Feminist Drama and Human Rights at SXSWi

I’m hoping to make it to two panels today on my day pass: Dealing with Drama in Feminist Discourse, and Building Human Rights into your Social Site.

The human rights panel will be fantastic as it’s Danny, Jillian York, Rebecca Mackinnon, and Ebele Okobi-Harris talking about ways that companies can be aware of potential problems their users may have around the world. The panelists will likely be talking about Internet and social media use in recent political events in Libya, Iran, China, Tunisia, and Egypt, to show how important a web company’s infrastructure can be to political movements as well as to the protection of people’s individual safety and privacy.

No matter how narrow you think the use of your website or service will be, if it’s successful, it’ll be used in ways you’ll never expect – including life or death fights over human rights in foreign countries. The design of your sketchy PHP code might make the difference between a free press or a government clampdown, tortured dissidents or a bloodless coup. Twitter aids activists in Iran; Facebook helps the independent press in Ethiopia; World of Warcraft is policed for sedition in China. What is happening on your site that you don’t know about? And how can you design it so you help the good guys?

The Feminist Internet Drama panel is run by Garland Grey from Tiger Beatdown and Rachel (RMJ) from Deeply Problematic.

Drama and conflict in online social justice is usually best minimized and carefully managed. This presentation, which will focus more on examination than instruction, is not just about how to check your privilege. It’s about when to call out, and how to avoid abusing others. It’s about how to respond, when to check out, and how to take care of yourself in a community that demands everything of you.

I have a soft spot for Internet drama, giant flame wars and flameouts, and any intense political discussion, but especially the discussions that happen in the feminist blogosphere. They’re political consciousness raising, documented in detail, and they affect people’s lives deeply. I wrote a book chapter on it in The WisCon Chronicles: Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction, to talk about feminism, safe spaces, trolling, ethical responsibilities, and responses to controversies within feminist communities, so I’m very interested to see what Garland, Rachel, and the others in the room have to say.

Feminism, Assange rape charges, free speech, and Wikileaks

Today’s arrest of Julian Assange on rape charges is being framed by many people as a conflict between feminism and free speech. I won’t link to them all, but here is a sample: Kirk Murphy from Firedoglake apparently thinks anyone gets to rape Known Feminists with impunity. That article made me especially angry.

I support Wikileaks and ALL the people who worked to create and maintain it, because it’s important political work. I’m very concerned that once Assange enters the court system he will not be treated fairly.

At the same time, I think it’s extremely important for anyone who’s been raped or sexually assaulted to report that crime and for perpetrators to be called to account for it. I would never advise someone to hold back from charging their rapist with a crime just because the rapist is in a position of importance.

I think we can see, though, that Assange is not being treated in proportion with the crime.

I agree with Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill Filipovic that the media story of the charges against Assange and much of the public discussion of them have been shoddy and sensationalist. I actually find myself agreeing with Jezebel bloggers . This excellent post by Leigh Honeywell sums up my feelings on sex and consent very well..

I’m fine with Assange going to trial. I just want him to be treated with justice and to face only what other people accused with rape would face.

Does that seem likely to you?

We need to be watchdogs on this case – yes, for what happens to Assange. Not because he faces rape charges. I don’t care what charges he is facing, actually. It could be murder, or a lot of parking tickets. He is in an especially vulnerable position as a free speech advocate that many governments including my government in the U.S. have openly said they want to destroy. They don’t want to destroy him because of rape charges, they want to destroy him because he is riding point as the PR contact of a collective effort to make secret government information public. The Wikileaks crew worked intelligently to publish information in as robust a way as they could imagine.

We need to call bullshit very strongly for what has already happened in the media to his accusers, who have had their identities outed and who are being attacked by shamers and rape apologists.

But as feminists we also need to defend, not rapists or men’s right to rape with impunity, but free speech and the laws and political climate that help it flourish. That is also an important part of feminism. It’s crucial. It’s THE MOST IMPORTANT part of feminism. We need free speech, the laws that protect it, and the tools that make public free speech possible, as women who have fought hard to have a public voice.

About Wikileaks itself, I understand why it hasn’t been more transparent. But I disagree with that decision.

As a feminist, I believe strongly in collective action. As a riot grrrl I got behind the idea that we should “Kill Rock Stars”. Not literally kill a rock star, duh. We need to kill the idea that we need rock stars, or Great Men, or figureheads, because important political action doesn’t happen because of a lone hero. It really doesn’t. Political solidarity and collective action, and collective statements, have always been a key part of feminist and womanist politics. Wikileaks and Assange have this to learn, I think. They should stand together. And we should stand behind them at the same time as we stand behind Assange’s accusers.

