Shocking into Compliance: Why Tasers Aren’t the Answer to Police Shootings

Trigger warning: this post contains a discussion about police brutality, police killings, white supremacy and psychiatric violence.

taser

Note: by tragic coincidence, just one hour after I put this post up on my website, El Cajon police shock and killed Alfred Olango.  Alfred was a Black Ugandan refugee with mental health issues.  He was in mental health crisis when his sister called 9-1-1 for help.  After 50 minutes, police arrived.  Police knew that Alfred was in crisis and had not called on the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.

Most people by now have heard the heart wrenching recording of Alfred’s sister, reacting to the killing of her brother. She says: “I called you to help me, but you killed my brother.” Later, she pleads: “why couldn’t you tase him? Why couldn’t you guys tase him? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?”

I want to be clear, if someone I loved who was in mental health crisis was shot by the police that I would probably have the same response in that moment – I would ask why they used a gun instead of a taser.  As a white person, I’m far less likely to be in that situation than a person of color – especially a Black person. By no means is this article a critique of Alfred’s sister or commentary on his murder.  In that moment, when a police officer made the decision to shoot an unarmed Black man in mental health crisis, using the taser the other officer had would have been less likely to kill him – but it still could have. (It’s also important to note that the taser was used in this case. It’s unclear when the taser was fired and it’s possible it was fired at the same time as or after the gun was.) But, there are so many things leading up to that moment that should’ve been done differently. It never should have come to the point where two officers were pointing weapons at Alfred Olango. He should still be alive.  There needs to be meaningful, compassionate, free and non-punitive ways for people too access emergency support for their loved ones.  White supremacy which, among other things, criminalizes and demonizes Black bodies must end. Black lives matter.

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This article is about the use of electricity, specifically tasers, as a form of violence and means of controlling people. I argue that an interlocking analysis of oppression is necessary to fully understand the implementation and implications of tasers. Further, I demonstrate how, even though they can cause serious health issues or death, tasers are used as a tool of social control and not an appropriate substitute for guns.

Tasers have saturated American law enforcement agencies, with 98% of agencies using them. They shoot 50,000 volts of electricity into the body and are designed to incapacitate people with intensely painful muscle contractions.[1] They are increasingly being used in Canada. Some have called tasers torture devices because of the extreme pain they cause.[2] Tasers are supposedly non-lethal alternatives to the use of firearms. TASER International posts a warning on its products to “Avoid Known Pre-Existing Injury Areas.”[3] It acknowledges that tasers are “not risk free” because sometimes people fall down when they are tased, according to TASER founder Thomas Smith.[4] He also says “individual susceptibility” can lead to a “higher degree of risk.” [5] However, smith claims that tasers “save 70 lives for every life lost.” [6]

Tasers are reportedly intended to be used as alternatives to firearms but they are used much more commonly than guns would be. Through ‘usage creep’ tasers have gone from being an intended replacement for the use of guns to a go to weapon for anything from not dropping a beer to passive resistance. According to the Braidwood Commission “over time weapon use has expanded to include subduing subjects who exhibit behaviours that are clearly noncombative or who are not actively resisting” by the RCMP (indeed, some police departments permit taser use on people who are not responding to police demands.[7] This amounts to “evidence of ‘usage creep.’” [8] In the US, 60% of policing agencies allow tasering when someone tenses or pulls away while being handcuffed.[9] The year that San Jose issued tasers to its police officers saw the highest number of police shootings in the past five years and the second highest number of police shootings in the previous eleven years.[10] Further, a 2008 study by Amnesty International, found that 90% of those who died after being tasered were unarmed. This group includes people who were naked, engaged in political protest, in medical distress, restrainedor children.[11] When Sammy Yatim was killed by Toronto police recently, he was holding a 3” knife. He was shot several times and then tasered.[12] Frighteningly, tasers are being introduced into a number of hospital emergency rooms and schools to subdue unruly people. Using TASER’s voluntary self-reporting database, only 45% of tasings of people labelled as mentally ill involved a legally justified use of lethal force or prevention of imminent threat of suicide.[13] Tasers are clearly not limited to engaging armed individuals or only as a substitute for firearms. The claim that tasers reduce police shootings is a flimsy one – in several jurisdictions shootings went up or stayed the same when tasers were introduced.

