An Open Letter About Ableism

A letter to Chris Crass, sent out over Colours of Resistance, but its message and critical content is essential reading for those seeking to act as anti-ableist allies.
By Billie Rain & Chris Crass | April 2004

dear chris

first of all, thanks for writing "Beyond Voting: anarchist organizing, electoral politics and developing strategy for liberation" and thanks for sending it to me. i've been thinking a lot about how i am going to vote in the november elections and this article has provided context and analysis to enrich my decision making process. that said, i actually want to bring another issue to your attention.

as i'm reading your lengthy article, something that strikes me is how deeply disappointed i am that after numerous opportunities to list ableism as a form of oppression or disabled folks as an oppressed group, it is only mentioned once. to me, your cursory mention of disability indicates the incredible underrepresentation we experience in radical communities-- that even someone i've spoken to face-to-face about disability issues, less than a month ago, hardly takes the opportunity to publicly acknowledge a group that faces an 80% unemployment rate worldwide, in addition to many other manifestations of oppression which result in widespread poverty and isolation.

as marta russell writes in her article "the social movement left out"; "It is disheartening, to say the least, when I can still pick up a book or read a call for unity to fight for social justice which omits or does not give equal weight to the disability social movement against oppression." i hope you will take the time to read this article and really think about what makes you decide that ableist oppression is barely even worth mentioning. and i trust that you will take a look at what you've written and note the many times you spoke about oppression and social movements without mentioning this particular issue.

i feel incensed that as i and others suffer from environmental illness/multiple chemical sensitivities, a condition that disproportionately affects poor and nonwhite people and communities, i am barred from participating in most gatherings of activists due to inaccessibility. as a disabled person i am routinely left out of discussions about social change, oppression, and solidarity. in the same article, marta russell writes: "When the left leaves us out of its analysis, or includes us in a cursory manner as 'other forms of oppression' this is clearly not sufficient. It only leads to the suspicion that there is no real understanding of disability oppression."

i'd like to challenge you to put ableism in the center of your awareness from now on, and to make a commitment to figuring out how to incorporate that awareness into the work you do for radical social change. you need to understand that this issue is just as important and the oppression is just as brutal as all other forms of oppression. i would like you to be transformed by my reality and the realities of other disabled folks, both in your community and globally, just as i am daily forced to experience ableist oppression and the false constructions of "normalcy" and "wholeness" in which it is rooted. i'd like you to ask yourself how you can act in solidarity with the disabled folks in your local community not only on a personal, individual level, but also integrated into the ways you engage with struggles for social justice and as you do with other forms of oppression. in other words, to work against both personal and social/institutional ableism.

there are so many resources available to help get you started in self education about ableism. there are so many disabled activists expressing and advocating for ourselves and so many non-disabled activists and communities who are not paying attention. the widespread disinclusion of this issue in radical/anarchist discourse leaves me to wonder if, "after the revolution", will we still be left to die, or taken on as "charity"? i don't think this is your idea of liberation, and i know it is not mine.

i think it is safe to assume that others will be responding to the actual points you make in your article so i will limit my comments to this issue for now. i hope it is obvious that i am taking the time and energy to bring this up out of a basic respect for you and your work and beyond that i am speaking up for myself and other disabled activists who have too long been pushed aside. beyond that, i just happen to be reading your article and getting pissed off in a moment where i have the energy and mental clarity to articulate my thoughts, so i'm taking advantage of this rare opportunity. i have confidence that you want to be challenged and that there is no person or group that is not included in your dreams and strategies of liberation. i also am writing this response publicly because i think the omissions in your article are indicative of a larger pattern within radical, and specifically anarchist, communities, and not a personal problem between you and i. therefore, what i have to say about this could potentially, hopefully, benefit more than just the two of us.

take care.

love Billie Rain

To Billie Rain,

This is really solid. I appreciate it and take it the way you mention at the end, as a respectful challenge because these are deep issues that are routinely left out of liberation politics generally and my analysis in particular. Thanks for the suggestions at the end. I read your essay "the healing journey as a site of resistance" recently and have a lot to learn from your work and the work of others. I'll read over your letter a few times more over the next few days, look over the resources listed and develop a plan to read more and incorporate anti-ableist politics and realities into my life. These issues and realities have been absent from my analysis and appreciate your openness to struggle with me and support me to do this. I know you think my emails are too stiff and formal, so if I was standing in front of you, I'd say, "Thanks for bringing it" and give you a big hug.

Thanks friend, we build together,
Chris Crass


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Opening Doors to Dignity

We promote equal access for people with physical disabilities to services, transportation, buildings, businesses, stores, and services.

We advocate that people with physical disabilities should receive the same respect and consideration that able-bodied people receive.

We remove attitudinal and systemic barriers that persons with physical disabilities must handle on a daily basis by educating and talking with able-bodied people.