Making Stuff: BLOCK, BUILD, BEmoji Rubbercut Printed Cards

I’ve spent most of the last week working on my most ambitious block printing project yet. It’s a deck of emoji cards for use in video calls by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Emoji cards were introduced to BPF by our brilliant unicorn friend Ray Sukin Klauber, as a way for folks to actively participate while listening. It’s a beautiful practice that helps folks feel connected during video conference calls. Usually folks draw their own symbols,  but I thought it would be fun to offer a deck of printed symbols for folks to use, in addition to their own ones. Most of these evolved from symbols used by folks in our community.

I initially learned how to do block printing from Margo Rivera Weiss, in a class offered at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center. I’ve done a few different block printing projects since then, and each time I learn so much! I’m loving diving more deeply into this form.

Engineering hacks for art

A-Drying-1Someone asked me the other day if I was an artist. “Nah, just an undaunted explorer,” I said. My grandma the artist told me I should be an engineer. And as I noticed in this project, sometimes art requires engineering.

Unlike greeting cards, this project involved single sheet cards that won’t stand up by themselves. Thankfully it occurred to me before I started printing that I’d better figure out where and how they were gonna dry. You know, with cats around. So with 8 boxes of tea, 2 cookie racks, 2 baking sheets and some masking tape, I was able to dry 56 or so at once, in relative safety.

Lessons from the block

IMG_2922I used rubber for these prints. So far it’s the only type of carving medium I have tried for printing. I can see that it might be possible to carve more carefully, especially in tight corners. I am still learning so much about which carving tools to use at different places in a cut. I look forward to exploring linoleum in the future, for greater detail.

Things I learned in the course of this project:

When drawing on the rubber before carving, every pencil line you don’t carve out is likely to be visible on the print as a tiny place where the ink doesn’t take. If you erase it, it creates indentations in the rubber where again, the ink won’t take.

If you use ball point pen and don’t carve it out, it will be visible on the prints, too, if the pen ink is darker than the printing ink you are using.

A-Printing-1As I started noticing these effects when I was printing, I was bummed, thinking they were mistakes I couldn’t fix. As the project evolved, I started seeing beauty in these “mistakes” and how it would be possible to actually use these things as techniques to create certain effects. Less ink in areas of erasure can create a starry sky, for example. So perhaps I will start using these things in future projects to add texture.

I’d heard you could carve both sides of a rubber plate, to get two different prints from one piece. I tried that this time, and in some cases I kind of regret it. Where I carved out large areas on one side, it created an indented effect on the other side, where the ink wouldn’t take. For example, there is an area of the heart that is suffering from the effects created by the lightbulb.

Ink tales

I’d previously only used water-based ink. For this project I used a new type of ink, oil-based ink that washes with water and soap. (Speedball, fabric and paper block printing ink). Since people are hopefully going to be handling these cards a lot, I wanted the ink to be permanent, and not rub off if it gets wet. The downside of this new oil-based ink is that it stinks quite a bit. So I’m a bit worried that some folks will have a bad reaction to it.

This ink also required (according to the package) a hard rubber brayer, which I hadn’t used before. After the fact, I’m still not sure why it needed the hard brayer, but I did use one. It seemed at first like it was easier to get a good even layer of ink, without over inking. But as the days evolved, and I washed the brayer in soap and water with each color change, the ends of the brayer started bulging (the inside of the tube is wood, and I think was absorbing some of the water), and so it became increasingly difficult to get an even layer of ink, since the brayer would only touch the glass on the bulging ends, and so over inking became a problem that was difficult to control.

I enjoyed exploring color mixing effects to create “light” in areas of the prints.

Rubbing thoroughly with the baren or spoon takes a lot of patience. It’s worth it to be methodical, and be rewarded with the nicest print possible. I created a system for making sure I hit every area thoroughly, and even counted to myself.

Sharing is sweet!

MailPart of what’s so beautiful about this is the patience — even though you are producing in bulk, you are really spending time with each print. Since these were being created as gifts, it brought me a lot of joy to really focus on each print, the joy of giving to these people and this community I love, imagining their joy at receiving art in the mail! It also brings fond memories of the mail art I so enjoyed making and receiving in the 80s, and the zines I so enjoyed making and receiving in the 90s. Gratitude to the postal service, which has been an important part of my creative life.

