Wisconsin: Disability Protests

There have been many thousands of people who have been protesting in Wisconsin. While public sector workers right to collectively bargain has been the primary, if not exclusive story, in the mainstream media, there are a number of people on the streets with a wide variety of demand. Health care, food allowances and other issues affecting poor people have also been important issues on the streets.

One group of disabled protestors has initiated an occupation, demanding that the changes to healthcare be removed from the legislation because of fears that it will lead to the reinstitutionalization of many people.

Click here for the whole story

Why Resist the G20 in Toronto?

This is the speech I gave at the Toronto vs. the G20 teach-in recently.

When talking about the G20 in Toronto, there are a few things that come up over and over. They are:

  • (1) the G20 is not coming to Toronto at the end of June, it has been here for a long time. We have experienced the consequences of G8 and now G20 policies for decades through cut backs, painfully low assistance rates and the greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a few eletes;
  • (2) capitalism is a fundamentally unjust system and must be overthrown;
  • (3) the organizing against the G20 is one piece of a long history of organizing for social justice accross history and the globe. Many people are new to activism and have been drawn in through this focal point. This is important and necessary; however, if you are new I want to compel you to continue organizing. In order to win change, each of you must go back and organize your communities and commit to building resistance, not only to a single protest.

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.

And a lot has been said about what we could do with that money. For instance, every person on ODSP could get the full special diet each month for the next 10 years. Or, 5 more years of the program could be funded as it is now. We could house every single homeless or underhoused person and everyone on the TCHC housing waiting list, all 80,000 people, in a 1 bedroom apartment at the average Toronto rent ($926 a month) for over a year.

So what do we do about it? We organize and protest – not only the ridiculous expense of the G20 but, more importantly, the existence of the G8/G20. We protest the fact that the leaders of the 8 and then the 20 richest countries, the people who cause wars, poverty and devastation across the planet come together to discuss how to further concentrate power in their hands. But let me be clear these protests are one step in moving forward together. Our task is not an easy on, it draws on the deep history of struggle for justice. Overthrowing entrenched systems of oppression will not happen in Toronto this month but it is a crucial step and together we will continue to build unity. Each of us needs to see the G20 as an opportunity to organize our communities and to see ourselves as a small piece of a necessary and substantial justice movement. We fight the G20 in this spirit, not to register our dissent. We fight to win*, we will fight until we win** and we will win.

*Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s slogan
** League of the Physically Handicapped slogan from the 1930’s

Cancer Inc.

One of the many problems with the charity model of disability is that it is used as a way to distract people from systemic problems about disability. Charity both blames individuals and works to keep people from changeling social injustices.

One of the most glaring examples of this is within the mainstream cancer societies and organizations. They are heavily funded by corporations that distribute economic and environmental injustices and then attribute our sicknesses to individual behaviours and make themselves look benevolent while working to prop up industrial capitalism. Like other charities around disability, these guys have created an industry around finding a cure while doing little or nothing for the daily lives of disabled people (and in this case, it is trying to cure the results of, in many instances, being poisoned by the same people).

For a good article about this, read Cancer Inc. in Sierra Magazine.


In-text links used in this post:

charity model

Cancer Inc. in Sierra Magazine.