A few weeks ago, we posted a survey asking people to talk about what disability activism and identity mean to them, and how they came to be involved. Here are some selected quotes from answers we received on how to help people new to activism. Join us for our next #CripTheVote chat on Disability Identity and Activism, Monday, February 6, at 7:00 PM EST.
If you are uncomfortable with activism …
"Take whatever steps you are comfortable taking. Time and experience will help you take more steps."
-- Di Steiner
"If you can't get comfortable getting a little uncomfortable, the person you wish to change won't either. CripTheVote creates a community where we can find comfort in one another, grow our ideas and grow our political power."
-- Liz Jackson @elizejackson
"I'm still starting out myself...It seems scary at first and like it will be hard but when you get responses and people see what you are doing and you know you are educating others and helping people everything is worth it."
"When I started I had an image of what activism looked like, and I castigated myself for failing to meet that expectation. I found myself at my most effective when I played toward my strengths, rather than trying to fit a pre-existing image of what I should be. I love synthesizing and disseminating information and ideas, especially engaging on a one-to-one basis, and that has formed the foundation of my activism. Activism is, by nature, not always easy, but it's important that the kind of work I do is, at least in part, something that comes naturally to me or that I am comfortable with. That forms a base of accomplishment upon which I can stack other kinds of action that stretch me in new and challenging ways, but prevents me from feeling like I'm constantly out of my depth."
-- Sam de Leve @ChaiKovsky
"Sometimes activism is about starting small and then building up to a level you feel comfortable with."
"Don't feel your view of issues or your activism have to completely conform to a certain set of beliefs, positions, or community norms. At the same time, be open to learning what the community's consensus beliefs, positions, and norms are. You can commit to what you are comfortable with and abstain from what you aren't. But as you gain experience try to stretch your thinking and possibly your work to encompass more areas that you were previously uncomfortable with. Take care of yourself, keep your critical faculties sharpened in all situations, hold yourself to strong principles, be gentle to others, especially when they don't fully live up to your principles. Disability activism is important, but by itself it won't make you a great person or a terrible person ... so relax a little."
-- Andrew Pulrang @AndrewPulrang
"Everything is uncomfortable when you've not done it before. There is very little to be lost in putting your own voice out there, rather than letting others speak for you. You will invariably be more accurate than they are... everyone is comfortable with something - it is just a question of finding how you can use that to advance your cause or someone else's."
-- Tim Abbott @mhdtim
Before getting started ...
"...unless a person develops a sense of disability pride, they're probably not going to be very likely to fight for themselves and the community, because they might think "Oh, it's me that is the problem." "I want too much", when really it's the system."
-- michele @rebelwheelsnyc
"You start where you are. Do whatever brings freedom to closer to you. There are no rules. If someone tells you, "No, no, don't say that," feel free to say it louder."
-- Anonymous @georgesdryad
"What I would suggest is seek out disability rights groups, or an independent living center and ask how you can be involved in the disability community. It is important for persons with disabilities to learn our history, the problems we faced and still face today, try and get to know others with different disabilities other than your own. Just reach out. Try not to get overwhelmed. Learn the difficulties and problems facing the disabled community today and find the courage to say: "I don't like this, I want this to change!"
"Sharing your own experiences and not feeling ashamed is a start."
"I would start with self-reflection and reading/learning about power and privilege. Then I would ask yourself "If I don't fight for myself and my community, then who will?" To me, the answer is clear."
-- Lisette @LisetteETorres3
"Perhaps start by being curious. Seek connections. Ask questions about basic things, or complicated ideas. Read threads. Ask which threads might be useful depending on your interest. Realize that what seem to be small, everyday actions are actually resistance to the status quo. That you can build on that. Know that you are welcome!"
-- Linden Gue @DagbokDog
Examples of first steps …
"Start small. Talk with friends."
-- Blow Pop @blowpopsreviews
"Hook up with people who are active in advocacy and seek their support. You don't have to be the world's loudest and proudest, but with support you can even simply mail a senator or speaker to a store manager about an obstacle."
-- Mary Mactavish @Mactavish
"I started by learning, and talking about it with other people with disabilities. It might not seem like much, but it's a beginning. Often times, you may see others who are doing things and decide to get involved. That helps take some of the pressure off... You can be involved as an activist, but you may not feel comfortable organizing yet."
-- Christine M @ChrisDisability
"Finding local activist groups is important. If your city has an office of equity, make sure that disability rights are included in the discussion, as well as at the school district level."
"I began getting involved anonymously by joining support groups relating to my specific conditions through alias accounts on social media (I've found Tumblr to be an especially friendly community for 'spoonies'.) The support I found in those communities boosted my confidence and energized me to make more public displays of my solidarity with and support for disability rights. But one of the benefits of online activism is that you can take part in it anonymously if that's a more comfortable way for you to connect and get involved."
-- Amanda H
"As long as one can and feels comfortable participating in social media, that's an easy place to start. You can retweet other people's takes on Twitter if you feel they express it better than you would. You can participate in various disability-themed chats, which helps broaden perspectives in the disability community... I haven't gone to a disability-specific march yet, but one can always try to reach protest/march organizers ahead of the event date and ask them nicely what they've done to include disabled people. There might be time for them to make things more accessible and if not, now they know that you (and others) are out there and would like that. And as one gets more experienced/active, one can undoubtedly join in organizing, which would be one way of ensuring your experience as a disabled person is helping to form the event."
-- Megan Lynch @may_gun
"I suggest starting by looking for opportunities in the community. Talk to local organizations that deal with disabilities (retirement homes/senior centers, schools, child care/foster care groups, medical/physical therapy, shelters are just some examples). Once you find a group or cause it'll be easier to find something you'd like to do some activism, like raising money for a charity, circulating petitions for government, speaking at local school board meetings, whatever is relevant to you & the specific thing you want to do. It's a great thing & if you just put your mind to it & your heart in it, it is really worthwhile."
"People are afraid to speak out, and disabled people are so often objectified or spoken over/for that it's hard to cultivate and amplify our own voices. Accessible mediums -- for me, Twitter -- are crucial, as is creating a disability community that those with mobility issues can access. The internet is a powerful tool. It's where so many disabled people see others like themselves for the first time -- that is true for me. It's our amplifier, our recruitment tool, our soapbox. We can use it, and we must keep using it, all the while listening to disabled people as to how to make it as accessible as possible."
-- Aleksei Mirov @ai_valentin
"participating on twitter has been really good for me in terms of becoming more comfortable with my limits in the real world sphere and being ok with the fact that i don't have to make a phone call if it will completely fuck up the rest of my day/week, or if i can't leave the house i don't have to go to a protest. i'm learning that sometimes staying alive at all is radical when the authorities don't want you to be alive."
-- kate @kavoogs