I look forward to seeing how this deck evolves, what emojis people add to it, what prints I am moved to create as future additions.





Month 7 – Cross-Disability Solidarity

In my Disability Justice deep dive practice, September was devoted to the principle of Commitment to Cross Disability SolidaritySins Invalid says about this principle: “We honor the insights and participation of all of our community members, knowing that isolation undermines collective liberation.” As I organize in community with other disabled folks, I’m often aware of the ways that access for me is not the same as access for another. Access looks different for each of us. As I’ve said to many folks asking about how to be more accessible, while a checklist can be helpful, it can also be a trap — we need to keep paying attention, because new access needs will emerge. If we are going to prioritize access, our openness and attention need to be on a par with completing our checklists of ways to make things accessible. That said, a checklist can be a great way to start familiarizing yourself with access needs that you don’t yet know about, or remind yourself. Some important resources for learning about different access needs and how to support them in your spaces, as well as about supporting emerging access needs:


We remember Kayla Moore, art by nomy lamm

Thinking about cross-disability solidarity as I organize to march next week with Justice 4 Kayla Moore. Kayla Moore was a black trans woman with schizophrenia, killed by Berkeley Police, who claim that she died as they were restraining her because she was too fat. Organizing to support Kayla’s family in an upcoming civil court case against the police and the city, a case that brings in the ADA and its relationship to policing. I’m thinking also about ways to honor Magdiel Sanchez, a brown deaf man recently killed by Oklahoma police, who say they shot him because he wasn’t following their verbal instructions. Wanting more ways to be in solidarity with folks while they are alive, not just after they are dead. I don’t want cross-disability solidarity to be an afterthought. Thinking about Puerto Rico right now, too, a whole island disabled by colonialism. Thinking about the people who were already disabled before the storm. How can I be in solidarity?

The brilliance of the Disability Justice principles reveals itself again in the very timely next principle of Interdependence. “We meet each others’ needs as we build toward liberation, knowing that state solutions inevitably extend into further control over our lives.” (Sins) What does interdependence look like, in a world where disabled folks need state support to survive? In my work with Lightning Bolt I advocate for interdependent, community-based solutions to the disasters we face, including advocating that people avoid calling the police, because police kill. Patty Berne reminded me that it’s important from a Disability Justice perspective to keep a nuanced perspective and not disavow the state entirely, because, for example, our community is not equipped to do some of the things the fire department has tools to do. Like transport a heavy person in a heavy power chair who is trapped in a building, for example. And that Medicaid is a very important harm-reduction tool.

I’m thinking about the many ways capitalist, white supremacist culture pushes us towards “independence,” alienates us from our families, our neighbors, our communities. Is there anyone not left ultimately lonely by this system? So much of disability rights has been about independence for disabled folks. But as I heard Stacey Milbern say the other day, “access is great, but access to fucked up institutions is not enough.” That’s disability justice. We need to be building the just world we want. So as we work for self-determination, let’s shine the light on our interdependent reality, and nurture it instead of denying and fighting against it. What would that world look like?

So often I want to “do things myself” and I define accessibility as not needing to ask for help. I wonder about this — how much is that actually reinforcing internalized ableism, and eschewing interdependence? I’ll be chewing on these questions in the month to come.

Hat tip to my Buddhist Peace Fellowship Block Build Be comrades and to all my DJ comrades and thought partners for pushing my thinking about access, cross-disability solidarity, and interdependence.

Month 6 – Sustainability

Sustainability. It’s the 6th principle of Disability Justice. Sins Invalid describes it like this: “Sustainability: We pace ourselves, individually and collectively, to be sustained long term. Our embodied experiences guide us toward ongoing justice and liberation.”

I’d really love to hear YOUR thoughts about sustainability. Have you found ways, personally and/or collectively, to support sustainability? What have you learned about it? I really want to hear from you!

Here is what I am noticing for myself right now:

I seem to be coming out of a difficult period of big shifts in my life, feeling more grounded, feeling happier, feeling not depressed. Creativity is blooming, I am active in a number of projects, feeling connected to many people and activities. And I am noticing a familiar pattern — when I’m feeling this alive and engaged, I tend to say yes to things. Potentially too many things. I take on so much, and for a while I totally love it. Of course I want to do all the things! And, I’m pretty sure this stage is one that usually precedes burnout.

