Disability justice (DJ) was born from the experiences and wisdom of queer Black and brown disabled individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago. Sins Invalid, a disability performance project that brought together the brilliant DJ founders, created this new organizing framework. I came to it while living in Oakland and have continued with it in New York state.
Disability justice has the ability to be a foundational tool of liberation because it is based on 10 powerful principles: leadership of those most impacted, intersectionality, anti-capitalist politics, cross-movement solidarity, wholeness, sustainability, cross-disability solidarity, interdependence, collective access, and collective liberation.
The DJ movement is growing, but is still not widely known in the broader disability community. This lack of familiarity has opened avenues for opportunists to try to co-opt the name.
White disabled figureheads are quick to grab on to the disability justice label in an attempt to remain relevant. But they cherry-pick those parts of the philosophy that fit their establishment world view. Their cavalier attitude is steeped in white patriarchy and hierarchical ableism, which accepts stigmas between disabilities. These individuals either ignore the anti-capitalism tenet or morph it into ideas more palatable to them.
So first, these spokespeople disappear anti-capitalism from the disability justice principles. Then they adorn themselves with the DJ name, yet tout membership in capitalist political parties, fundraise for them, and promote their candidates. They publicly demand an end to the divisive tactics of the ruling class, yet uphold the fundamental structures of the oppressors. This is exploitative and inexcusable.
These worthies shake their heads in unison at the appalling CDC coronavirus pandemic policies that harm and literally kill our queer Black and brown crip siblings. But the same people insist that supporting liberal politicians will provide the equity and inclusion disabled Americans require. You cannot call yourself a disability justice leader and a Democrat. To do so not only eliminates the anti-capitalist politics of DJ, but it teaches the disability community that it must still conform to ableist standards or accept second-class citizenship and enforced poverty. All of these are built into capitalism.
I use my social media platform to call out the contradictions of such notables, who don’t practice what they preach. If you’re shouting justice, yet call on followers to fund Democratic Party candidates, you can expect to hear from me. These conversations have stopped some leaders and organizations from using the DJ name, engaged groups of disabled people in what disability justice actually means, and furthered individual education within the community on racism and capitalism.
Ableism is fundamentally a class and economic issue. The capitalist system does not make space for most disabled people. Capitalism demands the devaluation of the disabled body and mind. It is the foundation of racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism and all other forms of oppression. We must resist and dismantle it. Resistance to capitalism reclaims the worth of disabled people and recognizes the value of all marginalized individuals.
The disability community and our comrades must rise up and speak out against misleaders who wish to maintain their influence without changing their core beliefs and behaviors. We must separate from them. We must not allow them to co-opt disability justice. Push back when individuals encourage alignment with a capitalist party!
It is imperative to our liberation for disabled people to seek an anti-capitalist path. Each of us must develop a full understanding of disability justice. We must consciously cultivate its organizing practices. We must build relationships with disabled leaders who discuss anti-capitalism in their organizing and activism. We must look toward and promote economic systems such as socialism that breed equality, not in spite of, but because of our differences. We must be firm, proud and loud that the disability community is an anti-capitalist collective. Disability principles must not be bought or sold!
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