“Disability justice is the art and the practice of honouring the body” An interview with Lydia X.Z. Brown

In this interview Lydia X.Z Brown  talks about disability justice as a praxis which honours the body and the whole person. Disability justice is a radical framework which requires understanding the interconnected nature of oppression and that we must tackle all forms of oppression in order to change the system we live in. We also talk about differences in language,  tensions within disability movements and the importance of using a variety of tactics amongst other things….

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Transcript below:

Lani: Welcome to Sideways Times, a new UK based podcast, in which we talk about the politics of disability and disability justice. Through this podcast, I hope to have many conversations, which broaden, deepen and challenge our understanding of how we work against ableism, and how this connects to other struggles. My name’s Lani Parker, and in this podcast, I am really excited, because I got to interview Lydia X Z Brown, who is a disability justice activist from the USA. I started by asking them to introduce themselves.

Lydia: Hi. I’m very excited to be here. I’ve actually never been to Europe until very recently. My work has mostly been based out of the United States, because that’s where I am from. I have traditionally opened conversations by discussing aspects of my identities, but I’m going to defer doing that, for some other political reasons, in that sometimes the politics of hypervisibility are important in pushing against marginalisation and erasure, and sometimes they contribute to an unfortunate pattern that I’ve heard some of my comrades describe as centring only our marginalised identities and not naming our privileged ones. And since I would feel really weird about just rattling off, “Here are all of my marginal and privileged identities,” I’m just going to say that I am an activist and an organiser and an educator, and I’m very excited to have you speak to me. And to be able to be part of this conversation.

Lani: OK. So you said to me you’ve just come to Europe, this is the first time you’ve come to Europe. Can you tell me a bit about how it’s been and why you’re here?

Lydia: It’s been very cold, and my allergies have kicked in. I first came here last week. I was in Reykjavic in Iceland, for a conference called Truflandi Tilvist, or Disturbing Existence. This conference was put on by Iceland’s national queer organisation, national disabled organisation and national trans organisation to explore and discuss different aspects of intersectionality. And I was asked if I would give a key note during the conference, so I did, and that was really wonderful. But the following day, I was also asked to lead a workshop with activists within Iceland on intersectionality and doing activism with an intersectional framework. And so we talked about recognising privilege, recognising interconnectedness of patterns of oppression, and working on storytelling, being able to reclaim our own narratives in the face of erasure, co-optation and exploitation.

And now I’m here in London for the Woman of the World Festival, to coincide with International Women’s Day. And I will be speaking at 3 different events during the festival, on issues related to disability justice and gender.

Lani: Wow, that sounds really cool.

So you talk about yourself as an activist and an organiser. How did you come to be doing disability justice work?

Lydia: It was a long journey that first began in my secondary schooling when I was connected for the very first time with a group of autistic activists, who worked to proudly reclaim their identity as autistic in the face of a world which tries to cure or eliminate us. That kind of meeting was very powerful for me. It was the first time I was introduced to the idea of disability as a point of community and culture and resilience, and my involvement with the autistic activism community is what led me to cross-disability work, work that incorporates people who are disabled in a variety of different ways, don’t all have the same experiences, don’t all have the exact same struggles, but are united in addressing issues of ableism.

And it was through work with cross-disability community that I was exposed to a framework of how power operates in society, that uses words like privilege or oppression, which at the time was very new to me. But I jumped onto that very enthusiastically because it made a lot of sense to recognise that society operates by giving social, political and economic power to people based on some characteristic that they may or may not even have, while simultaneously doing that at the expense of other people, who either don’t have that characteristic or have an opposing or divergent one. And it was that work that introduced me to the queer movement, to the trans movement, to the movement of racialised people against white supremacy, and that naturally led to me developing more of a conscious framework of intersectionality – the term that was coined by the Black scholar activist Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe her experiences very specifically as a Black woman – that is the fuel behind disability justice, which itself was a term coined by Black, brown and other people of colour in the disabled community, including Leroy Moore, Patty Berne and Mia Mingus, to describe something very divergent from disability rights, which is the framework that I’d previously had to operate out of.

Lani: Yeah. So that’s really interesting, ’cause we were talking before about disability justice and disability rights.

So what does disability justice mean to you, and how does that translate into what you’re doing at the moment in terms of praxis? Or is there anything you’d like to talk about in terms of what you’re learning or doing at the moment from a disability justice framework? Rather than a disability rights framework, perhaps.

