“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” —Grace Lee Boggs
Thinking for Ourselves
In the last six months Michigan has experienced two potential nuclear disasters. Both were due to rising flood waters. In late November the Revere Dock collapsed, spilling unknown amounts of limestone and aggregate materials. In the course of the investigation of his spill, it was discovered that the site also stored nuclear waste material, forgotten by the most recent owners. The Environmental Protection Agency has since found uranium, lead, toxic chemicals and heavy metals in water samples at the site.
This week the entire city of Midland was flooded as two dams burst under the pressure of rising water. Midland is the home of Dow Chemical and one of the most toxic Superfund cleanup sites in the country. The site also contains a nuclear research reactor.
As the waters rise and carry these surface contaminants down into the rivers and Great Lakes water shed, shorelines are eroded and the underwater sediments stirred up. Allen Burton, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan explained,
“You worry about the speed of the current, this wall of water coming down the river,” he said. “It just has a huge amount of power.”
In both cases, officials assure us there are no radioactive effects. Thus far the water from Revere has been contained, and the nuclear plant was shut down due to the Coronavirus.
Even so, everyone knows that the flood waters are carrying the wastes of centuries of industrial poisons. We also know they are carrying the oil from the engines of the newest cars, now under water, the chemicals stored in homes used to clean and protect them from bacteria, and the untold toxic materials used in businesses, manufacturing centers, schools, and churches. We all know that the Fermi plants are just down river, watching the waters rise. And we know that Fermi has the worst safety record in the US.
Flood waters, like the coronavirus, remind us that we are all connected. They warn us that we cannot return to” normal.” We need a completely different way of thinking about our responsibilities to each other, the earth and the waters.
This new way of thinking is not likely to come from our officials. They continue to deny reality, especially in Detroit. Here Mayor Duggan and Gary Brown insist water has been restored everywhere. Yet two weeks ago we delayed the Riverwise editorial meeting, as one of our members stood out side to stop a water shut off of her 95 year old neighbor. This week volunteers gathered at churches to distribute water to people who do not have it in their homes.
At the heart of this contradiction is the insistence by the city that people need to contact them to get their water restored. Placing the burden on people who have been shut off, and may not even know of the restoration efforts, comes from a deep disrespect of those who could not afford high bills, and from a lack of fundamental understanding of government responsibility. It also comes from the fact that the city keeps poor records, and hides those from public view. As a recent article in Michigan Advance explained, the numbers kept by local governments are murky.
Charlotte Jameson, program director of legislative affairs, drinking water and energy at the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), says Michigan’s deregulated reporting system makes it almost impossible to know exactly how many residents are still living with their water shut off…It’s incredibly difficult to know what is happening at any given water utility because they’re regulated at the local level…So there’s very little access to data, very little transparency in terms of how utilities do rate making, very little transparency into their operations, who they’re shutting off and who they’re not, why they’re shutting people off. We just don’t have that information.
What we know is that we need a comprehensive, thoughtful, and visionary approach to the waters that sustain us. We also know that the values of the past that cast water as a resource to be used and tossed away, that limits access to it by the ability to pay, and that denies our deep connections, are ideas that are killing us. It is time to craft a way of living that begins with the basic understanding that water is a human right and a sacred trust. There is no other way to ensure our future.
Disability Justice, Community, & Intentionality
Honoring Stacey Park Milbern #StaceyTaughtUs
Stacey Park Milbern passed away on May 19, 2020, her 33rd birthday. Her friends, community, and family — people she met and people who longed to meet Stacey immediately began telling their stories, #StaceyTaughtUs. Her first of many many memorials included a virtual celebration with over 500 registered guests on Zoom with a 150 car parade throughout Oakland, CA with ASL (American Sign Language) and live captioning. This growing collection of stories demonstrate how much people want to fight like hell, while building the world that centers the lives of disabled, queer, and BICOP. She lived in the possibilities of what it can be. She not only practiced living in the “beloved community,” she lived it. Every #StaceyTaughtUs story is evidence of that.
My brother, Micah Fialka-Feldman is who he is for many reasons (as we all are) — but when he connected with young disability leaders — they shaped my brother (and therefore our family’s story) in powerful ways. He saw his disability as an identity with history, pride, community, activism, and brilliance.
