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.
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.