It came to my attention today that a tremendous activist, and young woman, unexpectedly died this summer. Mirlande Demers passed away in July this year while traveling in Indonesia of undetermined causes.
Mirlande was a member of the official delegation at the 52nd UNCSW, and was a critical force in ensuring that suggestions from the unofficial delegates were heard. She was deeply involved in activism for women’s rights, for the rights of those living with disability, and she continually and effectively worked against discrimination in all forms.
At 26, she had accomplished many things, including having volunteered in Senegal, Haiti, and El Salvador to advance the rights of women. She had recently established an NGO called Quebec Coalition Against Discrimination.
While with her in New York, one of the things that I remember beyond her ability to be heard, and to manage negotiating and political relationships with ease, was walking for over 25 blocks trying to find a restaurant that was wheelchair accessible for her.
We had agreed that she would stay at the hotel and that we would phone her once we found an appropriate place. While walking endlessly and inspecting each restaurant over a period of hours, my feet ached, and I was increasingly horrified at the experience. I have always understood in a very abstract way that the lives of those with physical disability are difficult, however the context of that experience helped me to realize how things that seem very simple pose great difficulty for those confined to wheelchairs.
I remember that about once an hour she would phone and she would offer to just meet us after supper. I knew that she was trying not to be a burden, and I also remember how much more awful I felt when after our long search, that the only place that we could find that could accommodate her chair was a McDonalds.
In the end she declined, and we went on to eat at a restaurant with fabulous food, and I thought of her, back at the hotel.
At any rate, this isn’t a post about pitying her, more so, that singular experience has made me appreciate that the other glamorous international volunteering, as well as the host of other things that she had managed to accomplish during her very short lifetime are that much more extraordinary to me, knowing how much difficulty she faced in simply being able to eat at a decent restaurant.
so in closing, I’m saying good-bye to this amazing young woman. She is inspirational, and she was strong, and definitely an example to aspire to.