In addition to concerns about use, there can be serious injuries caused by tasers. Estimates are as high as 900 deaths after being tasered in the US and Canada. In 2015, 49 people died in the US after being tasered by police.[14]

So, who is being tasered? Demographic data is often difficult to find, especially on a national scale. I could find no information about class, although I suspect it is poor people who are the most likely to be tasered. Nevertheless, with the data available, a disturbing and predictable pattern emerges: it is primarily men of color, especially Black men, and/or people labelled as mentally ill or emotionally disturbed who are disproportionately tasered. With respect to mental health, different terminology is applied in different places, contributing to dramatic variances with estimates as low as 23% of people tasered as being mentally ill or, in one city, 95% as being emotionally disturbed.[15]  In New York, 40% of taserings are conducted on high risk groups, including people considered mentally ill and 30% of all taserings involve a mental health call rather than a criminal one.[16]

I want to be clear that I am not arguing that, people labeled as emotionally disturbed/mentally ill are a distinct group from people of color. Unfortunately, most of the scholarly literature about tasers that addresses these issues focuses on mental health OR race, creating the illusion that these are unrelated issues. Indeed, people of colour are much more likely to be diagnosed with particular psychiatric conditions because of race bias.[17] Psychiatrization and racialization are interlocked processes which simultaneously legitimize and uphold each other. It is important to note, however, that in the US media reports about white people being tasered are much more likely to be described as mentally ill.[18] Another study found that white people are much more likely to be identified by police as emotionally disturbed when they are tased (93.5 percent) than Hispanic people (84.9 percent) or Black people (81.3 percent).[19]

I would like to suggest that the reason for this is because police use electricity to control the bodies of people whom they have marked as dangerous and/or report the threat of danger to legitimize their violence. Men of colour, especially Black men, when police encounter them, have already undergone the racist cultural process of being marked as dangerous.[20] Agamben describes “states of exemption” in which the state make the determination that particular bodies fall outside of law.[21]  Razack, drawing on this idea, argues people of colour occupy permanent “spaces of exemption” in which the rule of law does not apply evenly or, sometimes at all, to the states actions on these communities.[22] White people who are tasered, on the other hand, must undergo a process of marking when they interact with police. This is done, I would argue, by mapping madness or disability onto their bodies.

Marking white people as psychiatrically disabled, mentally ill or emotionally disturbed helps to construct them as violent and, therefore, as a threat even when no such threat is present. Despite cultural conceptions of people labeled as mentally ill, psychiatrized people are actually less violent than non-psychiatrized people.[23] Certain white men, then, can be brought into a space of exemption through this labelling process.

TASER International now recognizes that deploying tasers can lead to “death or serious injury.” TASER founder Thomas Smith also said that “individual susceptibility” can lead to a “higher degree of risk.” High risk groups include, according to TASER, people who are “pregnant, infirm, elderly, [have] low body-mass index… or [are] small child[ren]” although it does not provide definitions for these groups. According to TASER International, there have been no studies conducted on these ‘high risk’ groups.[24] Nevertheless, few police departments prohibit their applications to these groups. According to the US Justice Department, “Some 31 percent forbid [taser] use against clearly pregnant women, 25.9 percent against drivers of moving vehicles, 23.3 percent against handcuffed suspects, 23.2 percent against people in elevated areas and 10 percent against the elderly.” Similarly, TASER International acknowledges that chest shots can lead to cardiac issues; nevertheless, a New York study found that chest shots made up over 25% of tasings.[25] Warnings against multiple tasings and using it in drive stun mode, both of which increase risk of injury, also frequently go unheeded.

While I am suspicious of this claim, TASER International and its proponents assert that tasers are safe when applied to healthy individuals. In reading reports about the deaths of people after being tasered, one thing that is quite common is that the death is linked to an underlying heart condition. The other typically used explanation of death is ‘excited delerium’ a newly formed psychiatric diagnosis that is not recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which is impressive given the recent revisions that captured a number of previously non-medicalized behaviours and ways of being[26]). Both of these explanations root the problem – the death – in the body of the person who was killed rather than the taser which is views as contributory or, at times, unconnected.

So, what is happening, then is that tasers are being applied across the population even when it is recognized that it is harmful to certain people. Some of those people can  generally be easily identified: children, elders. But others really can’t be identified by looking at them: people with heart conditions, “the infirm,” certain pregnant people, people with mental health issues. Lennard Davis writes about the “tyranny of the norm” – how the bell curve is imposed on all of us and those that don’t fall within set parameters are deemed unworthy or without due consideration.[27] With respect to tasers, this has life and death consequences as non-disability is assumed. If this isn’t the case, it could be devastating. Safety shouldn’t be judged on norms, it should be judged on the impacts to diverse bodies in diverse situations.

