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Beyond Ramps : Disability at the End of the Social Contract by Marta Russell
Mary Johnson: "The kind of analysis that virtually no one has done--to the
peril of everyone in this nation."
Marcus Raskin: "What Ralph Nader did for the consumer movement in his book
Unsafe at Any Speed, Marta Russell has accomplished in her riveting BEYOND
RAMPS. No one, left, right, or center, who reads this book about the role
of the 'disabled' and the 'terminally ill' and the way they are treated
will come away unchanged. Russell has centered our attitude in a historical
stream of thought, which will at first make people stunned and ashamed, and
then cause us hopefully to change the way we behave."
Alexander Cockburn: "Vividly written... goes to the heart of many matters,
starting with the profound desire of 'normal' people, many of them
supposedly broad-minded types squarely within the liberal tradition, to
reach for the sterilizing knife, or the medicine cabinet of Doctor
Kevorkian when confronted with an affront to their sense of the 'normal.'"
BOOK DESCRIPTION: A WARNING FROM AN UPPITY CRIP.
Marta Russell exposes the neoliberal drive to shrink social services with
the Reinventing Government mantra. "We are dangerously close to a Jerry
Lewis democracy where middlemen beggars and corporate CEOs getting huge
paychecks may replace entitlements with charity," reveals Russell in her
devastating analysis of the "reform" of the social safety net.
About the Author: Marta Russell is a writer/producer whose investigative
reporting earned her a 1994 Golden Mike Award for the best documentary from
the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California.
Disabled from birth, Russell began writing when her disability progressed
and she had to navigate the disability policy netherworld to survive. She
has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Los
Angeles Times, Z Magazine and the San Diego Union Tribune. She has a
seventeen-year-old daughter and lives in Los Angeles.
Excerpted from Beyond Ramps : Disability at the End of the Social Contract
by Marta Russell.
Copyright © 1998. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
Wisdom comes by disillusionment.-George Santayana
In one of his better moments, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The care of human
life and happiness, and not destruction, is the first and only legitimate
object of good government." That is the social contract a government has
with its people...in a democracy, with all the people. Yet anti-government
forces attacking "big bad government" would have us believe that government
is unworkable when it is vital, as the Constitution calls for, to "promote
the general welfare." Hypocritically, those same forces tolerate a "big"
government that perpetuates an ostentatious military-industrial complex and
a deep-pocket corporate welfare system of subsidies and tax loopholes, but
would have us believe that social programs that support "the care of human
life and happiness" are no longer "sustainable."
The social contract encompasses a wide arena. It includes hard-won popular
entitlements serving the entire citizenry like Social Security, Medicare,
and Medicaid, and it includes the promise of freedom from discrimination as
directed by our civil rights laws. It includes democratic gains made at the
voting booth and the right for labor to bargain with capital. But the
social contract, which has never been fully fleshed out (for example, we
lack universal health care in America), has only somewhat curbed the power
The immediate environs in which I find myself writing this book is one of
extreme corporate domination, where "the people" are conformed into
corporate identities: consumers, clients, target populations, or potential
consumers. Any significant difference between Republicans and Democrats is
certainly elusive. Former President Bush's New World Order is revealed to
be a McNew-World-Order while President Clinton proudly eats Big Macs in
public-a walking advertisement for it.
The spoken word rarely means what it says, so we live in a world in need of
constant decoding. Deciphering "kindler, gentler nation," one finds that in
practice "kinder, gentler" means leaner, meaner "tough love," where Social
Security offices in the Midwest beef up security forces in anticipation of
hostile reaction to welfare cuts, and lethal weapons are unabashedly our
number one profit-making export. "Devolution" translates into undoing our
national standards on welfare and health care; welfare "reform" means
undoing entitlements; "balancing the budget" means redistributing wealth
upwards, more corporate welfare, and tax cuts for the rich; "downsizing"
means massive firings, increased job insecurity, and record corporate
profits; and HMO "managed care" means managed-for-profit,
Not even the planet is free of the ill effects of current trends. No-vision
short-term business profiteers are stripping the earth of its finite
resources. The idea that we can have infinite growth on this finite planet
is preposterous, yet corporate plunder is still viewed as the right to live
the American dream; no one is immune from the consequences.
