Remarks by Stacey Milbern at Light up the Blackouts: A Vigil and Community Gathering -Oakland
October 10, 2019
Whether it is fascism or environmental climate crisis created by greed, disabled people — especially disabled people of color — are, as disability justice activist Patricia Berne says, the canary in the coal mine. How we are treated is often an indicator that there is a big problem. We saw that with nazi extermination. We saw that with the current administration cutting food stamps, housing, and health services.
Right now when there is a climate emergency, people who live in nursing homes and institutions get left behind. Often times staff, families and community members want to rescue them, even physically fighting nursing home administrators, but are barred because of policy. It is not uncommon for people in institutions to die because they were not rescued. Many advocates are fighting for what we call the right to be rescued. The. right. to. be. rescued.
This week in the Bay Area disabled people and elders without power are having difficulty breathing, moving, eating, and staying alive. A friend is going without her nebulizer treatments. A neighbor didn’t have a way to store his insulin. Another community member is home bound because she needs power to open and close their garage. Countless number of people are being forced to throw out groceries without knowing where the money will come to replace them. Blind people are crossing the street without there being traffic lights or audible signals that tell them when to cross. Lack of street lights makes people even more vulnerable. Community members are going without medications they need. Have you tried communicating in American Sign Language in the dark? Not easy. I myself use life sustaining medical equipment, my ventilator, 16 hours a day. My doctor completed extensive paperwork telling pg&e why I need power to live. (Let me say that again — My doctor completed extensive paperwork telling pg&e why I need power to live. There are so many more disabled people impacted by the powerapocalypse than the medical baseline program — the eligibility requirements for the program are significant and require a disabled person to have a healthcare provider. ) On Tuesday I called pg&e to ask for protocol for medical baseline users. I was on hold for two hours and twenty minutes. I hadn’t received any notice from pg&e but saw my house on every map as about to lose power. When I was finally connected, the representative confirmed there was nothing really in place. He literally told me “this is why we let the public know so you would have time to prepare.” To PG&E, my life is not important.
All across the bay, disabled people are providing mutual aid to one another. We are calling our friends and community regularly to check in. We are helping each other find housing and evacuate. We are sourcing generators, ice, and medication. We are making sure people are getting updates in a format accessible to them. We are hosting and transporting people, stranger and friend alike. The world might not care if we live or die but we do.
Disabled queer artist Alli Yates says disabled wisdom saves lives. Do you remember last year when no one could breathe and Mask Oakland disseminated thousands of masks? That was the work of disabled people too. We live and love interdependently. We know no person is an island, we need one another to live. No one does their own dental work or cuts their own hair. We all need support. Hierarchy of what support is okay to need and what isn’t is just ableism.
Go home and check on your neighbors. Rest. Reflect on why we must combat capitalism, racism, classism and ableism that thinks so little of humanity that some people are reduced to expected losses. There is a lot to do and it’s going to take all of us. Thank you.
(Gratitude to Julia Watts Belser for writing a recent article these talking points are based off of)
For more information
From the Disability Justice Culture Club:
For allies interested in supporting disabled people during shut offs, you can Venmo stacey-milbern or PayPal firstname.lastname@example.org. Funds will first go to a generator, then distribution/support, and then setting up safe havens for future climate crises. Please make your contribution on Venmo public if you feel comfortable for transparency re handling $.
Stacey Milbern is a writer and organizer in Oakland, CA. She’s thankful for the experience of being at the forefront of disability justice with other people for 14 years. You can find out more about Stacey’s writing by following her on Facebook.
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