A Historical What-If: MLK, JFK, Lennon as Disabled Activists
I am a history major so, as pointless as I know they are, the “what-if” questions of history are always irresistible to me. This one is also irresistible to me because I often hear of people who lose the ability to walk and say things like “I wish I were dead” or “my life isn’t worth living now.” For those of you who can walk, and ever thought about how you would react if you lost that ability, consider this:
I read a blog posting by Dusiteen where he says that he is looking for the Martin Luther King of the disabled community. A great idea itself, but it set my mind in motion in another direction entirely. So many people who have been considered activists have been gunned down, either for their beliefs, or just randomly. Martin Luther King, John Lennon, John Kennedy. None of these men were afraid to speak their conscience on peace and understanding in general or on specific issues, political or social, that sparked their interest, sympathy or even ire. All of them were shot dead. I can’t help wondering what if they were shot, but not killed. Only left paralyzed.
I realize how morbid this sounds, but think about it. What if John Lennon’s assassin’s bullet had put Lennon in a wheelchair instead of the grave. It would only be natural that some of that activist spirit would be redirected. I wonder what a song by Lennon speaking up for the rights of the disabled would have sounded like. I have written an earlier posting about John Lennon’s charitable activities on behalf of the disabled, but what if he was one of them himself?
And, as President, how would a paraplegic JFK have affected disabled rights legislation? Would the ADA have come more than 20 years earlier than it actually did, had our president been put in a wheelchair during his tenure? FDR was in a wheelchair but he hid it. By the 60s I don’t think that disabilities in America were kept quite as deep in the closet as they were in the 30s when FDR took office. This could have been an opening toward some real progress.
How would Martin Luther King, one of American History’s greatest orators, have used his power to evoke emotion in his audience to effect change for the betterment of the lives of those Americans who, like him, lived life on four wheels?
Obviously, we will never know, but I can’t help trying to construct all different scenarios, how the ’60s and the ’80s would have been reshaped by these disabled activists. What if the assassin of Gandhi, the grandfather of all political activists, had failed to kill him, but put him in a chair? Why put these men through that, even as a what-if exercise? Well, the world would be a very different place. Just imagine…