People are not props.
Perhaps you’ve heard that Graham-Cassidy is as good as dead. What happens next is a familiar chain of events, one that we saw play out this summer when the “Skinny Repeal” died in the Senate: Progressives declare a victory, Congressional Dems pat each other on the back and take most if not all of the credit, Trump writes an angry tweet, and so forth. What becomes lost in all of this is the work of grassroots disability activists from National ADAPT. It seems as though it is easy to tout the victory of Senate Democrats, but somehow giving credit where credit is due to disability activists who put their lives on the line to protect healthcare is like pulling teeth.
In fact, no one wants to acknowledge the work that marginalized people do to help people from every community thrive. Unless, of course, the work is being exploited in order to reach an end-of-quarter fundraising goal.
Let me be very clear: I am bothered by how progressive organizations use children and people with disabilities as props to further their policy agendas. When healthcare re-emerged as a crucial policy issue, I started to see ads, Facebook posts, and emails that featured children or disabled people with stories about repealing ACA will affect them. This isn’t to say their stories aren’t valid, because they absolutely are. But how often are the people whose stories are being used for your little fundraising email are actually listened to? Do our organizations truly care about people on the margins, or do they just pretend to care when they need their story to raise more money or push forth a policy agenda?
Bottom line: people aren’t props. And if you are going to use the stories of people of color, LGBTQ people, and/or people with disabilities, then maybe you should invest in those people’s work and livelihood instead of taking their stories and cramming it into your narrative. And it starts by treating them like human beings instead of objects to plug into your donation ask so theory of change makes sense.
As it stands now, many organizations are perfectly fine with exploiting their stories about immigration, healthcare, reproductive health, etc. But still won’t hire them to actually do the work they claim to care so much about. Organizations are still too pale, too male, and all too often think that hiring a bunch of white women or tokenizing the few people of color on staff is “diversity.”
What would truly investing and caring about people on the margins look like? here are some ideas:
- Hiring people of color for senior leadership positions.
Perhaps some of these organizations, PACs, campaigns, etc. would have a more nuanced, intersectional approach to the issues they fight for if they let people of color lead much more than they do now.
2. Following the lead of organizers from marginalized groups and LISTENING to them as opposed to hijacking their movements.
This means inviting them to your strategy discussions early in the game, learning from them, and incorporating their leaders and their work into your campaign from the start.
3. Letting people from marginalized groups be your media spokespeople…but giving them access to training on how to do that first instead of sticking them in front of the camera.
So often in the progressive movement, we rely on white people to be the face and the spokespeople in the media. Then, we’re confused about why people say that our movement is just a bunch of privileged white millennials crowing about student loans.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s important to be thoughtful about how inclusive the healthcare debate and the fights that lie ahead of us.
If your movement doesn’t center the humanity of those of us from marginalized communities, then it will fail.