I’m actually just coming out of a period of burnout. Part of what contributed to it was that for many years I’d been devoting the majority of my free time to Dharma organizations, and not fully tending to the fact that being in those communities was exacerbating my own internalized oppression around fat and disability. I’d go through various struggles with feeling burned out, almost always from reaching some threshold amount of ableism or fat phobia, but then I’d recover — enough to keep doing it. But as I entered an even deeper commitment to those communities by going through a leadership training program, it started becoming clearer to me that it wasn’t going to be sustainable, because along with taking on too much work, I was at that threshold of ability to tolerate the ableism and fat phobia for too long. I had taken on so much that I didn’t have the time and energy to nurture myself in those areas. It broke me. Maybe in a good way? It broke my ability or willingness to keep doing what I’d been doing for 10 years, tolerating a system that was feeding my internalized oppression.

I am noticing several friends I work with on various projects, saying they feel exhausted. I want to support them to have the time and space they need to find a sustainable pace. It feels complicated, and how we work with it is a mashup of our differing histories and contexts around work and survival and family and life, now in relationship with each other.

How can we support each other in our individual and collective sustainability? We need to, because the world is not going to stop throwing shit at us that needs taking care of, and many, many of us are barely surviving because of too much shit and too few resources. I want to know what different people and communities are doing to sustain over the long haul.

I can feel ways that capitalism drives me to be continually productive. The ways my identity, and even my joy sometimes, is wrapped up in what I produce, and how much I am showing up for others. Holding the DJ principle of anti-capitalism is really helpful. I keep reminding myself, noticing, bringing anti-capitalism back into my framework. Wanting it to become anchored there, deeply informing every aspect of how I live. I want to bring this into every conversation, because I really want to know what happens when we bring this into life more transparently, rather than just letting our default ways dictate how we live.

I’m feeling, too, how the wisdom from the indigenous elders at the “Living on Ohlone Land” event is sitting with me, percolating, remaking something central about my relationship to being in this world, in this body on this land. This feels deeply connected to the question of sustainability. Knowing who I am and where I come from as a necessary foundation for being in right relationship with everything. That being grounded in the truth is necessary, and liberating — it’s the only thing that can move us toward the possibility of collective liberation. I want to move deeper with this thread over the coming weeks.

Giving thanks for all that I am learning in this time, thanks to the generous lives of so many beings. Love. So much love.

[Image description: A fluffy cat mottled with white, gray, tabby stripes, and orange nose sleeps soundly with one leg dangling forward, on a wooden chair with a brown cushion.]

Month 5 – Recognizing Wholeness

Wrapping up the month of contemplation of the Disability Justice principle of Recognizing Wholeness. I have been holding a few aspects of this principle:

  1. Recognizing each of our wholeness: we are perfectly whole and worthy as we are, outside “commodity relationships and capitalistic notions of productivity. Each person is full of history and life experience.” (Sins Invalid)
  2. What supports me to recognize and embody that wholeness, and what gets in the way?
  3. What is collective wholeness, and what’s in the way of it?

Just sitting with the idea of being perfectly whole as I am is so deep. The idea that I am whole gets challenged everywhere, from internal and external sources. Internalized shame, the idea that I am bad at the very core, reveals itself in layers upon layers. Sometimes it’s clearly triggered by an event, sometimes I notice it as ongoing background mental chatter, and sometimes I notice that it seems to have complete control over my behavior. The extent of it gives rise to grief — how much of my life, our lives, has been suppressed by this assumption that i am not whole, not worthy? I want to feel this grief, to really take in the extent of the harm this assumption does. I don’t want to be asleep to it, asleep to the ways I perpetuate it.

I can see ways I inherited this shame from my family, but before them from all the systems that dominate the culture I live in. People are agents of systems. We reinforce the systems because we’ve internalized the system’s ideas.

Ableism is kind of a perfect expression of the idea that we are not whole. Certain bodies are wrong. Certain minds are wrong. We must conform or strive to conform if we have any hope of belonging. And clearly, what kind of bodies and minds we are supposed to have are determined by capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy.

