Disability Rights

A Lesson from Greenpeace in My Kind of Activism

*Disclaimer: I do not intend by this post to endorse violent actions or destruction of property, whether by Greenpeace or any other organization.*

I have never chained myself to anything.

I can count the number of protests that I’ve attended in my life on one hand. I simply lack the attention span and the mindset to be a good demonstrator.

I’ve often felt bad about this. I know that without the brave men and women of ADAPT chaining themselves to buses, without demonstrations in DC and in state capitals, and without heroic actions like the historic occupation of the then Department of Health education and welfare building in San Francisco and similar protests in 1977 which led to the issuing of the first 504 Regulations, I would not have basic civil rights today.

I have been privileged, however, to have some opportunity to be a part of positive change. In my undergraduate days, I was privileged to work with my university as they completely revamped their approach to disability. I have been privileged to work with my employers, small and large, to help them to address disability issues. Especially meaningful to me, I have been honored with opportunities to work in disability public policy, first as an intern lobbyist, then as a municipal intern, then as a city political appointee, and most recently as a Presidential appointee.

Nonetheless, I have gone around with the sense of inferiority. I was gratified, therefore, to read a recent article in the Guardian about the newly appointed head of Greenpeace USA.  Says Annie Leonard,

“You don’t have to sleep in the park. You don’t have to chain yourself to something.” The organisation had to be receptive                  to all forms of activism, she said. “There has been a bit of a hierarchy of the people who chain themselves to the fence or go                on the big TV talk shows are somehow of higher stature and are more important than the people who make sandwiches. But                making sandwiches for the protesters is really important too. We have to figure out a way for them to plug in too.”

Her final quote in the article ties these statements to a call to action. In her closing prescription, Leonard says, “Building a movement really does require all kinds of people, so it is our job to make this work accessible and relevant to all kinds of people.”

Now, I will not accuse the disability rights movement of having the same preoccupation that Ms. Leonard attributes to the environmental movement, because I simply don’t have the perspective to judge the movement. I will say that I was guilty of this type of thinking, and used it to judge myself most harshly. I choose to learn from Ms. Leonard, to be receptive to all forms of activism, and realize that I can do the part of the work that is accessible and relevant to me.

For prescriptions, I will say only this. If you are like me, and not particularly suited for protesting, for chaining, or for demonstrating, give yourself a little break. Rather than chastising yourself for the aptitudes that you don’t have, or worse, using them as an excuse to do nothing at all, let us be guided by Ms. Leonard’s wisdom, and find our own role doing something that is “really important too.”

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