Who Are My Brothers And Sisters In The Struggle For Justice?

by Big Noise (A.K.A. Cilla Sluga)

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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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Who Are My Brothers And Sisters In The Struggle For Justice?

  1. I apologize this was the response you received. I have been full-time and part-time occupier, and can’t say I have always took the consideration of the needs of the disabled. In our impatience to get things done, sometimes even the people with the best of intentions miss an opportunity to slow down and really hear where someone is coming from. As an Occupier I am also dedicated to doing it better next time. By letting go and moving on, we will build a much more powerful and effective movement. #OWS #Solidarity

    • Woo

      And this is exactly why we decided to put Cilla’s blog post on here. To make people realize the harm they can do by overlooking others. You are doing great for getting that message, an now keeping it in mind for the future.

      I think the real issue here was not insomuch that the event Cilla wanted to go to was inaccessible, but that those running it could not see past their noses for the two seconds it would have taken to understand the very same thing you just stated.

      Solidarity! ❤

  2. Perhaps *moving forward* is more appropriate here.

  3. Thank you for this. Had you not written this, and had it not been posted, others would not know of what happened and this issue would not be on their minds. I have been with Occupy Chicago since the third night and one of the first people I met was a gentleman by the name of Adam who is a member of ADAPT and god damn it what happened to you saddens and even angers me. I don’t want to go on a long diatribe about how I feel, but know that scores of people care and those organizers can and should learn more than a few things from yourself. I don’t know what to say, it’s perplexing to me what happened – how they had already discussed meeting your needs and they still were not met…

    I truly enjoyed reading your account of what happened, thank you again for raising my awareness and that of others.

  4. This is why I pulled my support from #OccupyMemphis. The whole area where the protest is taking place is not wheelchair accessible due to a lack of appropriate/safe parking. When confronted on twitter about their ableist attitude, I was told ‘go read your bible b/c God does not like ugly’ … apparently they read in my profile that I’m a seminary student.

    It’s as if this group (the Memphis one) is led by kids who are more interested in getting arrested than making a difference. I was angry, now I’m just embarrassed on their behalf.

    Thank you for this story and thank you to those who hear and make changes. Hear’s a little hint, telling a victim of oppression to ‘let go and move on’ isn’t an auspicious start…

    • The letting it go and moving FORWARD is for your/our/their own well being. Anger is not an effective place to communicate from or even see clearly the forms of communication and action that are open to you. I understand the initial anger, but holding onto it does not serve anyone. The next time someone is angry with you and is communicating out of anger and blame, see how willing you are to listen. That’s my only point.

  5. Thanks Tesla, I know Adam! And many of the Chicago Adapt folks; we have worked together on many actions over the years. It is gratifying to know that other Occupy groups are as open to people with disabilities as my own beloved Occupy Springfield. Thank you for contributing to the dialogue about total inclusion for all the 99%.

  6. Hari Bluesword

    The same attitude is why I quit working with Occupy and no longer support the movement–it is a very young, white, male, able-bodied, middle-class movement. It wants to think it is so universal, but most of its primary supporters have never really had to consider real and full inclusion of womyn, people of color, ppl w/disabilities, any “Others”, with what that really means (such as using only accessible locations). The attempt to bring these things–these PEOPLE– more fully into the conversation is either ignored or shouted down. Not universally, there are good ppl in Occupy…but the loudest voices keep Occupy stuck. And yes, like a bunch of snotty teens, those loudest voices will use ridicule and totally inappropriate ‘humor’ to silence those who don’t follow their lead with 100% unqualified praise for all they do. Some of those very-adolescent voices come out of the mouths of men no longer in their teens… Don’t ask us to think! We’re busy having a real important revolution here! If you don’t get that, just get out of our way!

    Ew.

    I think those of us who don’t fit the Occupy mold should focus on what we already do to make this world a better place–and not worry at all about what Occupy is up to. Just my 2ct.

    • Woo

      I am sorry you have had this experience. I definitely do see your points, though. Maybe some groups just don’t think about it as much as we do at Occupy Springfield, IL. but we are constantly asking what we can do to get more women, minorities, etc. with us, and we do our best to always maintain accessibility. We are by no means perfect, but I think the fact that we do see the issues and try to deal with them is important.

      And I am very glad you won’t let this stop you from doing what you think needs done!

  7. I too am sorry your Occupy Movement was as not as inclusive as Occupy Springfield. Unfortunately, it will be to their detriment. I believe Occupy Springfield is stronger because we are not defensive or offended by any constructive criticism that comes from inside or outside. I am hopeful that dialogue like this will help lower their defenses and embrace the full inclusion of the 99%. Good luck in your social justice work. Peace.

  8. P.S. A true Occupy Movement should not have a mold, except 99%.

    • Hari Bluesword

      Thanks Cilla and Woo–

      I have been working for peace and justice since the late 1960s…not about to stop now! Yes, a true Occupy Mvmt should only have the mold of the 99%–which properly would include the awareness that womyn, ppl of color, ppl w/disabilities compose the 99% of the 99%: we are the ones typically inhabiting the very lowest % of income and power in the world. Our perpective should be at the forefront, not shoved impatiently away as ‘divisive’ and so forth. I’m glad to hear that for Springfield things are apparently different–because I know that womyn in particular are struggling ALL OVER the US for full inclusion into Occupy, against the grain of young white male reality that is unafraid of using dismissal, ridicule, and other forms of interpersonal violation to help itself hold the floor at all times. Those not engaging in it, were busy hiding from it, refusing to confront their comrades for hurtful behavior that hurts the Movement far more than it hurts individuals. If Occupy is going to last, it will have to confront what is ‘within’ or it will never have a chance to change what is ‘out there’. Good luck and solidarity!

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