I need to be able to report rape to the “justice” system with some amount of trust. Can any of us say that that’s true? I haven’t found it to be true. Instead, reporting rape or sexual assault becomes simultaneously political fuel if the people in power want to use it that way, and a path to attack and discredit the rape survivor, which will happen no matter what.

Extradite all the rapists you can find, Interpol. Do it right now. Go for it. Great. Enforce the laws against rape. Please! Extradite some war criminals from the U.S. while you’re at it.

Meanwhile, here is an article by Assange: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

He was refused bail.

Continuing coverage is at The Guardian.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is agitating to push a bill through that will make what Wikileaks did illegal so that Assange can be extradited for THAT: the Espionage Act amendments.

Here’s a petition against that from DemandProgress.

Do you think the U.S. will succeed in extraditing Assange from the UK or from Sweden? What do you think will happen to him then? I think we can care about *that* whether he is a douchey rapist or not. Frankly, as a feminist, I would fight to the death to defend the basic human rights of my own rapists. As we all should.

ADAPT in Atlanta kicking ass, taking names

This weekend I went right from the Blogalicious conference in Atlanta to the end of a march and start of a rally that kicked off a week of activism by ADAPT.

Their goals are, free people from being incarcerated in nursing homes, and kept in there against their will. They back the Money Follows the Person program, which means a person’s benefits are under their control rather than under the control of doctors, social workers, and assisted living facilities (who are a powerful medical-industrial complex much like the prison-industrial complex: powerful lobbyists with a lot of money at stake.) Right now ADAPT also supports the Community Choice Act, a bill which you can see and follow directly with OpenCongress.org.

I hopped out of a taxi with two backpacks hanging off the back of my wheelchair, tired enough to cry but feeling jet setty, determined and super excited, as if going to the crip activist prom. As I rolled up an exhausting hill to the Martin Luther King historic site and rose garden. Hundreds and hundreds of disabled people and others were there. There were some songs and short speeches. There seemed to be three or four main organizer dudes, 70s looking older white guys. I gradually realized everyone was in groups based on the color of their tshirts.

I have not been involved on any level other than donating money to ADAPT and though I write about disability online a lot I don’t get to hang out with anyone really and I miss that enormously and need some solidarity. So I was so grateful just to be there for a while with everyone. I wanted to stay and support the goals of the organization to get government officials to change policies, get people out of forced institutional living, and embody our political power with direct action.

But I’m also going to frankly tell the story of my afternoon and my thoughts.

First, here is an ADAPT logo and a link to their donation page.

DONATE!!!

Follow NationalADAPT on Twitter
Follow Michigan ADAPT on Twitter

Here’s a short speech by Lois who says “Free our brothers and sisters, free our people.”

I enjoyed the small bits of chanting we did. How do you spell power? A-D-A-P-T! However I have been in enough rallies in life that I never want to yell “The People united will never be defeated” again. Did it anyway in the heat of the moment. But I draw the line at “Hey Hey Ho Ho.” A person has to have some boundaries. Hah!

Andrew Jones speaks about getting out of an institution with the MFP program which has now been denied funding. I missed videoing the second bit of his talk, which was fantastic (my camera ran out of batteries just then.)

Later that afternoon I went to shake Andrew’s hand and tell him I’d upload the video of part of his speech, and he raffishly explained to me that I was a rather attractive and curvaceous young lady. Thanks, Andrew, but LOL that was some quick work, how about making friends first, also, actually I am 40 and prideful of my mature charms and middle aged wisdom. You are certainly silver tongued though and should get on email. It would work for you.

Thank you ASL interpreters. Y’all worked so hard. And thanks ADAPT for structuring that constant side by side translation.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

So then, there was a sort of extra staged bit which I had mixed feelings about, keep in mind I am a total outsider to ADAPT so take it all with a grain of salt. Delores Bates and Kathy and Bodie came up to the front of the rally and did not speak but the main organizer guy told Delores’ story of being in an institution for “seizures” for the last 43 years. She just got out, I guess with ADAPT’s help, this September, to live in her own place. IT was her 57th birthday on the day of the rally and they presented her with a birthday cake and a giant card with lots of signatures. We all sang her Happy Birthday. It was her first birthday on the outside in 43 years.

