It is impossible for me to express the degradation I feel. A progressive group put on a one-day workshop this past 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.
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.
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 petty 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 and 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 our friends who attended. They were all met with boos from the organizers supporters.
They never criticized themselves for making their exclusionary decision. Rather, people defended the organizers for their hard work. 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 were 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.
Let’s hope that the training organizers can learn a thing or two from the people they attempt to teach.
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