Mapping our Paths Towards Liberation (video and transcript)
Disability Justice and Racial Equity Forum
Video and CART transcript
>> Emily: All right. Let’s get started. Welcome and thank you for joining us for Mapping Our Paths Towards Liberation. The final of four events in our forum. This is Emily Blum speaking and I’m the Executive Director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. My pronouns are she and her and for those blind or low vision is that I’m a white woman with brown wavy hair, glasses, a pink top and black cardigan. I’m in my home office. We sent out a guide on accessing key accessibility features in zoom and we have both cart and asl interpreters and spanish live interpretation available. If you have any challenges accessing these features, please connect with us via the chat box. My colleagues will be monitoring and responding so please keep the chat box clear, except for technical issues. Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon, including so many Advancing Leadership members and those who donated to support the accessibility of this program and series. For those who may be unfamiliar with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, we are a network of positive disruptors, all people with disabilities, including myself, who are using our power to create an equitable and inclusive society, and we believe our experiences, ideas, and leadership as people with disabilities are vital to achieving justice. Today’s event and our forum, which is a four-part series centering in-depth and action-oriented conversations on the intersections of racial equity and disability justice is presented with generous support from the Disabilities Fund at the Chicago Community Trust, Macarthur Foundation, Grant Victoria Foundation, Polk Brothers Foundation, CDC, and Crossroads Fund. Thank you to all of our sponsors and all of who donated to support this forum. Engage with us on social media using #DisabilityPowerInfluence and #DisabilityJusticeForum. First, we’re thrilled to be joined by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Center for American Progress Rebecca Cokley, who will be reflecting on making systemic change at the national level. Then we will have national disability and racial justice advocates Lydia X.Z. Brown, Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, and Danyelle Solomon in conversation with Candace Coleman who will talk about how current policy can be shaped to advance the rights and voices of those who are most impacted. And, finally, in lieu of breakout conversations, we are asking all of you to take the final minutes of your time with us today to help us plan our future work. We will be sending you a quick survey where we hope you reflect on this session and any other sessions you may have attended, as well as identifying key priority areas of focus moving forward. I promise the survey is quick, but it’s so important that we get your feedback. Andraéa Lavant will be coming on to take you through the survey later in the program. But, for now, please join me in welcoming Congresswoman Pressley and Rebecca Cokley.
>> Rebecca: Hi. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you today. My name is Rebecca Cokley. I am a caucasian little person with red hair. I’m wearing a blue and black top. I’m sitting in front of a brown dresser which is not my normal zoom space because my children have kicked me out of my zoom space. So I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom. And with me is the incredible Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley who serves the massachusetts 7th district in congress. Thank you so much for joining us today.
>> Ayanna: Great to be with you. I’ve been looking forward to this and, you know, I’m grateful to have some time with you off of twitter. So, good to be with you. And my name is, my name is Ayanna Pressley and I am a black, bald woman wearing a black turtleneck, my favorite thing in the world, and hoop earrings and behind me is a picture of Shirley Chisholm, who is a hero of mine. Uh-oh, frozen.
>> Rebecca: I was thinking about this last night when I was preparing for this. And I was thinking back to January 17th, 2020. And my staff and I were sitting in the lobby of your office when we watched this buzz build and we watched your staff people move from desk to desk and say, did she release it? Is it out there? And my staff and I kind of looked at each other and were like what? What are they talking about? And it turned out that that was the day that you posted a video on the root and disclosed living with alopecia for the first time. And I’m totally not gonna lie, I completely believe it was the universe meaning for us to be sitting in the lobby of your office the day that that video dropped at that moment. And it was so powerful. It was so important. And I literally looked at my staff, who are Black disabled women, tear up with the knowledge of what you had just done and how courageous that was, how important it was. Can you walk us through how that felt for you?
>> Ayanna: Sure. And, Rebecca, let me know if at any moment, I’ll look in the chat, if you can’t hear me, you were breaking up a little bit on your audio there.
>> Rebecca: Okay.
>> Ayanna: Yeah. You know, first, um, actually, I’d like to first ask if I can have permission to call you Cokley, because—
>> Rebecca: Yes.
>> Ayanna: —Because we are besties, in my mind, okay, and so I know those that are closest to you call you Cokley. So thank you for saying that. And I have such deep respect, you know, for you and the work that you do and your contributions to the movement. And I thank you for bringing up my alopecia reveal. I want to thank the disability community for the embrace that I received immediately upon that alopecia reveal. But that was a very challenging time. You know, there are three forms of alopecia. This is an autoimmune disease that affects almost seven million Americans, men, women and children. Disproportionately women of color. We’re not sure why that is. That’s why I’ve been fighting for the funding for the research to better understand that. But I have alopecia totalis or universalis so that means, you know, I lost ostensibly in a five-week period all the hair on my head, my face. I lost all my hair. And it was in the midst of our heading into impeachment proceedings, in fact, I went completely bald. There are some that think I shave my head. I don’t. It just came out like this. So I went completely bald on impeachment eve, which was actually my mother’s— what would have been my mother’s 73rd birthday, and I’m an only child and was her caregiver in her cancer battle. And so you know, I’m grateful that in that moment when I saw myself bald for the first time I just felt peace and a sense of just grace. And I think that came from the fact that it was my mother’s birthday. But I can’t pretend it was not traumatic and the next day I had to go on to the house floor in a wig that had been hurriedly customized for me. And I felt great—very heavy— I felt great shame. But I also knew I needed to go to that house floor and take up space in this moment as we were voting on articles of impeachment. I had a lot to say about that, and, you know, basically, I did the reveal because for me I felt I could not continue to lead from the most authentic place without being transparent about that. And I think that, you know, I’m here not only to occupy space but to create it, and I hope that I did do that. And I’m still in my journey. I’m still adjusting to the stares, the rude questions, the unsolicited medical advice when people know nothing about my condition. Um, and so I’m still finding my way. But, ultimately, what I want for myself, what I want for all of us, is to center our agency and to fight to build a more just and equitable world that sees us fully, does not marginalize, silo, or compartmentalize us, that does not criminalize us, but that sees our humanity.