So, okay, I cried like a baby, but I also was like “So, fucking give her a piece of her own cake then? Also, what she have to say about it if anything?” And felt it was a bit stagey and poster-childy. I talked with Delores a bit afterwards and asked her if I could take a picture, she smiled and nodded and I showed her the photos in my camera for a bit. I wished she could talk with me. Thank you Delores for contributing your story and your birthday moment to ADAPT and all of us in the crowd. Congratulations on getting out.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

I wondered what happened next and I imagined again her having email and showing her Eva’s The Deal with Disability blog entries so she could totally crack up laughing. And that she could have a Facebook page and people could donate directly to her if they wanted and if they cried while singing her Happy Birthday rather than it being sort of showcase for ADAPT, though I also felt like ADAPT probably does right by her and she might be happy to donate that publicity about her life for the good of others. Basically I had my little social media empowerment fantasies and started making real life plots to go to nursing homes in my area and implement my idea to get them online with wireless and take it from there. More about this later on Hack Ability.

Here are some scenes of the people and the crowd.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

I saw my friend Bethany and was very excited! We were on a panel together at the Sex:Tech conference. Then wandering around for a while I introduced myself to some women named Naomi and Joanne. They were very persuasive trying to get me to stay. I thought about calling work and begging for time off without pay, and trying to find child care, and seeing if I could change my plane ticket instead of leaving that night. Would it be possible? I considered just “accidentally” missing my plane and finding a place to stay overnight. But I’d have to accomplish all that in something like 2 hours and I didn’t want to let my employers down or my family. If only I had planned to stay.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

Then people took off up the big ramp out of the park and up another hill to Park Manor nursing home, right next to the Rose Garden. I asked a guy to hold my hand and pull me up the hill. (Thanks!) We all marched and rolled past and waved. The Older People for Community Choice stayed outside the windows with a big banner, waving, till the end of the parade.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

Now here is the “Stay on the Sidewalk” bit, where I rant at length!

As I rolled down hill at the tail end of the march I made friends with a guy named Tali and soon we were deep in discussion about disability rights politics. Over the next few blocks we kept getting yelled at to get into single file. The march went on and on and Tali started to give me a lift – I hung onto the side of his power chair so he could pull me (and my giant backpack) up the hills (which no one who isn’t in a manual chair would even think of as “hills”). We were all in the middle of the right lane of the road. Basically I don’t react well to senseless orders and I’m proud of my capability to land in a strange city and get around. Also, i know how to cross the street but at every intersection another person usually one on 2 legs was screaming at me through a megaphone to keep up. This one older lady behind us in a power chair was very, very upset that Tali and I were not following the rules. I was half a lane away from the part of the street that was open to traffic and at no time was in any danger. What I think happened was a vicious cycle of this lady’s instant judgement of me as a spoiled bratty child of privilege who needed to be controlled. And this kicked in all her officiousness, which in turn pushed my buttons big time so I refused to do what she said. As disabled people (or people in general) we are not served well by doing what we’re told without using our own judgement. By the end of the march I was not only so mad I could spit, I was ready to go get hit by a car just out of spite. If not rolling up huge, horrible hills, being yelled at every inch while I was deep in talk with Tali, I would have liked to have a good heart to heart talk with that lady about authority, privilege, hierarchies, rules, race, disability, internalized oppression, and so on, and I mean that sincerely. Instead I lost my temper and just kept yelling No, leave me alone. The worst moment was when she decided I was too far back at the end of the line of the parade and she started yelling for someone to come and push me. “We’ve got a manual wheelchair here who needs a pusher” And that sent me over the edge of rage to be referred to like that. I also fight very hard to be independent in big and small ways. So it pisses me off that someone else thinks they get to decide when I need “help” which in this case would not have been help. Tali and I were cussing everyone out loudly and yelling No sorry don’t need help we’re anarchists. I also had some commentary from walking organizers in orange shirts about “how well I was doing”… thanks but shut up, that was a patronizing and unnecessary thing to say.