Lydia: Disability justice is the art and the practice of honouring the body. As my comrade,  Tallulah Lewis will say, it is about honouring the whole humanity of everyone. Disability justice is an intesectional imperative. It is an imperative to recognising that disability is wrapped up intricately in queerness, in race, in class, in gender, and so on. And that liberation, meaning not just the end of oppressive systems, but also the creation and the sustaining of just, equitable and life-giving, loving societies and worlds, has to be collective. That that liberation can only be achieved by confronting and ending all systems of oppression, in understanding how they are interlinked. White supremacy depends on ableism, that ableism depends on capitalism. That capitalism depends on settler colonialism etc etc. And that disability justice, unlike disability rights means not sitting around and thinking about how can we change laws, how can we change policies, but how can we fundamentally change the entire society in which we live? It calls for a radical imagination and a creativity.

And disability rights, while it had some important achievements and certainly exists as a significant sphere of activism for many disabled people, does not get at the core of what our society is like, and how our current society is so violent it needs to be fundamentally transformed.

Lani: So that’s really good, a really useful distinction in terms of the radical nature of disability justice.

I was thinking about this term ableism, because I think that here in the UK, we’re kind of beginning to think through what disability justice means. And I know that there’s a lot of you over in the US, who are also just kind of thinking about what the praxis is, and I kind of want to push that forward and be working together on this disability justice work.

And I’m wondering, I know you do some definitions on your blog and stuff about this term ableism, because I think in the UK we use disableism a lot, and then we’re also using ableism. But I wanted to get your definition of that, or your understanding.

Lydia: One thing that I’ve noticed is that, people who care very strongly about the difference between the words ableism and disablism, both have put forth arguments that the other term centres able-bodied people and neurotypical people, and that their preferred term does not do so. And I would venture to say that either term could, but sometimes that’s the point.

Lani: Yeah.

Lydia: So when we talk about heterosexism, or heteronormativity, we are saying that this is a system that values being heterosexual. Heterosexism values being heterosexual. Heteronormativity means the reality that everybody’s expected to be or to act straight. This is what heteronormativity is.

And, another term, I don’t use the words homo- or queerphobia, as some people do, because it uses the language of oppression and being oppressive or a bigot is not the same as having a psych disability. But terms like homophobia or queerphobia, or I heard the term queer antagonism, which I first learned from Kylie Brooks, a Canadian Black, Deaf queer trans activist, queer antagonism, in contrast to heterosexism, or to heteronormativity, refers specifically to the hate and violence directed toward queer people.

I don’t think that either of those terms is better or worse than the other. They’re both talking about the same type of oppression, but talking about different aspects of it. Heterosexism is the cultural and social value that treats heterosexuality as more valuable an ideal. Queer antagonism is the violence that targets queer bodies, coming out of heterosexism or heteronormativity.

To similarly understand ableism and disablism in a very similar way, this is not actually what I originally thought. When I first started thinking about these terms, I thought disablism very much is about centring the abled people and putting the oppression onto disabled people. I no longer have that belief. How I understand it now is that ableism recognises the social and cultural value system that says that being ‘healthy’, fit, functional, normal is the valuable and is the ideal, i.e. the system that says “here is this body that we should all be like.” And disablism goes hand in hand with this term. Disablism recognises the flip-side of that. Disablism says “this is the violent oppression that targets the bodies or minds of the people who fall outside of this norm. Disablism is the violent oppression targeting the disabled body, and ableism is the system of valuing the abled body. So I don’t think at this point that either term is better or worse than the other. But it is true that in the UK disablism is more common. In the US, ableism is more common as the term of reference. As for what ableism actually means beyond this, is it means the form of oppression that grants power to the people whose bodies are considered fit, functional healthy and normal, while depriving power from or exploiting the bodies of the people whose bodies are considered unfit, non-functional, abnormal, sick.

Lani: OK. I think that’s a really useful distinction to be thinking about. And we talked a bit earlier and we talked off the podcast a bit, about how the different power structures and the analysis of power that disability justice has, that all of these systems of power interlock and depend on each other. And I was wondering if you can talk a little bit more about how you think about those connections: between white supremacy and ableism, for example.

Lydia: The history of white supremacy is a history of ableism. The history of ableism is a history of white supremacy. Eugenics was at one time considered mainstream science. It was not an offshoot, it was not an ugly stepchild, to use the expression, it was, “This is innovation. This is what all the leading thinkers are doing, and how they are thinking and working through an understanding of human nature and of the arc of civilisations.” Eugenics was mainstream science where I come from in the United States, and the term only fell out of favour after it became heavily associated with the Nazi regime of the Third Reich in Germany.

