People are animals too

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Cows have been getting a lot of press lately. Specifically, animals that are being exported live to places where standards of slaughter are brutal at best. The ghastly images from 4 Corners are all over the papers, they’re pouring into my inbox and they make me sick. No creature should have to endure that kind of torture and I wholeheartedly support any legislation that will offer some kind of protection to animals that are helpless in the face of such human brutality.

But this week’s outcry against the barbaric treatment of animals has had me feeling… I don’t know, kind of frustrated. I’m not frustrated at my own powerlessness or at the fact that such inhumane practices still exist (and flourish) in other parts of the world, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was making me so uneasy until today.

You see, after Monday night’s 4 Corners story, I was stewing over the graphic images of those pitiful doe-eyed creatures with their velvety noses and big floppy ears being tortured in blood-smeared rooms when I checked my email for the four-hundredth time in a week. I was looking for a response to an email I had sent to the director of the Every Australian Counts campaign for an NDIS some 12 days previously.

Having had a bit of experience in promoting stuff, doing events, yadda-yadda, and having had some (if I do say so myself) pretty kick-arse ideas and strategies for getting maximum bang for minimum buck to spread the word to millions, I decided to whip together a proposal and send it to the boss – a promotion strategy on a platter where, by the boss’ own admission, there was no real strategy.

Did I get a response? No. Nothing. Not even a “Thanks for your email. We’ll be in touch.” Total, resounding silence that could only mean one of two things – a) he thinks I’m a nutter who needs to be steered clear of, or b) he never got the email because he is on holidays (it’s called auto-response) or the evil internet ether virus swallowed it whole and sent it directly to spam. Either way, I began to stew. Time is a-wasting…

So I sent another email to another one of the campaign team with a call to action and a number of questions. Again, no response. Silence on the airwaves. Grrrr.

The next day I registered for the Sydney City to Surf and decided, heck, I’ll action part A of one of my grand plans regardless of ‘approval’ from the campaign team. My idea was to gather together the largest ever team registered for the Sydney City to Surf, get each person in a red NDIS NOW t-shirt, fill the event with the message that the disability services system needs change now and that now is our chance to make that happen. But when it came time to choose my charity, the campaign was nowhere to be found. Why?

So I sent another email, and as I scanned my inbox for that elusive response, there were the cows, bleating madly all over my inbox and Facebook page. Dozens of invitations to send letters of disgust, to sign online petitions, to click if you’re outraged. And it struck me: the outpouring of concern for animals that were, let’s face it, born and bred for slaughter (of a humane kind, granted, but dinner plates and hand bags none the less) screamed against the stark silence from those who were meant to be driving the campaign for an NDIS. Why?

Is it because those whose passion lies in animal welfare are just better at the publicity thing? Do they have more campaign funds at their disposal? Is it because the bill is before parliament and there will be an equal uprising for disability in July when the Productivity Commission delivers their final report on an NDIS to government? I doubt it.

Perhaps it is because of what I call the “fuzzy factor”. Animals are cute. They are easy to love. But there is noting cute or easy to love about disability. It is confronting and uncomfortable and painful to look at no matter what angle you tackle it from. So, in the same way that we casually spray poison gas at a cockroach but baulk at culling rabbits, we turn a blind eye to the truth of life with a disability and weep for tortured cattle.

Or maybe it’s the “simple sells” phenomenon. Sheep being tied and stuffed in the boot of a car is a pretty simple problem to recognize. A bull watching his peers being butchered isn’t hard to comprehend as wrong. But what kind of graphic visual image could capture the complexities of the lives of those with a disability? The 35-year-old quadriplegic forced to live in an aged-care facility surrounded by dementia patients; the 40-year-old cerebral palsy sufferer barred from a course of study because her parents wouldn’t give their consent; the mother who has to fight to get nappies for her 4-year-old son because he has ‘already used his quota for the year’; the family who, limited by how many oxygen tanks they can carry, have never in 35 years travelled more than half a day away from home because they are unable to afford the machine that would give their son a constant supply of oxygen; the parents who are informed that they are no longer eligible for a range of benefits because they no longer live in the right postcode; the father who worries, every day, what will happen to his son once he is no longer around to bathe, feed, toilet, move, lift, love, care for him…

It’s too hard. Much easier to stir the emotions with blood and wild eyes. Audiences will watch that. Audiences will take action against that. It’s graphic, and we get graphic.

But I say:

Dear 4 Corners, Sydney Morning Herald, Media decision-makers and consumers alike,

PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS TOO! People are being imprisoned in their own homes. People are being forced to give up their jobs to look after loved ones. People are living below the poverty line. People’s freedoms and choices are being crushed by a system that is broken, that is unsalvageable, that is doomed to crumble under a future where the disabled, for the first time, are likely to out-live their parents.

So let’s talk about them. Let’s listen to their stories. Let’s lift the veil of fear that has kept disability out of the spotlight for so long. Let’s confront the prejudice and misinformation that makes us turn away. Let’s look beyond the images, the faces, the broken bodies and see the people in need of our voices.

Go for your lives, support the cows – I have been a vegetarian for 20 years and I’ve sent my letter to Julia. But please, don’t turn away from people as you do so. They may not be cute and furry. They may not be bound and beaten. They may not be tormented before being put to death, but they are being failed by their country, by OUR country, and if we continue to let them fend for themselves, our silence will be our complicity in that failure.

Register your support at http://www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au/, register for the Sydney City to Surf – team NDIS NOW, spread the word to every person you know, link up, send out, stand up and speak out.

No suffering should ever be ignored.

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10 responses »

  1. A very poignant perspective. It’s sad, but true what you have pointed out. Disability doesn’t have the ‘furry factor’. Even reading your passage about the plight of people and families living with disabilities, I felt very uncomfortable and sad. My eyes filled with tears and I felt overwhelmed with the issue. It does seem a lot simpler to deal with the doe-eyed cows; stop exporting them, and the story is closed. There’s no quick or easy answer to our treatment of people living with disabilities in our community. It’s definitely, (sadly) more comfortable to turn a blind eye.

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  2. Brilliant Nadine, Brilliant.
    The truth hurts, I think that its damn hard for people to face things that can directly affect them – the in humane cattle slaughter is miles away and they know they are still safe from it when they turn off their TV, not directly affected.
    For people who are not involved with the disabled community a disability is scary and the fact that it could be just around the corner for them within an accident or a birth and its often too confronting. It needs to be confronted. Welcome to Holland.

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  3. The fuzzy factor is huge and I think it’s definitely responsible for the massive outpouring of outrage that has been happening.
    And while agree that animals should be humanely slaughtered, I will always give my support to human organizations before animal ones.

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  4. Nadine, it’s a shame you didn’t get a speedy response. I’m a bit concerned about the signup mechanism on the website and I’m just sending an email about it now – but from the sound of this post, I’d better pick up the phone instead! thanks a lot for your persistence.
    I see via facebook that you did get a response eventually – are your ideas going ahead? bravo for getting in there and making things happen.

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