Shortly after moving to San Francisco eight years ago, they introduced me to the radical artists / activists, Leroy Moore and Patty Berne, and the project they founded, Null Sins. Recently I had been granted federal disability benefits, and although I had a lifelong disability and had been an activist since I was a teenager – and even though I had spent the past fifteen years doing work for the release of fat, and the last five years in personal work on the inheritance of medical traumas in my life – I could not imagine a way to integrate my policies into a major infrastructure or disability activism.
Sitting among the public the first time I went to see Null Sins, I witnessed one of the most radical works I had seen or imagined. I saw Lateef McLeod, a beautiful black man with cerebral palsy, recite poetry through an electronic talker and stay almost naked, crawling on the floor in front of a mirror, under a giant full moon. I saw porn of Loree Erickson, a white queer woman in a wheelchair, I heard poetry of the Latin goddess in a wheelchair Maria Palacios, and I witnessed the performance of the search for a white transvestite, who was spinning while carrying a stand of custom plastic on the back. Planted in my theater seat with my fake leg tucked under the chair, I had a familiar but also unusual feeling: an urgency, something in my body said: “This is the moment, enter it, this is where it is happening” . I wanted it.
While spending time in Patty’s living room six months later, she gave me her vision about Null Sins and the emerging disability justice infrastructure that guided her and about Leroy’s process to get the show going together. She expressed something that I had noticed but did not know what name to give it, something that I had missed for myself in the disability organization I had witnessed: it was the unique and personal approach. He was dominated by paleness, honesty and virility. And I was generally interested in disability mobility. . Meanwhile, the radical spaces that I was attracted to – anti- capitalism, feminism, anarchy, for example – had very little awareness of disability,
Patty explained to me that the term disability justice was born from a conversation she had in 2004 with another woman of color with a gender disability, trying to find a language for the structure of a movement that focused on gender dysfunctions of color, that it was not “to argue for the mere fact of existing, but to assume all existence at once.” (Patty Berne, personal conversation). There were some discussions about calling it a second wave of disability rights , which would have been less controversial. But in reality it was seen as the reaction of disability rights of a white man to the ruse of justice rights (No, don’t do it!), Which convinced them so that disability justice It was the way to go.
Let’s be clear. Disability rights movements have been crucial for the release of people with disabilities. As Patty told me the other day, “Fifty years ago we would all be in institutions.” Legal rights, personal care, education, public shelters, street access, the ADA, all this came from the work and effort of disability rights activists, and now we depend on those structures. So hooray. But in terms of talking about the needs of people who embrace multiple experiences of marginalization and oppression, there have been some (so called Patty) tense situations.
“Disability rights are not a challenge for any oppression except for disability. They make many people’s lives invisible, ”Patty explained. Even the idea of independent life is a bit difficult. I mean, support, of course. It is hugely important. But it is a structure of capitalism; there is nothing like collective interdependence. ”
The justice of disability challenges the idea that our merit as individual persons has to do with the ability to fulfill as productive beings in society. He insists that our merit is intrinsic and tied to the liberation of being. As a transformative justice, a reproductive justice and an environmental justice, it implies a strategy of building an anti-capitalist movement and criticism. But now, a decade after these conversations that defined and gave birth to disability justice, many disabled white people are using the term without knowing exactly what it means. In fact, they often use it to advance their careers as academics and consultants, instead of listening to and amplifying the color voices in the movement.
This is the question: The color community of sexual minorities are the leaders of this movement ( Clarification: This point was emphasized through the leadership and contribution of Kiyaan Abadani, a transsexual Iranian working in Null Sins ). If you are organizing something and you ask transsexuals of color to get involved, and they say This is what we need to participate , and you answer, it doesn’t matter; It’s very hard, that’s not disability justice. If you are interacting with national organizations, saving social capital, and advancing in your career, instead of building a community, that is not disability justice. If you are white, and you are not explicitly challenging white supremacy in your daily life, then you are not doing justice for disability.
“I think a lot of people are using the JD as an intersection posture, referring only to people of color in the language, but not focusing on them as disabled black people and black and sexual minority non-conforming people,” Patty said. “It is a structure of a movement that is being built, a practice, not an academic theory.”
Disability exists in every sector of society: immigrant communities, in prisons, religious and spiritual communities, between veterans and homeless people, between children and the elderly and everything in between, so each movement has to move towards justice of the disability and vice versa. A movement that sees certain people as disposable or not of being sacrificed is not disability justice. Liberation does not come alone, we have to reach it together. Whether online, in our bedrooms and living rooms, in letters that pass in the hands of prison guards, or on the streets, we are part of a growing movement, and we are just developing the practice now. We walk the path, rolling, jumping, crawling or limping.
Speaking of myself: an obese white woman. Sexual minority Jewish woman with a lifetime of disability and PTSA, my participation in disability justice takes many forms. In a way, my ability to sit comfortably, breathe, focus and participate is essential to the group’s need. At the beginning of each meeting, we review the access needs, what do we each need to participate? If I need to take off my leg and sit on the floor where I normally take the posture, if I need a glass of water, if it is hard for me to process information and I need to slow down to deliberate, the group takes note. We all do our best to be aware of each other’s needs and share our allowed skills and talents. In the process, I learn to pull my partner’s arm so she can use her keyboard and I learn to wait patiently while writing on her electronic talker. I learn not to throw perfume on my body or clothes so as not to cause allergic reactions in my friends with sensitivity to perfumes and environmental damage. I learn to clarify and separate a conversation from an event in meeting notes so that everyone can follow them and interact through Skype when they don’t feel safe to show up in person.
I also tend to be a weirdo, sexy and strong, and to reflect other beauty tips. I tend to create performances that not only allow me, but I enjoy with them, my physical qualities: dressed as a newborn bird in a nest of artificial limbs, wearing a mermaid’s tail and singing under the sea nanas to giant mascot-snails; riot with other intergender Jews, be voiceover about complicity, responsibility and live in a body.
Last summer, when the Israeli militia was bombing the fucking Gaza, we were enraged and wept for this fact, among other atrocities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and ambulances were being bombed. We talked for hours every day until late at night, for many weeks, assessing how to respond. We retired from a festival that accepted Israeli “pink wash” funds, and made public a statement, a graphic and a video, linking disability justice for Palestinians, stating that they were attacks on disabled people. Then, a few months later, when Urban Shield came to Oakland to train the police in military tactics, Null Sins He protested in front of the hotel where it was taking place and made a statement about police violence against disabled people of color.
As a white activist, when I respond to a call from black organizations to go outside to protest, I want to highlight the racial profile of violence against black people with disabilities. I want to remember Kayla Moore, a black transgender with a mental disability who was killed by the Berkeley police in 2013, whose death was partially blamed for her obesity. And when people of color with disabilities in my life take time to help me in the right direction of the problems of selective incorporation, I will listen and return that information to the people with whom I organize.
After searching all these years, I find spaces where my big fat female body, soft, mustache, aching, lively, plump leg difficult to move, can feel at home, I can talk when I am called and be quiet when I need it, in benefit of all. This is the justice of disability in action, progressing. And this is revolutionary.
* This article was written with very significant contributions and criticism from Patty Berme and Kiyaan Abadani.
[Image: The photograph shows the author, a white woman with feathers on her outstretched arms and her head tilted back. She wears light colored and short hair and tattoos on her arms. Next to it, you see a small brown table. Photograph © Richard Downing 2009, Courtesy of Sins Invalid.]