Stacey Park Milbern was one of those shapers. Stacey got “it.” The “it” that says people with intellectual disabilities must have their voices and presence at the disability justice table. The “it” that says we must, both, live in and for a reimagined world — where the lives of disabled people are dignified, honored, and supported — in a beyond capitalism, racism paradigm. The “it” that says we must always be learning, thinking, questioning, in conversation with our communities. The “it” that says we can not use a lack of familiarity with difference to stop us in for getting together. That’s what Stacey taught me.
Micah was introduced to Stacey and her deep demand for creative justice when Micah attended the National Youth Leadership Forum, a national disabled led youth leadership project, in the early 2000s. This National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) connected him with other disability activists around the country. Micah, excited by his deepening understanding of his own identities shared this growing knowledge with our family. Given connections to various disability organizations (including NYLF), our family worked with the Allied Media Projects to see how disability justice could be brought into the work of the Allied Media Conference which had recently moved to Detroit in 2007. Stacey and a cross-section of disability organizers worked with AMP to make Allied Media Conference creatively accessible and weave in workshops and themes about disability justice. Years later, this eventually led to the first ever Disability Justice track.
Stacey reflected on this collaborative work in a December 2008 NYLF Newsletter. “I have been thinking a lot about an event I went to this summer, the Allied Media Conference (AMC)…It was amazing to see young people taking the city in their own hands. Through the AMC, I had a chance to really get to know an NYLN member, Micah Fialka-Feldman. He welcomed me to Detroit. Since I was new to the AMC community, he made sure I always knew what was going on. He made sure I had what I needed to participate. Conference organizers told me about how Micah and his family had worked with them to make sure that access wouldn’t be an issue for anyone. As a result, many disabled people attended the conference. Disability issues were on the table. Unlike other events, many workshops focused on integrating a disability analysis into broader social justice work. It was a transforming experience for me. I owe a lot to Micah for it…[then she described Micah’s lawsuit to sue Oakland University for housing discrimination]… I hope you will join us in talking about what access really can mean and how it can change how we interact with the world.”
Stacey continued to be connected to visionary activism in Detroit and the work of Grace Lee Boggs as she grew personally and politically. As Catherine Kudlick, Professor of History and Director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University wrote, “She was a co-founder and promoter of Disability Justice, a second wave of the disability movement that combats the disproportionate negative impact of ableism on people of color, queer, trans, and others who are multiply-marginalized. She called out and showed with each of her projects — and indeed with her very existence — the benefits that come from abandoning capitalism’s narrow definitions of who has worth. For example, last fall when the claims of activists proved true in the face of PG&E’s bungled planned power shutdowns, Stacey organized grassroots relief and protests. With the arrival of the pandemic, the Disability Justice Culture Club, which she ran out of her home, took on even greater significance and reach. In April, she partnered with Longmore on some of the pathbreaking work she was doing as co-chair of the Crip Camp film impact campaign!
Stacey wrote in 2009 an article titled, “On the Ancestral Plan: Crip Hands Me Downs and the Legacy of Our Movements,” I speculate that Grace Lee Boggs is loving the conversations happening right now about disability in the context of what it means to be human, and as Grace’s friends the Fialka Feldmans said to me last week, would ponder that the reason to add disability justice to social justice is not just because it’s another element of diversity or representation, but rather because disability justice (and disability itself) has the potential to fundamentally transform everything we think about quality of life, purpose, work, relationships, belonging. As a new colleague Ria DasGupta said in a meeting about cripping college campus this week, “we can no longer afford add and stir politics.”
Catherine Kudlick continued, “Stacey came to all of this from her perspective as a biracial Korean-American queer woman who arrived in the SF Bay Area from a southern fundamentalist Christian upbringing. She was forthright, demanding, focused, all while being unnervingly vulnerable with a giggle that could cut through every kind of bullshit. She never lost sight of the biggest goals, all while making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.”
Too often our movements work in silos. Too often we speak about intersectionality but leave out the voices and bodies of those most marginalized. Too often we speak about what the government isn’t doing. May you honor Stacey by building a bigger table, with chairs of various sizes, empty space for chair users, virtual spaces for folks who can’t physically be at the table and with a belief that by making access radical and intentional, our world will grow into beautiful possibilities.
To learn more about what #StaceyTaughtUs check out this syllabus of videos and articles written by her.
If you did not know of Stacey Park, take time to sign up for one of Crip Camp’s Virtual Camp Series each Sunday. Stacey’s vision and force are behind the themes, the speakers, the accessibility, the outreach of it. You will fall in love with the possibilities of a future that centers disabled lives.