A Moment of Liberation

I heard somebody describe it as “a moment of liberation.” That pandemic moment when discussion panels had sign language interpretation; meetings, now held virtually, were accessible to the home-based, the bed-ridden, the chemically vulnerable, immune compromised and mobility-limited; gatherings were in outside or well-ventilated spaces (with masks, hand-washing and distancing). It was as if the able-bodied, hearing organizations – suddenly discovering their own vulnerability – had became aware of their disabled comrades, or suddenly realized that they matter. As if. “The abled world and the hearing world will do anything to forget about disability and deafness,” poet Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha observed on a round table discussion I watched recently.

There’s a stampede on to “get back to normal.” To hold events in person. To have everyone decide for themselves “whatever you feel comfortable with” in terms of safety. To celebrate the arrival of the “post-pandemic” world. It isn’t real, though. Like “post-colonial.” It can’t be “post” if it isn’t over. The actual pandemic keeps sloshing around the world like water in a bathtub when you get it rocking, rising sometimes here, sometime over there. It’s once again on the rise.

Leah P-S’ words keep bouncing around in my mind, “…anything to forget about disability and deafness.” Damn! What if we broke that? We’re in this struggle because we believe we can change things, right? Expand the circle of solidarity. Make a world for everyone. In organizing we talk about “meeting people where they’re at.” We mean where their beliefs are at. What if we also meant their bodies? Our bodies. What if we – all of us, together – refused to let that “moment of liberation” of mutual care, of solidarity, to snap shut? What if we pried it wider?

Covid, like every crisis, slammed first and hardest into populations considered disposable by capitalism. Made precarious by capitalism. Capitalism, whose primary byproducts are the very poisons that scorch our lungs, batter our adrenals and overload our immune systems; whose destruction of habitats makes future epidemics inevitable. That capitalism.

Some of you know this in your bones. You understand all too well the historical toxicity of the term “normal.” For others it hasn’t been on the radar (which, of course, is the “norm”). I’m no expert, mind you. But solidarity doesn’t start with expertise. It starts with commitment. I do know that real solidarity is about more than access. Like any genuine relationship it’s about mutuality. And transformation. A benefit for the able-dominated movements would be exposure to some of the deepest, most generative revolutionary thinking of our time – and the disabled BIPOC, queer and gender-divergent leaders bringing it forward.

What does it mean for our practice, both during and after the current pandemic? Some of the links at the end of this message might help. But most importantly, where there’s commitment the rest can be worked out. In collaboration.

Erase? Or embrace? The words are kind of similar. The experience? Very different.

Here are some disability justice connections (thank you, Deborah Rosenstein for providing some of these – and others):

Split This Rock presents “The future lives in our bodies:” A Disability Justice & Poetry Roundtable.

10 Principles of Disability Justice. A widely used framework developed by Sins Invalid, a disability justice performance project.

More resources from Sins Invalid

People’s Hub’s Disability Justice and Access program. “When we start from a foundation of Disability and Language Justice principles, we’re providing an opportunity and way of being that support liberation for all.”

People’s CDC, a collective of public health practitioners, scientists, healthcare workers, educators, advocates and people from all walks of life working to reduce the harmful impacts of COVID-19.

Kindling: Writings on the Body. By Aurora Levins Morales. For a description of this illuminating (and luminous) book…

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