The three co-partners of #CripTheVote, Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang, and Alice Wong, recorded their oral history for the Disability Visibility Project™ on August 23, 2016 and uploaded it to the StoryCorps app.
The 2016 election was unprecedented in more ways than one. This oral history recalls the origins of #CripTheVote, a nonpartisan online movement activating and engaging disabled people on policies and practices important to the disability community.
Since this was a particularly long recording, below are 3 short audio clips with text transcripts. In the first clip, Gregg, Andrew, and Alice talk about the origins of #CripThe Vote during the 2016 Presidential election.
In the second clip, they talk about their social media activism on Twitter such as organized chats on disability issues, an online survey, and the creation of their hashtag.
In the third clip, they talk about the importance of intersectionality with #CripTheVote and how the disability community responded to the campaign.
Alice Wong: So, Gregg. Why don’t you tell us how you came up with the idea of Crip The Vote and why you connected with Andrew and me?
Gregg Beratan: I don’t know that I came up with the idea for Crip The Vote. I think that was something we did collectively.
Alice Wong: No, I think it was you!
Gregg Beratan: No. I certainly approached you and I’ll happily take credit for that. I think the form it took was something that we eventually crafted together. I think we all know each other online through Twitter and whatnot. We were all sitting there, I think it was late December , and there had been six or seven debates at that point between the two parties. We still had something like 27, 25 candidates. I posted a few tweets saying something along the lines of, “Six debates and not a single mention of our community.” And then I started reading some Andrew’s blogs for CDR [Center for Disability Rights] and some of your tweets and realized that the whole community was really starting to take notice of this. It wasn’t just the three of us. There were lots of people tweeting and writing about the fact that disability was absent from the campaign. It was a loud silence.
And I thought of you both largely because I do respect the work both of you do and the things you put together with the DVP [Disability Visibility Project] and the very thoughtful writing that Andrew does on Disability Thinking. And I knew we needed to do something, because we weren’t getting anything out of the campaigns, on any level. And so, you know, I’m kind of curious what were you thinking about the election at the time?
Andrew Pulrang: Um, it’s hard to remember what I was thinking at a given time. I mean, I definitely noticed that disability wasn’t coming up, but I wasn’t completely concluded yet that there was something wrong in the system. Even though I’ve been involved in disability rights for a really long time, I still had a bit of that view that best we can claim a small slice of attention but we can’t expect entire segments of debate to be about disability. So I think I didn’t feel as disappointed maybe, but I certainly felt that as time ticked by, you’re sort of almost looking at your watch saying, “Well, at some point they have to say something. Somebody should say something.”…I can’t remember exactly when that disability did come up in a debate, whether it was before or after we started, and it was, of all people, it was John Kasich.
Gregg Beratan: It was right after we started.
Andrew Pulrang: Okay. And as I recall, the question wasn’t pitched as a disability policy question, but he took a question and an aspect of his answer was very specific to people with disabilities and he said so. That actually fired it us up a little bit to say, well, this is what that could look like if it was done on a more than an accidental basis and that actually got me even more interested not necessarily for him, particularly, but just, this really could reasonably happen. And, uh, yeah…
Gregg Beratan: Wasn’t he talking about the nursing homes?
Andrew Pulrang: Yeah. Right. Thank you. It was also the fact that what he said, at least on the surface, was sort of in line with our thinking about the issue. It wasn’t just that he mentioned people with disabilities and said something patronizing and sweet. He said something very specific, very policy-oriented, very concrete and with an awareness that this is something that disabled people will actually care about. And I do remember thinking at the time, “Well, good for him, but good luck to him,” because I’m not sure in that short debate answer that anybody else in the audience, except for disability activists, understood what he was saying.
Alice Wong: Yeah, I think the other really substantive moment during the early part of this year’s election was when they talked about sub-minimum wages. I saw in the media so many people, were like, trying to explain what are sub-minimum wages.