At that point, the term eugenics fell out of favour in the academy. But of course the practice lived on. Eugenics was the practice of classifying racialised people – whether they were racialised because they were Black, because they were Jewish, because they were Asian, Roma, mixed race – as inferior, genetically: terms that evoke the language of ableism, or of disablism if you will. Terms that evoke the language of disability: that say “this person’s mind is less fit”, “This group of people,” people of colour – or in the UK I know that you use the term Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, right – that this person who is not white is mentally inferior, has less cognitive capacity, has less control over emotions, is more irrational, is less capable of intellectual achievement. This is the language of ableism. Should not reproduce, are physically sicker, and more fragile and vulnerable. This is the language of disability.

Eugenics was the science of ableism and racism that exist together, not separately. White supremacy has always treated people of colour or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, as lesser physically and mentally. As objects of exploitation, as objects of violence, as objects for use by and for the benefit of white people. The use and exploitation of East and Southeast Asian people’s bodies for sexual fetishes, for sexual violence, is very much tied to desirability politics: in a twist of it. The captivity and forced trafficking of Black Africans to the United States and other places in the Americas, into enslavement for chattel slavery, was based upon theories of racial superiority rooted in ableism.

Something I’ve learned from the Black activist Che Gossett is that enslaved Black Africans who had disabilities were literally called refuse or trash. And were sold for medical experimentation. That the work that Foucault did and other academics and scholars who have done work at the same time or afterward, in recognising the history of the asylum, and of sexual oppression in Western white societies, was very much rooted in theories that somebody who is sexually deviant was mentally deviant. This is how historically white supremacy and ableism can’t be separated: they are histories of each other. Even today, comments or ideas that children of colour are less suitable to achieve academically, it’s rooted in ableism. It’s rooted in ableism.

Lani: So they come together in such a way that you cannot, they’re just the same in a way. They’re not the same.

Lydia: They’re not the same but they are so deeply intertwined that they can’t be separated.

Lani: That’s really cool. There are so many things more that I could ask you about that. I was thinking about, we’ve had some useful conversations whilst you’ve been here around tactics and the idea of depending on the state and not depending on the state, because, again, thinking about the distinctions between disability rights and disability justice that we’ve been making, and also thinking deeply about the connectedness of white supremacy and ableism, can you tell me some things about how you think, what the relationship, what we should be doing in terms of our relationship to the state and tactics for liberation versus getting what we need, holding the state to account, ideas like that really.

Lydia: We’re not gonna achieve liberation by asking for it, nicely or otherwise. We’re not going to achieve liberation by waiting for the state to do it for us, when the state is often itself a direct manifestation of oppression.

But in understanding what our movements or communities should look like, and I know this is something that I’ve expressed to you before, is that I believe disability justice and accounting for honouring the whole humanity of everyone, honouring the body: my body, your body, the bodies of whoever you are listening to this conversation, requires honouring and affirming the value of all contributions, of all labour, of multiple tactics and multiple techniques.

Any individual tactic or technique by itself will not result in liberation. Any individual activist or organiser’s work will not result in liberation. Liberation is a collective process, and so to ask what our relationship should be to the state and what techniques or tactics we should be using is really to ask us, “Who are we as a movement? Whose labour are we valuing?”

One thing that I’ve noticed is that in all activist communities, is that we constantly find ourselves replicating the same violent and oppressive systems that we’re fighting against: whether that is how in so many activist communities you’ll hear people of colour or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people saying, “You’re still perpetrating racism in this movement. You’ve invited mostly white speakers, you mostly refer to white people’s work, and you didn’t even mention the names of the people of colour who contributed important scholarly and organising achievements to the language and the practice that you’re using. That is racist.” We have this conversation all the time, that gay spaces, and I use that term very deliberately, are the white cis gays. Sometimes a few white lesbian women. Sometimes. But if you are a person of colour, Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic person, if you are a trans person, particularly a trans woman, we’re constantly calling out those spaces to say: “This space is perpetrating the very same oppressions that theoretically it exists to fight against.”

Now, taking it from a disability justice perspective, here is also things that we do. We’ve created a hierarchy of labour and contributions. And this goes in multiple directions. I talked to you a little bit about this. For the people who do a lot of rights advocacy, the hierarchy is: “You’re the better activist if you’ve given more speeches, if you’ve testified at more hearings, if you have worked on more pieces of legislation, if you have a résumé that shows leading positions at some advocacy NGO. And that makes you a better activist. Those of you that sometimes go to street protests and post memes on Facebook, you’re slacktivists,” which is a term itself that’s very ableist.