>> Rebecca: I just—the amount of love I have for what you just said, and i— it’s so powerful. And hearing how our community, I mean, I was getting text messages while we were sitting in the lobby from people that were like did you see Ayanna Pressley’s video? And I was like I gotta believe it, we’re literally sitting in the lobby right now. And it has allowed so many people in our community to see themselves reflected in congress for the first time in a way that is so important, so powerful. And I think you’ve really taken a charge in connecting race and gender and disability and other marginalizations in this work. I was thinking about the letter that you and dr. Subini Ancy Annamma and Vilissa Thompson wrote around the grace case in michigan as an example of that. How do the various oppressions show up given the public role that you sit in? And do you feel like it’s changed or it’s been different in the last year?
>> Ayanna: Well, I will say that the Black Lives Matter movement, I think, has helped us to evolve in the public discourse and in our movement-building to be intentionally much more— that’s my experience— but much more inclusive in our movement-building, much more intentional in our in our verbage and our activism in just affirming that our destinies are tied and also in that movement elevating how the intersect of race and gender and disability is marginalized and is also criminalized. And so that’s why it is important that we affirm that Black disabled lives matter. That in my work to end the push-out crisis that is happening in our schools where Black and brown girls and students with disabilities are disproportionately being disciplined, suspended, expelled, again, people are living we live at the intersect of these issues, and I think for a long time, elected officials have seen communities in a silo. And so, you know, they’ll come to the immigrant community, particularly the latino, hispanic and latino community, and they’ll say, well, I’m for immigration reform and that’s supposed to speak to everything and they’ll come to the LGBTQ+ community and they’ll say, well, I’m for marriage equality and they’ll come to women and they’ll say I support choice. And they’ll come to Black folks and— and only talk about mass incarceration, you know. None of us live in these and that’s why it’s been so easy for politicians and policymakers to sort of be left off the hook, you know. They haven’t really had to be accountable because they have single-issue communities and constituencies. And that has resulted, I think, in pandering and in policies that do not see the totality of who we are. And so I think our movement has become more intersectional. And we have to continue to be intentional in that way. And now I want our policies to be intersectional, you know, so we don’t live in big check boxes. We live in intersectionality, we live in nuance, we live in complexity. And so in the world I’m working and fighting every day to just build a world that is more just. And I think a critical part of that work is naming our pain, speaking plainly about these inequities and these disparities and we can’t address racial justice until we name it, understand it and believe that the lived experiences of Black and brown folks matter and we can’t move towards a vision of disability justice, what it’s like for many in the community to face marriage discrimination, housing discrimination, to be dehumanized by structural policies. So when I say policy is my love language, I mean that. Because hurt and harm has been legislated. And it was not naturally occurring. And so if hurt and harm can be legislated, I do believe that equity and justice must also be. And I recently introduced with Katie Porter a bill that makes resources available to municipalities and states to send mental health care professionals to respond to folks in crisis in lieu of sending police and that policy came directly from advocates who understand that a disproportionate number of Black and brown people are murdered by police, who have disabilities. So I really seek to do this work in partnership. I see the community and those most impacted and closest to the pain as my architects in developing policy, and it’s my commitment to develop policy that is intersectional.
>> Rebecca: I joke that the disability community had two big wins this year, gaining you and gaining Congresswoman porter when she started talking about how she still works with her speech therapist on a regular basis. I was like, yes, we have— this is the ADA generation of congress.
>> Ayanna: That’s, that’s— I admire you immensely. When you first tweeted that, I felt so legitimized that you would say such a thing because you have been a teacher for me and so many others. You know, in this movement, so that means so much coming from you. And—really, we all know the power of visibility and representation. You know, everyone wants to feel that someone sees them, sees their pain, names it, and then develops solutions to address it.
>> Rebecca: You know, and to me, like, I find myself thinking about somebody that you and I both talk about frequently when it comes to disability policy, which is congressman major owens, and how he would be so proud to see both you and representative porter carrying on his work in the house. He would probably say that, like, look at these badass women that are just killing it.
>> Ayanna: I hope so.
>> Rebecca: Then he’d probably make fun of me again for marrying a howard grad instead of a morehouse grad and it would just evolve from there.
>> Ayanna: Let me tell you something, that rivalry runs deep, and we knew the second that senator harris was the vice presidential nominee, that those bisons were never going to be quiet. [laughter]
>> Ayanna: So we were going to be hearing HU every day.
>> Rebecca: But anyway, my husband has the 7-year-old running around rapping hu nonstop in the house. You know what I think, we know that historically Black colleges are a base of resistance for the community. They are a place that develops the next generation of leaders, just like we saw with crip camp and other places, places that were designed to be safe spaces for communities as a result of historic segregation, are places where the next generation of leaders always come from. What advice do you have for the next generation that are coming of age today at the nexus of a pandemic, at the nexus of a recession? I want to acknowledge the murder of walter wallace today in philadelphia and at this time where we’ve seen so many of our Black and brown siblings with disabilities shot down by law enforcement. As this generation moves into leadership, what advice do you have for them?
