A few friends and I recently went to Memphis to see each other. None of us lived there but it was sort of a half-way point between states and looked promising. On the first day, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum. It was interesting…. actually more of an I-Love-Dr.-King museum where people could walk in (it’s not very accessible for chair-users), poke around a bit, and go “Thank goodness that’s over with. Glad we got our equality now!”
It really got me thinking about how much our society (here in the U.S.) promotes a sense of individuality and why this can be bad. We constantly want to put a person forward and say “this is our hero! Be like them!” but really power and change come from collectively organizing. Yes, one person can perhaps do something to instigate that organizing but even then it is not that person doing the work or creating the thoughts, it is millions of moments and people that support that person and make them who they are. A friend pointed out how the story of Rosa Parks is twisted to create heroes instead of show the force of collective organizing. Rosa wasn’t the first one to sit down in a white only section of a bus. Rosa wasn’t some random person. She was an activist who had been involved with the movement for a decade. We want to make Rosa a hero so much that we forget the other people involved and how communities really work. This can be said for a lot of other movements as well.
I think this is why the idea of saying disability culture exists is actually so militant — it flies in the face of individualism. Disability Culture does recognize difference but it also says disabled people share a bond, an experience, a combined potential. By focusing on disability culture or the community, we are striving to do what is best for each other collectively instead of saying that one person alone created change. When you have oppressed people who have been told they can do nothing and are worth nothing, the message of individual power can be extremely radical for that person. However, what happens next if they don’t hear the second message— that we need each other, as a part of our personal sustainability but also to be the very definition of a community? What happens if people think Rosa Parks or Dr. King is the cause for our voting rights, instead of hundreds of years of revolting and organizing and being a community? What happens if all our introductions to the community for young people focus on their individual potential (which they have and need to know) and do not emphasize the community or movement? How can a group of individuals who only want to be individuals even be a community? Will we move forward?