An important letter, and thoughts about a video


Letter to Occupy Together Movement by Harsha Walia

It describes some things I’ve been uneasy about with the #occupy movement, and some I hadn’t thought of, but it’s well thought out and fundamentally about the necessity of involving the perspectives of everyone in the “99%”. (Including the people whose land is already being occupied without acknowledgement from most of the people involved. I don’t see how people can ignore what my inner senses always perceive as this murky ooze of genocide and slavery that practically permeates the American landscape to the point it seems impossible to not notice it. But people do.)

While I don’t know when I’ll have the brain to put it together, my friend (the one who wrote the post about this movement that I linked to before) has requested that I make a video dealing with concerns we have about making sure that disabled people are likewise fundamentally respected by people who probably haven’t thought of it before (and probably don’t respect us now as full human beings). I’ve got ideas on what to put in it, and my friend has helped, but it’s really hard to make a video when you’ve got this little energy. Fortunately she suspects this will be around for long enough that I’ll have plenty of time to put it together. (And who knows, sometimes I say something like that and put everything together in a frenzy of energy one day and collapse for a week or two after. That’s what life with fluctuating skills and energy levels is like, you never know the exact moment when everything will come together right in order to get something done.)

But basically… most people (and therefore most people involved in this movement) fundamentally don’t grasp that disabled people are people. They’ll deny it, and they may believe they think we’re people, but their actions treat us differently than their words do. Even people who are against capitalist greed in theory, have usually not worked out that part of capitalism is valuing people differently based on the kind and amount of work they do, and the creation of a system that figures that if it can’t manage to exploit disabled people then we’re basically trash. And they generally also haven’t thought through the terror of becoming disabled (especially but not limited to cognitive disability) that drives them to the ultimate danger for us — that they’d want to die if they were like us, and therefore we are better off dead. And those two distortions of reality (because reality is that we are valuable because we exist, end of story, there can be no “buts” added to that) combine to horrific effect to both devastate and outright kill disabled people.

But the video I’m trying to make, while it will obviously go into those subjects in enough depth to get the idea definitely across, is fundamentally about the value of all people (and specifically the value of disabled people because we are people). Because without understanding that, this movement will end up reproducing all the screwed-up dynamics that already result in the oppression of disabled people as well as many other sorts of oppressed people. So it’s really, really important that while we support this movement, we also make our voices heard as firmly as possible to get things across so that it is reflecting values that will substantially change things for people already currently oppressed in ways a little more complicated than most people think of when they think of this movement. I absolutely support the general idea of the movement (because if someone doesn’t do something to stop the people with power, there will be destruction much worse than if they don’t do something, even if the something ends up being destructive to people like me in many ways), but I also know that without disabled people’s voices getting heard the outcomes could still be quite bad for us even if their goals are totally met otherwise, and I want to do everything I can to make sure things don’t happen that way.

(And if anyone’s going to get on my case about making a video while I’m supposed to be resting — I’ll try really hard to be careful. I have much more energy than I did when I first mentioned needing to rest, although it’s still a pretty fragile level of energy that can go away fast if I’m not careful. Today I had a doctor’s appointment so I’m really wiped out and can’t even think of making a video without brain-pain, especially given that right now all words I read are affecting me like Words That Bite My Brain, and the words I write are coming out much more scrambled than usual so then I have to read them over and over, biting my brain as they go, until I am fairly sure I didn’t get them in the wrong order. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve read through this and found words like “by” and “from” and “with” and “about” and so forth mixed around, so if I haven’t caught them all, that’s why.)


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

12 responses »

  1. I really appreciate how you said this:

    “And they generally also haven’t thought through the terror of becoming disabled (especially but not limited to cognitive disability) that drives them to the ultimate danger for us — that they’d want to die if they were like us, and therefore we are better off dead.”

    It makes sense in a way I think I can remember and use in the future. It’s….I’ve been looking for those words for a very long time. Thank you.

    I’m excited for the video.

  2. Wow. Amazing letter. And perfect timing that you posted it now…………as one of the gals commented before, I will be heading out to be part of Occupy New Haven in several hours……

    Many “severely” (its after 2am and brain wants to shut down for the night, sorry for objectionable language here)Disabled people are also “occupied” by others……in that they aren’t allowed to have their own thoughts………..they might not have control over their own bodies…….

    You were occupied. We’ve been occupied……….though definitely not to the same extent.

    Your parents and siblings were occupied………because of what they went through. That they most likely didn’t love you and certainly didn’t know what was best for you………….were things that strangers tried to impose of them mentally.

    FWIW, I didn’t notice any misplaced words.

    Thanks for your brilliant citizen-journalism……

  3. I just got back home from NYC less than 20 minutes ago, and haven’t done more than scan this, but I thought you might want to know that at least some kinds of not-exactly-corporation-related occupation are being addressed at the protest itself – I wasn’t able to stay very long, but I wound up with both a flier full of information about how Zucotti/Liberty park is an old African-American burial ground, courtesy of a group who’re there to make sure people are respectful of that fact, and a large poster intended to inform people that NYC in general is colonized Algonquin (or, uh, something, I’d have to get it out and check to be sure) land.

    I didn’t see anything about disabilities in particular, but I wasn’t really looking – mostly I just wanted to drop off my donations and get out of the crowd. They do have a library there, though – perhaps it would be useful to send some relevant literature to them? (Suggestions?)

  4. Ivan went to the protest on the green…….and he did read most of the letter aloud on camera………its gonna go up somewhere………so people will hopefully hear about it………..