>> Ayanna: You know, honestly, I’m taking my cues from this generation. I love the urgency with which they move. I love that they are comfortable with being disruptive, I love that they are comfortable with making people uncomfortable. So I’m taking many of my cues from them because, honestly, if you don’t have a willingness to make people uncomfortable, to disrupt the status quo, to innovate, to be malleable, according to what the moment requires, we will not realize progress. But I think the advice that I would give this generation of leaders is in the midst of doing the work of the resistance and there is a lot of that to be done, especially with the devastating confirmation of “injustice” Barrett yesterday, who is a direct threat to our communities, to Black and brown folks, to workers rights, to the LGBTQ community, to the disability community, you know, our courts are going to be corrupted. And then to add insult to injury, while we’ve been drinking from this fire hose of the last four years, to then wake up to the murder of walter wallace, um, you know, I dream a world where you’re not criminalized for the color of your skin, um, for a mental health crisis, for a disability, and the thing is we don’t have to just dream that world. We can make it so. But what I want to say to the next generation of leaders is… while you are in the resistance, while we are holding space for our righteous rage, while we are holding space for our radical and bold solutions, also hold space for your radical joy and healing. I think in doing the work of mildly of movement-building, of being activists we are always sort of putting on armor and what we are not intentional enough about is informing our joy. And I want to say this. I used to say that joy is an act of resistance, and it is because, you know and that’s not my own phrase, right, I’m quoting someone but I used it a lot because, um, I think that, especially the last four years, these folks have been coming for our civil rights, our civil liberties, for our planet, for our humanity, for our democracy, for our peace of mind, and I said, don’t give them your joy, too. But the reason why I’m not going to say that joy is simply an act of resistance is I don’t want you to have joy just so that you can be better in the utility of the work. I want you to have joy because you are entitled to that, because you deserve that. You know, so I want us to be intentional, and I’m asking this next generation of leaders to please do that, be intentional about informing and preserving your joy and be unapologetic about that. The grace that we are extending to others, you know, the ignored, the left out, and the left behind, the grace that we extend to those that we fight for, that we seek to bring into rooms in the center, we have to extend that same grace to ourselves as the people doing the work.
>> Rebecca: You know, I keep hearing, having served in the obama administration, I keep running into my colleagues, who I love, but who are all, like, well let’s just, we’re gonna take it back to where it was in 2016. Like, that’s our focus. And my response, you know, being a disabled person, being a disabled mom, um, being an activist is, it wasn’t that great in 2016! And so, you know, the system was inequitable in 2016, 2016 there were there were structural problems across the board, there was lack of civil rights enforcement. As we think about November 4th and we think about where we’re at and looking forward the day after the election, whether or not we know what our path is, um, become how do we maintain that focus on, it’s not just about taking it back to where it was, but it’s actually about taking the opportunity to make the system more equitable for everyone?
>> Ayanna: I think that, you know, sadly, because of the inequities and disparities, the racial injustices across every issue that have been laid bare and exacerbated by this pandemic, that many of those solutions, those policy approaches, Cokley, that people considered radical or third rail, um, are now a part of the everyday lexicon and discourse, and that has everything to do with the power of the, this movement of disability justice, of racial justice. I mean, paid leave, we were able to get that into one of the early relief packages when we had been told forever that that was a nonstarter. We were able to get in some iteration of student debt cancellation, right, and now, um, again, medicare for all. I mean these, all of these progressive policies that were considered radical, which, by the way, is a thing to embrace. Angela davis says to be radical is just to get to the root of the problem. And so I do believe that we are in a paradigm shift moment, that the Black Lives Matter movement against the backdrop of these many consecutive murders of unarmed Black Americans in the midst of a pandemic, we’re in a culture shift now, but now we need a power shift. And that’s what I hope we’ll see in the next seven days. And then that power shift has to result in a policy shift. So Cokley, how I see this is, it’s an unprecedented moment which requires unprecedented organizing and pressure and accountability. We cannot let up. Anytime you elect someone, including me, I’m just the door, I’m not the destination. I want you to continue to challenge me, to push me, to hold me accountable, right? And so we have to continue to do that. And so I do think the pandemic is forcing against the backdrop of this national reckoning on racial injustice, Cokley, I think that it is, it is, it’s going to push us forward, you know. It is going to make us progress because now people see, oh, okay, well, maybe we do need universal childcare. I mean, all these things that forever we have been told are nonstarters and that or that in operating from a scarcity mindset is just not possible. When we put together a bill under the leadership of chairwoman maxine waters to end homelessness, that bill was scored at 13.5 billion dollars, which, by the way, is the equivalent cost of one military aircraft carrier. So the point is, you know, the budgets are a statement of our values. And reverend barber, shout out to reverend barber, says that this reckoning demands the third reconstruction. And so when we are talking about a reconstruction, that means it acknowledges that the normal that predated this time was insufficient, unjust and inadequate to begin with. So I think crisis and who we are electing in this house and who we stand to elect in this senate is going to move us forward. It’s a mandate from the people. These policies that were considered controversial or too bold are now a part of the mainstream discourse.
>> Rebecca: Thank you so much. This conversation quite literally has made my year. It has been a pleasure speaking with you today. And I know we’re at time, so I want to turn it over to Andraéa. Can you take us out?
>> Ayanna: Thank you Dre, thank you Cokley, thanks, everyone.
>> Andraéa: Thank you, Congresswoman. Thank you, becca. Oh my goodness, I’m over here, like, what power, what power. We’re so grateful for you, for you both. Thank you so much. Yes, yes, yes. What an empowering and energizing conversation. And we’re so just grateful that, you know we, this is our fourth session, so to each of you that have joined us week after week, I just want to say thank you. I am Andraéa Lavant. And it’s been an honor to partner with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership for this incredible series of events on the intersections of racial equity and disability justice. Before proceeding, I’d like to provide an image description of myself. I am sitting in my home office/living room. There’s a teal couch and some wall hangings behind me. I am wearing a patterned shirt with tan, black, cream, and rust-colored tribal prints. I also have on my black cat-eye glasses, deep brown lipstick, and my hair is chin length and curly, and I am black. Thank you. Again, we are going to move forward into the next portion of this conversation. So, our goals for this forum have included creating better awareness of disability issues as relates to racial equity, while also committing to continued work, and we’ve listened to you. We know that we’ve had these breakout sessions in the past and we are going to kind of do things a little different today. So, before we move to the next portion, we’d like to actually take this time to pose a reflection question for you. So, in just a moment, a slide will pop up. Well, here it is. And we are going to pause for 90 seconds for you to ponder this question. And you can take this time to write or type your answers or do whatever is most comfortable for you. We’ll also use this as an access break. I know that we had such amazing content in the last conversation, so perhaps we just need some time to reflect on that, so use this next 90 seconds in whatever way is most accessible and helpful for you and then following that 90 seconds, we will begin our panel and Candace Coleman will serve as moderator. And then following that panel, I will come back on and we will provide some more instructions on beginning our survey. So, again, we’re going to take a 90 second pause. You will hear silence and the question for your reflection right now is: what is my role in advancing justice and achieving liberation for all people? We will see you in 90 seconds.
