I only got back into my Barrington Street photo studio because some of my photography peers joined me in breaking ice for hours.
I don't expect city workers to come to me on storm days and carry me in a sedan chair to the grocery store, where I can suss out a suitable persimmon. However I certainly expect my city to do what is reasonable to help my life get back to normal, just as it does for every able-bodied citizen.
What do I expect to do this coming winter? The report makes it clear: I will once again shovel the corners, crosswalks, bus stops and drains between South Park and Queen Streets. Except this year I will organize the businesses and citizens in my neighbourhood to do the job the city appears to be committed to not do again this year. Change is hard. Again this year I will translate the conditions forced upon me and make them into the kind of change I initiate. Please join me in organizing your street, your block, your neighbourhood—get to know your neighbours. So many slogans could be used, from "Be The Change,” to "Just Do It.” I will instead use one I coined this winter: "Pitch In, Don't Bitch In.”
I said a couple months ago I don't expect the Mayor and guys like Darrin Natolino to deliberately try and make it impossible for me to work. It's not that I don't trust them. It's that I don't trust a system that works supposedly on my behalf without a care for my input and suggestions. Nothing about us, without us. People with disabilities deserve to have a seat at the table with all other stakeholders, but to date, we are given a pat on the head and told to just wait while things are done on our behalf.
The time has come for us to take an active role in our destinies. All of us.