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Reflections on Dreaming Disability Justice

Today we are sharing a piece by Elena Macdonald, who appeared at our EWF X Disability Justice Network event Dreaming Disability Justice. This event featured members of the Disability Justice Network, including Vanamali Hermans, Julia Rose Bak, Margot Beavon-Collin, Tori Hobbs, Muhib Nabulsi, and Elena Macdonald.

Reflections on Dreaming Disability Justice also includes excerpts from Purple: A Black Reflection on Disability Justices; a spoken word by Elena, performed for EWF x DJN.

[ We are in the in-between. Purple are the spaces of mutual aid and regeneration; a site of rest and renewal, scarce found elsewhere. Purple is the promise, of medicine undone and examined; an industrial complex unpicked and ended. Purple is the rebuilding and reshaping, enacted in testament to the many bodies / minds / spirits that were lost before it could become reality. […]

We write, and speak, and work, not because it soothes our dying pillows, but because we must. To have a world beyond this. A world that goes beyond, and then further than that. It will not be the work of the colonies, or the hand of the white saviour. It will not be the workings of integration, into already rotted systems. No. ]

I spent a long time thinking how best to reflect on this event – the first public-facing event for the Justice Network; the beginning and the continuation of so many ideas, so powerfully articulated in our voices. And so – I thought.

We had not planned our pieces in advance collectively, nor shared them in detail with one another prior to the night. So is the reality of crip-time, blak-time, slow-time. Our thoughts and ideas and imaginings swirl in our head for months in advance, or years – or days. They are not just our ideas, but the product of community/ies, and community yarns. They are the product of lived experience/s, rooted as the centre of all action and thinking and movement.

There is no individualism at the cost of community to be had in disability justice, nor in movements raised and upheld by mob. Not if it is to succeed. And so we wrote, and shared brief ideas, and yarned communally, and so – the event came about. We took our turns, in random order, it would seem. And yet – there it was. Each piece spoke to necessary, radical truths.

Mali began, with the poem Beyond Sleep, exploring the scope of disability justice; what we can look to, and envision, and beyond, into spaces we have yet to create. From where and whom such visions and realities are created: disabled kin both then and now, and next – and the uncomfortable collisions this visioning produces for disabled peoples and community. Julia spoke next, with a personal essay that explored the meanings and locations of disability; as it reflects against the centre of abled-ness, and as it exists within the margins, defined, and reframed by its bearers. The historical and cultural realities that create and ‘disability’, and how all this informs the space of disability justice today, and its possibilities for the future.

Margot followed, with a piece that spoke to those figures who had gone before, and the core question at the centre of all visioning – what is to be done? – to create tangible realities. The responsibilities we must bear to the revolutions and radical ideas of the past, that inform our dreams and actions today, if we honour them. Tori spoke next, with a pre-recorded voiceover that accompanies a multimedia video piece, incorporating sounds from nature and photos throughout their life. Their piece records experiences within the medical industrial complex both as a patient, and practitioner (nurse), and envisions a future beyond – one grounded in regenerative solutions and mutual healings, that underpins all social structures. My spoken word piece followed, looking at disability justice through the lens of the colour purple, as is excerpted throughout this reflection.

Finally, Muhib shared their meta-commentary piece, which explored the protocols for the sharing of disabled dreams, and communal spaces, and relevance of locality within these dialogues; who gets to speak, and where and how our voices are heard or misinterpreted. The “lurking governmentality”, as Muhib described, that constrains and underlies an unknown audience of abled quantities. The pieces shared created and opened up space; held places and redefined, as in the margins. They carried on work and visions, and reframed, and challenged – to the audience; to the listener; to the reader. To ourselves.

[ Purple is the fire that burns within me […]  The fire we build and guide, into healing and renewal. Into something that goes beyond trauma and pain. Beyond loss, and grieving. Purple is the collective spirit we build, within and without, as we dream of a wider world. Beyond. ]

Something we had not expected occurred in that event – separate, distinct as our pieces were, they were all forms of collective reimaginings. They were formed from, and founded upon, the same core ideas and principles of disability justice, of collective mutual kinship. Sick-form, blak-yarn, crip-space, deep-place. Each piece spoke differently, and yet they connected, aligned. Each piece complemented, filled out, created the very space and community/justice movement we were trying to convey.

Six voices spoke, and wrote, and visualised, and imagined. We dreamed, and held out, to challenge and uplift. And so, a collective vision emerged, though we had not intended it.

[ Purple is the promise of meaning: that this is not simply a dream, and nothing more. This is no empty project, of ideas and philosophical writings – this is the sustainable future, built upon resistance, upon mutual renewal. […] Each of us, who have found space within disability justice, have our own complex stories of survival – and will continue in these survival-resistances for as long as we can live. Ours is not a place of guaranteed existence. ]

However: six voices are six voices only. The visions we shared that night were only one small part, one small capture of the wider picture. They cannot, as we made it clear, be accounted for the entirety of voices that speak from/for/of disability justice. We were one part of a wider whole, and the wider space cannot be ignored. Intersections and core, foundational lived experience-voices – there is more to be heard and yarned and envisioned. So don’t take this as a key definition; the dictionary to interpret our ways and our lessons. Learning comes from time spent listening.

[ Our world is already here, in some (many) ways).  It is partly brought into existence by our collective imaginings, far greater, more expansive, than can be shared in this space. It is held in our work within communities today; within our struggle to maintain as we have begun; together, centred in Indigenous ways of being (our ways); in abolition, beyond academic text; in intersectional, collective liberation. ]

And so – we go on.

@elena_lowana

Revisit more highlights from #EWF21 over on our YouTube Channel.