>> Candace: Good evening, everybody. Such a fruitful conversation and it will continue as we get into the panel. I’m going to give each and every one of our panelists an opportunity to introduce themselves. But before I do that, I want to introduce myself. I’m Candace Coleman. I’m a racial justice organizer, access living and ADA 25 fellow for the class of 2020. I’m really excited to be hosting this panel. An image description of myself: I am a Black woman with short hair in a bob cut. One side is longer than the other. I’m sporting a fuchsia top and in my background you actually see a photo of a legislation that my group aylp is working on called community emergency services supports act. In the background you’ll see a park bench with two people talking. They’re in front of a blue background and the words “community emergency services supports” in pink. Let’s get right into it because we don’t have a lot of time, but I first want to allow Lydia to introduce themselves. Lydia.
>> Lydia: This is Lydia X.Z. Brown. I’m here on screen, a young East Asian person with black hair. I’m wearing one of my favorite shirts today. Decolonize your syllabus. And I’m appearing in front of a background image that I chose because it’s, like, a dream place to be, there’s like a, there’s a beach in the fake window, there’s a fireplace in the fake room and that would be, like, really nice to be in. I’m here in this space as someone who has been doing disability rights and disability justice work, which are different. They’re not the same thing. I’ve been doing that for about the past 10 years. I focus on addressing and ending forms of interpersonal and state violence that target disabled people at the margins of the margins, and in particular those of us who live at the margins of race, of class, gender, sexuality, language, nation, and faith. I’ve been doing that work in a number of arenas for the last decade. Currently I am the founder and director of the fund for community reparations for autistic people of colors, interdependence, survival, and empowerment. I am also the director of policy advocacy and external affairs at the autistic women and nonbinary network and I work as policy council on the privacy and data project at the center for democracy and technology where I focus on addressing algorithmic bias, discrimination and justice affecting disabled people. I also teach as adjunct faculty at georgetown’s disability studies program, but the majority of the work that I do in disabled community is not public, does not have a title and does not have a description. And that is often true for many of us who are disabled and at the margins of the margins, where the work that we do to support one another to survive, to thrive, to be present and to exist in a world that would rather we not, is work that is difficult to describe, impossible to fund, and almost certainly not work that would be able to be described in a forum, even in one like this, where we can talk about it but what is there even to say? It’s the work we have to do every single day. I am very honored to be here and to be a part of this conversation and I’m so glad you invited me. The folks that are here, many are friends of mine, too, and I still think, oh, wow, I get to be a part of this conversation. That’s awesome. That’s a little bit about me. I will turn it back to you, Candace.
>> Candace: Thank you, Lydia. Danielle, would you please introduce yourself?
>> Danyelle: Hi everyone, my name is Danyelle Solomon. Just a visual description. I am a Black woman with long hair. I am sitting at my home office desk. Behind me is a picture of obama, my hope progress picture. And I’m wearing an orange sweater with a turquoise necklace. So I’m Danyelle, I’m the vice president of the race and ethnicity policy team at the Center for American Progress. The work I do at the center is very much focused on how do we put forward public policy to ensure that people of color can fully participate in American economics, social and civic systems. How can they participate freely from discrimination suppression and violence. A lot of our work has been focused around closing the racial wealth gap in particular as well as working in collaboration with our criminal justice team and our disability justice team which Rebecca Cokley runs at camp around criminal justice reform, specifically policing reform. It’s an honor to be here today. Thank you all for inviting me. I look forward to the conversation.
>> Candace: Thank you, Danyelle. Victoria?
>> Victoria: Hello, everyone. So just a quick image description. Brown latina woman with pink headphones, a red and white scarf, a blue shirt and blue blazer with a “i voted” sticker with the maryland flag, which is where I live. And in the background is a plain white wall with a window. Thankfully I removed the bag of dog food that was behind me. I’m wearing bright pink headphones and eyeglasses. So, a little bit about me. Um, I would say that I come into disability by being essentially the psychiatric scrub of the family. And everyone who’s been in a complicated family knows what type of person I’m talking about. And, also, as an openly bipolar person and openly autistic, I would dare say that I come with the idea that we need to make. I’d like to talk from the doctor who referenced that people treat, like here is immigrant rights, here’s racial justice, here’s disability, here’s LGBTQ issues, but in reality, we need to see them instead of separate things as a single big ball of wibbly wobbly activist and whiny stuff, basically. And as a single, progressive social justice movement. And that has been my goal, to act from an intersectional perspective at all times. And always to question whenever we are at these tables and events like this one today with the honorable Ayanna Pressley who is an object of my admiration. I would say, who isn’t getting to be here? Basically, who are the people we’re leaving behind, especially in the disability community, who are the people that are in institutions that are being excluded, even from the community itself. In the disability community we have a tendency to have— actually, I’m going to stop and go into that. That’s about myself. Because I could keep talking.
>> Candace: Thank you, Victoria. One of the reasons why we are here tonight is that we want to talk about the future of liberation and how we could advance disability justice and disability rights. And you all are experts across social justice movements. One of the questions I want to ask is in creating a map towards liberation, oftentimes that starts with ourselves and in our own work. For me as a Black woman with a disability, it was extremely important that within this movement, um, I saw people who looked like me taking the lead or people who look like the folks in my community to take the lead. Um, and that meant that I wanted to develop leadership in Black and brown communities and also allow space for people of color who have disabilities to have that confidence that it’s okay to have disability pride and it’s okay to take leaving charge in their own lives. What, what would you say is this your story from yourself a story that drives you, drives the work for you to move forward? And I am going to start with Victoria, actually.
