Valuing Activism of All Kinds

Close-up photo of a small section of a compute keyboard. There is a bright red button that reads "Time for Action." A person's finger hovers over this key, as if about to press it.
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Recently, disabled activists from ADAPT protested in Washington, DC as the House debated the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Fifty-four badass disabled people put their bodies on the line, chanting and drawing media attention on what is at stake if the AHCA passes. They were arrested inside the Capitol Rotunda for obstructing passage in a public building. They made, in the words of Rep. John Lewis, good trouble.

I felt immense pride seeing disabled people practice civil disobedience and defend the right of all people to basic health coverage. In the back of my mind, I also felt a twinge of envy. I miss the camaraderie of being in a large group of disabled people fighting the system.  It was an immature case of Activism FOMO (fear of missing out).

As I questioned my feelings, I realized I still wrestle with mainstream notions of what it means to be an “activist” and the centering of non-disabled constructs of what it means to “show up” in rallies, town halls, marches, or protests. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I do prefer to stay home–I don’t need to worry about weather, transportation, attendants’ schedules, or the lack of accessible bathrooms in public spaces. This is why I am grateful for the privilege of having a fast broadband connection, laptop, and love of social media.  While it can feel lonely organizing from home, I have to remind myself that the activism I am involved with now is both complementary to and as legitimate as other traditional forms. Different modes, same goals.

For instance, last year Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang, and I created #CripTheVote, an online movement encouraging the political participation of people with disabilities. The three of us use Twitter to keep the movement going and with our hashtag we’ve seen the disability community come together in powerful ways. Last year, Rooted in Rights gathered #CripTheVote stories from disability activists around the country.

#CripTheVote recently hosted a chat on the American Health Care Act and its impact on disabled people. Here’s a brief snapshot of the main themes from the online discussion:

Healthcare is more than just medical services for people with disabilities.

Block grants and other efforts to cut Medicaid will have disastrous repercussions for disabled people.

Healthcare is a right, not a luxury.

Attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act will unravel the decades of activism by the disability community.

People with disabilities are scared – for many good reasons.

Participants gave real-life examples of the importance of healthcare on their lives, ideas for improving policies and services for people with disabilities, and actions people can take to become politically engaged.

Looking ahead, I know that activism in all of its forms (e.g., letter writing, making phone calls, protesting, Twitter chats, storytelling) will be needed in order to mobilize and organize a coalition of diverse communities with common political goals and that each kind of activism has a unique purpose and power.

The next time I develop symptoms of Activism FOMO, I’m going to tell myself: “Do what you can, however you can. All efforts are valuable. And get over yourself!”


Alice Wong is a sociologist, research consultant, and disability activist based in San Francisco, CA. She is the Founder and Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project (DVP) and a co-partner of #CripTheVote, a nonpartisan online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people. You can find her on Twitter: @SFdirewolf.

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