Your Weekly Action Scripts

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I was talking on Facebook with some friends yesterday about the fact that the cost/benefit of calling my congresspeople just isn’t worth it for me. I could do it, but it would sap all my energy. I asked for ideas of other things I could do to help, and one of my friends made a great suggestion: write scripts for others who can call. Now THIS I can do! So I’m making it my mission this year (and possibly throughout the entire Trump administration) to identify one issue a week and write scripts for you to contact your Congresspeople, the White House, and any other relevant parties. I’m also going to include some pre-written tweets, so that if you have a Twitter account you can tweet at your representatives.

All of these scripts should be adaptable for letter writing, although if you are planning to write a letter I would urge you to include something personal in your letter as it gets more attention if it’s a unique letter. Apparently postcards also get through more quickly than actual letters due to the anthrax scare, so keep that in mind.

This week I’d like to focus on disability issues, as I complained enough about them not getting enough attention in my last post. There are three main concerns that I have right now in regards to the disability community. I would recommend calling your representatives over the course of a couple days and each day using one of these scripts.

Issue One: Repealing the ACA

Why this is important: Trump and a variety of GOP lawmakers have vowed to repeal the ACA. This is of particular concern to the disability community because the ACA made it illegal to deny someone health insurance based on a preexisting condition. For those with disabilities, this made health care a possibility where it had not been.

Calling script for your Senate and House representative: “Hello, my name is ___ and I am your constituent from [location and zip]. I’d like to speak with the individual in your office who handles calls concerning the ACA.”

They will either transfer you or say that they can help you out. If they do not transfer you, ask for the name of the individual who handles calls concerning the ACA. You can use this name in future calls. Then proceed with the script: “Thank you. I’m calling to urge Senator/Representative _______ to oppose any attempts to repeal the ACA. The ACA made it illegal for insurers to refuse someone based on preexisting conditions. This allowed thousands of Americans with disabilities to finally access important, life saving care, and I urge Senator/Representative _____ to remember those Americans when the time comes to vote on the ACA, and ensure that insurers are not allowed to deny Americans based on preexisting conditions.”

The staff member will likely thank you and may ask if you want a response from the representative. You can say yes or no. They may also take your full name, phone number, and address. There’s a possibility they will tell you that the representative will not do what you’ve asked. If so, you can simply say “I will call again tomorrow. Thank you.”

Calling Script for the White House: This one is a little bit tricky. The main White House comment line (202-456-1111) appears to be closed. You can try it, but it appears to suggest that you use Facebook or the comment form on their website. Teen Vogue (the unexpected head of the resistence) has put together a useful article on contacting Trump’s businesses, as this appears to be the quickest way to actually reach the president. A strong note: please do not harass anyone working for Trump’s businesses. Remain polite.

“Hello, my name is ___ and I am calling to leave feedback for President Trump. As his White House comment line is closed, I am choosing to contact him through his business holdings.”

The person you’re talking to might be confused. They may try to ask you to make a reservation for a tee time or a hotel. If that happens, you can ask for a supervisor and repeat the above line. If they say that that’s not appropriate, simply say “please pass along my comment to your higher ups. I would like my President to receive my feedback. I will not take much of your time.” If they listen, use the following script.

“I am an American citizen, and I am calling to urge President Trump to cease his efforts to repeal the ACA. The ACA made it illegal for insurers to refuse someone based on preexisting conditions. This allowed thousands of Americans with disabilities to finally access important, life saving care, and I urge President Trump to veto any legislation that would allow preexisting conditions to return. Thank you for your time.”

Tweet for senators: @[your senator or representative] vote against repealing ACA. Preexisting conditions make it impossible for disabled Americans to get coverage!

Tweet for White House: @potus do not repeal ACA! Denial of insurance based on preexisting conditions kills disabled Americans.

Issue Two: Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Why this is an issue: Betsy DeVos is a problem for a wide range of reasons, but the ones I’d like to focus on are the fact that she did not know what IDEA was when asked during her hearing, and is very focused on school choice and deregulation. IDEA is the legislation that protects disabled students and gives them access to accommodations in their education. Her focus on deregulation is likely to remove many of the protections for disabled students, which are already underfunded and weak. This would likely leave disabled students with little to no support, or put away in separate schools that are not held to the same educational standards as other schools.