>> Victoria: So I would say I think a lot of how we often think of what motivates me, I think of just how the extent to which everybody kept assuming that I wasn’t gonna get anywhere due to all my psychiatric disabilities growing up. Thankfully my parents believed me, and yet, at the same time, refused to get me any accommodation whatsoever, because they thought everything was in my head but that’s another story. And I think what moves me a lot is thinking of the fact that in many ways I’m kind of one of the lucky, privileged ones. Basically, that we as a disability community, which is where I was going earlier, we keep having this mental image of who gets to be part of the activism world, who gets to be the spokesperson for disability. And that image inevitably ends up being a photogenic white person in a wheelchair, almost always a man, occasionally a gay guy. To say it’s diversity and that they’re progressive but we are constantly leaving out people of color, people who live as Lydia calls it at the margins of the margins, people with mental health and developmental disabilities. And I can keep on going there. And in that sense, what we leave behind is most of the community. And that is a lot of what motivates me. That it has to be an advocacy that genuinely represents us, because— and one story I like to tell is that I was, when fighting the murphy bill, which was a very harmful mental health bill, I was meeting with a chief of staff for a very progressive member of congress, this was like four years ago, and I’m talking a lot about how this is going to be really bad for people with mental health issues, mental health disabilities. And she says, well, you need to understand this is for about serious mental illnesses. By the way, I have a law degree. I’m an expert in mental health law. I still don’t know what serious mental illness means out of how many meanings it’s been attached to legally. And she says, like, bipolar and schizophrenia, in other words, the scary stuff. And I couldn’t resist saying, well, you mean like me and my partner, who are both bipolar, basically. And she she got, she tried to dig her outside of the hole, well if it’s well-meaning or medicated or eventually, basically saying you’re one of the good ones. I don’t mean you, basically. But she totally meant me. Because it’s almost like saying I don’t see you as Black or I don’t see you as trans. We need to stop seeing disability as either the object of pity or the scary thing that needs to be locked away, which is especially the case in psychiatric and intellectual and developmental disability land. Because otherwise, as long as we keep dehumanizing people we will keep having institutions where people are dying of covid and of this treatment and being outright murdered basically. We will keep having positive coverage of parents who killed their children, their disabled kids, and we will keep having police killing a majority of the disabled people, majority when it comes to gunshot police shootings. So, yeah, and I’ll let others talk.
>> Candace: Thank you, Victoria. Lydia, how would you describe liberation and what motivates you to do it?
>> Lydia: This is Lydia. I ask other people this question often. I ask people to imagine what freedom tastes like, what justice feels like. But the way that I imagine it for myself and the communities where I come from is the feeling of being able to exist, live, and breathe in the world without fear, without fear of violence, without fear of ongoing or future violence, without being controlled by the ever-present threat of violence, to be able to live freely, safely as safety is defined by us for us, authentically, in community, and to experience as representative Pressley mentioned it, joy and pleasure and comfort. Liberation means being able to be honored, witnessed, and held and cared for in all of my identities, my experiences, and my communities without having to compromise myself or my values or my communities, where I come from. Liberation means that every single one of us is able to experience safety, dignity, autonomy, care, support, access, rest, joy, and love for who we are, not despite what we are but for who we are and as we are in all the complexities and intricacies of our identities, of our communities, of our collective longings and desires. And why I am in this fight is because I believe we are worth it, we are worthy, we deserve it, and it is worth fighting for. We are worth fighting for. I remind people of this all the time. That we deserve liberation because each one of you who is here today deserves that feeling of freedom, of rest, of care. We all deserve to know that we have somewhere safe and accessible to live, that our health care and mental health care needs are taken of. On our terms, respectful of our identities our cultures and our communities, we deserve to be able to form loving relationships of all kinds, familial, friendship, platonic, romantic and sexual if we desire them, with people who respect us, who honor us and whom we respect and whom we honor. We all are worth it and deserve the experience of joy. And of pleasure. We deserve to be able to live not merely to survive but to actually enjoy being here and that’s a future I want for each one of us. It’s a future I want for me, it’s a future I want for everybody else here. But the world we live in now, a world in which ableism, white supremacy, subtle colonialism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression are always trying to tell us that only some people are valuable, worthy and desirable, while other people are expendable and disposable, that’s not a world where most of us can experience even a glimpse of what that might be like. In this world, for too many of us, we’re just fighting to stay alive. And that is horrifying and existentially terrifying. I fight for liberation because I want better, not just for the next world, but for us.
>> Candace: Well said, Lydia. Danyelle, could you describe what motivates you and what liberation looks like for you as well?
>> Danyelle: Yeah, thank you. This is Danyelle. So, for me, what drives me are the women before me whose shoulders I stand on, and my two sons. I have always focused my work around justice and equality. Doing work that reminds people that there is nothing wrong with Black people. There is nothing wrong with people of color. It’s the system that is broken. I’m always reminded that progress is not a straight line and easy, right? Progress always is a push and pull and requires work and staying in the fight and I’m reminded that people were in the fight, have been in the fight, and continue to fight. And if I can’t sit on the sidelines, I have to get in the fight and I have to do that hard work. I think under this administration we have seen this trump and his administration try to pull us back, much further back than I think anybody ever expected. And it’s upon us to push forward and push hard, right. We heard the Congresswoman and Cokley talking about, it’s not enough to go back to 2016. We actually need to get to the root. We need to change how systems work if we want to have really equitable outcomes for people of color, for the disability community, we have to do this hard work. We can no longer be okay with band-aid solutions but instead we have to put forward real, comprehensive, intentional policy fixes to change structural inequality in America. And so I do this work because people before me did this work and I can’t let them down. And I do this work because I have two sons that I can’t let down. And they deserve better than I had and they definitely deserve better than my ancestors. And so I do this work every day because I believe in what America could be. But it can’t just be that way. People have to work on it. And so I’m part of this fight because somebody’s got to do that work, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
>> Candace: I’m happy to be in it with you, Danyelle. One of the things about our work, when we talk about disability rights, when we talk about disability justice is that it’s rather new and a lot of times for a lot of us, we’re the first in rooms of decision-making power. My question to the panel is: as experts, um, talk about a time when you were the first and only in which you weren’t. Or about a time when you thought you were the first but you wasn’t the first one. We’ll start with Lydia.
