Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Are My Brothers and Sisters in the Struggle for Justice?

Updated 12/7/2011 11:33 AM
It is impossible for me to express the degradation I feel. A progressive group put on a one-day workshop Sunday. I was not allowed to go. My friends went; my husband went; but not me. I wasn’t excluded because my big mouth got me in trouble again; not this time. I could not attend because a left-leaning group of people made a decision to have the training in a three story building with no elevator. No way to get in; no way to participate.
Photo shows someone wheeling up to a flight of stairs

We with mobility disabilities know better than to show up to an unfamiliar location and expect to get in; we who are deaf or hard of hearing know better than to show up at a meeting and assume an interpreter to be there; we who are blind know better than to show up and expect to receive materials in alternate formats.

A week and a half ago my husband and I learned about the training; we signed up and worked on carpool details. We were excited about heading out of town for the event. I was positive it was not going to be a problem; this was after all, put on by a group of freedom fighters. But caution and experience made me ask about accessibility.

The organizers assured me, that accessibility was a grave concern to them; they discussed it at length. But in the end they decided to have the training in an inaccessible location. They thought the fact that they struggled over the issue should make me feel all better. I should understand that they are trying to do a good thing. I should quiet myself, settle down, and stay home. Maybe next year…

Being quiet is not my long suit. In the next set of exchanges, I suggested that they could have postponed the training until they found an accessible site. From the tone of their electronic communications, they felt irritated or frustrated by my insistence that an injustice anywhere (by anyone) is an injustice everywhere. Their response was that the event was too close to postpone. I, in no way, was suggesting they cancel the event now; but that they should have postponed it in the planning phases until they could access a suitable inclusionary location.

They told me if they HAD TO accommodate people with disabilities they would HAVE HAD TO cancel the event altogether. I was outraged that they would be willing to blame people with disabilities, (well, not all of them, just me) for preventing the event by my insistence that they do a bit of self criticism about their discrimination. Is that not blaming the victim? I was the one facing discrimination; yet, if I kept telling them that they were wrong to exclude people, they would have to cancel and it would be my fault.
Photo of a person using a wheelchair. He is staring up two flights of steps to the entrance

One person told me I should stop picking on the organizers who are just trying to make the world a better place. For whom? Everyone-- or just those people who were most like them? It was a bourgeois excuse. I told them that I too, was trying to make the world a better place. It was my wish to join others who were trying to do the same. Was providing free meals more important than full inclusion? It is too ludicrous to even consider.

They assured me that they had no money and had tried as hard as they could to find a free accessible location, but could not. I asked them if they had contacted the centers for independent living in the area: LINK in Belleville; IMPACT in Alton, or; Paraquad in St. Louis to help them find a location. There is also ADAPT St. Louis. They had not contacted any disability related organizations. Only one person acknowledged that I did have a point there. That particular planner gave me what seemed to be a sincere apology, but still many excuses. I thanked him for at least listening.

Watching my husband and our friends leave our house for the event early that morning filled me with emotions ranging from deep sadness to humiliation. I spent the day, locked away from the information, from the camaraderie of like-minded people, from the synergy that can only happen when people are together attempting to solve society’s serious inequities.

Now, I know that I should not feel degraded or humiliated; I know the problem is not a personal failure on my part. But, that is how it feels on the receiving end of bigotry. Marginalization gets internalized; no matter how well-intentioned the perpetrators may be. A worker feels a personal sense of failure if employers won’t hire her because she has been under or unemployed for too long. African-Americans feel it when they walk through a jewelry store. Women feel it when no man volunteers to take notes at a meeting.

What the disability and other civil rights movements did in helping me understand this, the Occupy Movement is doing for the 99% today. The fact we face systemic problems does not relieve individuals of privilege from their responsibility to fight their own privilege, whether based on race, sexual orientation, education, or disability. And, we must never let the oppressors control our sense of self.

My husband reported that at the meeting summation the organizers still did not get it. One of the organizers told him, “The complainant was happy with resolution”.

Mike responded, “The complainant is my wife… and she is NOT happy.”

The organizer flippantly tried to end the dialogue by saying, “That sounds like something you have to take care of when you get home.” Seriously? Was he saying all I needed was a good "poke" and this would go away?

That is when young man in the back of the room criticized the organizers for not taking the issue seriously, as did a minister, as did our friends who attended. They were all met with boos from the organizers supporters.

Organizers and their supporters never did exercise any criticism/self-criticism for making their exclusionary decision. They never put down their defenses to listen to what others were saying. Rather, the majority of attendees defended the organizers for their hard work; and organizers patted themselves on the back. The lack of accessibility was excused because of the lack of funds; more bourgeois blather. This was a conference for the predominately white, middle class radicals. Organizers believed they would only support their efforts if it was free. 

