Ableism in the Human Rights Committee Part VI

 Michael Novick, a longstanding member of the Human Rights Committee as well as Anti-Racist Action, Posts to the list, “Mildred” and I both respond to his post.  Of note is “Mildred’s” assertion that since Michael was not at the retreat he should not comment on this issue.  Should we apply that standard to all of our work, as human rights activists we would be remiss in speaking out on any issue we weren’t witness to and history as an academic discipline would be a meaningless exercise.    In a later post, I speak to this issue.

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 01:43:45 -0700_From:     Michael Novick
I feel compelled to write at greater length in response to the issues _raised by this on-going controversy and the persistent tendency — _self-defined by “Mildred.” in her post, I believe — of “blaming the victim” _(after “victimizing” the person). I feel that aspects of a willful _blindness to disability issues, and to the responsibility of human rights _activists, trade unionists (not to mention colleagues, comrades and people) _to accommodate people with disabilities, have been exacerbated by a _tolerance of male chauvinism and a lack of feminist consciousness or _women’s solidarity within the committee. In this respect, I find a _not-acceptable degree to which the so-called “progressive” movement lags _behind the larger society and the capitalists. Sadly this is all too _common. Elections at KPFK for example produce electoral outcomes with less _diversity, less representation for women and people of color, than for LA _city council.
Attributing hostile remarks by a white male professional homeowner to a _disabled female as ‘humor’, or blaming the recipient of such mistreatment _for getting angry (ignoring her previous attempts to deal with it, and _ignoring her explanations of what went on), and raising questions about _whether someone is “really” disabled — if that took place at one of our _schools, and was directed at a student or a teacher by an administrator, we _would all hopefully be on top of it. But when such internalized _oppressiveness takes place within our own ranks, we fall into denial, _excuses and worse. We need to take ourselves and our work more seriously, _and treat ourselves and each other with more respect, or we cannot expect _anyone to pay the least attention to our pious declarations about human _rights and social responsibility.
I did not attend the retreat because of a schedule conflict, but honestly I _might not have come anyway because I found the location pretty inaccessible _the one time I did come, and I don’t have disability issues on access. The _union has a legal responsibility to make meetings which are not simple _socializing but actual strategic planning accessible to all. The Human _Rights Committee in particular has a responsibility to put its money where _its mouth is.
People who could “hear” Andy’s explanations yet never “heard” Emma’s quite _clear statements over several years about the nature, extent and perversity _of her disability need to ask themselves why. People who could make more _exceptions for “Clarence’s” “humor” than for Emma’s anger need to do the same. _Regardless of people’s (apparently quite negative) attitudes towards Emma _and her “personality,” the HRC has a two-fold responsibility now:
a) an internal education, discussion and struggle process about disability _rights issues, their intersection with other forms of oppression such as _racism, sexism and elitism, and the way they are internalized and manifest _within progressive bodies and institutions such as our committee and union. _We might want to look for additional resources within the union, such as _disabled activists and perhaps LGBT people who have greater sensitivity to _issues of immune-impairedness.
b) In the light of that discussion, to review and re-discuss any decisions _taken at the retreat at the next available opportunity for a well-noticed _general meeting of the HR committee at UTLA early in the school year, a _meeting that is accessible to the disabled and hospitable to the full _participation and honest discussion of everyone who has been or would like _to become involved in the work of the committee.
Consider those motions for the agenda of the first HRC meeting(s), or to _the steering committee. If people are meeting at the leadership conference, _I feel they need to agree to those two proposals, and then adjourn until _the two discussions can be put into effect. I myself did not sign up for _the conference (partly over the hotel issue) and will not be there. I have _conflicting responsibilities now on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
Although I am not a Maoist, I always liked a couple of Mao’s aphorisms — _”where the broom does not reach, the dust does not vanish of itself” is one _of those, meaning we need to engage in criticism and self-criticism to _overcome our own retrograde tendencies such as male chauvinism, privilege, _or the projection of fear and denial onto “others.” Otherwise they _accumulate and fester and eat us up from within. Another good one is “A _revolution is not a dinner party” — meaning that we cannot expect to _impose goodie-goodie middle class niceties of expression on struggle over _oppression and exploitation. It is not the job of people experiencing _oppression, discrimination and mistreatment to learn how to “cope” with it. _It is the job of people seriously interested in getting free of capitalism, _imperialism, and all their attendant social ills to examine our own social _and political practice, and to come up with effective strategies for _building the kind of solidarity and struggle it will take to get the job done.
Michael Novick
PS I wanted to take exception to one thing that Emma said — that men do _not fear becoming women. Her main point (that able-bodied people fear _illness and disability and therefore reject or marginalize disabled people) _is true. But it is also true that men often fear being “unmanned,” and that _both men and women often exceptionalize certain women and stigmatize others _out of fear of women’s solidarity. This is a very corrosive tendency.

<> ——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 08:34:39 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
Thanks Michael. _  I  appreciate your willingness to come forward and take a principled stand on this issue.  I have little choice, It is with me all the time. It’s not an identity that gives me pride.  It isn’t a cause I ever wanted to champion.  I have always understood disability rights as essential to the human rights paradigm, but while it is becoming more and more central in my life, part of my resentment is that I really want to be working on other issues.  It’s just that the discrimination I face makes all other political activity almost impossible.   I decided awhile back to embrace the ACT UP slogan; Silence = Death; the Audre Lorde admonition:  “My silence didn’t protect me.  Your silence won’t protect you.” Though retreating into the small place that apparently even seasoned human rights activists have ascribed for people like me, is tempting.    It is clear that you have put much time into studying this issue and understand it quite thoroughly.  Your point about men fearing being unmanned is well taken.  I stand corrected.  One exception I have to your polemic is where you say “The union has a legal responsibility to make meetings which are not simple socializing but actual strategic planning accessible to all.”   All UTLA official events, including social events, must be accessible.  Social events are organizing tools and if they are sponsored by the Union (even if funds are donated, ) can’t discriminate.  Mardi Gras night at the Leadership Conference,  Area parties, etc. are required to  be fully accessible or UTLA would be practicing discrimination and would be in violation of human rights and liable in a law suit.  This does not extend to private events that members of UTLA might hold.  So that if a group of teachers wants to go to happy hour at an exclusive club (exclusive as in: stairs!)  they can. It is not illegal to discriminate in one’s private life.  If members of this committee want to have a party with strippers and a freak show, and tell racist jokes they can.  They just can’t call it an official UTLA event and they certainly can’t use UTLA funds to pay for the gathering.   If they use UTLA resources to advertise the event, or a school bulletin board, then they would be in violation of civil and human rights.
In solidarity,

<>——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 21:13:39 -0700 (PDT)
Michael-  I find it singularly inappropriate of you to attempt to analyse what happened at a retreat where you were not present!   Discussing the issue of disability rights is welcome, but don’t base your ideas on an occurance at a meeting that you did not attend. You speak of “hostile remarks” that you did not hear and simply ” getting angry” is not how anyone would describe what occurred. I don’t feel this event merits all this deep political attention.  I doubt that the Human Rights Committee, or any other UTLA committee, would  accept a screaming tantrum directed at the whole group as an excusable way of handling a political or any other type of issue. Realizing that Emma was out of control, I felt sympathy and concern for her welfare, until I read the three page political diatribe, instead of some degree of self awareness which might result in healing for her and the committee.

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