My friend Stacey Park Milbern died today, May 19, 2020, on her birthday. I haven’t cried yet and am overwhelmed with gratitude for knowing and loving her. I feel sadness and rage but I will not center myself in mourning her. In sharing her work and words here, may we all remember and celebrate Stacey.
Movement Maker and Crip Ancestor
Stacey’s writing was powerful and beautiful. Her Facebook posts would restore my soul and one of them moved me so much I asked Stacey to write a guest essay in 2019 about crip ancestorship. And now Stacey is one of our disabled ancestors along with Mel Baggs, Carrie Ann Lucas, Ing Wong-Ward, Ki’tay Davidson, Laura Hershey, and so many others.
I do not know a lot about spirituality or what happens when we die, but my crip queer Korean life makes me believe that our earthly bodyminds is but a fraction, and not considering our ancestors is electing only to see a glimpse of who we are. People sometimes assume ancestorship is reserved for those of biological relation, but a queered or cripped understanding of ancestorship holds that, such as in flesh, our deepest relationships are with people we choose to be connected to and honor day after day.
Ancestorship, like love, is expansive and breaks manmade boundaries cast upon it, like the nuclear family model or artificial nation state borders. My ancestors are disabled people who lived looking out of institution windows wanting so much more for themselves. It’s because of them that I know that, in reflecting on what is a “good” life, an opportunity to contribute is as important as receiving supports one needs. My ancestors are people torn apart from loves by war and displacement. It’s because of them I know the power of building home with whatever you have, wherever you are, whoever you are with. My ancestors are queers who lived in the American South. It’s because of them I understand the importance of relationships, place and living life big, even if it is dangerous. All of my ancestors know longing. Longing is often our connecting place.
Speaking Truth to Power
In collaboration with queer BIPOC disabled people in the San Francisco Bay Area, Stacey created a home: the Disability Justice Culture Club. Her dream to renovate her home and create a space for organizing and gathering centered on joy became a reality a few years ago. Since the establishment of the DJCC, the group mobilized making hand sanitizer and providing mutual aid during the current coronavirus pandemic. Last year in response to the voluntary power shut offs by the utility PG&E, Stacey and a collective of disabled, fat, older, queer people banded together in the Power To Live campaign.
At a vigil and community gathering in Oakland on October 10, 2019, Stacey gave these remarks:
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.
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.
If you have the means, you can support the work of the Disability Justice Culture Club and follow them for updates on how to best honor and remember Stacey.
Venmo at @Yomi-Wrong
Radical Love and Care
Stacey loved and cared for people fiercely and unreservedly. She took joy and pleasure with every conversation and relationship. Her ideas were truly revolutionary and focused on the future. In a 2017 episode of the Disability Visibility podcast on care work by disabled queer femmes with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Stacey shared some of her queer disabled femme wisdom:
…I think a lot of times, people with disabilities–especially femme people–get expected to do all kinds of emotional labor in exchange for access support. And it’s not seen as interdependent or even something that we’re offering…
…It’s funny: My friend, Maddy, posted a photo of me in the ICU holding my cellphone, and I was coordinating access support for myself because I was in the ICU, but they weren’t giving me the support that I needed, ironically. And so, I was coordinating people to come be with me at the hospital to make sure I would be OK. And it was really funny because I would try to coordinate their visits to be at the same time that I wanted people to meet. So, just that I think all of that is care work, whether that’s connecting people to communities. Because a lot of friends, people are super isolated or sharing resources or helping someone problem solve or helping somebody get through a triggered experience or reminding them when something is like internalized ableism or racism and helping them find their power.
…So, I was just noticing that people, disabled people, we go through so many, I feel like I’ve lived so many lives. Some of them are by choice, and then other plans are not by choice. Like, last year, I acquired a new disability, and it’s changing the experience of my body. And I think we expect people with disabilities just to manage all of these transitions quietly. That’s how you be a good disabled person, is not talking about your disability and not disrupting ableist, able-bodied, able-minded culture or not being a burden. Just doing it all well and gracefully and on your own. And that’s just not the reality of the disability experience.
I think we have to acknowledge that there is some mourning and that there is a loss and that there also is really can be some beautiful experiences that come out of it as well, just like anything in nature or life. And I think just naming it, naming becoming disabled or more disabled as a transition that happens in life and that it can be a life-changing transition or experience is really important. Because most people, or all people, go through that at some time, and if we can figure out how to really show up for each other during these times, then I think we could change the social experience of what it means to be disabled.
Call to Action
Here are a few things I learned from Stacey Park Milbern:
- Stacey dreamed big and fought hard to make them come true. She imagined the life that she deserved and made it happen. May you also live your wildest dreams.
- Stacey treasured her friends and loved ones. She made time to fight for, check in, and hold space for her people in good times and bad. May you find the time to express love and gratitude to the people in your lives.
- Stacey lived her politics and values. She did not hold back and practiced her beliefs everyday through her intentions, actions, and words. She showed up and supported multiple movements beyond the disability community. Her vision of disability justice and the future was infinite. May you examine what you can do to support and uplift others beyond your immediate circle.
Sometimes it takes the wisdom and resilience of those who have been marginalized for all of us to remember the importance of community and mutual aid.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 21, 2020
Not the End
You can sign up for Crip Camp: The Virtual Experience, a series of online presentations that Stacey organized with Andraéa, as a small sample of her brilliant work. You can also donate to the Disabled Creatives & Activists Relief Fund, a partnership between the Crip Camp Impact Campaign and Color of Change that will support activists, storytellers and cultural influencers of the future.
If you want to share a story about Stacey, you can record one for the DVP and have it archived at the Library of Congress through a community partnership with StoryCorps.
This is not the end, only another beginning.
Rest in power, my friend.