Embedded within the notion that certain groups should not be tasered (or at least not tasered unless absolutely ‘necessary’) is that disability is visible and apparent – erasing the fluidity and hiddenness through which many people embody disability. Encounters with people who are deemed as “high risk” with respect to tasers are not rare. Rather, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, they are the norm.[28]

Black Lives Matter has, powerfully and significantly brought the issue of police killings of Black people to the forefront of media and public attention. The work that Black communities have done to combat both the criminalization of Black people and police violence is important and has had a significant social and political impact. In response to Black Lives Matter, a number of people (on both the right and left) have called for the use of tasers rather than guns.[29] It is true that far fewer people shot with tasers die than those shot with guns. But, tasers are not a solution to anti-Black police violence. There is lots of evidence that tasers get used by police for things that guns aren’t used for, including general compliance (although sometimes people are shot for that too). Tasers are also applied in a racist manner (as are bullets). But, there isn’t a lot of evidence that police shootings are meaningfully decreased with the use of tasers.

Tasers are not an appropriate solution to the shooting deaths of Black people, many of whom are labelled as mentally ill, and other racialized groups. What is needed is an end to the criminalization of Black people, the elimination of the hyper surveillance of Black communities, Indigenous communities and other communities of color and the elimination of white supremacy and all forms of police brutality.

Tasers are also not an appropriate solution to dealing with people labelled as being in mental health crisis. One study argues that: “deployment of less lethal weapons, such as the Taser, may be part of a solution to a significant public health problem.”[30] Violence and the infliction of pain are not appropriate approaches to public health issues. Tasers are painful and sometimes deadly. They are an immediate form of punishment, often for being a member of an oppressed group.

While pulling the plug, both literally and figuratively, on the use of electricity as a compliance or control tool is essential, stopping the flow of electricity does not destabilize the political process that allows these abuses to take place. It is necessary to not only fight for the eradication of electricity as control, but also work to eliminate the systems of power and domination which enable the othering or marking of certain bodies as requiring control and as controllable.

A version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association:The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance, October 10, 2015. Toronto, Ontario.

Notes:

[1] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement” (London: Amnesty International, 2008); Braidwood Commission on Conducted Energy Use, “Restoring Public Confidence: Restricting the Use of Conducted Energy Weapons in British Columbia” (Victoria: Government of British Columbia, 2009).

[2] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement”; Michael D. White and Jessica Saunders, “Race, Bias, and Police Use of ThE TASER: Exploring Available Evidence,” in Race, Ethnicity and Policing: New and Essential Readings, ed. Stephen K. Rice and Michael D. White, Book, Section vols. (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 382–404.

[3] As quoted in Braidwood Commission on the Death of Robert Dziekanski, “Why?: The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy” (Victoria: Government of British Columbia, 2010).

[4] As quoted in Greg Joyce, “Tasers ‘Generally Safe,’ Company Head Tells Probe,” Toronto Star, May 12, 2008.

[5] As quoted in ibid.

[6] As quoted in ibid.

[7] Braidwood Commission on the Death of Robert Dziekanski, “Why?: The Robert Dziekanski Tragedy.”

[8] Amnesty International USA, “USA: Excessive and Lethal Force? Amnesty International’s Concerns about Deaths and Ill-Treatment Involving Police Use of Tasers” (Amnetsy International USA, 2004), 197,.

[9] National Institute of Justice, “Police Use of Force, Tasers and Other Less-Lethal Weapons” (Washington DC, 2011).

[10] Amnesty International USA, “USA: Excessive and Lethal Force? Amnesty International’s Concerns about Deaths and Ill-Treatment Involving Police Use of Tasers.”

[11] Amnesty International, “‘Less Than Lethal’? The Uses of Stun Weapons in US Law Enforcement” (London: Amnesty International, 2008)

[12] Sahar Fatima and Kathryn Blaze Carlson, “Police Chief Backs Expanded Use of Tasers,” Globe and Mail, 2013.

[13] Jeffrey D. Ho et al., “Impact of Conducted Electrical Weapons in a Mentally Ill Population: A Brief Report,” The American Journal of Emergency Medicine 25, no. 7 (September 2007): 780–85.

[14] Jon Swaine et al., “The Counted: People Killed by Police in the United States in 2015 – Interactive,” The Guardian, 2016.