Calling script for your Senate and House representative: “Hello, my name is ___ and I am your constituent from [location and zip]. I’d like to speak with the individual in your office who handles education.”

They will either transfer you or say that they can help you out. If they do not transfer you, ask for the name of the individual who handles calls concerning the education. You can use this name in future calls. Then proceed with the script: “Thank you. I’m calling to urge Senator/Representative _______ to oppose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos showed during her hearing that she did not know the basics of IDEA, a key piece of legislating protecting disabled students. She has also urged for deregulation of schools, which would further undermine supports for disabled students. This is disastrous for any students who require accommodations and supports to succeed in school, and will put future Americans with disabilities at a disadvantage in employment, life skills, and higher education. Please ensure all students have access to a free public education by opposing Betsy DeVos and demanding support and funding for IDEA.”

The staff member will likely thank you and may ask if you want a response from the representative. You can say yes or no. They may also take your full name, phone number, and address. There’s a possibility they will tell you that the representative will not do what you’ve asked. If so, you can simply say “I will call again tomorrow. Thank you.”

Calling Script for the White House: see above for notes on contacting the White House.

“I am an American citizen, and I am calling to urge President Trump to rethink his decision of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos showed during her hearing that she did not know the basics of IDEA, a key piece of legislating protecting disabled students. She has also urged for deregulation of schools, which would further undermine supports for disabled students. This is disastrous for any students who require accommodations and supports to succeed in school, and will put future Americans with disabilities at a disadvantage in employment, life skills, and higher education. Please encourage President Trump to ensure all students have access to a free public education by finding a different Secretary of Education who will support and fund IDEA.Thank you for your time.”

Tweets for Senator/Representative: I would recommend looking up whether your representative has come out in opposition to Betsy DeVos and select the appropriate Tweet.

For those who oppose: @[your representative or senator] thank you for opposing Betsy DeVos. She is wholly inappropriate for Sec. of Ed and will do harm to all students esp disabled ones

For those who do not oppose: @[your representative or senator] please oppose Betsy DeVos as Sec of Ed. She does not know what IDEA is. We need support for disabled students.

Tweet for POTUS: @potus Betsy DeVos is an inappropriate choice for Sec of Ed. She does not know what IDEA is. We need support for disabled students.

 

Issue Three: removal of all mentions of disability from WhiteHouse.gov

Why this is an issue: it’s fairly normal for an administration to change up the website when they move in, but what isn’t normal is for entire issues to be removed entirely. President Trump has replaced any mention of disability with issues like “America First policies”, because apparently Americans with disabilities aren’t important enough to be on his docket of issues.

For this one, all communications should go to the White House. See above for notes on calling the White House.

Script for White House: “I am calling to urge President Trump to add disability issues to whitehouse.gov. All mention of disability issues was removed when he entered office, erasing the concerns of millions of Americans. Please encourage President Trump to remember these Americans and fight for their rights. Thank you for your time.”

For the White House FB Page and White House comment page: I am deeply concerned that President Trump has removed disabilities from the list of issues on Whitehouse.gov. Americans with disabilities make up 19% of the population, and in the past have experienced serious discrimination, oppression, and abuse. Please return disability issues to the table and include them on whitehouse.gov. Disabled Americans deserve the support of their president, not someone who will erase them from the conversation.

NOTE: you can find the comment page here, and the FB page here. Feel free to adapt and expand this for a postcard.

Tweet for the White House: @POTUS I am appalled that you have removed all mention of disabilities from whitehouse.gov. Disabled Americans cannot be erased.

Look forward to next week’s scripts on Sunday. I hope to tackle some immigration issues. Together we can make our voices heard.

Autism Speaks is No Longer Searching for a Cure: Here’s Why That Gives Me Hope

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Note: This is my personal view. It does not represent the views of any organizations with which I am affiliated.

