Mapping Our Paths Towards Liberation
Disability Justice in the Fight for Racial Equity Day 4 Recap
Meaningful change includes systemic change. In the final session of our Disability Justice in the Fight for Racial Equity forum, national disability and racial justice policy advocates share how current policy can be built and shaped to advance the rights and voices of the multiply marginalized.
“This conversation quite literally has made my year.”
Unpacking a lot in its tight 80 minutes, Mapping Our Paths Towards Liberation features Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Rebecca Cokley (Center for American Progress), Candace Coleman (Access Living), Lydia X.Z. Brown (Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network), Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán (AIDS United), and Danyelle Solomon (Center for American Progress).
A fireside chat with Congresswoman Pressley and Rebecca Cokley
Our session opens with an intimate chat between Congresswoman Pressley and Rebecca. Congresswoman Pressley, having heard that those closest to Rebecca refer to her by her last name, begins their conversation with a humble request.
“I’d like to first ask if I can have permission to call you Cokley, because—”
“Yes!” Rebecca interjects enthusiastically.
“—because we are besties, in my mind,” Congresswoman Pressley finishes gleefully.
Their friendship status firmly established, Congresswoman Pressley and “Cokley” embark on the rest of their engaging conversation, covering a variety of topics ranging from intersectional policy to college football rivalries.
As always, we recommend that you experience the full video—but if you can’t get to it right away, here are a couple of highlights to tide you over.
The disability community gains a prominent new member
Earlier this year, Congresswoman Pressley announced to the world via a video on The Root that she had recently developed an autoimmune disease called alopecia totalis, resulting in a complete loss of hair on her scalp and face. In other words, Congresswoman Pressley came out as a person with a disability.
“I’m here not only to occupy space, but to create it.”
Rebecca and her staff happened to be in the lobby of Congresswoman Pressley office the morning the video was released. “I completely believe it was the universe meaning for us to be [there] the day that that video dropped, at that moment,” she recalls. “It was so powerful, it was so important. 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, ” she tells Congresswoman Pressley.
And why did Congresswoman Pressley own her new disability in front of the world? “I did the reveal because, for me, I felt I could not continue to lead from the most authentic place without being transparent. […] I’m here not only to occupy space, but to create it.”
(…and we are so grateful she did.)
Returning to “normal” is not the answer
Rebecca remarks that many of her colleagues from the Obama administration (where she once served) are anxious to get back to pre-2016 times, a sentiment at which she balks. “Being a disabled person, being a disabled mom, being an activist—it wasn’t that great in 2016!” she points out.
Congresswoman Pressley concurs and points to Reverend William Barber’s stance that we are in a reckoning for the third reconstruction. [History note: The first reconstruction refers to the post-Civil War era attempts to atone for the inequities of slavery, and the second reconstruction refers to the civil rights movement that flourished between World War II and the late 1960s.]
“It wasn’t that great in 2016!”
“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.” Driving her point home, she adds, “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.”
A 2020 silver lining
Rebecca wraps up her chat with Congresswoman Pressley with a remark that no doubt echoes the thought running through many of our minds. “This conversation quite literally has made my year.”
A roundtable with Lydia X.Z. Brown, Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, Danyelle Solomon, and moderator Candace Coleman
Following Congresswoman Pressley and Rebecca’s farewell, Mapping Our Paths Towards Liberation transitions into a compelling roundtable with moderator Candace Coleman and national disability and racial justice advocates Lydia X.Z. Brown, Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, and Danyelle Solomon.
After sharing their introductions and image descriptions, our panelists dive into topics of justice, policy, ableism, community, joy, and privilege. Here are a handful of their reflections.
Lydia—on community power
Lydia says that the true work is accomplished at the community level. “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.”
They expand on that thought. “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.”
As a reminder to always look inward, they add, “We see [the abuse of institutional power and privilege] 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.”
Victoria shares a quote that she remembers from Lydia’s partner Shain Neumeier (who, incidentally, was quoted twice in this panel): “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?”
Victoria adds that simply getting a seat isn’t the end game. “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.”
She cites herself as an example of why the “token approach” is ineffective. “I don’t get to speak for everyone. My experience as someone who’s managed to go to law school and 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.”
“We can no longer be okay with band-aid solutions.”
Danyelle—on fighting the system
“I have always focused my work around justice and equality and 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,” Danyelle says.
“It’s upon us to push forward and push hard, right?” she muses. “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. Instead, we have to put forward real, comprehensive, intentional policy fixes to change structural inequality in America.”
Thank you for showing up
The culmination of session four means that our Disability Justice in the Fight for Racial Equity forum has come to a close. We are so grateful to all of our participants for not just sharing their thoughts, humor, and wisdom, but also for inspiring us to join their fight for a more just, equitable world. Before we go, we leave you with one final quote from Lydia.
“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.” —Lydia X.Z. Brown
If you missed or would like to revisit our previous sessions in our Disability Justice in the Fight for Racial Equity forum, you may. access the videos, transcripts, and recaps at the following links:
- Session 1: From Access to Liberation
- Session 2: Building Intersectional Movements
- Session 3: Setting an Equity Agenda
And! If you have a few minutes to spare, please fill out our survey to help us plan our next forum in 2021. Your input is invaluable and our gratitude is immeasurable.
ADA 25 Advancing Leadership envisions people with disabilities leading with power and influence for full participation and equal opportunity as a vital part of our civic fabric. Our diverse network of leaders with disabilities are using their power to create a just, equitable, and inclusive society. To learn about becoming a Member or Fellow, please visit https://www.ada25chicago.org.