On Accessibility, Ableism, and Online Voting

By Peter M

There is a pattern of behavior in Boston DSA that I find vexing. It is a pattern of behavior that isn’t exclusive to Boston DSA, and it’s a problem that besets DSA as a whole. There is an ugly tendency by some to use the concerns and issues of marginalized people without consulting those people. For example, Boston DSA’s Disability Caucus was not consulted in any way in the latest controversy surrounding online voting. Our bylaws state that online voting can only be used in specific cases, such as internal elections for leadership. The Electoral Working Group ended up choosing not to amend the bylaws to allow for online voting for electoral endorsements. At our local convention, the PoC caucus was not consulted about the quota amendment. Nationally, it has been my experience that the Medicare For All Campaign Committee did a subminimum outreach effort towards the National Disability Working Group and other key stakeholders in the effort, and to this day, five months later, the campaign still has not publicly addressed significant issues raised with the member of the National Political Committee who spoke with the Disability Working Group. At the national convention, members of the Disability Working Group were told “to just trust” the members of the resolution team when we questioned whether the version of a disability resolution we voted on was the unamended or amended version. When disabled comrades and I attempted to utilize parliamentary procedure to alter a resolution, we were declared out of order by the chair and ejected from the hall. When local delegates objected to this and got angry after local comrades got visibly emotional, myself and other delegates were told to “calm down and stop being so disruptive” by a member of local leadership.

And the failure to follow through on promises isn’t just a national failing either. There are members of local leadership who have to be reminded constantly to follow the accessibility guide while they mouth pieties about accessibility when it is politically convenient for them to do so.

 

If you’ll forgive my Catholicism for a second, James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” It is hard for me to believe that people talking about the need to make our decision-making processes accessible are being sincere in this when they do not undertake the necessary work to make all of Boston DSA’s efforts accessible. I want to also confront and challenge the conflation of making things accessible to the working class with making things accessible. Making things accessible for those who cannot attend a meeting due to a physical or mental disability and making things accessible for those who cannot come to a meeting due to something like a work schedule is not the same thing. Equalizing the two weaponizes disabled people’s identities and tokenizes them. It is ableist, it is offensive and it needs to stop. There is an implication when some talk about online voting as the only thing we need to do to make our chapter truly accessible for disabled people or that proxy voting is insufficient. That is not true and if you had had conversations with those who are doing accessibility work in the chapter, you would know this. As with any other marginalized group, be they queer, people of color, women, or anyone else, comrades with disabilities need to be consulted when there are issues in the local that affect them. Not only when it’s convenient politically, but every time. The sheer number of able-bodied comrades that have been engaging in ableism by not consulting the local Disability Caucus or conflating accessibility of disabled comrades with those who can’t make it because of a work shift is dismaying, and it is emotionally taxing to have my very right to exist in this space constantly challenged in ways both gross and subtle. Nothing about us without us isn’t just a slogan, it is the core lens around which I view liberation as a disabled person.

 

Sadly, not enough comrades in Boston DSA seem to be willing to meet this very basic demand. We must do better.

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