Autism Speaks, the largest charity organization associated with autism in the U.S., announced this week that they would no longer be seeking a cure for autism. For those outside of the autism community, many autistic self-advocates have long been decrying Speaks’ push to find a cure, saying that the money should be spent on actual services for actual people, and that the “cure” language says their lives are not worth living. Especially within the neurodiversity paradigm, autistics understand that their brains cannot simply be rid of autism and still exist as their brains. Autism in inextricably linked with many people’s identities. So speaking of a cure felt like an attack on their selfhood. It said that because autistic brains are different, they are bad and should be eradicated, despite the fact that many autistics were loudly saying they did not want to be changed, they wanted support, understanding, accessibility, and opportunities.

Speaks has made many, many, MANY other missteps. Their unending focus on parents rather than people who are actually autistic, this horrific ad, the lack of actually autistic people on their board or in high up positions in the organization, the language they used around autism (epidemic, burden, etc.). It all adds up to a big ol’ pile of shit, and I have yet to meet someone who is autistic who hasn’t just said “fuck Autism Speaks, I’m out.”

So this rolling back of the “cure” language is too little too late for most people I know. I understand. It is a pretty pathetic attempt to win back the people you supposedly serve. I know a lot of people who are saying it doesn’t actually much, and that there is still absolutely no way that they will support Autism Speaks (especially without any apologies for previous mistakes). I am completely sympathetic to this viewpoint, and I also am not particularly interested in supporting Speaks.

But what makes me hopeful about this is not actually Speaks. What makes me helpful is that there have been YEARS of self advocates pushing for this change, without much response. It took years before people outside the deep neurodiversity community began to notice and understand the problems with Autism Speaks. So it gives me hope that finally, FINALLY people are listening. FINALLY the voices of autistic people were loud enough that the largest autism organization in the country felt the need to change. It may be a nominal change, with little in the way of actual money being moved to helping people, but we were loud enough that they couldn’t ignore us any more. They felt that there was enough pressure that they HAD to do something.

What this says to me is that we are growing more organized and more powerful. People are starting to take note. We have found some of the correct channels to reach the people who are most misguided. I am hearing more and more rhetoric that recognizes the value of disabled and autistic people.

It’s a baby step. It does not fix the past harms. We still have such a long way to go before people have the services, respect, and fulfilled lives that they deserve. But I see it as confirmation that we, the self-advocates, are doing what we should. I see it as a big old gold star that says “keep on keeping on. Change is possible.”

I want all of us to stop and recognize that for ourselves. We did this. It is small, but Speaks is fucking huge, and we made them budge. Oftentimes that first movement is the hardest. We can do this.

How the Push for More Inclusive Organizations Forces People to Out Themselves

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Disability advocacy is one of the places where I often feel real torn. The place where I see this most is in the push for organizations that represent disabled people to employ disabled people. “Nothing about us without us,” is the battle cry. I would like to yell along. I would like to make that push along with people.

But as I’m realizing from my personal experience, it’s far more complicated than just hiring more disabled people. It’s about marketing and it’s about disclosure. Here’s a question for you: do you know how many people with disabilities work at your place of employment? Are those numbers available to anyone? The answer is most likely no, because of the nature of disability. It’s often invisible, it’s often stigmatized, and it’s often personal. So many if not most people do not disclose, especially if they have an invisible illness. Sure, there are some disabilities that are pretty obvious, like if someone is visually impaired or mobility impaired, but even then, they are under no obligation to disclose exactly what their disability is.

Let’s use my life as an example. I work at an autism organization. I have not disclosed my autism diagnosis to my coworkers, because there’s really no particular reason for me to do so. I don’t need accommodations at this job that I can’t create for myself with relative ease. I know of at least one other person in our organization who is on the spectrum but does not discuss their diagnosis or personal life publicly. We do not highlight either of us in our marketing because it would be wholly inappropriate for us to blast the personal lives of our employees. Neither of us is comfortable being out and talking about our experiences with our coworkers. For reference, we are an organization of less than 20 individuals.

My workplace has been criticized for not hiring autistic people. An organization that is over 10% autistics is criticized for not having enough autistic voices. Don’t give me BS about only autistics working at autistic organizations, that isn’t feasible or practical, and 10% is much higher than the proportion of autistics in the general population.