I have been a member of small organizations that operated on left-over grocery money most of my adult life. We always had and have inclusive meetings. Their inaccessible meeting happened, not for the lack of funds, but for the lack of will.

Inclusion is just one, but an important reason I joined the Occupy Springfield Movement. To a person these young enthusiastic people, relatively new to progressive politics, (when compared to those of us who have been around since the ‘60s) inherently knew that it was wrong to exclude anyone and found accessible meeting locations to hold our General Assemblies. I should not have to feel grateful for that; but, I am. They are a microcosm of the new socialist women and men developing… And I love them.
Crippen Cartoon: Father holding son's hand and is saying to a teacher--There's nothing wrong with the kids, it's the tutors who have a teaching disability
Let’s hope that the training organizers can learn a thing or two from the people they attempt to teach.


Anonymous said...

There is no excuse for the booing! Having said that, it seems to me that there needs to be a web site called "Disability Resources for Freedom Fighters" or something like that.

Pez said...

I too am saddened by your de facto exclusion. Obviously the organizers have limited imaginations. I hope, however, you will work with them to locate accessible meeting areas. You mentioned ILCs. Also contact Big Apple Greeters at
which has an extensive database of accessible places. Good luck and keep the faith.
Philip Bennett

Meriah said...

what a great post. I saw a lot of this in Berkeley... will be linking to your blog in my Friday post of Random stuff (

Big Noise said...

Thank you Meriah!:)

Catherine Roy said...

I can not say how many times this kind of situation has happened to me. I have even been asked more than once to contribute to events or initiatives as a representative of the disability community but also warned to not complain about lack of access or accommodation.

Your article is so emblematic of a type of very problematic ableism. Thank you so much for posting this. Hopefully, it will help some people get it.

Sharon Wachsler said...

Yes, sadly typical.

I'd love to cross-post this at #Occupy at Home -

Please let me know if you're interested. Thank you for writing this!

BTW, to make your comments section accessible, you might want to consider doing away with CAPTCHA, as image verification is a barrier to many people with disabilities.

Ruth Madison said...

Great post!

Big Noise said...

Sharon Wahsler, Yes, feel free to cross post it at#Occupy at Home. Oh and CAPTCHA is removed. I did not know it was a barrier. Thanks for keeping me honest! :)

Cathy Taylor said...

Their message is clear. Justice and equality for all..... as long as it directly benefits them and isn't inconvenient.

Sharon Wachsler said...

Big Noise,

Thank you very much for removing CAPTCHA and also for permission to cross-post!

I'll try to post it tonight or tmw.

Here's a post on Captcha as a barrier for PWDs:

Anonymous said...

"The organizers assured me, that accessibility was a grave concern to them; they discussed it at length. But in the end they decided to have the training in an inaccessible location. They thought the fact that they struggled over the issue should make me feel all better. I should understand that they are trying to do a good thing. I should quiet myself, settle down, and stay home. Maybe next year…"

This I think points out a LOT of the frustrations I've seen floating around. Love it.

Anonymous said...

How enfuriating! I've seen this kind of behavior again and again as well. I have different issues, not mobility, but there's such a resistance I meet when I bring up any kind of accessibility with many groups - an automatic assumption that it's impossible or will take too many resources, before they even bother listening to suggestions. And just lack of willingness to be inclusive even around small issues - like I suggested to one organizer simply putting a line at the end of the announcement saying "please contact us w/ questions/concerns around accessibility"... apparently even that was too much! good for you for writing this!

Kate said...

Great post.

Zan said...

Understood exactly! Disability Rag interviewed us in GA 1995? cuz r complaint got similar reactions. I quit the ACLU GA board cause of that (and their support for PAS, but not equality in health care). As a LGBTQI US Army vet-I found a PTSD group for LGBTQI. They swore its accessible. Just 3 stairs in and 6 to the mtg. ERRRGGGG. In solidarity with yall.

roostertree said...

When any group – not just one dealing with social injustice – knowingly discriminates against anyone, they are saying they are willing to discriminate against me. Unacceptable.

bint alshamsa said...

This is no different from telling me that I couldn't come because I'm black and, though they care about discrimination, they decided that non-white people were not welcome. Ugh! Please, tell us who did this. They need to know that this is not acceptable and that *we* will not silently watch as this is done to our sister.

What they did was more than just bourgeois. It was bigoted and there is NEVER an excuse for that.

GirlWithTheCane said...

What a terrible experience that must have been...I'm outraged for you.

Thank you for writing about it.

- Sarah