Lani: Wow. Is there such a term?

Lydia: And on the other end of it, from the organisers’ end, here’s the hierarchy: You’re the better activist if you show up to all the protests. You’re the better activist if you’re constantly writing on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter, on some other social media platform about injustice and oppression. You’re the better activist if you are at all of the workshops, at all of the Meet-Up groups, at all the radical centres. And both of those hierarchies devalue the labour and the existence and the resistance of disabled people. The disabled people who are stuck in bed at home are not going to be the ones advocating for the bill. Nor are they going to be the ones at the front lines of the street protest. The disabled people who do not have access to the internet because they’re locked in a group home or an institution. Or because nobody has ever taught them how to read or write. Or because they don’t have the money or the funds to access a piece of technology that would access the internet. And they’re not posting social media. Are the ones who are hurt by our own hierarchy.

We’ve replicated the same oppressive, ableist, capitalist structures into our activism. And so when you ask me what tactics and techniques we should be using, what does disability justice say about this, what it says is we have to honour all contributions as valid, all contributions as valid. No one tactic or technique will get us liberation, but all of us working together. And work, right, reconceptualising what work means, that’s part of disability justice. Work is not only having a paid job. Work is not only showing up at the front lines of the protest: as the demonstrator, the street medic or the legal observer.

Work can also be waking up in a world that is literally trying to kill you.

Lani: And actually surviving, actually living is work.

Lydia: This is something I’ve learned constantly from my comrades like Lee Lyubov, or
Mikael now. Mikael, who talks about how crip survival and being in bed is resistance. There was a great essay that was published about this last year called ‘Sick Woman Theory.’ The author is Johanna Hedva, who is also an East Asian disabled activist scholar, and describes beautifully how forms of labour that are cut out of this hierarchy are not only valuable and necessary but beautiful.

Lani: And actually that has made me think about, when you were talking about hierarchies and divisions and the way that we reproduce those, I think I guess one of the things that I’ve noticed, amongst a lot of others, is that, at least in the UK, we tend to have this sort of division between being disabled, as in being physically impaired, or having a cognitive impairment you were born with and/or being chronically sick. And I think that is a really destructive kind of division. And it is a problem in our movement, but I wondered if, is that something that is happening in the US? Is that something that you are working against in terms of disability justice work, and how are you doing that?

Lydia: We have even more fractures than that. I mean, I’m sure you do too.

Lani: Yeah, we have loads.

Lydia: There’s the fracture between what we think of as the physical disabilities and the mental disabilities. There’s the fracture between the people who fall into the intellectual developmental disabilities camp, and the people who more or less fall under the umbrella of madness or mental illness. And even my use of these terms starts to speak to some of these divisions. Even within this community, right, there’s the people who will say, “I am in recovery”, “I am a consumer”, “I’m a psychiatric survivor”, “I am mad, do not call me mentally ill, I am mad, I am not ill.” And in all of these fractures are very much a part of the fabric of disability communities. In fact, I think it’s disingenuous to say disability community as though there’s only one, because there’s not, there are many, even among people who might have the same ‘disability’.

I say that because some people don’t identify with the term disability. And of course there’s room for plenty of critique there. But I don’t know that we have time to go into that.

And of course, yes, there is also the division between whatever is broadly considered disability and whatever is broadly considered chronic illness. But I think it’s those of us who straddle those lines, who have thought about and realised that we can’t be neatly categorised as one or the other: those of us that exist with multiple disabilities or illnesses, or madnesses, that really challenge those false divisions that ultimately only seek to reinforce hierarchies of ableism and disablism, and forment not just divisiveness but actually intracommunity violence.

So, for example, for me as an autistic person, most people in the US and probably elsewhere, primarily would think of autism as, “This is a mental disability. It is a mental disability and, unless I have some other specific disability, I’m an able-bodied person. I can be disabled and able-bodied at the same time.”

