This post was written by recent graduate, Kevin Jackson. He is one of the founders of the Toronto Disability Pride March.
Just what is a Disability Pride March?
The Toronto Disability Pride March means different things to different people, so, there really is no wrong answer to this question… but when contemplating what it is, we have a great deal of words passed down to us from past generations of activists and academics who’ve come before us. For example, contemporary activist Mia Mingus (2010) describes disability pride in terms of Disability Justice when she says:
“We are trying to understand how we can build organizing and community spaces that are mixed-ability, cultivation solidarity between people with different disabilities. We are working to move together, as disabled people, through a world that wants to divide us and keep us separate”.
For me, this is the core of what the Toronto Disability Pride March is all about…yet, my fellow organizers may disagree with me, and that’s just fine. We all try to be open to each other’s ideas and ways of expressing their identities…although this is something that I still tend to struggle with, but my fellow organizers tolerate and support me.
But in terms of my own disability identity as a Mad Activist, I just have a few words which may help us be more welcoming:
First, Mad activists need to be honest with themselves: …It’s no surprise for people of colour that the interests of the contemporary Mad movement are fairly specific… I, as many other Mad activists and scholars, have begun to feel a growing sense of disidentification with the current, predominantly white, ableist set of Mad discourses and politics. This is a major problem for the movement, and I believe that Mad people’s struggles will only marginally improve if we continue to believe that we are a tightly grouped sphere of Mad activists, ignorantly existing within a constellation of Mad theory and discourse.
For that reason, as well as many others, I felt that expanding my own frame of politics was the key to advancing the goals of Mad people of colour and thus the disability rights movement, which of course INCLUDES the Mad Movement. I joined the Toronto Disability Pride March organizing committee in 2011, and I found that this form of cross-disability activism completed a part of me that was missing from my own Mad activism.
This was a surprise to me, but other Mad activists and academics such as Judi Chamberlin, Don Weitz, Kathryn Church, and others, have for a many years advocated cross-disability coalitions and working relationships (Weitz, 2012; Church, 2013, personal communication). A contemporary example of this type of cross-disability solidarity movement is going on:
The Toronto Disability Pride March, is the first cross-disability solidarity and coalition March held in Toronto. The TDPM was born out of the Occupy Movement, and strives bring together people who have experienced physical, mental, and all other social oppressions.
Now let’s go back to the question about just what the Toronto Disability Pride is:
The TDPM is very much about having pride in whom you are as a disabled person, but underpinning that platform, the Toronto Disability Pride March is also about recognizing the need for disabled people to form ongoing solidarity and disability coalitions in order to politically reorganize ourselves to fight state neo-liberalism.
Many oppressed groups “are now beginning to realize that in order to create real change, we have to resist the temptation to work exclusively within the very systems that oppressed us** in the first place.” **Point to Queens Park**.
So it’s fairly obvious that there is an adversary that we need to struggle against, BUT that adversary must not be other disabled people who have likewise not only been oppressed, but further disabled by the state.
I would like to conclude with a powerful quote from Edward L. Hooper (1985):
“Alone each of us will end up trapped…accepting a lesser existence …that is why it’s critical that we reach more and more disabled people. Within our community, the disabled community, we can console, complain to, empathize with and care for one another.
Then, maybe we can (metaphorically) look back into society’s eyes and say: “See, it’s YOU who need help, not us. We will be patient but stern, repetitious in our discontent, angered at your indifference, relentless in our purpose. And in time, with OUR guidance, you may learn…
It is easy to succumb to futility when your ideas are consistently dismissed as “gibberish”…[but] …pause …There are many of us who DO understand…who are of common purpose: THEY ARE THE DISABLED COMMUNITY!
Society has shuffled us around, not trying to understand us, not knowing exactly whom, or what, they’re shuffling. If we don’t vigorously acknowledge disability to ourselves and forge The Disabled Community, WE WILL NEVER BE ACKNOWLEDGED!
Disabled people pose much less of a threat to the authoritarian, conservative Harper government if we continue to work as activists in isolation…but if we can manage to re-organize ourselves as a cohesive group of disability rights activists, with each other’s interests as the primary goal, we may become a social and political powerhouse, able to effect positive and substantive change for ALL disabled people, as well as for other oppressed groups.
Edward L. Hooper (1985). Seeking the disabled community. In The ragged edge: The disability experience from the pages of the first fifteen years of the disability rag. (1994). B. Shaw (Ed.), pp. 1-10.
Mingus, M. (2010). Changing the framework: Disability justice: How our communities can move beyond access to wholeness. Retrieved April 7, 2013: http://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/changing-the-framework-disability-justice/
Weitz, D. (2012). Rise up/fight back. Ebook.