The thing is, i’ve been an activist and organizer for years and I know how to organize a march or parade, I know you have to get permits for it and work with the city and the police, I know how to block traffic as safely as possible, and I’ve been to many rallies where there are guys barking orders through megaphones at people who don’t need to be ordered around at that moment, because they panic a little at being responsible and in a position of authority, and so they have to go around displaying it, because they’re worried and need the feedback and reassurance that their authority is *working*. I would like to tell those guys to take a chill pill. Unless it is an actual crisis situation, you are not helping, you are just training people not to think for themselves, and causing a reaction of confusion and resentment. And in an actual crisis situation, it may very well NOT BE YOU with the megaphone and orange vest who keeps a cool head and exhibits leadership. To be overly generous, there is the opposite kind of asshole in rallies with a black bandana who is just there to fuck shit up and set a newspaper vending machine on fire and they can also kiss my ass. And I’m not that kind of asshole, i’m the *journalist kind of asshole* and also one of those rogue computer people. In any situation I look to whoever is sane and making sense and being effective. If the most sensible person there is me, then I lead. In a situation where I have information that shows that it is best for another person to lead and coordinate and there are rules that make sense, then it is best for me to go with that. That, for people fighting for “empowerment” should not be hard to understand.

Here’s how I felt about it at the time and Tali too….

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

LOL!!!

Tali especially since he was put into a different “color group” as Bethany who he had specifically come there to meet as his one friend at the march and then a bunch of organizers wouldn’t “let” him sit with her since he had the wrong color tshirt on or something. Um. !!?? What possible purpose could this serve. We were told over and over again that people were trying to PROTECT US. What’s wrong with that statement should be a bit obvious.

Now if it is directly going to contribute to saving someone’s live or helping us not be harmed in some way I can shut up about my personal dislike of orders and my special snowflake self and rights, and be dutiful for common good, but this was NOT THAT MOMENT.

Near the end of the march back I ran into my blog friend PhilosopherCrip,

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

I adore him!

We spoke super briefly and he sized up my state of mind and I think, in a post later, actually partly answered it by explaining ADAPT’s organizational philosophy and how it goes into military organization mode during Actions.

Now, when folks refer to ADAPT as the “militant” wing of the disability rights movement, they are more accurate than they may realize.  To some degree, ADAPT’s organizational structure is a representative democracy as actions are being deliberated and planned.  However, when the wheelchair tire rubber meets the road, we turn into a highly authoritarian, quasi-militaristic structure, complete with chain of command and an expectation to follow orders exactly.  This has all been a matter of reflection for me (particularly how trust relationships operate within a direct action activism structure), some of which will hopefully find its way into a future blog entry. 

I appreciate that explanation very much and it goes a fairly long way to quench my irritation. However I have a meta irritation which is that a lot of the people at the rally might not have the luxury of being irritated or going off like I could to do their own thing. There was not good information passed out to people. A lot of people don’t have independent means as far as money. The pace of activities was brutally fast. I was increaasingly conscious of my own extreme privilege relative to others there. I could at any point just call a taxi and go wherever I damn pleased. So I could criticize the leadership all I wanted. That is not a good feeling, it’s not right or fair, and to me is a sign something is not right in a power structure. I was like, damn, I’m even more happy for my job because it means i’m not subject to being grateful to these officious do gooders to boss me around while they’re “helping me” “for my own protection”.

When I’m getting arrested or facing some pepper spray then I appreciate organization but being “protected” from the simple act of wheeling down the street next to my friend … no thanks.

As an amateur leader myself in some situations I would advise other “organizers” to cope with loose cannons like me by valuing their capabilities and not trying too hard to rule over them in the small stuff. It backfires. Just let them do their thing and then when the time is ripe, co-opt them. (LOL AGAIN) (I say this mostly to make Joe/PhilosopherCrip crack up laughing)

And as I bitched about this to my friends a lot of them said “Yeah, that’s why I don’t really hang with ADAPT, that stuff turns me off.”

That is too bad and it’s feedback that should not be dismissed.

On another level of meta I would question whether the organization has a fair amount of military veterans in it who perpetuate their drill sergeant style and somewhat out of date organizational tactics. We should be empowering each other with information and two way access to public discourse in ALL WAYS so that we can act collectively in a swarm-like fashion. What y’all need is flash mobs, not paramilitary squads and cells.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

I really do respect all that ADAPT has achieved and does!!!!

But check what you’re doing and listen up. Many aspects of the rally and march reminded me of my dealings in the Houston Astrodome during Katrina with the Red Cross officials vs. the rogue anarchist computer people. And I want to tell you that what on some level what got people the hell out of that refugee camp was information and connectivity: phones and email, myspace and facebook and search engines and the web. Not Professional Organizers and charity and hierarchical leadership that hugs information and power tight to its chest. A flow of information means that people can make decisions and act together. You all need some wing of your organization that works to those ends too.