Most people are in deep economic pain in this country regardless of what
the business pages and Washington politicians say. That is the nonpolitical
truth. At the heart of the ills of our times is an economic oppression that
is not only pervasive, but planned. The austerity forces, intent on undoing
the social contract, are globalized; people are experiencing similar pain
all over the world. The power of global capital via the corporate state is
busily rolling back the rights of workers, and the right of citizens to
access the benefits of common government, and in the process threatens
democracy itself. Many more than those who recognize the faceless enemy are
Americans seem to have lost sight of the fact that policies are social
decisions and that these decisions can result in the de-valuation and even
loss of human life. I am often asked why I write so much about disability.
Other topics are far more "sellable"(that is certainly true). But the past
years have made it insidiously apparent that the plight of disabled people,
like canaries released into the coal mines to detect whether there was
enough oxygen in the air to survive, is a barometer for the "progress" or
lack of it in our over-capitalized civilization. Disability and disability
policy-past, present and future-is a tool for all to rate our present
Part One, The Nature of Oppression, explores how concepts of "normalcy" can
be used for social control, to demean and de-value. It covers the
extermination of "lives not worth living" in Nazi Germany, underscoring the
connection between capitalism and social Darwinism. In our brave-new-world
genetic future that maps "defects" and marks those carrying "bad" genes,
asks Chapter 4, who won't be tainted as "disabled"? Who is "safe" from
discrimination... or worse?
Part Two, The Mechanics of Oppression, details how social policies, which
are social decisions, underlie economic oppression. It exposes the vested
interests that have shaped social policy and the resulting institutional
bias. Since work, the ability to do it or not, is central to the
capitalist/labor paradigm, this section questions the wisdom of using work
as the measure of human worth. It analyzes the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) in the age of public relations politics: what the movement hoped
the ADA to do, what it may or may not be able to achieve in an era of
corporate downsizing, shrinking wages, and growing inequalities. In a broad
context, this section poses whether civil rights, alone, can create the
economic equality we seek.
Part Three, Ending the Social Contract, outlines the immediate threat where
whole categories of people are being severed from entitlements. It explores
the relationship between deficit reduction and paring disabled people from
the rolls ($720 million to Social Security designated for such purposes).
Chapter 12-the tie-it-all-together chapter-explains what Mother Teresa and
corporate America have in common. It unmasks the GOP "revolutionaries' "
real intent behind the "efficiency" rhetoric, by detailing the dangers of
devolving federal public programs to the states, busts the myth that
charity is a realistic substitute for entitlements, and proposes that
military and corporate welfare be cut instead of social services.
The last two chapters ask, what does excessive "free market" ideology bring
into our lives? What are the consequences when corporations control
government policies-not the people-and the economy is raised to highest
The danger is that all may fall victim to the austerity forces if we do not
recognize their existence and take direct action to stop them, as people in
France, Canada, Spain, Italy, and Belgium have organized in protest over
attempts to roll back the social contract in their countries. Collective
action is vital to obtaining individual security. I outline some guides for
social reorganization, but as we all know, any road map for change must be
backed up by solid support from people with whom we share the democracy.
The greatest challenge is organizing beyond our separate identities to
achieve worthy universal goals like full employment, universal health care,
and livable incomes.
During the French resistance to Hitler, Camus recognized the importance of
becoming neither victim nor executioner, and this is unequivocally the
challenge of our times, witnessed by genocide in Bosnia, the Middle East,
East Timor, to name a few-that we all may survive without becoming
oppressors or killers, that we may find the solutions that will arrest the
callous and inequitable current path. We the people, including people with
disabilities, must change the economic paradigms
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