Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Atlanta Women with Disabilities Are Awesome: SPARK and Charis Circle

I was really looking forward to feminist disability activities on Tuesday, November 18, and had totally set up some terrific plans. I had lined up a meeting at 11 am with Mia Mingus of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, and then had planned to go by the offices of Project South. At 7 pm, I had arranged with the feminist bookstore the Charis Circle to host a discussion on feminist disability activism. Sounds good, huh?

So Tuesday morning, I tooled around till 11, where I was meeting Mia at Ria's Bluebird Cafe. I should make a note to readers that if you're ever in Atlanta, stop by Ria's as they have some very very good food. Anyhow, the reason I wanted to meet with Mia is not just because she directs SPARK, but also because Mia is herself a queer woman of color with a physical disability who is invested in intersectional activism---meaning activism from a standpoint of understanding how race, gender, class, sexuality and other social categories suffer (overlapping) oppression.

Anyhow, plus, my friend Stacey said I really, really had to meet Mia. Stacey writes the Miss Crip Chick blog, which is worth anyone checking out.

As it turns out, Mia is a very, very nice woman who had just been through two back to back conferences. Ouch. We ordered some food (and I screwed up my order through a "deaf moment"---hence the plug of Ria's above) and chatted for about an hour. SPARK is the main reproductive justice organization in Georgia and was formerly known as Georgians for Choice. They educate creatively on reproductive justice and collaboratively coordinate different events---rallies, conferences etc. Mia said that SPARK includes disability in their oppression analysis, which is fantastic and I wish more reproductive choice organizations could follow their lead.

We talked about the role of reproductive justice in the disability rights movement. I mentioned that I feel it's been quashed on the general crip radar because of ethical issues that involve assisted suicide, pre-birth bioethics, and the religious right. The question is, do we as a disability community need to agree on pro-choice/pro-life before we can get women with disabilities mobilized together? Mia felt, and I agree, that just because people have differing views on pro-choice stuff, doesn't mean we can't mobilize women with disabilities on the other issues that affect us. However the choice thing does remain the big pink elephant in the room.

While talking with Mia, I realized that though she doesn't do only disability-specific work, she is familiar with a number of folks I know in the disability community (like Eleanor Smith), which is great. If you are reading this post and you live in Atlanta, please consider looking Mia up to see how her organization's work intersects with your own. I had the impression from talking with her that she's someone who is very progressive and cares a lot about community building. People like Mia and her colleagues are the kind of folks who will help our movement grow.

While we were only able to meet for an hour, I am thankful we did so. Mia also assisted me in trying to contact Project South, because I'd had no luck in contacting them (and sometimes, hearing folks only respond to voice phone calls). Turns out they were pretty much out of the office that day---I'll check in with them in the future. Bummer. But, here is a picture of Mia calling Project South for me:

Mia sitting in her car, talking on her cell phone

One other thought about Mia's work: this consciousness of intersection is something that is very important to younger US activists with disabilities. We ARE intersections. From my perspective as a youth leadership coordinator in the disability community, I don't see this as a trend---I think it's actually a direction. And it's not just a direction for the disability community, it's a direction for the US as a whole.

Afterwards, I had pretty much the whole afternoon open, and I was planning to visit the King Center some more, but unfortunately I was coming down with a cold and opted to spend a few hours trying to get some rest. After that and lots of medicine, I prepped for the Charis event over in what I was told was Little Five Points, two minutes away from Druid Hills.

Mark Johnson had directed me to Charis, a non-profit feminist bookstore that coordinates different speaking series and also a review. Kerrie Lynn, who also happens to be on SPARK's board, coordinates a series on disability and feminism, so she and I worked together to arrange a community discussion. I am really thankful to Kerrie and Charis for their support for the event, including finding two interpreters to help me out. I think it was the first time I'd ever done organizing work in a bookstore, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out really well. Mia wasn't able to make it as she had two (!) meetings that evening, but she was missed! :)

About 15 folks showed up, and initially I gave my spiel about FRIDA and my project, as well as ADAPT and Access Living. Then, I asked people to shout out issues that they thought were important for women with disabilities, and they came up with:

...parenting, especially parents rights vs. the state child protective services people
...housing and visitability
...access to health care
...sex (and really this was the first time in my project that a group talked a lot about sex, but I suspect it was because Bethany Stevens was there, and this is her #1 issue of interest!)

So we discussed these issues and how they were affecting women in Atlanta, and I talked about how different sorts of systems control these things---federal, state, local, and even agencies that are not government agencies but exert control over our lives. A lot of women took it on themselves to speak up about different issues, and I pointed out that in case they were wondering what the feminist disability rights movement looks like, it looks like THEM. US. And so we wrapped up the evening by offering an opportunity to maybe start a listserv via email about feminist disability rights activism. So Atlanta did a great job!

Here is a picture of folks at the gathering at Charis:

Women gethered at Charis, chatting in an informal moment

I was also happy that Eleanor and Barb came from Concrete Change, as well as Zan Thornton. It's always good to see long time activists (disability or feminist) mingle with people who are exposed to disability rights activism for the first time, or feminist activism for the first time. Plus, I think the group had more people of color than most other gatherings I have gone to in the last couple of months, so I am very intrigued by Atlanta's possibilities to say the least!

Afterwards I hung out with Bethany and another woman at a bar next door to Charis and talked for a while, which was overall a very nice ending to my Atlanta visit. I'll be thinking of ways to keep the seed growing...


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