[15] Ho et al., “Impact of Conducted Electrical Weapons in a Mentally Ill Population”; Michael D. White and Justin Ready, “The TASER as a Less Lethal Force Alternative: Findings on Use and Effectiveness in a Large Metropolitan Police Agency,” Police Quarterly 10, no. 2 (2007): 170–91.

[16] As quoted in New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State,” 2011.

[17] Shankar Vedantam, “Racial Disparities Found in Pinpointing Mental Illness,” The Washington Post, 2005.

[18] White and Saunders, “Race, Bias, and Police Use of The TASER: Exploring Available Evidence.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Carol Taylor and Francis Henry, Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of A Few Bad Apples, Book, Whole (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

[21] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[22] Sherene Razack, “Abandonment and the Dance of Race and Bureaucracy in Spaces of Exception,” in States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century, ed. Sherene Razack, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2010), 87.

[23] Erick Fabris, Tranquil Prisons: Chemical Incarceration Under Community Treatment Orders (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011).

[24] Taser International, “TASER Handheld CEW Warnings, Instructions, and Information: Law Enforcement,” 2013, 3.

[25] New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State.”

[26] A. J. Withers, “Disabling Trans: Political Implications and Possibilities of Constructions of Trans as a Disability” (York University, 2013); American Psychiatric Association, “DSM-5 Overview: The Future Manual,” 2012; American Psychiatric Association, “Highlights of Changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5” (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

[27] Lennard J. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (New York: Verso, 1995), 29.

[28] As quoted in New York Civil Liberties Union, “NYCLU Analysis Finds Misuse of Tasers by Police Across NY State,” 8.

[29] Mary Boland, “Column: How We Nurture High-Crime Areas | PostIndependent.com,” Post Independent Citizen Telegram, September 18, 2015; Keith Boykin, “Commentary: What It Was Like in Ferguson for One Week,” BET, August 22, 2014; Hannah Wolfe, “Mental Illness Is Not a Crime,” SocialistWorker.org, November 5, 2013.

[30] Mark R. Munetz, Antonia Fitzgerald, and Michael Woody, “Police Use of the Taser with People with Mental Illness in Crisis,” Psychiatric Services 57, no. 6 (2006): 883.

How and Why Movements Need to be Inclusive.

I want to start by acknowledging that we are on Indigenous land. I am doing this out of respect, with the understanding social justice can never be achieved without redressing the injustices of colonialism and also because First Nations people are disproportionately disabled both as a consequence of colonialism historically and as a part of the ongoing colonial process.

I also want to start off by expressing my thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and speakers. And to take a second to thank everyone who helped with this book, many of whom are here tonight. Thank you.

Further, I want acknowledge that I have a tremendous amount privilege. And because I am disabled and otherwise marginalized, it doesn’t alleviate me from my responsibility to work against all oppressions. This isn’t to say they are separate and apart from disability issues because they aren’t – oppressions do not come in discrete containers, they interlock and impact upon each other in a variety of ways.

Disabled people protest austerity in Greece.

Disabled people protest austerity in Greece.

I want to be clear about my motives in this post. I am going to be giving examples of some of the things that have occurred recently in this city and I am not doing this as a form of personal attack or out of sectarianism. I want to also be clear that I am speaking only for myself. I am doing so with the hopes that people can learn and make corrections to their behaviours which myself and others experience to be oppressive and because I am committed to these movements and to making them stronger, not out of liberal notions of political correctness but out of the desire for meaningful and lasting victory.

I am going to start with 5 examples of what I find to be problematic and disablist rhetoric – either insidious or overt.

Following the G20 protests in Toronto, one activist wrote: “While the promotion of disability rights may be commendable, having people in wheel-chairs or other physical limitations at the front effectively limited the mobility of the protest. There was no way it could move fast enough to by-pas police lines.”

At that same demonstration a protestor told me “you shouldn’t be here” as I walked with my cane and asked her to slow down and respect the pace of the march.

At a protest against Rob Ford’s planned city cuts hundreds of people carried “stop the crazy train” placards while others attack him for being fat.

At a Toronto Casserole demonstration organizers were attempting to get the march to briefly return to the park to allow physically disabled people, people with children and whoever else wanted to to leave as a group. This was met with a great deal of resistance, with one man saying “there are enough honorable men here to protect the children and the weak” (I want to note that he has since apologized for this comment).

An organization that was involved in this anti-accessibility dispute wrote: “anti-oppression and ‘safe-space’ are deployed in the ‘movement’ to sometimes obscure another political perspective and action” after being critiqued for its members’ sexism and refusal to permit existing accessibility plans to be followed through on.