This means that those of us who are on the spectrum have a choice: disclose or have our voices and contributions erased.

Suddenly we are required to disclose our disability or be criticized for speaking over the voices of other disabled people. That’s a really shitty position to put someone in. Now look, I understand. If people aren’t open about their identities it’s really hard to advocate for their rights. Coming out is incredibly important for many movements for lots of reasons. But we can’t punish the people who are afraid to come out. This is why I have an issue with saying that only disabled people can speak about disability: you don’t know who is or isn’t disabled and no one is under any obligation to disclose to you. You cannot be the police of who gets to speak about disability because then you are the police of who has disabilities. That is not something that I am willing to accept.

With all of that said, it is important to continue to push for organizations that focus on disabilities to include people with those disabilities, and most especially to hire people with disabilities. Yes, this does put us in a bit of a bind: how can we hold people accountable if we have no way to get accurate numbers? How can you make improvements if you can’t really accurately identify who has a problem?

Ha, you thought I had good answers. I don’t. Unfortunately one of the most integral parts of improving life for people with disabilities is decreasing stigma, so that coming out isn’t as fraught or scary of a process. And part of that process is having visible, out members of society doing the things we consider normal. Welcome to the Catch 22 of activism.

So I suppose if there’s one thing I want from this post it’s for people to be aware that criticizing organizations for not including individuals with disabilities is not always as perfect of a solution as it might seem. You might be telling someone with a disability that they don’t count or that they have to prove their disability in some fashion. You may still choose to make the criticism, but please do not erase those who aren’t out. Note that there may be people with undisclosed disabilities, and be open to hearing that there is someone on the spectrum or with a disability that you didn’t know about.

The hardest thing to recognize is that there are virtually no actions that don’t harm anyone. So when we are engaging in activism, we need to be aware and self critical.

Featured image by Caitlin Tobias.

Curb Cut Effects and Mental Health

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This weekend I was at a work conference about autism for my new job (which is as a side note the best job ever), and I was once again struck by something that other people have noticed before: curb cut effect. The basic concept is that many things that disability advocates push for actually help more people than just those who are disabled. People in wheelchairs pushed for those areas on curbs that have a little ramp instead of the sharp curb so that they could make it from street to sidewalk easily. It ended up helping people from parents pushing strollers to the elderly, even though no one imagined that it would help anyone but people in wheelchairs.

I have an anxiety disorder, which is a big part of why I’m a fidgeter and a finger picker. When I don’t have something to fidget with I often end up ripping at the skin around my nails until I bleed, sometimes without realizing it. As part of the merchandise at the conference there were tons of little fidget toys, things like tangles, silly putty, and other small things you can play with to keep your hands busy. They’re incredibly popular and helpful for people with autism who need sensory input or have trouble focusing. And although I am nowhere near the autism spectrum (I’m more on the overly emotional end of things) I jumped at them and got a couple that didn’t leave my hands the whole weekend. They helped with my anxiety and left my fingers fully intact after a long weekend of difficult socializing.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time around people who had learned to communicate in a very straightforward manner, and found that I could better understand social cues. There were also a lot of precautions to keep things relatively quiet and calm on the sensory spectrum so that those who were sensitive could stay around and be comfortable. And let me tell you it was absolutely fantastic.

The curb cut effect doesn’t just apply to physical disabilities. It applies to mental illness and mental disabilities as well. This is something that is widely ignored, but could be incredibly helpful for mental health advocates to keep in the forefront of their mind as a way of reducing stigma. One great example is therapy. Most people assume that making therapy widely available, covered by insurance, and easy to access is good for people with depression or mental illness. It turns out it’s probably actually great for just about everyone, since almost every human being needs some support for their mental health at some time in their life, and no person comes fully equipped with emotional skills. These are things we all need to learn, and therapy can help with that.

The more we keep in mind that therapy is something that helps everyone, but that some people might get more out of it than others, the more we can lessen stigma. It changes therapy from something exclusively for “crazy” people and into something that all healthy people do. (Disclaimer: not everyone has to go to therapy and therapy doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be helpful for people in all kinds of situations.)