But as some folks have pointed out in our community, autism is a whole body disability. I think this is something that folks like Nick Walker and Kassiane A. and Zahari Richter were talking about: that autism is an entire body experience. It’s not in my mind only or affects how my mind works, but autism is also tactile. You’ve experienced while I’ve been here, I can’t touch certain things. Or I am happily touching other things, like I’m really upset that, for those listening, for the first ten minutes, there was a lovely silky cat sitting next to me who I was petting. And then the cat abandoned me, which is very sad. And that petting the cat is an amazing tactile experience, and if you talk to enough autistic people, we will tell you that how we experience our sensory world, a very physical, material thing, right, is deeply embedded into our autism. That how our bodies move, that right now I am rocking my body and flapping my hands and my arms, is in a very autistic way and this is very physical. This is very physical. And that autism is not just something that can be defined as mental and not physical. Some people have talked about that, you know, it really is kind of a false line to say that the body and the mind are separate. They’re really part of the same thing, right. So recognising, and disability justice helps us recognise this too, that while other experiences are not the same thing as being disabled, that disability justice calls us to understand, not just in the theoretical abstract sense that all oppression is in some way or another rooted in ableism, but also that disability is a part of life, it’s how we interact with the world around us. And that means that our liberation has to include disability in the liberation.

Lani: Yeah. It also made me think about that those divisions when we are reproducing them, and ways in which we struggle against reproducing them every day is a sort of, I was thinking about the place of internalised oppression. And the way that those separations, that separation between mind and body, those are ableist, white supremacist constructions, right? So it’s always fighting against those internalised messages or ways of acting, I suppose. It made me think about that. What do you think about that?

Lydia: Internalised oppression is, for me, how our world is so violent that what is used against us we end up agreeing with.

Lani: Yeah.

Lydia: It’s a form of cultural gaslighting, cultural abuse, that we’re at fault for our own oppression: that if we tried harder to fit into the normative, the imagined normal (that’s the term I usually use) then we’re not going to be experiencing problems anymore.

My partner Shain Neumeier would basically tell you, “This is bullshit,” and that no amount of internalised oppression is going to somehow magically make violence go away. That internalised oppression is how we convince ourselves that all these ableist ideas we’re fighting against are actually true. And many of us struggle with it. It’s a lifelong struggle. That is how violent our world is.

Lani: For this next bit, I was going to talk to you a bit about, given the current context of Trump and all of those sort of things, do you have any thoughts about where we could be, maybe not should, but could be focussing our activism in the current moment, I guess, with Trump and Brexit and all that’s going on.

Lydia: We’ve certainly had a resurgence of very overtly white supremacist sentiment. White supremacy has never gone away. One thing that’s been very frustrating for me over the past 2 years in the United States has been hearing other people on the left say, “This is so surprising, this is so scary, this is so shocking, he can’t possibly win, he can’t possibly win, shit, he won, that was so surprising.” And I was sitting here thinking the whole time, around a year and a half ago, when we had the Republican National Convention in the United States, I was thinking, “I’m pretty sure that this guy is going to win. I’m pretty sure that Donald Trump is about to be our president.” And some other people said, “Well, that puts you in a minority. Why did you think that?” And I said, “Because the history of our country is a history of white supremacy. Because after having elected a Black man as president, white supremacy will say, “Oh, fuck, that means whiteness is under attack. We can’t possibly have another person that is not a cis het white male who rejects the ideology of multiculturalism as president, or else we are losing, it will be the white genocide.”

We understand this at the micro level: where research has shown that if there’s a room of men and women, and the women speak for 30% of the time, the men will say afterward when interviewed that they felt the women were dominating the conversation, when they only spoke for 30% of the time. In a less scientific or empirical methodology, we know this in the disability community: that a parent-dominated organisation of primarily non-disabled parents of disabled people will be OK with one or even two people of that disability being in the room: for their conference, for their board meeting. But as soon as there are three or four, even when they are still vastly outnumbered by the 20-30 parents in the room, suddenly they will be perceived as threatening and as though we are taking over.

This phenomenon played out on the cultural scale. We saw a Black man who talked about race in the White House. Granted, there are about a million and one criticisms that I can and frequently do levy about Barack Obama. But here is the reality. We had a Black man who talked about race in the White House. And during the 8 years that he was president, discussion of power, privilege and oppression became very centre stage in mainstream public media: not just in some university classrooms or some activist groups. Conversations using this dialectic entered into mainstream dialogue. And that, to the right wing reactionary forces, i.e. to white supremacy, was terrifying. And so for me, as soon as we had the Republican National Convention, at which Donald Trump looked poised to receive that party’s nomination to run for president, I was at a point where it was inconceivable to me to think that there was not a very huge chance that he would become our next president. That is the arc of white supremacy.

Barack Obama, for all of his many failures, threatened that order. And in the age that we now have, of Donald Trump, of Brexit, of an increase in anti brown people sentiment, throughout the white Western world – Europe, North America – that means that our activism must meet it in force.

