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Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Ways to Create Social Change

I think the disability rights movement is stagnant. We rely on time tested methods of demonstration and civil disobedience. In the past some actions taken by groups such as ADAPT and Not Dead Yet have been highly effective and I deeply admire the organizers of these groups. Go back a bit farther in history and through the magic of YouTube you can watch protests from the 1970s. I love to watch these old videos--especially the ones posted by the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund. I get a chuckle at the the clothes people wore, myself included, and shake my head when I see wheelchairs circa 1978. These were real clunkers, mass produced by Everest and Jennings, that were nothing like what people use today. But what is on the forefront of my mind when going down memory lane is how effective demonstrations were. People with disabilities were united, tough, fought the establishment with vigor and for 40 years more often than not won. Forty years of legislation empowering people with disabilities is the legacy of this success. I don't see such successes taking place today. I see people with disabilities under assault by draconian budget cuts designed to hurt the most vulnerable. I shudder when I read the statistics about unemployment and worry about how people with cognitive disabilities are cared for. I see the rise of animosity directed at those that do not fit in on the part of conservatives--think the Tea Party. Worst of all I see and read about ineffective methods of protest reduced to sound bites on local news programs or used as filler in newspapers.

What is the point of the above? We live in an information age that boggles my mind. Information moves at speeds I never dreamed possible. The internet is a large part of my life and I really wonder how I survived without it. The information that is available online is staggering--many can and do live life through on line cyber communities. This is good and bad--but today I want to focus on the good. I want to appeal to young people, our future, who see computers, Ipods, MP3 players, cell phones, etc. as integral part of life. This is the future--multimedia approaches. And this multimedia, hip, online, visually interesting, and funny approach can further disability rights. This is not what disability rights activists have embraced. Part of this is generational--I see this as a fundamental difference between myself and my son. For instance, he sees his computer as a tool, a powerful force that is meant to manipulated and enjoyed. Me, I am afraid of my computer and its mysterious contents. I just pray the damn thing works. Perhaps it is because I teach college students but I think the only way to make effective social and political change today is through online, multimedia, and creative civil disobedience. Here I am thinking along the lines as groups such as Improv Everywhere to far more obscure though no less interesting approaches taken by cripzthecomic. I suggest those unfamiliar with Improv Everywhere take a look at their "actions". Some are very funny, others stupid, but the mass appeal cannot be denied. As for cripthecomic he recently posted about something he called "stair bombing". This London Ontario based person went to a local school, spread about one dollars worth of caution tape across the entrance and posted a sign "Sorry, no access Stairs out of Order". When I saw this I laughed myself silly! All I could think of was all the "No access elevator broken" signs I have come across in my life time. I also could not help but wonder did people circle the building looking for stairs that were not out of order. I cannot help but think this caused a stir--and made people think. And this, making people think and laugh, is exactly what disability rights has failed to do lately. If we can do this, make people think and protest in a way that appeals to young people who do not separate political change from humor we might be onto something big--we might be able to make disability rights cool.

Yes, it is possible to be cool and disabled. I see this all the time when I ski and kayak. What I suggest is that we extend this cool factor to include a dynamic new approach to disability rights. To a degree we have already started this. The existence of hundreds of blogs and Facebook groups devoted to disability rights is a start. But we need to get on the cutting edge of technology and civil protests that are visually and politically appealing. I think it is possible to both teach about disability rights and laugh at the same time. Robert Murphy author of the Body Silent did this all the time before the electronic age. Sadly, I do not have the technological prowess to undertake such a project. Hence i am looking for someone I can exploit that is willing to help. I have lots of ideas about how to rail against exclusion, joblessness, and isolation that remain common place. For example, I was thinking of trying to introduce myself to my neighbors. Of course this is not possible as I own the only accessible house in my town. Now this could be very funny but equally pointed. Why do no accessible houses exist and what are the social implications? Perhaps my ideas are poorly formed but I think they have great potential. Frankly, I think we have no real choice. We in the disability rights community must keep up with the times and embrace technology and modern hip approaches to civil disobedience. Given the dismal state of the economy the need is as great today as it ever was in the past.

7 comments:

Claire said...

You know...the cyber community thing is good and bad as you say. When one is isolated, it gives one the feeling that one is not, when online...so sometimes, it's more difficult to get people to engage. The other thing about the stagnation of disability rights movement...it seems (and I speak from experience) that the more we open our mouths, the more resistance we meet. I totally understand those who just put their heads down, shut up and take what they can get for themselves (or their kids). The whistle blowers are getting punished. It's brutal when there is so little to go around to begin with.

william Peace said...

The cyber community gives the illusion of a connection. Yes people are connected, I am not disputing that, but it is an oddly impersonal form of communication. I would never criticize a person with a disability that is not politically engaged or a care giver. Life with a disability can be overwhelming and handling the daily grind and social bias is more than enough for many. I am a born and bred non-conformist so the decision to rebel was easy once I met Bob Murphy in graduate school. Finally, sadly the social support for people with disabilities is virtually non-existent in this economy. We are the first to be targeted for budget cuts. This is wrong and only getting worse given the lack of ethics in government and big business.

Becs said...

What kind of support are you looking for? Techie starting a web site type of stuff?

william Peace said...

Becs, Yes a techie for site stuff and on the ground as well.

Court said...

I have been seriously thinking of starting a weekly video blog on disability. A mix political commentary and humor trying to call stuff out. Now I just have to find the time! And figure out how to vlog!

What kind of help are you looking for on the ground? Local...?

Jen said...

William, when you wrote about introducing yourself to your neighbors blocked by lack of access, I immediately had this vivid image of you sitting at the bottom of the stares throwwing a tennis ball against the front door as a means of knocking.

Wish I knew a solution to the stagnation. Sometimes I feel like I work hard to educate someone on the issues only to turn around and find 5 more people who need the same thing.

strangecripple said...

Hey! I'm back (if you ever remember me from my brief entry into the world of disability blogging months ago!) I agree with you about the stagnation of the disability rights movement. Here in Canada it sometimes feels like we simply don't HAVE one. Or, the movement we do have is lead by able bodied individuals, which I am not particularly fond of. We need to lead our own movement. I do, however, struggle for ideas on how to go forward, and what to go forward towards, so I'd love to hear your ideas.