At a protest attempting to shut down a climate and economic summit involving a of number corporate and government elite, the march broke in half and the back half (of course, containing most of the slow walkers) was told to run up the street. It seemed like the running part was unnecessary for the circumstances but even if it was, it could have been easily communicated to the crowd so those of us who couldn’t run on that day weren’t stranded in the street and yelled at to “run!” and “hurry up!” The demo also went up sidewalks without curb cuts twice. When talking it over with one of the organizers, I learned that an organizer said at a meeting that they decided not to make the demo accessible (ie. that organizer made a choice to be actively disablist). This was particularly disheartening because I have worked with this group for years and they had built up a culture of accessibility which they chose to discard.

I could give many many more examples but instead, I want to talk about how we can create change. I am going address this anti-anti-oppression trend, which, sadly isn’t new but seems to be having a resurgence. I am going to do so through disability not because I think it is more important than anything else but because it has been ignored by social justice movements – with some important exceptions.

But first, who is disabled?

There is no fixed definition of disability, it has shifted over time, through contexts and between cultures. Those of us considered to be disabled are generally constructed as un- or under-productive within the capitalist economic system and are disproportionately also marginalized in other ways. This is because of oppressive diagnostic systems which have a tendency to label marginalized people as defective and because of war and poverty which disproportionately impact marginalized people – especially people in the Global South.

Why is disability important to take up in social justice movements?

Here are some broad key reasons:

  • because disabled people are oppressed and if we want to root out injustice and oppression we cannot at best ignore, and at worst reinforce, this oppression.
  • The current classifications of disability were created with the implementation of industrialization and the consolidation of capitalism. Disabled people are considered disabled because we are deemed to be under or unproductive. Disablism is woven throughout the history of capitalism and capitalism cannot be undone without undoing disablism.
  • Disabled people are a part of every community and we cannot win justice for a community without winning it for its disabled members.

So, it is important to build movements that are inclusive of disabled people, not on superficial or tokenistic grounds. It is unacceptable to leave people out of the equation and, inevitably, reinforce the oppression of others as you win justice for some.

Disabled protestors in Bolivia fighting cops after a 1,000 mile march demanding guaranteed income.

Disabled protestors in Bolivia fighting cops after a 1,000 mile march demanding guaranteed income.

The question is, what kind of social justice do you want and who is it for?

These days, a lot of people are talking about prefigurative organizing. Prefigurative just means that we pre figure the world we want to live in. In these politics, the ends justifies the means is an unacceptable approach; rather, the means can become ends in themselves. I am critical of a lot of the ways that this politic gets used (for another post) but one thing that it has really gotten me thinking about is what kind of world I want to live in and what my organizing in the present says about that world. One easy thing is that if you are a complete asshole, it doesn’t matter how good your politics are – you are alienating people and not helping to make things better (so even if you are right, you are wrong).

Thinking prefiguratively means asking ourselves do we want to live in and fight for a world in which disabled people are excluded, humiliated, put in harm’s way, erased and oppressed? If the answer is “yes” and you have organized something like one of the demos I discussed above – you are good (to be clear, not with me – I have a beef with you and you are totally wrong but you don’t need to think about it anymore from your perspective). But if the answer is “no” (and, really, you can’t legitimately claim to be fighting for social justice and say anything other than “no”) you need to think about accessibility.

One of the ways that I think we can address inclusion is with radical accessibility. Radical accessibility means many things, not just ramps and lifts – things that should, of course always be in place. Radical access also means thinking about interlocked oppressions. It doesn’t matter if an event has a ramp at the door but costs $5 to get in, or, if someone cannot afford transit to get there, that event isn’t accessible. If the event is racist or sexist or homophobic or transphobic or otherwise oppressive, it isn’t accessible to many disabled people. Access doesn’t begin at the front door. Radical access is about thinking about the world we want to live in, not just for ‘them’ the other who we are bestowing inclusion upon – but for us, all of us. We all have something to offer and we all benefit from having diverse, accepting and accessible communities. Radical access also means that accessibility and disability aren’t an afterthought; rather, they are deemed to be important and desirable at each step of the way.

Radical access is a form of inclusion that is very different from the idea of libertarian inclusion that ensures the active exclusion of many marginalized people. It also involves the active and ongoing negotiation of real people’s needs and the acknowledgment of the fact that we are all interdependent. Disabled or not, you probably didn’t grow all of the food you ate today. Our society is constructed to normalize certain dependencies but certain kinds of needs (help getting out of bed, personalized learning plans or ASL interpretation, for example) are considered excessive. I think that this is a real problem and it has negative implications for all of us – at some point in our lives we may not access the help we need because we feel like a burden and that is not the world that I want to live in.