My partner Shain would say that a lot of the left in the US lacks spines. And my friend Nai, Nai Damato, another activist, would say not even a single vertebra. They don’t even have a single vertebra, they have no spines.

Lani: No spines at all.

Lydia: Because what they want is incrementalism for incrementalism’s sake, that’s what Shane would say, they want incrementalism for incrementalism’s sake. And that they are thinking, “How can we compromise to get small gains? Engage in really small scale reformism. Well, we’ll give up on fighting for protections for trans students if we can keep some protections for the cis gay students in schools. We will drop the fight against the original travel ban that Donald Trump issued, if we can get a guarantee of safety for some people, because it’s better than none.”

I can understand the temptation to adopt that tactic. Well, it hurts less people, right? And I’m not opposed inherently, or as a matter of principle, to something that is intended as harm reduction. We talked about this. But what I am opposed to is embedding that as a core principle of a movement. To say this should be our movement-wide strategy is just backing up, retreating and trying to like get something that’s greater than zero. Because if we do that, we’re letting them win.

Now is the time to be in force, talking even more about what white supremacy is, and that that is what is in the White House. It’s not white nationalism, it’s white supremacy. Call it what it is. Don’t hide behind some nicer, more euphemistic, doesn’t sound as harsh way of describing it. Call it what it is. ‘Cause if we don’t call it what it is, how are we supposed to fight against it?

Lani: If we don’t see, if we don’t fight it head-on.

So that’s cool. I’ve just thought about a few more questions as we finish, ’cause you’ve got a new anthology hopefully coming out that you’ve been editing. Is that right?

Lydia: I’m one of the editors. I’ve been one of the project leads. It was an idea that I originally had back several years ago. The title of it is All The Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialised Autism. And the anthology is the first ever collection of art and writing – non-fiction, fiction and poetry – by autistic people of colour, or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people. And it features over 60 people from seven different countries writing at the intersection: some explicitly talking about that lived reality, and many others simply writing, creating art that does not necessarily have to engage in some explicit discussion, but reflects the realities of our diverse and multifaceted lives.

It is a collaboration with the Autism Women’s Network, which is an organisation that was created directly to combat the domination of men in autistic activism spaces for a very long time. And which I’m very excited to see the kind of direction we’ll go in next. I am, just for full disclosure, I’m part of the board of directors for AWN. And one thing that I know I’d like to see, moving forward, with AWN, is considering a change of name and mission.

I’m the only trans and gender nonconforming person that is on the board of directors. And I am not actually really represented by the word ‘woman’. But, while we have a statement that AWN is deliberately aiming for intersectionality in the work that we do, and that AWN is meant to be a space for anyone who’s basically not a man – cis or trans, but not a man – in the autistic community, I think that the next step is changing our name and our mission, not just having a statement, to reflect that.

Lani: Just as a sort of last question to close off, do you have any sort of ideas or tips around building a sustainable disability justice movement in the UK, and how we might support each other, I suppose – build links and alliances – both between the UK and the US, but also internationally, perhaps?

Lydia: A sustainable disability justice movement recognises and honours the leadership and experiences of the most impacted people. That’s what it says on the poster that’s hanging beside me: in the principles of disability justice that Patty Berne drafted. I don’t even have to turn around to read that, right?

And what that means for sustainability is collective and mutual support. That means allowing yourself and others to take breaks and supporting one another materially in doing that. That means actively affirming, not just passively saying, “OK, we’ll say anything,” but actively affirming the value of all contributions and of all labour.

That means deliberately, explicitly and consciously examining what is the work you’re doing, and where is it lacking in an intersectional analysis? And that’s a constant process. It’s a constant process. But that resource building happens at the community, on-the-ground level. We don’t need to create an organisation in order to build up these resources. Organisations can do great things, and really harmful, fucked up things. But this community building requires on-the-ground work, and requires ongoing and deliberate processes. There’s going to be no magical bullet, nothing that you can just suddenly switch on and do overnight. But it’s an ongoing work of labour, and a labour of love.

Lani: Brilliant.

Is there anything that you want to say to us to close up, I guess?

Lydia: I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me.
I also want to thank Taya, the kitty, who is currently rubbing against me from behind. I love kitties, they’re the best, they are actual bestest­.

And, to those listening, I want to remind you, in the words of the cool collective that wrote ‘The 26 ways to be in the struggle beyond the streets’: that we see you, we are you, we are already in the struggle together.

Lani: Thank you, Lydia, that’s brilliant


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