I want to spend more time paying close attention to the conditions that support me to recognize wholeness. What comes to mind now are:

— Spending time with non-human nature
— Spending time with people who recognize wholeness or who are practicing with it in some way
— Spending time with people who embrace the parts of me that I tend to reject
— Cultivation of kindness, compassion, tenderness
— Cultivating awareness through stillness and life meditation — deep listening to self and others
— Noticing shame and judgment, their presence and absence
— Cultivating political analysis — looking for the systemic roots of the lies we believe about ourselves
— Cultivating openness to new ideas
— Cultivating discernment about where and with whom I spend time
— Physical reminders, altar/s, tattoos, art
— Taking wholeness as an anchor, returning again and again, remembering

Clearly dharma practice has been helpful here, but I know my dharma communities alone have not been enough. I need fat liberation community. I need disability justice community. I need actively anti-racist community. I need deeply political community that is really committed to uprooting systemic delusion, working toward systemic change, practicing with and embodying the change we want to see, individually and collectively. All of these are important in helping me hold and honor the truth of my own wholeness.

I started talking about collective wholeness in my previous post a bit. I feel like there are a few aspects to this, too. And probably many more that I can’t yet imagine. To me, a whole community is one in which everyone is valued as they are. A community is not whole if it is systematically oppressing or silencing certain groups of people. This is mirrored on the personal level, too, in the ways we exclude parts of ourselves, cutting ourselves off from our own wholeness. I’m thinking if we all recognized our own wholeness, it would be easier for our communities to really embody that wholeness. But I think both approaches are important — they work together. So while we work on our shit, we need to work on our systems too — our families, our groups, our organizations, our communities, our laws, our infrastructure, our whole culture. AND, I wonder what other ways there are to think about it, from folks rooted in more collective cultures. I feel like my cultural conditioning around individualism is so deep that I don’t understand other ways of being, it’s really a stretch for my mind. I look forward to deeply exploring the Disability Justice principles of Cross-Disability Solidarity, Interdependence, Collective Access and Collective Liberation in the months to come. There is so much to learn.

Thanks to so many friends and comrades who teach me in various ways about Recognizing (and embodying a sense of) Wholeness. So many of you.

[Image description: A close-up photo of fat, white, gender-ambiguous Max looking downward toward the camera, not smiling and defiantly not hiding their large double chin. They have a shaved head, mostly covered and surrounded like a halo by a pale blue and black plaid fishing hat. They are wearing dark, red-framed sunglasses and a black t-shirt with cats that says HISS in orange-yellow ombre letters — a feline play on the 80’s glam hard rock band, KISS. Behind Max is the ceiling, wall and large window of a brightly-lit cafe.]

Month 5 – Wholeness

I’m reflecting this month on “recognizing wholeness,” the 5th principle of Disability Justice. Lots of thoughts swimming around that I want to share.

I really need to acknowledge that in many ways I am new to all this. People who have been more solidly in a world not accessible to them have so much more experience and wisdom around this than I do. You all teach me so much. In many ways disability feels new-ish to me, as an acknowledged experience, as an identity, and as someone for whom many aspects of the world have been and are now accessible. I give thanks to disabled folks, disabled activists, and especially disabled POC, queer, and trans folks who have been having these conversations for a long damn time, sharing wisdom and continuing to push us further toward wholeness. It is because of you that I am here, that I can dive so deeply into a more liberatory idea of this thing called “wholeness.”

In the social model of the word “disability,” disability is defined by lack of access, located in an environment that can either provide or hinder access. One simple example being that if I have an impairment that makes it difficult to walk, and I use an assistive device like a wheelchair, and there are adequate pathways and ramps, I have access. I am only disabled if I do not have the assistive device or an environment in which that device can function. So, in a world where access is possible, what disables me is actually the environment. With the right tools (glasses, anyone?) or frameworks (there are many different ways to “be,” beyond what the system says is “ok” or “good”), a great brilliance of different body/minds can access participation in the world. We are all aging and heading toward death. No exceptions. Our journeys from here to there all look different.

Being fat, among other things, has always included some degree of lack of access. In first grade, the school uniforms did not come in my size. I recall my mom sewing a lot of my clothes back then. Clothing that fit was always difficult to access. Based on availability of clothing alone, I could easily understand that my body size was not supposed to exist. (And of course that was not the only source of this message.) So, in the social model, fat = disabled.