Andrew Pulrang: Right
Alice Wong: It really was a wonderful entre for a lot of non-disabled people to get a little sense of some of the policy issues that impact us that they have no idea about. It’s related to employment and employment is one of those, you know, constant big issues that voters talk about and yet this is a very specific issue of huge importance to people with disabilities. Again, it’s a core justice issue that the labor of people with disabilities can be paid pennies on the dollar compared to non-disabled people! And that it exists because of a loophole in the Federal law giving non-profits the ability to exploit people with disabilities…so that to me was really exciting when the candidates actually responded and spoke to that issue.
Alice Wong: How would you describe Crip The Vote to someone who’s never heard of it before?
Andrew Pulrang: It’s above all, it’s an internal conversation and it’s also, hopefully, and external outreach about how disability and disabled voters relate to politics. It’s an internal conversation, and it’s ongoing. That’s a crucial thing. We have events, but we also have people day-to-day talking. I would say that it’s an internal conversation, because we’re talking, in a way, amongst ourselves. The beauty of Twitter is that while we’re talking, we’re talking in public and everybody else who happens to want to see us, will see us.
Alice Wong: I do agree that it’s primarily by disabled people, for disabled people with the added bonus that it’s public and that we do want to engage with non-disabled people, as well but it is primarily our voices, our space, and it’s us having a place to come together.
Gregg Beratan: Most of the non-disabled folk that have come on have come on to ask questions.
Andrew Pulrang: Yeah.
Gregg Beratan: I think that’s been good, because one of the best things that I’ve seen come out of it, I think this is partially our intention, is that it has amplified the voices and the community. In that way so presented the community as the experts and non-disabled folk coming on have had to respect that.
Andrew Pulrang: Yeah, totally.
Gregg Beratan: Alice, can you talk about some of the primary activities of Crip The Vote? How it’s evolved and what we’ve done?
Alice Wong: So we created the Crip The Vote hashtag…the first primary activity is just giving people this hashtag, people understanding what it’s about…Many people own it and use it and there’s no moderation in terms of how they use it. Once we released it, people could tweet about whatever they care about. So I think that’s one of the primary activities, is that, it’s given us a term that we can use and a concept for people coalesce around. So people tweeting with the hashtag and then we’ve had organized live tweets during debates. I remember early on that was one of our first activities as a clever way to loop in the larger conversations of some of our first live tweets we have live tweeted using Crip The Vote and a hashtag #DemDebates or #GOPDebates where they make sure that folks who are dominant ones that are being used for those debates. So we’ve got that to piggyback, so that anybody looking through those hashtags will invariably see our tweets.
Over the last eight months, we’ve had chats that varied about long term services and supports, violence, and mass incarceration. For the various chats, we’ve also consciously had guest hosts to also join us in the conversation and to also provide their expertise as well. I think it’s been a great way to share the space with other people. It’s not just a production by the three of us. We’re not dictating this, but really once you release the questions, the responses and the stories, and recommendations and ideas that people have have been really fantastic and we also had a survey as well that Andrew spearheaded. Andrew, do you want to talk a little bit about your survey and how you came about creating it?
Andrew Pulrang: I was thinking about what prompted me to want to do it and part if it was that it was at a certain stage when we were only really doing the debates and I started to feel like we were starting to repeat ourselves and all we really had to talk about was, “When are they gonna talk about disability?”
Alice Wong: For the sake of this oral history, could you tell me what the top policy issue that with the most support from this survey?
Andrew Pulrang: From the very first day that the survey went up and people started answering it, all the way to the end, the top issue was to appoint disabled people to serve in major government programs to direct the government programs that deal with disability. That was a topic I threw in there as a random thought, trying to add more ideas and I just pulled it out of nowhere. And that stayed at the top through the whole survey, which I think probably means a lot of different things. Maybe it isn’t so much the specific issues or which direction we go under these policies. Even above all that, what our folks want to see is other people like them actually making policy and actually in government. And that’s really significant, I think. That’s a very different kind of objective than, “I want more home care” or “I want to end sub-minimum wage.” Those are important, but this won out over all of those. So…that really turned my head around.
Andrew Pulrang: What’s been the most surprising thing, actually for each of you, that’s come out of this campaign so far?