What does all of this have to do with the examples I gave earlier?

They all promote the idea that anti-oppression, at least for some people is excessive, unimportant or burdensome. They overtly or covertly assert that disabled people, at least certain disabled people shouldn’t be in protest spaces.

This perspective erroneously sets disability issues and disabled people as separate and apart from “the movement.” This also mistakenly presents disabled bodies as being incapable of militancy. This shows a tremendous amount of ignorance about both disabled bodies and about disability history. In a quote above, the critic of an inclusive demo says that wheelchairs slowed down the demonstration. In actual fact, electronic wheelchairs can go really fast, while limited by curb cuts, it would be people like him, a non-disabled person, who slowed the march down.

Wheelchair users lead Raise the Rates demo, leaving the rest behind.

Wheelchair users lead Raise the Rates demo, leaving the rest behind.

Disabled people have marched, locked down, occupied and fought back. For example, in San Francisco in 1977 disabled activists occupied a federal building for 25 days, not leaving until they won what they were demanding. This was a huge victory and people never would have been able to hold the building – the longest occupation of a US federal building in history – if not for their disabled bodies.

With increasing austerity, attacks on disabled people’s basic necessities have been taking place all over the world and disabled people have been fighting back.

I think it is important to ask why is militancy defined in one particular way, which by design, excludes many disabled people, along with others who cannot, for a number of reasons (immigration status, kids in tow, probation/parole, etc.), run through the streets avoiding police?

There is also an increasing argument that accessibility has to be sidestepped because it inhibits spontaneity and spontaneity is synonymous with militancy. This is the same argument that is made against condom usage. However, as we have also learned about condoms, putting measures in place that may impede spontaneity are worth it in order to avoid potential serious consequences down the road.

However, it is true that no matter how accessible we make a demonstration, we cannot control the police.

So what can we do?

  • we can build in an accessibility plan from outreach to meetings to protests.
  • at demos we can do our best ensure that there are safe exit routes for people – disabled or not.
  • at demos, and everywhere, if disabled people or our allies are articulating the need for accommodations or adaptations, we listen and we implement them.
  • we recognize that a strong culture of accessibility makes a strong movement and we work to constantly push ourselves to be more and more accessible.
  • we can recognize that there are a number of factors that influence what roles people take on and ensure that there are meaningful roles beyond being in the streets. From legal support to cooking to layout to writing to childcare, there are a lot of things that need done. And, this isn’t just about disability but about people’s immigration status, family status and a myriad of other factors.
  • In doing this, however, it is also important that we collectively work to combat the glamorization of certain roles – roles that, not coincidentally, are most often occupied by cis, non-disabled, straight, white men.
  • We also need to think about how political movements often equate people’s worth with their productivity. This is a capitalist value that we replicate onto ourselves. People’s value is not in how much they produce and celebrating only this further marginalizes many disabled people as well as parents, the working class and many others. And, maybe some people should be less productive. Some of the activists I know who are the most productive on paper are often really hard to work with, undemocratic and destructive. Maybe if they took a breath or a break they would be more valuable to the movement because they wouldn’t be burnt out and alienating people.

I think it is also important for us to think about how in the end, it doesn’t matter if you marched to Bloor Street or to Queen Street or couldn’t march at all, what matters is where you are the next day and the day after that. Those protests that appear to be spontaneous whether in Tahrir Square or at a University in Montreal, were built up over years and, here – like everywhere we have to keep building.

Further, being in solidarity doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be critical or replicate others’ mistakes. People are looking to the Quebec student movement – which is awesome in so many ways and truly exciting and inspirational. But that doesn’t mean we should simply replicate what is going on there without seeing what fits here and without working to included people that that movement may have marginalized.

These are really exciting times. Some of why so much political mobilization is happening is,
no doubt, because these are terrible and unjust times. The world’s 12 hundred billionaires own more than half of what the poorest 3 billion people own, the vast majority of these people live in the
Global South. For too long, we have fought among ourselves for our little piece of the pie but that has to stop – we need to bake a new pie. And as Beric German says, “it can’t just be pie in the sky, it has to be pie you can eat.” What we have is each other, we have numbers. If we fight together, if we ensure we have an inclusive movement and if we fight to win we can win. And we will win.

I updated this panel speech I did a few years ago. I wouldn’t say everything here now the way I did then but I think it gets the point across.