>> Lydia: This is Lydia. Apologies that my microphone and camera are giving me trouble because, of course, that happens. For me, one of my earliest experiences with feeling like I might have been first, but wasn’t, was when I became involved with the autistic community early in high school. I knew that autistic advocates and leaders already existed, that’s how I became connected with the community, I knew they were leaders who been before me many times. Mel Baggs, which is spelled b-a-g-g-s, Jim Sinclair, Laura Tisoncik, t-i-s-o-n-c-i-k, Kassiane Assasumasu, k-a-s-s-i-a-n-e last name a-s-s-a-s-u-m-a-s-u and many others. But, at the same time, it felt that autistic advocacy was very new there were a few national level leaders. Ari Ne’eman spelled n-e apostrophe e-m-a-n. Sharon Davenport, Davenport spelled d-a-v-a-n-p-o-r-t. But very few who were recognized widely outside of our community. And so when I started to do work in the autistic community, it often felt like I was one of very few people doing policy work and one of very few people doing community organizing work, even though there were so many of us that had already been building community at that point but I also was, for a long time, one very few autistic people of color that were publicly doing autistic neurodiversity work. There are many, many more of us now and I’m incredibly grateful and appreciative of that. And I see that some of them are here with us in the chat today. Timotheus Gordon t-i-m-o-t-h-e-u-s is here. Sharon who I mentioned is here. And I’m so excited to know that if you ask now for a list of autistic people of color who are in leadership roles, who lead projects, who lead organizations who are recognized nationally for what they’re doing, that list is now quite long. But I remember thinking 10 years ago that if you asked for a list of names, there were very few. And most of the people that were prominent as autistic advocates were white people. And even of those who were prominent as autistic advocates, the ones who were prominent for doing neurodiversity disability rights work, let alone disability justice, were far less prominent and recognized than those that are happy to act as what we call self-narrating zoo exhibits to pander primarily to nonautistic and nondisabled people. And just being here now as part of this panel with my friend Victoria, there’s two of us on this panel, right? There is two of us here. And that’s an incredible experience. But I think you know the lesson that I took out of that growth period for me was not, I need to be first or I need to be only one, but, rather, how can I build on the work of all the people that have come before me, of all of the people that are still doing work and of all the people who will come after me, even if I’m forgotten one day and, like, you know, people think, who the hell was Lydia Brown? I don’t know that person. And you know, that doesn’t really matter to me, right? What matters to me is that we’re in community with each other, that we care for each other, that we’re fighting with and for each other. And when we recognize that we’re never going to be first, we’re never going to be the actual only one and that what we actually need to be doing is looking for the rest of us, looking for our companions, for our comrades, for the people who share our experiences, for the people who will understand it, who are, as Mia Mingus spelled m-i-n-g-u-s describes, where we find home. Who are the people who get us, who support us? And how do we make sure that even if we feel when we enter a space we join a coalition, we get hired by an organization, we become part of a project, that we never stay the only one. How do we make sure that we are constantly expanding our work, building our community? Because that’s where our power truly lies. Always has, always will.
>> Candace: Thank you for that, Lydia. Victoria?
>> Victoria: Sure. I mean, I sometimes think, like, when talking about mental health and mental illnesses, I keep thinking then, like, I remember going back to how almost everybody, every struggle quote/unquote, it was all from the self-pity, we’re the objects of pity, woe to me, and all the representation I could find was basically the one put forward by organizations like nami, which is entirely run by the poor, sainted relatives that are such things for taking care of their friends and family with schizophrenia or bipolar or whatever else they have and unquestioning about everything that I found that was I’m coming right after a member of congress, but I’m gonna say it up about the entire mental health care system like coercive treatment, treatment like racism, and so on. I kept wondering, why isn’t that being spoken about. And eventually, as I as I got involved into the civility, as I became aware of my own disability. And part of how I came about sadly was after I graduated law school. Even so, I was pretty much, you know, list of psych meds longer than my arm, I had never identified with a disability. I had a mental image of what was that and that didn’t include me. And it came about because after law school I’m looking for a first job and I get offered a federal, a position in the federal government. For those who don’t know, it’s a career hire through where you, if people with disabilities can be hired outside of the usa, jobs process in a more streamlined way and I’m simplifying it. And the person, the friend who tells me about this says, you definitely qualify. You should, you should put your name forward and I’ll give you a good word in for you. And I was forced to be, like, do I come to stay home? Well, is this a disability? And the process where I just needed a job and put my name forward and hr suddenly saying, yeah, she qualifies. It was, like, forcing me to look in that mirror and accept it not as a bad word. And eventually I go to dc and I start meeting all the amazing disability people and that was basically the, these are my people and there’s such amazing work around making the movement more inclusive, basically so, yeah.
>> Candace: Thank you, Victoria. Danyelle?
>> Danyelle: Sure. I’m, I mean, I always think of myself as always the one or always one of few at tables that I’ve sat in, um, which I can tell you, and I’m sure you all have experienced this, too, it’s really stressful and hard at times. I think when you ask that question my first thought was my time working on the senate judiciary committee in the us senate, and it was an amazing job, um, my first job out of law school and it was amazing. But I was one of maybe three Black female lawyers on senate staff on the committee. And I often found myself sitting at tables where I was “the one.” and you know, from there was always that imposter syndrome that I think we all face or, you know, have faced before, always being questioned and double questioned and, you know, all of that has happened a lot in some of the positions that I’ve held. And I think what that has taught me is it’s so important to have equal representation at tables. I often say that personnel is policy. Who is at the table, who has decision making power? There should not only be one Black female at the table, right. There should not only be one woman at the table. There should not only be one, you know, disabled person at the table. Like that’s just not how we should craft policy. That’s not who should be sitting at a table making decisions, it should be comprehensive and representative of who we are as a country and oftentimes it’s not, especially at, you know, decision making tables. It’s often white and it’s often male and often ableist. And there’s real work that has to be done to ensure the table is representative. You know, cap, at the Center for American Progress, john podesta, when he stood up, the organization really tried to be intentional about the fact that if you could put different experts in the building together and then put them around a table together, you might get better policy responses because you’re solving a problem using expertise from different policy portfolios, to give it a much more robust and comprehensive response. I loved that. And I thought, you know, we should use that same theory of change across all other things, right. Like, it’s not just about policy expertise, it’s about bringing people’s full selves to a table and seeing how someone’s full self can actually provide a much richer response to solutions that you are trying to solve. So for me, when you asked that question, I immediately thought of my early years in the U.S. Senate, which was not very diverse at the time at all and how challenging that can be when you are the one or one of a handful trying to do important work but often, you know, finding yourself in positions like that.