Gregg Beratan: I think Alice alluded to it earlier. The way the community has taken ownership of it. We had those initial discussions…I thought we’d live tweet some debates and have some chats and get some discussion going and amplify the voices that were already hearing. The way the disability community latched onto the hashtag and took ownership of it and started tweeting out according to their own agenda. Some people tweeting individual Congressional candidates. Other people writing editorials or op-eds about getting their son registered to vote. There were a whole variety of ways that the community came in and took over the hashtag in wonderful ways that I couldn’t have imagined before. That was fantastic, because if it’s just the three of us it’s meaningless. The fact that since we announced, there have been people tweeting on that hashtag constantly, every day, to varying agendas; some promoting their candidate, others pushing particular issues, some trying to open it up to the local side of things. I think that’s been, probably, the biggest surprise.
I’ve also been amazingly impressed with the depth of the conversations we’ve had. Alice talked about the chats. Besides getting to learn from people, like Talila Lewis or Stephanie Woodward, hearing other people’s experiences in those chats and getting this deep understanding of issues, like voter suppression and ableist violence or mass incarceration that comes from people’s lived experience, has been incredible. For me, that’s been, far and away, the most exciting thing.
Alice Wong: The other thing that’s been a real pleasure and I think is partially by our design, the fact that we’ve always placed a really high importance on intersectionality and to really talk about that. When we talk about disability issues, we’re talking about cross-cutting so many people’s multiple identities and cultures. So obviously, we have disabled people of color, we have queer disabled people of all kinds of folks. I think through the tone and through the way we framed our chats, and the kind of guests we’ve had on, I think we’ve really kind of, hopefully, had a good influence on other people with disabilities to think about intersectionality. I was just so pleased that it hasn’t been about just disability issues. We talk about race, we talk about class, we talk about sexism, and so many things…
Andrew Pulrang: I was one of those people that I sort of see around… that I think I sort of understand intellectually what all that means, but I hadn’t ever quite fully implemented it in my own thinking. It has helped me to do that.
Alice Wong: I think as being as open as we can be and being as welcoming as we can be, I think it’s been really great to see that so many marginalized disabled people have really just embraced it. It’s really for them to highlight their stories.
Gregg Beratan: I think we’ve navigated that well. I don’t think it’s been particularly easy for the simple fact that the media often want to pit groups against each other. We saw this recently with the story over the Rutgers study and the size of the disability community. There’s this urge by many to pit groups against each other and I think, to the credit of the majority of the community using the hashtag, they instantly saw that headline and said, “Hold it. That ignores the intersectionality of our community”.
Alice Wong: Gregg, for people listening to the oral history, could you give a brief overview of the Rutgers study and the headlines?
Gregg Beratan: Sure. There’s a Rutgers study that came out recently. Andrew may know the numbers better than I do. It showed the sheer size of the disability community. We’ve long said that we’re largest minority in the country. This sort of gave credence to that. The coverage of it, particularly a story in USA Today, focused on pitting us against other minority groups by saying, “The disability community is bigger than this group or that group.” It really ignored that the size of the disability community comes from the fact that it cuts across all of these groups and that we are so very intersectional. As I’ve said, to the credit of the folks on the hashtag, they were incredibly quick to point out that this was whitewashing the disability community. That it painted a picture of us that wasn’t accurate. That our size was certainly correct, but that came from the diversity that we see as a strength in the community.
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Disability Visibility Project™. (2017, January 23). DVP Interview: Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang, and Alice Wong. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p4H7t1-N9l
Graphic created and uploaded with the recording to the StoryCorps app on January 23, 2017 featuring Gregg Beratan, Andrew Pulrang and Alice Wong. A bright yellow background with three images in a row in the center. On the left: a photo of a young white man with short dark brown hair and beard. He is wearing a black shirt and smiling at the camera. In the middle: graphic of a white man with brown hair and eyeglasses. He has a dark red sweater on and a tracheostomy in the center of his neck marked by a white oval with a hole. The background is dark purple-blue with splotches of light purple throughout. On the right: an Asian American woman in a wheelchair wearing a black jacket and black scarf. She is wearing bright red lipstick and a mask around her nose with along gray tube. Behind her is a brick wall with colorful street art.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Alice Wong with interviews uploaded to an app by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com