Disabled People Will Die Under Trump: An Emergency Plea To Allies

You shouldn’t have to be personally affected by something to care about it.
11/28/2016 07:23 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2017

This is an emergency plea to those upset about a pending Trump presidency. I’d like to especially address intersectional feminists, radicals, anarchists, socialists and others in the USA who are able-bodied and drawn towards systems-level analysis and organizing for radical change.

People with disabilities and chronic illnesses will die under a Trump presidency. Full stop. We will die because of him. This is an emergency situation and we need emergency solidarity, immediately, from every single one of you. Right now, many of us feel like you do not understand the horror of this situation.

Social justice activists, why is ableism so often relegated to the periphery of your analysis? Many disabled people feel right now that they desperately need you and can’t find you. Maybe it’s the cultural lineage of eugenics and Social Darwinism which has created an ableist norm, a veil of neutrality over what is actually a system of domination. Maybe it has to do with an association between disability awareness campaigns and a vague sense of apolitical softness or even conservatism, as if caring about disability is not the job of radicals, but the job of celebrity doctors, colored ribbon campaigns, and concerned suburban moms. Or maybe it has something to do with a sense of not being personally affected by disability.

You shouldn’t have to be personally affected by something to care about it, but if helps, here’s a reminder: Every single one of you could become disabled or chronically ill at the drop of a hat, and you’re going to be living under Trump, too.

[Trump's] oft-stated goal of virtually dismantling Medicaid and Obamacare is perhaps the most brazen way in which he will boot-stomp and kill disabled and sick folks.

Donald Trump, in addition to being one of the most racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, classist, capitalist, all-around hateful and terrifying U.S. presidents in history, is also on track to be the most ableist president. His oft-stated goal of virtually dismantling Medicaid and Obamacare is perhaps the most brazen way in which he will boot-stomp and kill disabled and sick folks. (And this is not to mention other health care-related questions: What is going to happen to reproductive rights? What is going to happen to transfolk who use hormones?)

But Trump’s nasty ableist ideology doesn’t end at health care. Trump has contributed to an ableist cultural psychology by openly mocking disabled people and he has been charged with consistent ADA violations in his business ventures. This includes cases so egregious that the Department of Justice had to get involved . Trump believes capitalists are “oppressed” by the imposition of the Americans with Disabilities Act and has repeatedly spoken of supporting legislation that would seriously limit the seminal act’s powers.

Immediately addressing this emergency also requires immediately addressing ableism’s intersection with other oppressive systems. For example, black folks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites and a full half of people killed by police are disabled. This means that Trump’s potential Department of Justice policies, which will leave police even more unaccountable and militarized than already are, will have drastic effects on disabled people in general, and disabled people of color in particular.

Indeed, the disabled people who are most at risk for harm and death will be those already suffering other injustices. Many will be people of color and women who are already discriminated against in emergency rooms. Many will be immigrants and migrant workers. Many will be single mothers. Many will be LGBTQ folks. Many will be people who do not speak English, the US’s dominant language. Many will be Native Americans. Many will be severely disabled people needing total care and living in group homes, which are at risk of losing funding. Many will be disabled children in underfunded schools who risk losing their already minimal accommodations. Many will be people who are isolated, without friends or family. Almost all will be working class and poor.

There is nothing more privileged than being able to comfortably intellectualize and debate about a Utopian future without having to worry about your physical or emotional survival in the present.

I care about the difference between radical and liberal U.S. politics, between politics as usual and actual systemic change. I care about the similarities between Republicans and Democrats and how capitalism, imperialism, sexism, racism, police states, and war have been fostered by both parties. I was even stubborn about supporting Bernie, a lesser of three evils candidate whose seriously problematic pro-war voting record left me deeply conflicted. But there is nothing more privileged than being able to comfortably intellectualize and debate about a utopian future without having to worry about your physical or emotional survival in the present. Without having to wade through the resultant muck after systems of oppression pit your survival against your ethical purity.

This is the first time in my life I have not voted third party. Significantly reduced risk to disabled people in the United States is but one way in which a Clinton presidency would have had immediate, physical, survival-level differences from a Trump one. And always, always, always the complications of ableism get exacerbated by elements like gender, race, class, immigration status, being a member of a persecuted religion, age, veteran status, and being LGBTQ. With Clinton and all of her profound flaws, we could have at least maintained a status quo and kept fighting from there.

We could have at least minimized deaths of, and harm against, disabled people. Now we’re moving backwards and many disabled people are going to die.

Full stop.

So here we are. We have elected a textbook authoritarian. We are in uncharted waters, even for the USA. And right now, more than ever, if you are an ally, then you need to say the word “ableism.” Look at the reality of what Trump might do and say “that is ableist and horrifying.” Say “ableism” in the lists of oppressive “isms” you’ve been making lately in your articles, Tweets, posts, lesson plans, protest signs, and conversations. Look at the terrifying history of what other authoritarians have done to disabled people, then say “ableism” loudly, forcefully, whenever necessary, and mean it with all of your heart and mind. If you want to be an ally, if you want to stand in solidarity in any manner that could be considered feminist, intersectional, radical, or otherwise enlightened, it is required that you develop a sense of passionate injustice about ableism.

Able-bodied people, I don’t know how to say it more clearly. This is a literal emergency, as in: Actual emergency rooms will be overflowing. As in: Death and levels of physical and psychological suffering you cannot comprehend. As in: Disabled people don’t historically fare well under authoritarian governments.

You need to use whatever platforms you can access to raise awareness, organize, and make constant connections between ableism and its intersections with other injustices and political cruelties. If you have money, you need to donate to disability rights organizations, as well as organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. You need to write these articles so disabled and sick people don’t have to. You need to learn about issues like rampant physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse of disabled people.

None of us can be free until all of us are free. So say “ableism” and mean it. We really, really need you.

You need to learn about things like invisible disabilities, the obstacles that keep disabled folks from voting, the internalized ableism that makes disabled people hate themselves, and disabled people’s remarkable resistance movements. You need to teach yourself and others about the horrifying history, both in the U.S. and abroad, of human societies’ various attempts to kill and stomp disabled people into the ground. You need to do all kinds of things I can’t think of right now because I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and PTSD and the stress of this election is making me physically ill.

The bottom line: You need to act and be sneaky and crafty and smart and do the work. None of us can be free until all of us are free. So say “ableism” and mean it. We really, really need you.

<strong>Photo: ADAPT disability rights activists marching in the streets in protest in 1990. </strong>
https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2015/ada25-disability-rights-through-tom-olins-lens
Photo: ADAPT disability rights activists marching in the streets in protest in 1990.
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