Abled-Bodied Leftists Cannot Abandon Disabled Solidarity to “Move On” From COVID

I have this bookcoming out. It’s about the disabled future, about how most of the world will be disabled soon, and how disabled people kept each other and other people alive during COVID. I have tour dates. They’re all online. Because COVID. Because COVID remains. Because every week, 90 percent of the country is in high or substantial uncontrolled community transmission — the whole country is blood red on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) map. Because 400-500 people per day still die from COVID in America, and COVID is long the third-most prevalent neurological disorder. In-person events would be like inviting my disabled fans to a slaughterhouse. I have every booster that exists, and I’m still immunocompromised and not hopping on 19 planes in a row.

Yet every time I post, people — radical people, “movement” people — say, “Oh see you in L.A./Atlanta/Chicago!” And I have to say, “All events are virtual. Remember that? Virtual events The accessible version, with CART (real-time captioning, making events accessible for people with a variety disabilities and neurodivergence), and American Sign Language (ASL). How did you forget so quickly?”

I’ve started calling the time we live in “The Great Forgetting.” Some call it “The Great Gaslighting.” Both are true.

These terms refer to the massive, deliberate effort of the state to erase the fact that the pandemic occurred in the last two years. The CDC changed its easiest-to-find map of the community transmission map to one showing the whole country in (fake), happy low-risk green. Biden saying offhandedly that “the pandemic is over” even as thousands of people die every weekAnd groups like Long COVID Justice and #MEAction organize — from bed and in die ins in front of the White House — demanding that the U.S. declare long COVID a public health emergency. The state is acting like a bad boyfriend telling you that you can’t remember anything is real. That’s not new, but the intensity level has reached a new high.

It shouldn’t surprise me. The state hates disabled people despite the fact there are so many of us. Of course, federal, state and local governments for the most part don’t want to pay for guaranteed income or disability payments or paid care work or accommodations. They want us all to die slowly in order to save money.

The powers that be also badly want us to forget that there was a moment — a long, two-year moment — when people felt that everything could be different, that revolutionary change was possible. Many disabled people noted that the pandemic made for a “cripping of the world” — where for perhaps the first time in a while, the world, gripped by a global pandemic, dwelled in disabled reality. For a moment, think about how so many forms accessible disabled people have long fought to get were here because abled folks needed them. Virtual work, pandemic payment for frontline workers. Online school, online events with captioning. ASL. Teaching people how to freaking wash hands and stay home when sick. The ability to reschedule appointments or book a flight if necessary. Immunocompromised shopping hours. These two years were characterized by powerful resistance and mass access to anti-Black, white-supremacist violence. Revolutionary change could also be possible with mass access, resistance, and mutual aid. The state wants us all to forget this.

The thing is, though, it’s not just the state. It’s been wild watching people who are ostensibly leftist say, We’re following the CDC guidelines,drop masking, rapid test and other safety requirements. Two years or more of rioting in the streets and suddenly, we’re doing what the government says we should do? We were hiding one minute and then we started to reveal our true colors the next. you do you. One minute some abled people are experimenting with “WE keep US safe,” the next minute, every club in 2022 was like, “Masks encouraged but not required. You do you!”

I mean painful by wild. By painful, I mean heartbreaking. By heartbreaking, I mean every disabled person I know is in a state of grief and shock since April, when many mask mandates in airlines, public transport and public life were abruptly dropped by federal and state governments in the U.S., as everyone else abandons solidarity to “move on.” One minute, a lot of people were masking during Omicron; the next minute, everyone was back to breathing on each other on the bus — and we weren’t safe anymore. We increasingly feel pushed out of public life, as events and spaces from urgent cares to ERs to conferences say, “Oh, we’re not doing virtual anymore.” We’re talking about it, but it feels like no one else is. And many of us feel incredibly alone in our grief, and in the disorientation of feeling like we’re the only ones stubbornly remembering.

Maybe I was naive. Although I hated the pandemic, I believed that many people liked the access features it provided. That is what I believe. I believe that most people must care about others and want everyone to live. However, internalized ableism can be real. A lot of people have had a brush with what it’s like to live a disabled life these last two years, and a lot of them want to forget it as quickly as possible. They’d rather expose themselves to all kinds of harm than continue to be disabled like us — mask, discuss risk, stay home, pass public policies for the safety of all. This puts us all in danger, but especially Contact us, at risk. So many abled people — including abled members of the left; including abled queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color on the left — want to forget disability.

