Freedom Drive for a human Europe

These include an accessible school and street scene, that children should not grow up in institutions and that Europe needs common legislation for the rights of people with disabilities. It sums up independent living - an independent life. MyRight is on site together with project activists from Sweden and Bonien-Herzegovina.

The sky is cloudy over the gray stone square in front of the European Parliament. Freedom Drive and the accompanying march are held every other year. This year's campaign color is red and shirts and placards are lit, as are flags from different countries. The wheelchairs are becoming more and more, people who use permobil arrive, there are some guide dogs and a group of girls speak sign language.

Activists from many European countries have come to the march, and for many it is against all odds. People with disabilities in Europe risk living their lives in isolation at home or in institutions without the opportunity to travel or even less to leave the country. That everyone who wants to can not come is something they are mentioned in the speeches and the motto on the posters says: A voice for all.

- It is important to work against institutionalization. That people do not come out is common in Europe, comments Jonas Franksson, project active from STIL, the Founders of Independent Living in Sweden.

- Sweden has been a role model for 25 years, but now we are not such a good example anymore, as personal assistance is questioned. Freedom Drive is more important than ever!

It will be ten o'clock and we are around two hundred people gathered. ENIL, the European Network on Independent Living, is the main organizer of Freedom Drive. Its chairman Jamie Bolling, who is also active in Swedish STIL and their project via MyRight, is the one who starts the whole march.

Jamie Bolling welcomes, she emphasizes the power of working for an independent life and announces this year's theme "Independent Living Heroes: Past, Present and Future". Now comes the hard part, says Jamie Bolling and gets a sad voice when she urges us to remember Martin Naugthon. He was the initiator of the march and passed away in 2016. The march in 2015 was his last.

Before we leave, there will be calls from all countries in place, and each gang of activists will respond with shouts and applause. There will be a good atmosphere and a heavenly life, perhaps the Bosnian delegation, from the organization IC Lotos, will give about fifteen people the loudest response. Yeah! Here we are!

From Sweden also comes a noisy gang, mainly from the organizations STIL and JAG.

The route for Freedom Drive March starts from the European Parliament, past the Council of Europe near the European Commission and ends in a park with deep green lawns and a magnificent triumphal arch, Parque de Cinuantenaire. Before and on the sides of the train, police go, and there is an ambulance and paramedics who also accompany. In the EU quarter, some people in suits and suits rush past, out on the street, people stop on their way out and into shops and watch the demonstration.

Zumreta Galijasevic works with young people in a project run by IC Lotos in the Tuzla region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She gives me a big smile when I ask how she experiences the march.

- We are fewer than the last time I was with, two years ago. But I'm happy, it's a wonderful experience. Both with the march and to be with and meet people and organizations from different countries.

It is a serious but also confident and happy group that marches along the streets of Brussels. Participants pepper each other to shout slogans. They film, take selfies and share with hashtag #enilfd17 - which stands for ENIL Freedom Drive 2017.

Chairman of IC Lotus, Suvad Jahirovic, has a megaphone and takes it in stride: Nothing about us without us! Rights - not charity! It means: Nothing about us without our participation! Rights - not charity! Suvad is wearing a blue shirt that the STIL project and IC Lotos runs in Bosnia-Herzegovina has had printed. In one hand has its white cane and in the other a megaphone.

Marianne Knudsen from the organization ULOBA in Norway also takes in, she has a neat wheelchair and a huge megaphone and shouts: Strong Proud Visible. Translated it becomes: Strong, proud, visible.

Visibility has many dimensions, including the fact that it is still difficult to get to many places in Europe. In the catalog for Freedom Drive, with maps and programs, many pages are devoted to how people should receive guidance and assistance to be able to move around in Brussels. There are many streets that are automatically impossible to demonstrate on for people in wheelchairs, because what can be seen as Europe's capital is terribly inaccessible.

After lots of slogans and the occasional song, the demonstration train arrives at the park and the final destination. From one stage, Jamie Bolling and several speakers take turns.

The posters were many. Here one with the text Fix the system - not me. Change the systems - not me.

Tara Flood comes from the UK and talks about the importance of protecting the rights of people with disabilities in connection with Brexit.

- We need your support so that the next generation of people with disabilities do not have their lives ruined! We must defend our human rights and independence in connection with Brexit, says Tara Flood, head of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, a campaign that works for a school for all.

She herself has a background where she has lived away from her family and in an institution since she was 16 months old.

- Independent living is everything like personal assistants, education that includes everyone and accessible buildings. Let's talk about how we can benefit from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, not only in Europe, but in the world, urges Tara Flood.

The need for community and organization is summed up by Jamie Bolling when she asks everyone on Freedom Drive March to continue to fight and support each other - for freedom and an independent life for all.

Text and photo: Anna Morin

Facts and links


Freedom Drive 2017 was arranged 25-28 September and included elements such as workshops with association activists from different countries, meetings with EU parliamentarians, a conference for the movement and the annual meeting of ENIL. It was the eighth Freedom drive and this year's activities are dedicated to Freedom Drive founder Martin Naughton. The messages from ENIL to the European Parliament can be read in ENIL 2017 Freedom Drive Declaration which can be downloaded here

Independent living means independent life and is about having the power in one's own life, and about human rights for people with disabilities, regardless of disability and need for assistance.

STYLE in Sweden is an association for people with disabilities, and a non-profit cooperative that arranges personal assistance. STIL is one of 23 members of MyRight.



IC Lotos

ENIL Freedom Drive 2017


Alliance for Inclusive Education

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