In white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, fatness is seen as a choice, a bad one, and the only good option is to fix it. Similarly, so many other physical and mental conditions are seen as the “fault” of the individual, and the individuals can redeem themselves only by striving to overcome those conditions, reaching toward the system’s idea of a “good” body/mind. Those not reaching or unable to reach are basically trash.

I stopped weight-loss dieting as a teenager, after an entire childhood of being forced to diet by my family, by doctors and psychiatrists. The systems that told me I had to redeem myself by striving to become thin were of course deeply embedded, and to some extent still are, since those systems still dominate the culture, reinforced by everyone who has internalized and not questioned or challenged them. But some part of me knows those systems, and the people who continue them, are lying to me. Those systems don’t care about my wellness, my wholeness, my creativity, my joy. And it became clear to me that a life that included wholeness, creativity and joy would necessarily be a life divested from the systems that pressure me to either conform or be trash. I am grateful to the first people who gave me some language and tools to channel the giant inner “fuck you” that was protecting me, protecting the possibility of wholeness, creativity and joy for me. I give thanks to the fat dykes of Milwaukee, WI for teaching me, for seeing me, for seeing the possibility of wholeness for me in the body I had.

I do not believe wholeness really exists on an individual level. Nothing really does. Inner/outer, one/many, micro/macro are reflections of one another. I think about this a lot, in terms of my mind and my community. My dharma mentor Larry Yang teaches about the practice of community building, always listening for and to the people or communities that are left out. This is something I have learned from my dharma practice about compassion for myself and my mind, too — welcome all of experience so it can be seen, faced honestly, held with tenderness, learned from. Only then can discernment and wisdom do their jobs of figuring out what to do. But the mind is trained from early on to reject stuff we don’t like, and the inner sorting of “good” and “bad” becomes so automatic, so subconscious. Likewise our world, our communities. How many people do we automatically reject or dislike or avoid or not see or assume things about because of the internalized sorting system our society has taught us? And because it’s so internalized, we don’t even know we are doing it much of the time, or we believe it and assume we are right. This is part of how oppression works, both internalized and systemic. The inner or outer judge enforces the system that keeps oppression functioning.

Wholeness means all parts are present, does it not? My first description from my head would say wholeness means all parts are welcome, which means the conditions to support all parts being welcome need to be present.  In the description of personal wholeness, if that’s a concept, the parts in question would be my body/mind/heart and my lived experience. In a community, it would be people and their bodies, minds, hearts and lived experiences.

The definition of the principle put forward by Sins Invalid says “Recognizing wholeness: People have inherent worth outside of commodity relations and capitalist notions of productivity. Each person is full of history and life experience.”

Capitalism drives us to leave so much of ourselves out! And to leave so many people out! Individually and collectively, the drive in a capitalist system is not for us to be whole.

Here are a few ways anti-wholeness plays out in my experience: in my mind, my life and my communities.

In my 30’s I sustained various injuries and developed more mobility impairments. I had intense shame about it, being both fat and visibly mobility impaired was doubling the stigma I’d lived with all my life. This was most actute around my parents, the first tangible sources of the shame around my fat body. I didn’t want them to see me as disabled, because then they could feel justified in trying to force thinness upon me from such a young age. Fatness and ableism work together, yet fat and disabled communities are not easy bedfellows because we’ve all internlized fatphobia and ableism as somehow separate things. So much of my experience rejected, hidden away in shame. Where is the wholeness in that?

As I’ve come to identify with the word “disabled,” and started rooting myself in disability justice community, I’ve come to see such a deeper level of this anti-wholeness in my mind. In meetings at Sins, for example, where the norm is to do a go-around that includes sharing whatever “access needs” we have, I saw myself repeatedly glossing over my experience, saying “I don’t have any access needs.” When in fact, I did, and sometimes I didn’t know what they were, and sometimes I would be just flat-out not saying them! My own internalized ableism, so deep, had me so disembodied that I didn’t know what I needed, and desperate to be seen as not having any needs. Wow, shutting so much of my real, lived experience out. The deeper I go, the more I see how I’ve structured my life around hiding my needs, hiding my real body, not making a fuss, not taking up space. I locate the source of this in whiteness, ableism, capitalism, patriarchy. Now, when asked about my access needs, my practice has become to think more deeply, to acknowledge at least internally the ways I’m handling things myself, to try harder to ask for what I need and hold any shame with tenderness, and instead of ever saying I don’t have access needs, I might say “my access needs are met.” Because really, nobody on earth is without access needs. It’s just that, as my friend Katie might say, in an ableist world, certain body-minds’ access needs are more likely to be met.

