AJ Withers is a Canadian Disability Activist whose zine “If I Can’t Dance, Is it Still My Revolution?” had a profound effect on me as a disabled person and activist. After reviewing the zine and website for Shameless magazine (the Labour issue, out this week!) I wanted to connect with AJ and hear more about radical disability activism. Specifically, I wanted to know what it takes to build solidarity, among and with disabled people, how to connect the struggles of differently disabled people, and to reflect on how this work is transformative. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of their new book, Disability Politics and Theory, due to be published by Fernwood in April of this year.
Kate-Christine Miller - There are some great guides out there for being an ally, and the guide on your site points to a lot of the problems that come up with being a non-disabled ally. I would imagine there are a lot of issues with disabled organizers recognizing all of each other’s needs and experiences. Are these issues that you see come up in disabled organizing?
AJ Withers - Yes, all the time. The mainstream disability rights movement has focused on getting middle-class straight white men the privilege that they would have had if they weren’t disabled. So, it has often been classist, heterosexist, racist and sexist, and worked to uphold the oppression of other groups and the many disabled people who are a part of them. I think it is important for all disabled organizers to recognize that disabled people are an incredibly diverse group and that we need to attack all forms of oppression, not just disablism.
KCM- What advice do you have for disabled people just starting to be interested in radical disability organizing?
AJW – 1. Make sure that the fact that disability is intersected with other oppressions is reflected in everything that you do.
2. Work with a diverse group and inter-generationally. When people organize with people who think and act the same way they do, that work can be really limited and one-sided. It is important to work with lots of different kinds of people with different perspectives. Sometimes, this means that you will have fights and it will be harder to compromise, but the final outcome will be better.