>> Candace: Thank you, Danyelle. So our audience is full of experts who are attending tonight, and some that work in social justice work, but as the experts that you are on this panel, what would you say, um, is a great example of coalitional collaboration? Or what was, like, an impactful moment for you in the work that you all are doing, where you learned, I guess, the the one lesson that you learned from cross-collaboration with other groups or other coalitions? I’m going to start off with Victoria on this question.
>> Victoria: Can you repeat the question real quick? It’s a long day and it’s the end of the day, so…
>> Candace: Sure. One of the ways that we have to do this social justice work is by collaborating with others. How do you make sure that collaboration happens and what’s one impactful, what is one impactful experience that you have had with doing collaborations?
>> Victoria: So, I would say that one of the ways this happens is basically always being willing to work together but also, I’m sorry, you have to give to draw a line of where the collaboration is actually as an equal, you need to demand an equal seat at the table. There’s a whole saying, I think Shane newmeier is the one who said this, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are in the menu. But if that is, indeed, the case, shouldn’t we be shutting down the whole restaurant for cannibalism, basically. But I would have to say, that the— my kitty is asking for attention. I almost want to pick him up, but he doesn’t like being picked up. But I would say that a lot of the times when you’re doing collaboration, you need to make sure that you’re including other marginalized identities. And also making sure you’re not there in that coalition as the token disabled or as the token person of color or the token queer person. Because like Lydia was saying in the chat, I don’t get to speak for everyone, basically. As much my ego would love to, you know, do that, I don’t get to speak for everyone. My experience as someone who’s managed to go to law school and work, work at amazing organizations in Washington, D.C., it is in no way representative of what most people with disabilities experience. I’m just one of the privileged ones. So we need to include that into our collaboration work. So, yeah.
>> Candace: Thanks, Victoria. Lydia?
>> Lydia: This is Lydia. I’d add to that, too, we’ve been having a robust conversation in the chat, for those who haven’t caught that, where, um, I and Victoria both talked about actually being tokenized all the time. This came out of Danyelle’s comments just a couple of minutes ago where we are often asked to be the only disabled person of color, the only queer or trans disabled person of color to be on a board or to speak at conference. And it is terribly tokenizing. And while today I’m wearing my decolonizer syllabus shirt, the other day I wore my shirt that says, I’m not a token. Which, for the record, is my favorite shirt to wear to certain kinds of, mostly white meetings, you know the ones I’m talking about. I wear it deliberately. It’s basically a way to professionally say, wow, fuck this without actually saying fuck this. But, you know, when I think about what it means to build community power, where we need to go and how we move past these kinds of tokenizing experiences and ways of doing movement that end up just being as extractive and exploitative as the things that we claim we’re fighting against, I think, again, about how we can think expansively whenever we’re a part of a program, or an event or a project or an organization formulating a policy, advocating in a specific campaign, we need to ask ourselves who was in charge here? Who made the decisions? Who was able to have a voice and to be considered in making these decisions? What did we do to enable access for people who would have wanted or definitely wanted to be a part of making this decision, setting this priority, outlining the scope of this campaign, deciding what our benchmarks would be, and how we, we would move toward them and what can we do to make sure that we do not forge ahead and rush to move forward just for the sake of moving forward without making sure that we are right with community, without taking stock of ourselves and our own positionality and without being accountable to and responsive to the communities where we come from. And gain, like Victoria was just talking about that, that is very much true even for those of us, like all of us here today, who are multiply marginalized who experience the compounded effects of oppression in so many different ways. Because just the fact that we’re here today is evidence that many of us also experience privilege. We have linguistic access privilege because, as the deaf folks that are here today know, many deaf people may not know asl. They may know home sign, they may come from outside the United States and they know sign language that is not asl, period. There are people who don’t communicate using speech, who have trouble with receptive communication not just expressive communication. The people who are here today, us, every one of us, we have an internet-capable device with at least a semi reliable broadband connection. I mean, maybe Rebecca Cokley was breaking up a little bit but we’re here in part because we have access to technology and access to a broadband connection that allows us to participate in virtual events like this one. We have the cognitive access to follow the conversation, for the most part, I mean, I’m assuming, maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m assuming that for those of you that are still here with us, you’re here, at least in part, because you’re following what is happening and that if you felt completely lost, you probably, maybe you’re signed in or you walked away or you just closed zoom and you left. 60 people have left in the last past hour. Don’t know if that’s because you were really only here for the Congresswoman or because you’re like, nope, done, don’t want to do this. But you know, we’re here because we have at least some measure and some modicum of privilege, even if we also experience marginalization. And it is, therefore, always incumbent upon us to ask ourselves, how can we change the conditions of my organizing work, how can we change the scope of my work and the work of my organization, my campaign, my project to be radically inclusive, to enable accessibility, to be access centered and to understand access as holistic and an ongoing fluid process of negotiation, flexibility, adaptability, and consent? How do we challenge the question that we always ask of, who is always in the room? Who is always at the table? Because if it’s just Victoria, Danyelle, you, Candace, and I all the time, even though the four of us represent many multiple marginalized communities and many diverse experiences within our communities we do not represent the entire community and we also represent a lot of privilege even within marginalized communities, and that is a problem. So, how do we challenge the expectation for who should be invited to speak on panels? For who should be asked to lead a project, for who we should go to in priority setting? For what language we even use to discuss our priority setting in the scope of our campaigns. Because I can tell you right now that the way we do things as is, while it may work for many of us, does not work for many other disabled people. And my partner Shane Neumeier, who Victoria was just referencing, defines disability justice simply, simply, and it uses an exhortation for all of us, which is, disability justice is making sure we leave nobody behind. How does our coalition-building make sure we leave nobody behind?