Even things that seem far more specialized, like social skills training or fidgets or even just asking the people you’re with about their sensory preferences, can help tons of people who might have a little anxiety or body issues or social anxiety. But for some reason those things are only available if there’s a complete breakdown.

I think the curb cut effect can teach us a lot about preventing problems, and if we apply it to mental health it might go a long way towards giving people the tools to take care of their own mental health before something snowballs into a bad place. Mental health tools should be available to everyone.

 

Who Gets To Define Sick?

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Disability activism is an area in which I often suck. I’ve only just started to dip my toes into reading work about disability and theories of neurodivergence and so on. Which means that I’m still on the fence about a lot of stuff and thus this post will be fairly speculative (and quite possibly overly 101). Most particularly the thing that I want to focus on today is technology and the way that new technologies interact with disability and illness, especially the ways that we define disability and illness.

For a long time, things like blindness and deafness were not the kinds of things that we debated on whether they were good or bad. We couldn’t change them and so for the most part services for those people were about simply helping them get by in their environments with the skills that they had (when it was decent. Sometimes it just turned into locking them away. That is definitely not good). However with the advent of certain new technologies, we may have the ability to reverse some of these conditions. Cochlear implants are a great example. Deaf individuals can choose to use technology in order to hear as most other people do.

But with the ability to make the change comes the question of whether or not we want to make the change. For many deaf individuals the answer is no. They see deaf as an identity and don’t feel as if they cannot manage in the world as they are. Some deaf people say that cochlear implants are a way of telling deaf people that they’re wrong or less than. If the default position of society and the medical establishment is that you need technology to change a fundamental fact about yourself, it’s certainly easy to see how someone might get the impression that the message being sent is “you need to be fixed.”

On the flip side, there’s really no question that as society today stands, it is easier to be a hearing person than a deaf person. Especially when a baby is born deaf (particularly to hearing parents) and the parents have to decide whether or not to give the child a cochlear implant, most people assume that it would be cruel not to give the child that leg up. Most people speak a verbal language rather than a signed language, most schools and jobs are set up for hearing individuals, technology often relies on sounds. There are some clear benefits to being able to hear.

Let’s change the script a little bit. There are clear benefits to being white in society as it stands today. White people are far more likely to hold high paying or powerful jobs, get promoted, get hired, get good grades. The dialects that are common to African Americans are devalued while standard white dialects are held up as normal and correct. Being black is just harder than being white.

While most people would agree with the second script (and if you don’t then you need to brush up on your racial politics), almost no one would suggest that the solution is to just make black people white. Similarly, many of the reasons that being deaf is hard in society isn’t because there’s something wrong with deaf people but because society is just set up around the needs and abilities of hearing people. We could easily say that life would be easier if we all had more legs (because more is better right?) but the way things are set up now wouldn’t work for those people. There’s nothing inherently better about having doors the size they are or schools set up to teach through vocalizations, it’s just what’s common and works for a lot of people.

The autistic community is a great example of this kind of reframing. The more we learn about autism the more we find out that autism itself doesn’t actually cause very many problems. It’s far more likely that interacting with a society that has different expectations is what causes the problems. When people with autism are met where they are, they’re astoundingly talented and functional (for example when they’re communicated with in clear and literal ways, when they’re allowed to learn while moving or standing, or when they’re given weighted blankets or clothes to help them with sensory sensitivities). The problem comes when everyone assumes that people should all function the same way. It’s actually not that hard to adjust and help meet someone’s needs.

Now to contrast these basic disability 101 concepts let’s look at something that is pretty clearly a problem: eating disorders (I know, I’m repetitive). There are many people with eating disorders who don’t want to go to treatment, take meds, eat food, have therapy, etc. It is a hallmark of eating disorders that people who have them don’t want to get better. And yet we can very clearly point towards the fact that eating disorders are harmful, they can kill you, and when people do recover they tend to see that it was really not in their best interest to resist treatment.

