by Shawn Fleek, Community Engagement Coordinator
David Bouchard is a bright and inspiring guy. He’s got a magnetic personality, and his voice can fill a room. David is the elected chair of the Bus Riders Unite Research and Advisory Committee (RAC). They’re the group of core volunteers who produced the BRU LIFE report at the center of our campaign for a low-income fare. I sat down with David this week and learned a lot about why he joined OPAL in the fight for transportation justice.
David holds one of three elected positions within Bus Riders Unite. All of BRU’s elected leaders use public transit as their primary means of transportation. Like many of the people who depend on our regional transit system, David lives with a disability. “I was born blind. I was pretty fortunate as a kid to learn Braille and get basic cane travel skills, unlike other blind kids I know.” And he has a long history as an advocate for the rights of people in his community. “As a teenager, I started to learn about the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which is a membership organization of thousands of blind people from all over the country. I started to listen to speeches by the Federation’s President, and past Presidents, and was so inspired by the message that blindness doesn’t define you, and that you should hold yourself and be held to the same expectations as anyone else. Too often people just don’t expect blind people to do certain things for ourselves, even simple things like catching the bus or preparing your own plate at a buffet. This means that we face all types of discrimination in society.“
“Work with NFB is multi-faceted, from educating sighted people about blindness by going to community events, to advocating for our rights by talking to legislators, or suing businesses or other organizations who discriminate against us. So a lot of my experience has been on Capitol Hill or in the statehouse speaking to legislators about issues facing blind Americans. My mother was also fighting for equality for blind kids in Mississippi by travelling around the state to help advocate for children whose school districts refused to provide an adequate level of Braille instruction.”
David came to OPAL, shortly after moving to Portland, with every intention of joining in our work. “One day when I was sitting in my apartment in Baltimore, I was listening to TriMet board meetings. I kept seeing [people from BRU] testifying at board meetings. I was like, ‘I need to get involved with these guys,’ because I figured it would be a good opportunity to take part in improving transit in my new home.”
David also notes how easy it was to get involved with BRU. “I saw a tweet one night with a link to sign up as a volunteer. Shawn got back to me and told me to come on by, so I came to a First Saturday Organizing, and have been around ever since.”
“There are similarities between my work with the NFB and OPAL,” David says. “As a blind person, I have become very sensitive to transit service levels, especially when transit agencies don’t provide enough bus or rail service, so I’m very passionate about putting pressure on transit providers to increase service.
“Transit still doesn’t work for everyone,” David says. “Portland, for all its talk about phenomenal transit, still has problems.”
As OPAL and BRU continue to fight for Environmental Justice, we remain centered on organizing people who are most impacted, with the volunteerism and support of everyone who believes in justice. There’s room for you! Be like David. Get involved.