>> Candace: I appreciate that last comment and due to time, I actually have to move it on over to Alex because we have a few questions from the audience. So Alex, I am going to turn it over to you so we can get those questions answered. And thank you, panelists, for your experience and advice on this panel.
>> Alex: Thank you so much, Candace, and thank you, Lydia, Victoria and Danyelle. The first question is: what can people of color with disabilities do to raise our voices so we can feel seen by the disability community? And what is currently being done to help raise the visibility and voice for disabled people of color? And, Lydia, let’s start with you first for this question.
>> Lydia: This is Lydia. Where I see the true work being done is in our own communities. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for collaboration with or work to change white-led organizations. That’s not to say that that work doesn’t matter, that’s not to say that I think all disabled people of color need to disengage from doing work with white-led, white-dominant organizations, but it is to say that the most radical of work is never going to happen while power remains unseated and unchanged. And for disabled people of color, especially at the margins of the margins we can’t wait to be saved or rescued by somebody else. We can’t wait for white-led organizations to decide that now is the time they’re going to rush in and take up our cause and represent and speak for us when their board remains mostly white, their leadership remains mostly or are entirely white. And their history of engaging in racial justice is about 6 months old. And again that’s also not to say that organizations that have not done the work before should then say, we’re not gonna do it, gonna throw our hands up in the air because we haven’t been involved before and just not engage. But it is to say that the most radically demanding work is always going to happen at the front lines in communities, grassroots, often outside where the press is, often outside of any sphere of public recognition, outside of job descriptions or titles and that’s where our work often has to be focused. We have to support our own community. We have to build up our own community. Because if we don’t focus on our own people as worth working with and working for, if we don’t build up our own organizations, then we will always be settling. Because at the end of the day, white supremacist cultural dynamics only change when white people who have access to institutional power and privilege choose to cede. And we all know that the vast majority of time, when people have power, they don’t want to cede, they don’t want to give it up. And we see this along every possible line even within our own communities. Disabled people are often the most ableist against other disabled people. Disability advocacy organizations and nonprofits are often the most ableist toward their own employees and toward their communities and constituencies. I have years of stories from disabled people from across the United States who have told me about how their organizations that were supposedly disability led, cared about disability rights, did civil rights work, destroyed their lives, destroyed their careers, destroyed their mental health. I could spill dirt for years on so many organizations. I choose not to because I don’t want to be that person. But the problem is, this is not new, this is not surprising and it’s not rare. In all of our communities and spaces, those who have power are loath to give it up and that is true within disabled communities, wehther as against white people wielding power against disabled people of color, or whether that is disabled people that share certain identities or experiences nonetheless choosing to act against others, and whether that is us as disabled people of color working within racial justice spaces that are often also ableist just as disability ones are. And for me, where I found the most powerful work that I’ve done has been work in community with other disabled people of color, where we are the ones making the decisions, where we are the ones setting the boundaries and the scope of work, where we are the ones deciding what values and principles we have to commit to, not the spaces that I’m in, which I’m in, I’m in plenty of them, where I’m the only disabled person of color or one of a couple of us but where white people, nonetheless, maintain the systems of power as they already were and always will be because that is the truth. People who have power are loath to give it up, but it is only when those people who have power either cede that power or have that power taken from them that things change.
>> Alex: Thank you so much, Lydia, for that. We have one last question and then we’re gonna turn it back over to Andraéa and this question is actually for Danyelle, which is: do you have any recommendations for someone who is not a lawyer or in law school for getting involved in public policy, where to begin?
>> Danyelle: Hi. Thanks for the question. Um, there’s lots of places to begin. The way I started was I volunteered on a senate campaign and it was unpaid and so I had the privilege of being able to do that, even though I did, I was working waitressing two different places to pay my rent at the time. I started by volunteering on a campaign. Some folks also go and get their mpp which is a one-year degree on public policy. But just you know one thing I would say is pick an issue that you care a lot about and then just get involved. And to me, like, that’s the best way of opening doors, seeing what pieces of policy and advocacy work that you like, figuring out what organizations you like and which ones you might not. Each organization has its own culture and dynamic. So, just getting involved and volunteering is a really good way of figuring out where you might want to be in the policy advocacy space and go from there. And I would also encourage folks to talk with folks that are in these organizations doing policy work too, you know, every interview or every coffee is you know, you should think about every coffee as an opportunity, because it is. But meeting with folks that work in these spaces, to ask them about why they do the work, what their organization is doing is also really helpful. So I would just say one, volunteer. Two, really think about what policy area you want to work on or in and then, three, start talking with folks who are in these organizations to figure out which organization might fit your personality best. Because each organization has its own culture. And the best way to figure that out is talking with folks and volunteering.
>> Andraéa: Great. Thank you. Thank you. So much gratitude to Candace, Lydia, Danyelle, Victoria. Just to everyone that has participated throughout the past sessions that we’ve had, incredibly powerful conversation today, incredibly powerful conversations over the past few weeks, and just so I just want to say thank you to each person that has participated, also to the facilitators that supported our conversations, our breakout conversations as well. So, rather than transition to the breakout sessions—that’s my dog. She’s ready to go. We, as we have in previous sessions, we do like, well, let me go back. So, rather than move to the breakout sessions, we are going to take this time instead, we’re giving you back about 11 minutes. And we highly encourage you to spend that time filling out the survey that was shared in an email to you. In addition, we’re going to put that in, we’re going to put it in the chat as well, and then, as you see, it is here. So it’s bit.ly/surveysession4 and it’s really important because we really want to learn from you about not only assessing what these particular sessions were about, but, also, considering what continued work should look like. What’s next for us. And then we do want to know what you liked, what you didn’t like and what you think Advancing Leadership should do moving forward. So, we’re giving you back this time. We ask that you would take it to complete the surveys. And then if you have any questions or concerns, even right now, feel free to put those in the chat for the next few minutes while the staff is moderating. But again, we just want to say thank you to all of our speakers over the course of the forum and our facilitators for the sessions. This was incredibly wonderful to be a part of. Thank you to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. And we will be in connection soon. Thanks, everyone.