There are some clear differences here: there is no society in which having an eating disorder would make your life easier or better, whereas it’s absolutely possible to have an autistic or deaf community where those conditions are normal and great. But there are other things that live in between these two examples, and with the advent of medical technologies that might be able to cure them, how do we decide what counts as an illness, disease, or disability, and what is simply a difference? Who gets to make those choices? In a wholly hypothetical world, if we could ensure that a child is born hearing, seeing, mentally sound, etc. are we morally obligated to ensure these things because they’re “better”?

At the moment, the medical establishment, whether that be through the DSM, Big Pharma, or doctors, makes most of these decisions. It’s probably good that doctors are involved in the definitions of disease and disability, but what’s really missing is the internal perspectives of the people we define as disabled. There is a lack of respect for the rights of individuals even in cases in which they are clearly harming themselves by not seeking treatment (such as eating disorders, where people are often pressured or bullied into treatment). More than anything, the assumption that a condition has to mean the same thing to every person is a huge problem. Not every deaf person will experience their deafness as an identity they care about, but not everyone experiences it as a hindrance either.

I seriously doubt there will be a clear answer of where to draw the line between “totally acceptable and not a problem difference” and “thing we really should work to change.” But what I worry about is that going forward technology will put more and more power in the hands of government, pharmaceutical companies, and doctors instead of individuals to promote certain treatments. I hope we don’t walk blindly towards it.

I Hate People Who Take the Elevator

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A friend of mine made an off handed comment the other day. “I’m sick of lazy people taking the elevator!” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I pushed him a bit, and he simply said he hated that everyone did it, that it was an engrained social structure, that obesity was an epidemic, and that it was a waste of energy.

I think it’s time to review both fatphobia and ableism 101, as well as how they’re intertwined. The first thing to note about something like whether other people take the elevator or not is that it’s none of your damned business because you know nothing about this random other person and their behavior isn’t hurting you (we’ll get to questions of obesity soon). There is nothing morally wrong about not wanting to be active right this instant. And in many cases, someone might be incapable of taking the stairs: some people have invisible diseases, and your assumption that everyone should take the stairs is part of the underlying cultural norm that other people’s bodies belong to us and they all have to be able and thin or they are doing something wrong. They are causing harm.

There are a lot of things wrong with the assumption that you should be able to tell someone else what to do with their body or that it’s any of your business what someone else does with their body, whether that’s how/when they have sex or their choice of diet and exercise. The moment we start deciding what the correct way for another person to treat their body is, the moment we’ve decided to try to take away their basic autonomy.  Everyone has the right to decide what to eat, how to move, where to go, and when you assume that their actions are fair game for your shame and criticism because you don’t like what someone else is doing, you’re implying that someone else’s body is public property. And that’s just really uncool.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible to be healthy, happy, and active while being fat. The Health at Every Size movement has a great deal of information on this, but suffice it to say that genetics plays a huge role in your size, and that body composition makes a large difference. The “obesity epidemic” is based on the BMI scale, which does not take body composition into account at all and reduces many complex health problems down to “you’re a fatty, lose some weight,”. As this article points out, fat people often have to fight for the right to be able to eat food. Relatedly, they also often have to fight for the right to be inactive or rest. Any time we see an overweight person sitting down or watching TV or taking the elevator, we assume they’re lazy. We don’t do that with thin people, even though there’s not any law that says the thin person is more active than the fat person.

We tend to only accept a fat person as a “good fatty” if we see that they only eat salad or take the stairs every time. Fat people are by default considered unhealthy and lazy until they have proven that they do all the correct healthy behaviors and are still fat. Many people assume that if a fat person is engaging in any “unhealthy” behaviors, those behaviors are what has caused them to be fat (and thus a drain on society because all fat people are the worst ya know). Never mind that some people are fat because of disabilities.  Never mind that you literally have no idea whether or not that individual just came from the gym or not. Never mind that you have literally no evidence that taking the elevator is what caused this person to be overweight or whether or not this overweight person is unhealthy. Never mind that some people physically can’t take the stairs, even if they look able bodied.

