[Marxism] Agents in our mutual liberation

Maxwell Clark maxclark84 at gmail.com
Fri Nov 20 12:36:02 MST 2009

The following letter of Wrigley-Field's concerning the "disability"
rights movement arrives as a most precious gift with regards to my
personal predicament (diagnosis of schizophrenia). I note for everyone
here that even the physically disabled (much less able bodied) can
harbor a certain prejudice against the mentally "disabled". I place
"disability" in scare quotes because I think the criteria of "ability"
here is essentially fitness for capitalist exploitation. Schizos were
likely once venerated as shamans in pre-class communities. For the
record, also allow me to admit that I once was apt to court the author
of the following letter, mainly as a strategy to secure future
privileges in the ISO. Shameful, even shameless ("pitiless") --
indeed. It was also a tendency which may have, during my psychotic
episodes especially, verged on harassment. My very great apologies for
this to Elizabeth. --Max Clark

p.s. She once thought I was a government agent. Ha. Whose's the
paranoid delusions again?


Agents in our mutual liberation
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field looks at the history of the disability rights
movement--and what it tells us about struggles for liberation.

November 20, 2009

I HAVE learned so much from SocialistWorker.org's ongoing discussion
of whether animal rights is a useful framework for challenging the
gratuitous cruelty created when nothing--not nature, companionship,
human lives nor human bodies--is socially valued except as a means of
creating profit.

Charles Feldman asks an excellent question about how disabled people
fit into the equation. I want to argue that the history of the
disability rights movement underscores the central point of Paul
D'Amato's original column: Self-determination, not charity, is the key
to liberation.

The disability rights movement's demands have echoed those of every
other civil rights struggle: an end to discrimination; economic
services that move legal rights off paper and into reality (just as
Martin Luther King, Jr., asked, "What does it profit a man to be able
to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money
to buy a hamburger and cup of coffee?" a disability activist might
ask, "What good is the right to employment if I can't access the
health care that would let me work?"); above all, an end to
paternalistic policies and a basic level of respect.

The modern disability rights movement grew out of the tremendous
social upheaval that began with the civil rights movement and the
movement against the Vietnam War, and grew into struggles for the
liberation of women, gays and lesbians, Chicanos, and American
Indians, and for environmental protections.

The apex of the disability struggle was a set of nationally
coordinated protests in 1973 demanding that the Department of Health,
Education, and Welfare (HEW) give teeth to newly passed civil rights
protections for disabled people. In San Francisco, this took the form
of a 25-day occupation of the HEW office, carried out by as many as
120 people.

Some of these protesters were literally risking their lives by
foregoing medical services to continue the sit-in--especially when HEW
tried to block personal care attendants from entering the building.
The demonstrators were ultimately successful, thanks in part to their
own creativity, and in part to material support they received from the
Black Panthers, labor unions, gay rights activists and businesses
pressured by activists to support the struggle.

The most inspiring part of this struggle to me, though, is the
solidarity that developed among the protesters. "Disability" is an
incredibly broad range of physical and social experiences, and before
the sit-in, most activists identified themselves primarily with others
sharing their particular disability.

During the sit-in, they discovered what was common in their
experiences--most importantly, their shared desire for a life of their
own choosing. This included physically disabled people overcoming
their own prejudices against the mentally disabled who participated in
the sit-in.

This solidarity reflected a process that I think has been central to
every single liberation struggle: expanding demands for justice as the
struggle itself teaches people that they, and others, deserve much
more than they had ever realized--and are capable of more, too. This
requires a fundamental self-awareness and sense of justice, for
oneself and others.

Humans can revolutionize our economic and social system so that
instead of corporate profit, a healthy respect for the natural world,
including the wide variety of human bodies, is a core value of
decision-making. But we can only succeed in this if we see one another
as equal agents in our mutual liberation, not a group to be pitied and
a group who should pity them. I think that is the essence of Paul's
argument about liberation, and it is essential.

If SocialistWorker.org readers want to know more about the politics of
disability, an excellent article from a Marxist perspective by Ravi
Malhotra was published in New Politics in 2001. A book-length history,
from a more mainstream perspective but deeply inspiring, is Joseph
Sharpiro's No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil
Rights Movement.

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