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Re-envisioning the Revolutionary Body

April 15, 2011

Yesterday, the LGBT Resource Center at GVSU hosted the last speaker in its Change U series, Mia Mingus. Mia identified herself as a queer, disabled, Korean, adoptee who has worked for organizations such as Spark Reproductive Justice Now and is a critical voice in the Disability Justice Movement.

Mia began her comments by acknowledging those who have done the work to bring her to town, those who maintain the space, those who have suffered in order to allow us to use the resources that have been taken from communities around the world and for indigenous people who’s land we occupy today.

She also acknowledges and recognizes all those who have influenced her and come before her to allow a queer disable woman to speak to this audience. She tells the audience that she can only speak about her own experience and that she does not speak for the entire disability justice movement, the entire adoptee movement or the entire queer movement, even though these are movements that she is part of.

Mia said she wants us all to be fellow movement builders, to grow together to challenge each and to hold each other accountable.

Mia then invites people to have a moment to breathe and to include our bodies into the moment, because we often have a tendency to exclude the body and focus on the mind when we do anti-oppression work. This is one of the things that the disability justice movement has challenged us to come to terms with, what does justice work mean for our entire bodies.

She talks about her identity as a queer, Korean, disabled, adoptee, all of which informs who she is as a human being and a political activist. Mia talks about the inter-sectionality of all these aspects of who she is and how it informs her analysis.

Mia believes that sharing our collective stories is a powerful and necessary tool for liberation. The stories of those who are oppressed and those that are privileged are both necessary, according to Mia. She says we need to hear them and share them all in order to achieve equality and liberation.

Mia talks about how we are queer in lots of ways – politically, socially, in relationships, in love and in friendship. She says the same thing about disability, which for her means that she embraces her disability and loves who she is. She doesn’t need to be healed nor does she desire to become able bodied. This is an ongoing fight for her and many in the disability community, since they are often pitied and viewed as “less than whole.”

“My disability queered me,” Mia said. People assume that she is queer because she is part of the disability community, as if she is more likely to find people who are different in that community. Mia says that Ableism contributes to this notion, because Ableism dictates the norm, what it is we should all be trying to obtain.

Ableism set the stage for people to be further marginalized, to be institutionalized, to be experimented on and to be despised. Ablesim contributes to the foundation of war, where people’s bodies are destroyed or disabled because of the violence in war.

Mia challenges those of us in the able-bodied community to look at what ways we recognize how we are privileged and how we will use that privilege to become allies with the disability community. How does the work that we all do take into account disability justice? We cannot ignore this form of oppression just because we are not disabled or queer or an immigrant. We need to push ourselves to re-think our privilege and fight for a deeper sense of inclusivity.

Redefining and reclaiming home is some of the most political work that can be done, particularly in the disability justice movement. She said it is extremely important for people who are queer and disabled to create community and build relationships in order to sustain themselves in the fight against oppression.

She talked about the need to create homes that have no barriers, homes and spaces that really reflect the kind of world that is counter to an able-body dominant world.

What does it mean to have collective and accessible spaces for those in the disabled, queer, people of color and immigrant communities? Mia shared the story about whether or not she and another disabled women would go to a party, which was not accessible, but was altered to allow them some accessibility. Mia said it is not enough to have a wheelchair ramp for spaces to truly be accessible, it how we interact with people and make assumptions about what people want and what people need.  She said we have to radically challenge these very limited notions of accessibility and create truly inclusive spaces and obtain liberation.

What kinds of radical communities do we really desire? For her being queer is about bringing people closer to liberation. To be disabled is to be free. For Mia we are not all the same and it is precisely our differences that make us whole.

Mia also spoke about the difference between the Disability Rights and Disability Justice Movement. The Disability Rights movement did the work to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA). However, Mia said that those who have gotten the recognition for the work has mostly been able-bodied people or white men in the disability movement. There has also been an emphasis with the Disability Rights Movement to say, “We want to be just like you.”

The Disability Justice Movement wants justice for all people without looking to the courts and the government for protection. The Disability Justice Movement takes a different approach, where people want to figure out ways to challenge the oppression of everyday life that benefits those that are privileged. The disability justice movement is about community and community organizing, which are broader than disability rights work, which gains rights for individuals. The disability rights movement has also historically colluded with the medical industrial complex and other sectors that have taken advantage of those who are disabled.

As someone who has a younger brother with a disability I found Mia’s presentation both inspiring and challenging. As someone who aspires to work for justice I have a greater understanding of why disability justice is critical for all movements and why those of us in the able-bodied community need to listen to and become allies with those in the disability justice movement.

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