I have not yet seen the movie, Selma, but there has already been plenty of controversy in the press, including some interesting comments by Oprah Winfrey regarding the current protest movement. Recently, the Washington Post reports on a People Magazine interview where she said of the movement, “’I think it’s wonderful to march and to protest and it’s wonderful to see all across the country, people doing it,” she said in a video interview posted Thursday on the magazine’s Web site. “But what I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it.’” See the Post article linking to the People article. I am singularly unqualified to speak to the agenda of this movement, and whether it indeed lacks these things as she asserts, but I am nonetheless moved by Oprah’s basic point that a diffuse spirit of protest is far less effective than a targeted goal, with a detailed roadmap, and a set of tactics and strategies to advance that roadmap.
I feel that the Disability Rights movement has historically been quite good at this, just as the African-American civil rights movement was at the time of Selma. In fact, when it comes to particular initiatives like the push for CRPD ratification or a few recent legislative initiatives, we still are. We have goals and strategies and tactics.
I’m hoping that we can apply that energy to some of our other massive problems including unemployment, institutionalization, and massive poverty.
I think we’ve done a great job of articulating the problems. Any educated team of disability activists could quickly come up with these and some others, and just as easily begin providing numbers to demonstrate the breadth and nature of these problems.
Where I would love to see energy and leadership is in coming up with specific, actionable, and practical solutions. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that even if Congress and the President were to allow me to unilaterally write laws, I don’t immediately know what laws I would write within our governing framework to solve these problems.
It’s easy enough to mandate the closing of institutions, but have we gathered models of the programs that work to find everyone appropriate community-based placement?
In theory, a person with such absolute power might consider alleviating poverty by the direct broadscale redistribution of wealth, but as a committed American capitalist, that doesn’t strike me as a viable long-term solution, let alone one that would ever be enacted by any democratically elected government. For those of us for whom self-sufficiency through employment is not practical, have we thought through the best programs and vehicles which will provide optimum dignity and comfort?
Lastly, even if we believe, as I do, that the vast majority of poverty could be alleviated by full employment, have we come up with proven, systemic, large-scale programs that People with Disabilities to work in a way that is both meaningful and economically viable?
These questions are not rhetorical. I believe every one of these problems is solvable, and people smarter than me may already have the solutions. I’m asking these questions in the hope that we can gather these solutions into a centralized agenda.
Then I call upon our best political strategists. Since we don’t run the world, (and who would want a world run by me anyway?), what is the natural coalition that could make these programs a reality? What combination of protest and persuasion, cajoling and horsetrading, exhorting and shaming will get us the programs that we need?
From there, just as we did with the ADA, and with the Rehabilitation Act before that, I propose that we come together on a broad national scale to get it done. I propose that we combine our individual strengths into a massive united effort for change.
I believe that individuals change the world. I believe that each individual policy changed, each individual life improved, has value beyond measure.
And yet, I believe that for the largest and most intractable problems, grander scale solutions are needed. I don’t have them, so I can’t propose them, but I’m asking for them. Join me in starting the dialogue, that together maybe we can find the answer.