If I can’t dance is it still my revolution?
I borrowed that line from this blog http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/ and it makes me feel sad.
In a way, my heart is not happy as a write this; doing research for other causes/issues and the G8/G20 meetings has been easy and empowering but it seems all forward/progressive movement comes to a screeching halt when I tackle the issue of Accessible Activism for those who move, communicate or process information differently than the mainstream(=law of averages).
I mean, I’ve even had it suggested to me that I don’t come to a demo because, “people like you complicate things” and “you’ll just get in the way.”
Well, sorry if my dis/ability stands in the way of your revolution, my apologies; I’ll just sit in the corner and keep out of your way. Nice to feel included, eh?
Are we — people who have a dis/ability [note the lack of use of the term: “disabled person] — even dancing? Hell, did we even get an invitation to the damn dance in the first place?
Sure, I can be sassy here and proclaim, “we don’t need no stinking invitation!” but it is always nice to feel welcome at demonstrations and at other social justice affairs. Locally. Nationally. Globally.
It’s important to note that Canada just — and I mean just as in May 2010 — ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) describe the ratification: “Today’s ratification by the government of Canada signals the end of an era where people with disabilities were seen as objects of charity and passive recipients of rehabilitation and state-supported largesse,” the council says.
“Today ushers in a new era where people with disabilities are viewed as full citizens with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens of Canada.”
The text was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 13, 2006, and opened for signature on March 30, 2007. Following ratification by the 20th party, it came into force on May 3 2008.
As of May 13, 2010, it had 144 signatories and 86 parties when Canada finally jumped on the bandwagon.
This Convention stems from the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons; a declaration of the General Assembly of the United Nations, made on December 9 1975. It is the 3447th resolution made by the Assembly. Also, the 1980s was the UN “Decade of Disabled Persons.
It is now 2010.
But hey, what’s waiting a couple decades when you’re dealing with human rights, right?
Part of my anxiety writing this stems from my embarrassment about the lack of inclusion of persons with dis/abilities. I remember the early G8/G20 protest planning meetings and a few of us from the community tried to put forward some awareness around meaningful inclusion and then it sort of just drifted away as more, “pressing” and “urgent” topics took centre stage.
Perhaps the problem was that “our” issue was too “inclusive” to involve the majority of activists to make them feel like they should care? But I’ve always operated to reject the notion that people with dis/abilities should work exclusively with other people with dis/abilities to solve “our” problems because I have taken the concept of “our” to include everyone. Dis/abled centrict organizing is often nebulous and niche and is exclusive rather than inclusive.
On the other hand, try to make me into the “token disabled person” for the movement and oh lordy, HELL HATH NO FURY!
I don’t want to dance by myself. I want allies to dance with me — not tolerate my “funny looking” dance moves, but seriously bust it out on the floor, baby — shaking that ass — with me!
It’s no fun to dance alone.
Thus, I’m excited when I find pockets of resistance like the blog http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/
And the honesty to which AJ Withers [Note: last name does not denote personality] presents person=political writing is empowering. She writes, “This site was created and is maintained by A.J. Withers, a disabled anti-poverty activist living in Toronto. The site was made to help disabled people and politically engaged people have access to radical disability theory and politics as they are quite hard to find.”
“The website title is a riff on “if I can’t dance it ain’t my revolution” which is a common radical phrase coined by Emma Goldman. A far less common statement of Goldman’s was when she commended Helen Keller for “overcom[ing] the most appalling disability.” Goldman viewed Keller as a novelty but never a political ally, even though like Goldman, Keller was actively anti-capitalist and feminist.
AJ goes on to explain…
“Disabled people are actively excluded from radical politics. We are ignored and, on occasion, tokenized. Some people on the left consider us lumpen proletariat, some give us a seat at the table in a building with a broken elevator, but rarely are we included, valued, and respected.
We all dance in our own ways. We all fight in our own ways. We need to create the space for that to be recognized and we need to fight for change together.”