My awareness of the intensity of ableism in this world grows with my growing consciousness around disability. I think about communities I’m in and around where it’s standard practice to just completely exclude various types of disabled people by having events that aren’t wheelchair accessible, or that don’t account for people with bodies that diverge from the standard norm defined by capitalism. When I think about it, I sometimes find it shocking that people don’t feel the dissonance between “inclusive” and not accessible, between “supporting the participation of marginalized communities” and not accessible. But then I remember the ways that I, too, have spent most of my life automatically rejecting or not even noticing disabled people and experience. Ugh, it hurts my heart to see all the harm I have enabled because of the ways I’ve internalized ableism.

I want our communities to start recognizing wholeness, broadening who and what we consider part of what makes us whole, noticing what and who we reject, noticing what we do that keeps the possibility of wholeness at bay.

There is so much more to say about all of this.

Month 4 – Cross movement organizing

That it is now July means moving from month 4 into month 5 of my deep dive into the 10 principles of Disability Justice: June’s practice was centered on the principle of “Commitment to Cross Movement Organizing.” Sins Invalid articulates it this way: “Shifting how social justice movements understand disability and contextualize ableism, disability justice lends itself to politics of alliance.”

As I strengthen and deepen my roots in the fertile ground of disability justice, cross-movement organizing feels more possible. The old habits of leaving half myself outside are more consistently challenged. I’m starting to bring more disability justice and fat liberation into other movement settings. I’m building my awareness of people and issues left out, orienting toward leaving nobody behind as an integral part of the work I want to do toward collective liberation.

photo by Brooke Anderson

To wrap up this month of practice, I want to share about a cross-movement organizing experience I’ve been part of for the last few months, which culminated last weekend. I was part of the 10-person facilitation team for a retreat organized by Buddhist Peace Fellowship, called “Block Build Be” — borrowing language from Joanna Macy that describes 3 necessary modes of action as we move toward the liberated world we want. Bringing together a wide variety of folks rooted in different movements under the shared idea that spiritual and social liberation are not separate, this is in many ways a cross-movement organizing community. When they invited me on to the team, I knew there was potential for this to be a community that could support integrating disability justice, even though it is not a community primarily for disabled folks. So I decided to try bringing disability justice and fat liberation more fully into this community shared with folks rooted in various movements: racial and economic justice, black liberation, healing justice, worker justice, immigrant rights, indigenous sovereignty, prison abolition, queer and trans and gender justice, feminism, Tibetan freedom, environmental justice, anti-islamophobia, anti-sexual violence, children’s rights, housing justice, anti-fascism, and coming from various Buddhist/dharma and other spiritual traditions.

We began preparing among the facilitation team by talking about what it means to center access as part of our framework. While a checklist of access needs can certainly be helpful, I wanted us to get rooted in the emergent aspects of access and disability: embodying awareness of access needs as things that are constantly revealing themselves, always changing. Access needs are things everyone has, it’s just that in an ableist world, certain people’s access needs are more likely to be met. Disability happens when your access needs are not met.

The way this got actualized on the retreat was so beautiful. Everyone was brought into the framework, and we tried to integrate it into all aspects of the retreat. Each person was invited to consider and share their access needs, not just at the beginning of the retreat, but at the beginning of every session. Access needs were not held as something extra, but as necessary and emerging. As our bodies and our external conditions change, our access needs change. And as we deepen into our embodied experience, and as we build trust and compassion, awareness of our access needs sharpens, we can open to the possibility that what’s required for us to be fully present is something that can be held collectively, rather than something we are always supposed to address quietly, as individuals isolated by capitalism and a sense of stoic separation. Sharing access needs is an act of vulnerability. A community that shares access needs invites both internal and external mindfulness — embodying our own experience and holding with care the experiences of others whose needs differ from our own. It was deeply healing to feel the whole community participating in this with such love and tenderness and vulnerability — tending to the mobility pathways in the room so everyone could get where they needed to go, taking care with how we used the microphones so everyone could hear, facing those who were supported by being able to see the lips of those speaking, and feeling their way into asking for support when needed — lowered light to avert a migraine, patience and understanding around social conventions, emotional support, help carrying stuff. We created a team of “access pixies,” whose role was to assist as needed around access issues, and they really took it on in a deeper way than I had even imagined, holding access as a central part of the retreat. The team of access pixies met with each other regularly, discussed needs that were emerging, made announcements during each full-group session and invited new announcements about access needs each time. Their dedication was so palpable, joyful and creative. I heard from a number of them at the end how much they loved being an access pixie, and learning more deeply about how to center and support access. Next year I really want to make wings for access pixies!

