It’s taken me months of processing to know what I want to say about current political happenings in the USA. You may wonder why I’d bother at all, since I live in Australia. You may wonder what US politics have to do with neurodivergence, autism, disability or me… Let me explain.
My social media feeds are bursting with fear. It overwhelms me most days the past few weeks. Yes, I live in Australia, but the worry I sense from my good friends in the USA reaches me, and I feel it too. It is, of course, not as intense for me, because I do not live there.
They fear for their safety, their health, their ability to afford food and housing… their lives. I fear I will wake one morning and read that a friend is gone.
It is a real and justified fear. The new president is in office and he is changing things. The changes he is making put my friends in danger.
You see, most of my friends in the USA are disabled folks, or parents raising disabled children, or disabled parents raising disabled children. Many of them are multiply disabled, and many of them experience discrimination and disadvantage as people from more than one marginalised group.
Honestly, to me it looks like if you are not a white, healthy, heterosexual, gender conforming, non-disabled, middle to upper class person in the USA right now, there is a lot to be fearful of. I do have some friends who fall into that category, but most of them are rather quiet about the changes that are happening, while my other friends are living with fear and overwhelm daily.
I’m saddened when I see conversations where people try to shut down the voices of advocates by saying “let’s not talk politics, it’s so divisive, let’s just accept it and get on with things.” But this is not just politics. It’s not just left versus right. It’s not theoretical. This is peoples lives.
Around the world, other countries are scrambling for position in the “we are not as bad as that” competition, proclaiming they are welcoming of diversity. Australian politicians have jumped on this bandwagon, but are conveniently ignoring the fact that we are neither truly embracing of diversity, nor do we welcome disabled people into our communities, whether they are born here or wish to come here for a better life than is available to them in their countries of birth.
So many people these days want to appear to be accepting of diversity. They’ll proclaim support for immigrants rights, womens rights, LGBTQI rights, freedom of religion, and variety of choice in education – which is right and good- yet they refuse to acknowledge the sad truth that disability isn’t seen as diversity, it is seen as defect and burden.
And so I sit here, at my keyboard, wondering what I can do. I am half a world away, yet also in the thick of it. I feel the fear. I know we are not safe here from the implications of what is happening to my friends. I know there is a very real risk that similar things will begin to happen here. I know that there is a risk friends of mine will die as a result of the currently unfolding changes in the USA.
What can I do? Usually when I write, I include strategies and answers for the problems I see. I guess I could say “go out and protest”, but I know this is not something many disabled folks can manage. I guess I could say “get on the phone to your local politicians”, but again, not all disabled people can. I guess I could say “find a safe place and go there”, but I know this is not an accessible solution for people because even if they had the money the reality is the real options for safe retreat are so minimal that there are not really viable options.
I feel so helpless and unhelpful. It feels like there is nothing practical I can physically do to protect or help my friends.
All I have are my words.
Here is what I want to say to my non-disabled friends:
None of us are here completely independent of the others.We all have value and add value to our communities. The time to speak up is now. I don’t care what country you live in- this impacts us all. If you are already joining the conversation in defence of immigrants rights and womens rights, please add to your advocacy the rights of disabled people and point out how those are about to be eroded further. If you are sitting quietly- shame on you! Get up off your asses, and recognise and use the privilege you have. The marginalised people in this world need you to add your voices to the fight for their rights, and your silence makes you complicit in their oppression.
Here is what I want to say to my disabled friends:
You are important to me.
Your lives are worthwhile.
You do not deserve this.
I understand your fear, and I feel it too.
I stand with you.
Mine are the words of just one person, and I am far away, but I am here with you.
If you are out protesting, I am with you in spirit.
If you are writing letters and making phone calls I am cheering you on.
If you are huddled at home, feeling isolated, scared and inadequate because you just can’t do a thing today, I am here, just a keyboard away, ready to remind you that you are enough in your wonderful imperfection, and I am loving you just as you are.