Below is a snippet of a speech AJ gave in Toronto at the recent Toronto vs. the G20 teach in titled Why Resist the G20 in Toronto.
“I am here to speak specifically to the G20 as it relates to disability and disabled people in Toronto.
But first, I want to just take a moment and talk about who is disabled and what is disability because there are a lot of different definitions and ideas of who we are.
Disability is NOT the story of an individual tragedy. Disability is the story of systemic oppression and exclusion of groups of people who are considered deviant or undesirable. In our capitalist system, disability is about who is considered to be under-productive or unproductive and enforcing consequences on those groups of people through segregation, poverty and abuse, among other things.
That is why when we talk about disability, we also must talk about poverty. We also must talk about race and gender because racialized people and women are commonly special targets of capitalism and are more frequently disabled. These two realities are NOT unrelated.
But, I want to be clear here that just because I am couching this speech within a strong anti-capitalist analysis that does not mean that I believe that eliminating capitalism will lead to the elimination of disableism, racism, sexism, or heterosexsm as all of these oppressions are intertwined and reinforce one another.
Disability is an identity imposed upon people as a tool of marginalizing people. It is not a biological reality or a scientific definition; it is a political definition. For example, mental health diagnoses shift depending on the needs of power. Homosexuality or drapetomania (the propensity to run away, a diagnosis given exclusively to slaves fleeing slavery) are no longer considered mental illnesses because these pathologies are no longer useful to those in power. In a world without stairs, using a wheelchair would not be considered a disability, it may even be considered an advantage. In a world where everyone knows sign language, Deafness would not be a disability.
I also want to highlight the ideology of individuality here as well. Capitalism thrives on the notion of individuality, that each of us must support ourselves, that strong communities that operate on the basis of mutual aid and support are not only bad, they are a threat. This is an especially important colonial ideology as it sets out to destroy communities and collectivity and replace them with individualism and capitalist systems.
This ideology, however, is a lie. All of us, under capitalism or not, are interdependent.
We all rely on each other. However, the ideology of individualism says that certain kinds of relationships are good and others are bad. Those involving financial transactions are good while those without the exchange of collateral is bad, dependency and a drain not only on our economy but our society. It is these types of relationships that many disabled people seek to establish as these collective supports are what many of us need to thrive. So, disabled people pose a threat to capitalism: if interdependence takes hold as a stronger than independence, capitalism as we know it will begin to unravel. This is why disabled people are particularly compromised and targeted by the policies of the G8 specifically as well as the broader G20.
What does this targeting look like?
Well, when austerity measures are implemented to pay for an economic crisis of capitalism, services and supports for disabled people are among the first to go. In Toronto, when the city learned that public transit would have a funding shortfall, the physical accessibility plan was the first thing to be cut. So, instead of the subway system being full wheelchair accessible by 2015 as promised, it will be 2025, ten years later. The only reason the city will stick to this plan is because 2025 is the year disability legislation requiring minimum standards of physical accessibility comes into effect.
And provincially, the province cut the special diet, a benefit of up to $250 a month for people on social assistance to buy food. This cut targets people on social assistance who have special dietary needs.
In other words, because of these new cuts, many disabled people cannot afford to go out or to buy food.
These types of austerity measures are encouraged, even enforced, across the board by the G8 countries, leading to devastating impacts, particularly in countries in the Global South.
These measures are increased when governments, for example, spend $1 billion on a 3 day summit with the bast majority of the money going to police protesters who likely would not be protesting if global resources were justly and fairly distributed.
Suddenly…I don’t feel so alone. And it makes me feel like dancing!
If you see me on the streets with my trusty sidekick David who has been my steadfast ally, come join in
Toronto Community Mobilization Network (TCMN) – Accessibility Guidelines and Commitment for the G20 demonstrations in Toronto.
Please also note that the TCMN Convergence Space (1266 Queen Street West) location is accessible, but the washrooms are not.