In a session about solidarity and what gets in the way, I talked some to the whole group about Disability Justice — its development from poc and queer and trans disabled folks wanting something broader than the historically narrow framework of disability rights. The context of disability and ableism within the systems of capitalism and white supremacy. I shared a little of my personal journey from fat liberation, through dharma and antiracist activism toward disability justice. I talked about some of the ways whiteness and white supremacy are intertwined with ableism, and the complexity around internalized ableism and fatphobia getting activated in white allyship for racial justice, and the ways not being in solidarity with myself prevents me from being in solidarity with others.

In racial justice caucuses, the white folks talked amongst ourselves about the complications of centering access in communities where white women are very focused on self-care without a foundation in addressing injustice, uprooting white supremacy or collective liberation. This points to one reason Disability Justice as a framework is so important, beyond de-politicized self care, to start thinking of access in the deepest sense, within the context of this whole world and all the intertwining systems that oppress and disable people — capitalism, racism and white supremacy, imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, ableism.

As a whole, vibrant, cross-movement community we reflected and brainstormed together about the meaning of home and refuge, and the systems we want to BLOCK, the systems we want to BUILD, the ways we want to BE and the conditions needed to support a home rooted in collective liberation. With perspectives from so many movements represented, a beautiful dream began to reveal itself, in which our solidarity with each other’s movements felt grounded in an understanding that ALL of this was necessary for our collective liberation. And another totally new experience for me: In this mostly thin-bodied community, the inclusion of BLOCKing the diet industry generated wild cheers!

These are my experiences, and there are so many more experiences I hope others share about this retreat. I learned so much about different communities, different people, different perspectives, different needs, different ways to be in solidarity.

I’m grateful to have embarked on this adventure into cross-movement organizing in such a supportive community, so devoted to collective liberation, and to an emergent understanding of what that means. I feel part of a deeper web of solidarity, that together we are building the world of our dreams. I felt supported when I said that next year I want to move toward including more disabled folks, folks who might never have even thought of coming due to ableism. I heard from a lot of folks in the retreat who really want to bring deeper commitments to accessibility back to their communities. I’m feeling such deep gratitude to BPF, this beautiful facilitation team, all who participated in the retreat, Sins Invalid, other Disability Justice leaders and community, fat dykes who gave me the life-saving political analysis of fat liberation, and to all those who refuse to shut up in the face of oppression. You all teach me so much.

Month 3 – Anti-capitalism and all the rest

It’s been an amazing month of deep contemplation of anti-capitalism, the 3rd principle of Disability Justice. If I turn my attention to it, I can recognize the impact of capitalism on literally everything — social conditions, relationships, my own thoughts, beliefs, desires…everything. It’s painful to examine it, and also somewhat of a relief to be able to identify capitalism as a source of so much suffering, oppression, disconnection. We’ve been conditioned by the lies of capitalism, and in recognizing it, we begin to free ourselves. I don’t mean I as an individual will free myself from capitalism. I mean that we, recognizing it and working together, free ourselves, all of us.

I’ve been encouraging everyone to try it, to start noticing how capitalism — this system in which the value of a body, a mind, a life, is determined by its productivity or profitability — affects you personally, affects your relationships, and systemically affects all people. Not knowing a lot of the history, I can’t say for sure that capitalism created ableism, but it sure is deeply intertwined with it. Even just in my own life I can see that my habitual sense of my own worth is intimately tied to what I do, and my internalized ableism draws heavily from this mechanism. I imagine others judge me with this mechanism, too. If I don’t do enough of the right things, I won’t be loved. The ableism I project outward too, seems to also be connected to my judgment about what folks can “do” or not, or how I imagine they will connect with my own doing and sense of worth.