It’s none of your damned business what anyone does with their body, what food they eat, and how they exercise. Bodies are complicated, and unless you’re someone’s doctor or intimately close to them, you don’t know even close to enough to make a judgment about whether or not they’re lazy. A lot of this is straight out concern trolling, and there’s good evidence that it’s not really about health in the fact that I don’t see any of these concern trolls telling me that they have a right to tell me to eat more and deal with my eating disorder because insurance! Public health! You need to be able to work! They’re not concerned with the state of my health and body because I am thin and able bodied and sometimes I rock climb and swing dance for hours. You cannot read someone’s health off of their body.

Maybe taking the elevator is an engrained social structure, and maybe we could do more to promote exercise. But any fat person or depressed person or sick person can tell you that they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it a thousand times. One more piece of shame is not going to help (it may actually make people fatter). There are more positive and more helpful ways to promote movement. I take the elevator because the stairs take longer and are boring. I’d rather exercise in a more fun fashion. So maybe that “just take the stairs” approach is alienating some people, and is actually an excuse to complain about fat, lazy people.

Yes, maybe it is more energy efficient to take the stairs. But we all make trade offs in our lives in terms of values and priorities, and how we treat our bodies is incredibly personal. If it’s so important to you, then take the stairs yourself, but stop haranguing others when you have no idea what their lives are like.

 

Social Justice 101: Intersectionality

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So here is the beginning of my attempt to create a backstore of blog posts that I can whip out at a moment’s notice so I don’t have to go through the work of re-explaining privilege or intersectionality or institutional sexism again and again. I’m going to do my best to explain intersectionality in a nutshell, although it is an incredibly complex topic. I’m also going to try to link to a few articles that get into a bit more depth or explain particular aspects of it as well.

SO. Oftentimes when we think about social justice problems we think of them as separate. You might be a feminist, or an advocate for the rights of disabled individuals, or working on race issues, or fighting for GLBT rights. Most often we see these things separated out in the practical work that advocates do (at least partially because it’s really hard to tackle more than one thing at once). But this can also be a serious problem. In feminism in particular, there have been many instances throughout history and today in which feminists use certain kinds of power and privilege to oppress other women: in general, feminism has been for white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-class women, and for people who don’t fit those definitions it has been incredibly difficult to gain recognition in the feminist community and have their concerns heard.

And so out of this problem, the concept of intersectionality was born. Intersectionality is the idea that all of our kinds of privilege interact. It’s not a simple question of having privilege for one thing, and then getting part of your privilege pile taken away because you’re part of a different marginalized group. Different oppressions can build on each other, like trans-misogyny, or they can affect each other in really complicated ways (for example being black and having a mental health concern is very different from being white and having a mental health concern). In some cases, even though you have a lack of privilege, you may be using your other privileges to oppress others in the same marginalized category as you (white women do this to black women in feminism all the time by silencing their concerns).

Intersectionality is also about understanding that we exist in a variety of different systems, and sometimes one system is acting on us more strongly than another. For example if I enter into a conversation with a disabled individual about able-bodied privilege and I try to say that I understand because I have mental health concerns, or that it’s just like ____ or say that they’re ignoring my perspective because they’re talking about their own issues, I’ve just effectively used my oppression as a silencing technique for someone else’s oppression. Intersectionality requires a great deal of listening to all kinds of experiences, and yes, even respecting the one black, Jewish, lesbian, trans-gendered woman you know and understanding that her experience of privilege and oppression is different from other experiences of privilege and oppression.

While there is no time in our lives that oppression doesn’t exist for us because we are female or a person of color or disabled or fat or lower class, that doesn’t mean that all of those oppressions exist in the same ways at all times, or that they are pertinent to all other forms of oppression. Intersectionality asks us to examine what privileges we may be using at any given time, and how that interacts with our oppressions, as well as how it can create unique forms of oppression for other individuals.

For some more resources on intersectionality, I suggest Natalie Reed’s blog (although it may be taken down soon, so get over there while you can), or these websites:

http://blog.twowholecakes.com/2009/07/101-thoughts-on-intersectionality-or-why-theres-no-dark-skinned-fat-black-women-on-more-to-love/

http://www.reddit.com/r/SRSDiscussion/comments/p8k1z/effort_intersectionality_101/

http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/