Sometimes, forgetting is all that people need to survive. In the face of few to no mass public rituals or acknowledgment for the millions of people who died from COVID, combined with almost zero collective survival public health strategies, I understand that denial is many people’s only accessible survival strategy. The reality is overwhelming and mind-bending.

Sometimes I wish I could pretend that everything was perfect. But I lost a lot of people and I can’t forget their deaths, or what we all went through — and continue to go through. I have also survived 2.5 years of pandemics as an immunocompromised person with disabilities without getting COVID. I want to continue that winning streak.

People like to believe that survivors of sexual violence create false memories. But it’s far more common for people who perpetuate abuse to make up a false reality where they did nothing wrong. It’s easier that way. They don’t ever have to face it. There’s a similar logic with The Great Forgetting. The powers that be can tell us that nothing happened or are not doing enough to make it happen, but they can’t make it true. We will always be there at war with Eastasia.

I believe many people’s denial does not just stem from ableism, but also from the huge un-composted mass of collective grief we find ourselves in. There has been no mass public grief, no Vietnam Veterans Memorial to honor all those who were killed by COVID. Millions of people are dead, and we have mourned privately; some of us haven’t been able to mourn in ways we need to — funerals, ceremonies — at all. Most of us have had the to go back to work, burying our loved ones in our hearts. The cycle continues. We’re supposed to go shopping.

However, in the words of June Jordan, “We always have choices. And capitulation is only one of them.” And in the words of South African freedom struggle activists, as quoted by bell hooks, “Our struggle is a struggle of memory against forgetting.”

As disabled revolutionaries we are disabled memory keepers. Our revolutionary work is based on our refusal to forget both our dead as well as the work we did to survive. We live in a world that wants us to be dead and wants to erase all evidence that we ever existed after we die. As disabled revolutionaries — particularly disabled, sick, Deaf, neurodivergent BIPOC — our refusal to forget our dead, our losses and our survival is an act of resistance.

And I know we will keep remembering — through speaking out stories, shouting out our dead, archiving our work, making accessible gatherings and protests and homes and communities no matter what.

But I also appeal to the able-bodied left to not abandon me. To survive, we need each other. You may be us, or may become us quite quickly. We are you. We are all each other’s beloved community. Disabled Korean organizer and writer Mia Mingus recently wrote, “Why doesn’t ‘We keep us safe’ apply to COVID and monkeypox?” It does. The last two and a half years — and our lives before and after this moment — prove to us that we are all we have to keep each other alive, cared for, loved and home.

I call upon the not-primarily handicapped Left to make life-giving, disabled wisdom decisions and to insist on the same access that was possible in the past two year. You have the power insist on masking, community safety strategies for COVID and virtually accessible events, and invest in community care. There must Support for disabled activists who continue to do lifesaving disability activism, mutual assistance and survival work.

Some troll on my Twitter the other day said, “No one’s gaslighting you- you can mask all you want.”

Many people are outright gaslighting us all. And I want so much more than to be told, “Oh, if you don’t feel safe/ it’s not accessible, just stay home!” I want to live in the full world, like every disabled person. I want to be able leave my apartment without fear of death and go to a party or have casual sex. I want to live in the real world and not in my safe immune-bubble for the rest of the life.

More than that, however, I want to complete what we started. I want us not to abandon the revolutionary dream some of us touched and made in 2020-2021 — of a world where community care, mutual aid for collective survival and a refusal to obey are not just possible, they make up the bones of the new world.

Many, many disabled people feel what a coalition of Chicago disability justice organizers wrote in their “Letter to the Chicago Party Scene” in April 2022:

We don’t want to return to normal. We want to imagine a less ableist world where we can listen to one another and take care of one another. We want to build spaces that work for everyone, and we want this for ourselves and for our future generations of queers…. We want to take things slower and do so with intention. We need Disability Justice dreams to guide us and hold us accountable.

Join us. We can still create the other world that is possible, but we must all work together. Let’s not abandon the dream. Let’s make it happen.