Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's before 101?

Today I went to the Big Radical Left Fair. It was a fun day - lots of baking, lots of people, and some super cute kids.

If you could get yourself to the venue - the only access was up a flight of stairs.

This is not rare in Wellington. Many people who organise events seem to treat an accessibility as a 'nice to have' - given up when something a group deems more important is under threat.

Every political event is also political statement - over and above anything that is said - the medium is a message. And what organising an event up or down a flight of stairs says is this:

"We have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities."

That's not just wrong, because excluding people is wrong, it also weakens the left. Any exclusion of marginalised classes of people make it harder for us to fight for our collective liberation.

So when you're part of a group that is deciding on a venue for something and your struggling (as you probably will in Wellington) and you think "hey what about this community hall/bar/art space that is up a flight of stairs?" Ask yourself "Would I prepared to print - we have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities - on every piece of advertising for the event?" And if you wouldn't be prepared to name what you're doing, then don't do it.


  1. Anonymous10:22 am

    Sometimes the choice is between a venue with stairs or having no function. You had a stall at the fair; did you argue with the other organisers for a wheelchair access venue?
    If this issue was so important to you, why did you participate in the 'exclusion ' exercise?

  2. This is the sort of thing that drives me up the wall and I had the sorts of choices individual people are required to make to solve an institutional problem. Do you want to go to this event that is important for a variety of reasons, or do you want to insist on giving up the event to argue for inclusiveness? I've been shut out of awards, networking opportunities, and be branded a trouble-maker for not only refusing to go to wheelchair-inaccessible events but making sure people know *why* I'm not there. It would be so much easier to just *go* and try and make my points from within the system rather than protesting outside of it.


  3. Anonymous1:40 pm

    Let's demand that disability unfriendly Crossways install a lift and picket the building in protest if they don't.

  4. Anonymous 1: I wasn't involved at all in organising the event. I did raise the issue with the organisers as soon as I realised what the venue was, and did have an argument with the organisers about it.

    I really don't agree that the choice is between having a venue with stairs or having no event at all (I explained why in some depth on the hand mirror. Here I will just say that I thought of 20 venues that might be suitable while being grumpy about htis I'll answer the

    Anna (I loved your work with FWD by the way): I know the feel of being unsure where to draw the line. My perspective is that I can only fight for change where I have some kind of power (this is the basic philosophy for my politics - not just something that applies here). Either because I organise an event, or there are people interested in exerting pressure through collective action (I can't tell if anonymous 2 was being serious or not, but if they were then) (and possibly 3rdly through the power of not shutting up). If I know that it won't make any difference whether or not I go I tend to base going on personal decisions. I only avoid events, if the exclusion makes me particularly angry, or I want to prioritise spending time with people who are excluded (or sometimes in solidarity with friends who can't attend if they want to attend). So I try to draw a line between political actions, like insisting that groups I'm part of use accessible venues, and personal lines I draw, like my best friend really wants to go to this and can't, so I won't go. I do think there are times when that becomes more problematic though.

  5. Anonymous7:52 pm

    How many people with mobility disabilities do you think would have been terribly disappointed to miss out on getting animal rights badges and communist tracts?

  6. Anonymous5:07 pm

    Anonymous, I can name a couple, although that is besides the point. There are already too many barriers that increase social alienation. As radicals we should be trying break these down not contribute to them. I think that its one thing to be oblivious to disabled access needs, I've definitely been guilty of that plenty of times, but another to have these points raised and then disregarded.

  7. Anonymous7:49 pm

    What did the Big Radical Left Fair organisers have to say for themselves when they were squarely confronted with this crucial issue?