i’m really really disappointed. and hurt. and feeling betrayed. i’m realizing that sitting in the bathroom of this coffeeshop crying is not productive and know i can’t get back to writing my paper (that’s due in a hour) until i write this letter.
over the last year, one of our own, micah fialka- feldman, began to fight his university so that he could live on campus. the school accepted his money, gave him a move-in date, and then changed their minds because of an old housing policy that was created before people with cognitive disabilities were allowed to attend through the OPTIONS program. now they are saying they do not have enough space. as you know, students and activists have strongly voiced their support for micah.
however, many of you have not. in fact, some of you have come out against micah. now i understand disagreeing if it is because you feel that the university is justified in their policy. we can just call that a difference of perspective and understand that while we enjoy bipartisanship, disagreement is a part that comes with it. living in north carolina where the disability community can be surprisingly republican, i understand that we need each other to advance our people.
what i do not agree with, and what i am strongly offended by, is when you use ableist rhetoric and take up an assimilationist politic. we, young folk in the disability rights movement, are called the ada generation because we grew up with rights older disabled people fought for. we, for the most part or at least a higher proportion, were allowed in schools and in public. many of us who are labelled as ada generation have also been given opportunities, like congressional internships, activist training, mentorship, and access to youth leadership development programs, to grow within the movement. what we do with these opportunities is going to define the future of our movement and community.
i think every young leader in the movement should read the INCITE! anthology, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. the book speaks a lot about the professionalization of movements and what happens when the focus is shifted away from community. the conversations become about leadership skills and how to get business cards, not about ableism and what we need to do to mobilize. disability becomes a 9-5 career.
i feel like that is what is happening with micah. we are forgetting our community. instead of asking why shouldn’t he be allowed to live on campus, you instead ask “why can’t he live off campus like i had to?” and use words like “pulling heartstrings,” “asking for handouts,” “bending the rules” and “using his disability”. you then say “now… if X experience i had was happening to micah, then of course i would be outraged!” really? are we only saying we share support if we’ve experienced what they’ve experienced? this doesn’t sound good for cross-disability organizing. and have we really adopted tools and tactics that have been used against us instead of extending solidarity to micah?
it’s so disgusting. i know this is not new— that the disability rights movement functions with people from all backgrounds contributing different things—but this ada generation scares me because we say we speak for young disabled people everywhere while simultaneously only caring about our careers. we are working from a network model instead of a community model without recognizing what both models offer (and constrict).
as leader of an organization that has bred many of us, i know i must sound like a contradiction. i think there are many cards stacked against us and we do need networks, mentorship and development opportunities to advance our community. i just hope that we can do these things, and grow into ourselves, without hurting our community. our people. folks like my friend and fellow activist, micah.
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