There’s a lot about individualism that I don’t understand. It seems tied to capitalism, and to whiteness and to any form of privilege or access to power. So much of ableism relies on it. I’m thinking about the ways we are obsessed with our own experience as the framework for what we are willing to believe. For example, if someone tells me what they experience, feel or need, and it is something I have not experienced myself, the mind’s first reaction is to not believe them, and to judge them. I’m guessing we all do this to some extent. (The examples that come to mind are things like: “oh, those people with X problem are such drama queens,” or “if it’s accessible for me it must be fine for everyone,” or “those people are so sensitive about X.”) Check it out and see what you find.

Does privilege make one more apt to do this? I recall a quote a saw somewhere: “Privilege is when something is not a problem to you because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

I think this is why I have loved listening as an intentional practice. Allowing myself the space to just devote myself to listening to others is a way of interrupting this tendency to “me me me” all the time, it opens the mind and heart, allows real connection, starts to dissolve the sense of separation. Meditation can be like this, too — intentional listening to the body-mind, creating the space for tenderness, compassion, and a creative approach toward what’s really happening, noticing and starting to unhook from the judgments of capitalism, ableism and so many intertwined systems that keep us averted and disconnected from our actual experience. These systems don’t want us to know ourselves at all, much less to know each other. In the same way we are always measuring everyone else against “me,” we are also always measuring ourselves and others against what we’ve been conditioned to believe. These are often the things we think we “know,” and they are lies.

We need some really deep listening to recognize and get underneath the conditioning of capitalism. We have been so duped.

Patty Berne talks about how the disabled body is inherently anti-capitalist. This points to the revolutionary power of these very body minds, right here. There is so much wisdom available right here. I’m feeling intensely grateful to all the crips whose wisdom and labor have birthed and developed the thinking around Disability Justice.

In this practice of deep diving into the principles of Disability Justice, I notice, too, that as I take on a new principle to contemplate or practice with each month, rather than moving from one principle to the next, they’re building on each other. Each new principle teaches me so much about the previous principles.

Intersectionality. I’ve been noticing in myself that I’ve been participating in a kind of hierarchy of oppressions, using a one dimensional framework. As a white person who is queer, gender non conforming, far and disabled, I have practiced a kind of politics that centered antiracism to the exclusion of the areas where I experienced lack of social power. The practice of “stepping back” as a white person gets really entangled with the internalized oppression around fat and disability. Many times I have noticed myself thinking “oh, we’ll deal with racism first, then we can talk about ableism and fat oppression.” Really? I thought we were gonna take care of racism before we addressed anything else?

I think it felt too much like I’d be centering my own needs if I focused too much on the areas where I experience oppression, or that people would think I was selfish or trying to exempt myself from my role in white supremacy. The principle of intersectionality requires that we develop our capacity for more nuance and complexity. There is not just one axis of power. There are so many. We need to be able to hold them all AT THE SAME TIME. They don’t negate each other. They co-exist.

When I push ableism and fat hatred to the side as unrelated to racism, not only do I reinforce my own internalized ableism, I also reinforced the harmful lie that ableism and fat hatred are white issues. So I am throwing disabled and fat people of color under the bus with me.

I remember my friend Cholla saying they worried the DJ principle of “leadership of the most impacted” encouraged a hierarchy of oppressions. I want to say that a commitment to intersectionality helps address that, as I am noticing just in my own practice. But I am also seeing that if the people who are impacted are not leading, they are likely to be thrown under the bus. When I look at groups I’m part of, what I find is that for the most part, if disabled people aren’t in leadership, there is very little awareness of ableism. If fat people with a fat liberation perspective are not in leadership, you can damn well be sure that there is very little, if any, awareness of fat oppression. If people of color aren’t in leadership, awareness of racism is so limited.

Someone I love who is not at all connected to all the various political things I’m involved in asked me in a text message, in response to an article I posted about disability justice, “so are you saying that everyone is disabled except for white men?” I thought it would be best answered in person rather than over text message, so it could be a real conversation that made space for noticing and addressing assumptions on both our parts. My short answer is, no, disability justice isn’t saying that everyone except white men are disabled. But when I think about access, and the social model of disability locating disability in the environment and how accessible it is, I do start to think of disability more broadly. So I think it’s an interesting and kind of astute observation.