Anyway, at the hotel, I actually used my privilege to take our asses to the hotel bar and have a much needed beer and sandwich in the 20 minutes before I had to catch a taxi and plane out of town. The bar waitress was SO nice and saw I was looking for a power outlet to plug in my laptop, and she brought me my sandwich to go so I could eat some of it and take the rest. She was completely unfazed by our wheelchairs. Omni Hotel, you rock. Bethany and Sara and Tali it was the highlight of my trip to get to hang out with you.

ADAPT rally and march in Atlanta, Sunday

So I flew off literally sobbing with my desire to stay there and be in the week’s actions despite my rant about power structures and being yelled at, so ready to go for it.

I resolved to donate my week’s salary and to exhort other people all week to donate to the cause either by directly helping someone out or donating to ADAPT to support their actions and organization.

Would anyone out there like to match my donation? Email me, lizhenry@gmail.com, or comment here.

The next day I woke up at 5am and began following what was happening in Atlanta. All day throughout work I could not stop thinking of all of y’all in Atlanta, cheering you on over Twitter, I worked to post and tag all my photos and videos as fast as possible as the only contribution I could make remotely.

What you all achieved and are doing today is so beautiful. Congratulations on getting into the Governor’s office, HUD and HHS and making top officials agree to meet right then and there and begin negotiations. So smart and so effective. You got a response and got the politicians to listen and take our power seriously. YEAH. (And direct action and the threat of an endless sit in or hundreds of us dragged out in handcuffs, ie, PR disaster, IS WHAT IT TAKES. RIGHT ON.) Good job with the talk of timelines and scheduling a series of committee meetings. Please, report on this in as much detail as you can on the net. And to report on it ASAP so we know what’s going down. A lot of us are watching and putting our trust in you right now to represent our interests.

Thanks for listening. Also, thanks to Nick Dupree for letting me know ab
out the rally and actions in the first place (last week on his blog). Now, anyone who read this who can afford it go and donate. Consider trying to get your employers or family or friends to donate as well. And, go read up on the other posts in Nick Dupree’s ADAPT Blogswarm !

A dose of morning rage

This morning on my way to work at the busy intersection near my house, I passed some firefighters holding out boots to collect spare change for “Jerry’s Kids”. How much do I hate this? Do these people have the faintest clue how hideous their actions are, how dehumanizing, how much they set back human rights and disability activism?

My blood boils and I wanted to stop the car, get out and scream at them. Their good intentions are no excuse for their ignorance.

Sorry but I have no patience to suffer these fools or Christopher Reeve’s whole thing.

Anyone in need of some education on thse points can go read

* Jerry Lewis, Oscar-sanctioned “Humanitarian”. The brilliant journalist and blogger Laura Hershey tells it!

* Jesus Christ, We’re Screwed – Bad Cripple’s take on Josie Byzek’s take on Obama’s speech to disability activists

* Ragged Edge’s explanation of some of the background of activism against the Jerry Lewis Telethon and its mentality

* Jerry Lewis vs Jerry’s Kids – infamous “living waterbed” statement

* Bigotry towards people with disabilities

If it’s pity we’ll get some money. I’m just giving you the facts. Pity … if you don’t want to be pitied for being a cripple in a wheelchair, don’t come out of the house.

I could go on, and on…

If you want to support people with disabilities how about keep your spare change or your Telethon donations in your pocket. Instead go support what people with disabilities actually say they want and need to have an independent life.

Like the Community Choice Act!

Which I wish the Obama administration would talk about a bit more. I agree with Bad Cripple here:

What did I get out of Obama’s speech?Obama wants to cure crippled people, hence he talks about Reeve and better medical care. At no point is any mention made that most people with a disability are uninsured and cannot afford health care. When obstacles are encountered in the post ADA land of nirvana the super cripple will overcome and persevere. How does he know this? Obama’s father-in-law woke up early and made sure he had time to button his shirt and still get to work on time. He even struggled to walk up the steps of his home with two canes. Some how I think this was the least of his problems. Obama’s words were not inspiring stuff but damaging stereotype. As Obama spoke I wondered what happened to his support for the Community Choice Act? This surely would have helped his father-in-law. No mention of this legislation was made, legislation he now supports in theory but it is off the table when talking about health care reform. Obama did not say a word, not one, about the current rate of unemployment among people with a disability. When the ADA was passed 19 years ago the unemployment rate was 70%, today it is 66% Surely we can do better in almost two decades.

If you need any more “educating” go read Nick Dupree’s blog and also bookmark Blogging Against Disablism Day from this year or past years and read them every once in a while, I promise your perspective will change.

And, a personal Fuck You from me to Jerry Lewis.