  5. Another group that seems to be left out of the Occupy movement are poor people. Or at least that is how the media makes it sound. They (news stories etc) keep talking about how the 99% is bringing attention to the concerns of the middle class … but what about poor people? Poor people are people who have often been excluded from the economy even when things are going well. And because they have less of a safety margin, they are often hurt the most when the economy goes kablooey. So shouldn’t the Occupy movement be MORE about poor people than anyone else? Or at least, poor people ALONG WITH the “middle class”?

    I know it’s early days yet for the movement, so maybe the relative lack of diversity we’re seeing now will shift over time to be more inclusive. But it’s frustrating to see the SAME GROUPS OF PEOPLE who are so often excluded from everything else be excluded AGAIN in precisely the kind of movement that OUGHT to be partly ABOUT THEM. People living in poverty, indigenous populations, people with disabilities, people who live in rural areas, people of color, women, children, elderly people, etc. etc., all are more likely to be under served by the economy whether the economy is doing well or not — they’re just hurt more when it isn’t.

  6. Andrea: While (from what I’ve seen) I’d trust that you’re probably right, I wouldn’t actually be looking at media reports to find out much about what goes on at these things. They’ve gotten a lot of things wrong in the stories that I’ve read, and who knows how they gauge income.

    My guess as to why it is how it is, is that unfortunately things like this tend to be overrepresented by people who’ve been reasonably comfortably off and then had the bottom drop out from under them (rather than people who’ve been used to oppression for a really long time). And people in that position, tend to have all the various biases that come with that position and that make it harder for other sorts of people to take part. Many such people are becoming poorer now, but it doesn’t give them the same perspective as the people who’ve been poor all along. Most of the people I know who’ve actually taken part are not middle class, but that’s probably more because most of the people I know are working class and/or poor and/or disabled, so the sample’s skewed.

    (Also, I know that some disabled people aren’t taking part for the same reason I’m not: Inability to survive in those conditions. If I could actually leave the house for long enough to take part, I’d be in a situation where the cops would quite possibly confiscate my communication equipment. And I can’t go that long without meds. Etc. Early on, two of the reports I heard were that the cops had pepper sprayed a deaf woman in the eyes, so that she couldn’t communicate adequately, and knocked over someone’s wheelchair and arrested anyone who tried to help that person get up. So they definitely seem to be going after us in fairly nasty ways that cause us more potential problems than the average person.)

    What really weirds me out, though, is that they’ve been taking direction from people of color around the world, and yet they don’t make it very accessible for people of color right here. (There’s some groups of people of color who have been trying to change that — for instance Occupy The Hood — but still there’s a lot of obvious problems. I read something by a black woman who described how everyone was trying to zoom in on her and take photos to show that black people really were involved. Ugh.)

  7. PoC’s may also be skeptical of this movement too…….because of past history……..I think (and I hope) that if it continues for long enough, they will become more vocal and visible. I think unfortunately whenever these sorts of revolutions happen in wealthy countries the last people to get a chance to be meaningfully involved are minorities……..formerly disenfranchised people………..the poor……etc.

    But I’m not an econ or poli sci major or someone who would know this for a fact………

  8. Sorry I’m so late commenting (and still need to comment on a couple of other recent posts!). But, this is an excellent project, and I will look forward to the video when you can make it. And, excellent observations on some of the things that get totally neglected when too many people start talking about inequality.

    It’s upsetting just how pervasive this set of ideas is. I mean, I’ve rationally rejected the idea of human worth being based on one’s degree of “economic activity” (defined in some pretty weird ways)–and see that capitalism is abusive from the ground up. Still, it’s hard to totally evict the self-abusive thoughts if you’re unable to be “productive”, especially when this is a cluster of messages that’s all around you pretty much all the time. A pretty good post I could really identify with recently:

    Another one I read just last night, which is relevant here: “On being Buddhist and unemployed”, HTML view at . Not so much because of Buddhism, but pointing out the difference between capitalist views and those based in worldviews that rely more on interconnection and recognize a wider range of contributions to society.
    ‘For this is the message which we as a society are sending to the unemployed: “You do not exist as far as the most important considerations recognized by this society are concerned. You are nothing at all”. It needs hardly to be pointed out at this stage of the argument that this message is based on a severely curtailed anthropology, that is, a narrow view of what it is to be human. People may not be economically active, but they still have their hopes and fears, their dreams, relationships and daily activities. In many and diverse ways, they too are contributing to the totality of human experience. Who are we to call them “unemployed”?’

    • That reminds me of one thing I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fit in there or not: This bizarre sense of ownership that some people who work feel over those of us who are on some form of welfare benefits.

      I’m sure you’ve encountered it before. It’s awful. It’s like… they act like they have a right to control and choose everything in our lives for us because they happen to pay taxes from earned income at work. And since we get our income from the result of those taxes, there are plenty of people who well and truly believe that we belong to them and have (or ought to have) very few rights and not much if any autonomy.

  9. this very thing………..the idea of ownership over others……….Ivan and another person did a presentation at Autreat and talked about it…….

    self-determination=more appropriate services, short-term increase in spending (maybe), long-term decrease in WASTING MONEY……..

    basically that’s what they talked about in their presentation.

    sounds like this could be a cross-disability, PoC, poor, disenfranchised people…nontraditionally employed people……..hardworking but unpaid advocates…..

    How do we convince those people that think they should control our lives……..because they pay for us to have/do/use fill-in-the-blank, that letting us be in charge would actually save them money?

    Completely OT: I’m not going to the extra choir practice after all……..I came back here to get something and wound up sitting around and……… starts at 7, it’s 5 til…….i don’t feel that great……..

  10. Pingback: Local Space, Local Bodies | Occupy 2012

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